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11) Matt 23:29–33: This passage appears at the end of Jesus’s scathing denunciation of the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matt 23:1–39).

By focusing upon adherence to the Mishnah—external regulations more restrictive than what God required—these men often failed to practice the character qualities expected of the Lord’s people.

Christ employed a common rhetorical strategy of that era by using their own testimony to reveal the contradictions in their behavior.[1]

Jesus announced to the assembled crowd, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we were in the days of our fathers, we would not be their partners in the blood of the prophets.’”

The Lives of the Prophets, written in the first century AD, not only lists the burial sites of the prophets, it provides detailed descriptions of their tombs.[2]

By seeking to convey their admiration for these seers, the scribes and Pharisees attempted to dissociate themselves from the people who murdered them. However, they erected this facade to hide their lack of receptivity to the messengers sent by God (Matt 12:14–16; Matt 21:33–46).[3]



Jesus continued, “Therefore, you testify against yourselves that sons you are of the murderers of the prophets.”

While claiming that they would not have participated with their ancestors, the scribes and Pharisees identified themselves as their seed (Gen 3:15).[4]

In this instance, Jesus used “sons” (huios) as an idiom.[5] During the time of Christ, the term could depict a man’s character.[6]

For example, the Essene Community produced this statement, “The Sons of Darkness will be burnt…For all folly and wicked[ness are dar]k, and all [pea]ce and truth are brigh[t. For all the Sons of Light g]o towards the light, towards [eternal] jo[y and rej]oicin[g], and all the Sons of Dar[kness go towards death] and perdition.”[7]

A person’s disposition determined one’s designation as a Son of Light or a Son of Darkness.

Consequently, the behavior of Jesus’s opponents testified against their descent from the prophets. Their ancestors had murdered those messengers of God (Heb 11:32–40).[8]

As a result, the Lord held them responsible for the deaths of the men whose tombs they venerated,[9] reaping the judgment of their forebears.[10]



Christ declared, “And so, fill up the measure of your fathers!”

This allusion refers to a cup on the verge of overflowing with the blood of God’s people.[11]

According to Jewish belief, God predetermined a necessary amount of suffering before the last age would arrive.[12]

A first century AD Jewish apocryphal book recounts this conversation with an angel:

“A grain of evil seed was sown in Adam’s heart from the beginning, and how much ungodliness it has produced until now, and will produce until the time of threshing comes! Consider now for yourself how much fruit of ungodliness a grain of evil seed has produced. When heads of grain without number are sown, how great a threshing floor they will fill!”

Then I answered and said, “How long and when will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?”

He answered me and said, “You do not hasten faster than the Most High, for your haste is for yourself, but the Highest hastens on behalf of many. Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, ‘How long are we to remain here? And when will come the harvest of our reward?’”

And Jeremiel the archangel answered them and said, “When the number of those like yourselves is completed; for he has weighed the age in the balance, and measured the times by measure, and numbered the times by number; and he will not move or arouse them until that measure is fulfilled.” (4 Ezra 4:30–37, RSV)



Christ asserted that what their ancestors began, the scribes and Pharisees would complete (Acts 7:51–52; 1 Thess 2:14–16).[13]

The Old Testament prophets also employed this type of irony. They exhorted the Israelites to continue sinning but to expect God’s judgment as a result (Isa 6:9–11; Jer 44:24–29; Amos 4:4–6).[14]

Jesus said, “You serpents, offspring of vipers! How will you escape from the condemnation of Gehenna?”

John the Baptist had employed the same invective against the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 3:7–10). That Christ spoke this way to Israel’s leaders shocked those who heard him.[15]

He delivered a clear message: God destined the most overtly religious people in Israel for the fire of hell.[16]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


a) Read Matt 23:29–33. Why did Jesus call the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites” in these verses? What would be their fate? How can you avoid hypocrisy?




Go to From Abel to Zechariah (Matt 23:34‒36)

[Related posts include From Abel to Zechariah (Matt 23:34‒36); The First Good News (Gen 3:15); Cain Arose against His Brother (Gen 4:8); Misappropriated Blood (Gen 4:9‒10); Cursed from the Ground (Gen 4:11‒14); Banished from God’s Presence (Gen 4:15‒16); Blood Given for You (Matt 26:26‒28); Pleading for Justice (Rev 6:9‒10); The Full Number of Martyrs (Rev 6:11); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Brothers (Genesis 4:1‒16)]


[1]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 554.

[2]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 876–7.

[3]Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1998), 278.

[4]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 672.

[5]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 877.

[6]Eduard Lohse, “′υιος” (huios), TDNT 8:334–97, 358.

[7]Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Rev. Ed., 4Q548 Fragment 1:10, 626,

[8]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 672.

[9]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 876.

[10]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 554.

[11]Gerhard Delling, “πληροω” (plēroō), TDNT 6:283–311, 294.

[12]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 555–6.

[13]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 672.

[14]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 554.

[15]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 672.

[16]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 877.