LUKE 11:47-51; 13:34-35; 11:53-54
29. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the sepulchers of the prophets and embellish the monuments of the righteous, 30. And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been their associates in the blood of the prophets. 31. Thus you testify against yourselves, that you are the children of those who killed the prophets. 32. Do you also fill up the measure of your fathers. 33. Serpents, offspring of vipers, how shall you escape the judgment of hell? 34. Therefore, lo, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and some of them you will slay and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: 35. That upon you may come all the righteous blood which hath been shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Barachiah, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. 36. Verily I say to you, All these things shall come on this generation. 37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who slayest the prophets, and stonest those who were sent to thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and you would not! 38. Lo, your house is left to you desolate. 39. For I tell you, that you shall never see me henceforth, till you say, Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
47. Woe to you, for you build the monuments 1 of the prophets, and your fathers slew them. 2 48. Truly you testify that you approve of the actions of your fathers; 3 for they indeed slew them, and you build their sepulchers. 49. Therefore also the Wisdom of God hath said, I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will slay and persecute: 50. That the blood of all the prophets, which hath been shed since the creation of the world, may be demanded from this generation; 51. From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the temple. Assuredly I tell you, That it shall be demanded from this generation.
34. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who slayest the prophets, and stonest those who are sent to thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a bird gathereth its brood under its wings, and you would not! 35. Lo, your house is left to you desolate. But I tell you, that you shall not see me, until the time come when you say Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
53. And while he was saying these things to them, the lawyers and Pharisees began to press him closely, and cunningly to interrogate him about many things; 54. Laying snares for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, to accuse him.
Matthew 23:29. For you build the sepulchers of the prophets. An unfounded opinion is entertained by some, that the scribes are here reproved for superstition, in foolishly honoring the deceased prophets by splendid sepulchers, as the Papists now transfer the honor of God to departed saints, and even are so perverse as to adore their images. They had not yet arrived at such a pitch of blindness and madness, and therefore the design of Christ was different. The scribes endeavored to gain the favor of the ignorant multitude, and indeed of all the Jews, by this additional hypocrisy, that they cherished with reverence the memory of the prophets; for while in this manner they pretended to maintain their doctrine, any one would have supposed that they were faithful imitators of them, and very keen zealots for the worship of God. It was a proposal, therefore, which was likely to prove highly acceptable, to erect monuments for the prophets, because in this way religion might be said to be drawn out of darkness, that it might receive the honor which it deserved. And yet nothing was farther from their design than to restore doctrine, which might appear to have been extinguished by the death of the prophets. But though they were not only averse to the doctrine of the prophets, but most inveterate enemies to it, yet they honored them--when dead--with sepulchers, as if they had made common cause with them.
It is customary, indeed, with hypocrites thus to honor, after their death, good teachers and holy ministers of God, whom they cannot endure while they are alive. Nor does this arise merely from the common fault, which Horace thus describes: "We hate virtue while it is in safety, but when it has been removed from our eyes, we seek it with envy;" 4 but as the ashes of the dead no longer give annoyance by harsh and severe reproofs, they who are driven to madness by the living voices of those men are not unwilling, by adoring them, to make an empty display of religion. It is a hypocrisy which costs little to profess warm regard for those who are now silent. 5 Thus each of the prophets, in his own age, was contemptuously rejected, and wickedly tormented, by the Jews, and, in many instances, cruelly put to death; while posterity, though not a whit better than their fathers, pretended to venerate their memory, instead of embracing their doctrine; for they too were actuated by equal hostility towards their own teachers. 6 As the world--not venturing altogether to despise God, or at least to rise openly against him--contrives this stratagem of adoring the shadow of God instead of God, so a similar game is played in reference to the prophets.
A proof of this--far too striking--may be seen in Popery. Not satisfied with paying just veneration to Apostles and Martyrs, they render to them divine worship, and think that they cannot go too far in the honors which they heap upon them; and yet, by their rage against believers, they show what sort of respect they would have manifested towards Apostles and Martyrs, if they had been still alive to discharge the same office which they anciently held. For why are they inflamed with such rage against us, but because we desire that doctrine to be received, and to be successful, which the Apostles and Martyrs sealed with their blood? While the holy servants of God valued that doctrine more highly than their own life, would their life have been spared by those who so outrageously persecute the doctrine? Let them adorn the images of the saints as they may think fit, by perfumes, candles, flowers, and every sort of gaudy ornament. If Peter were now alive, they would tear him in pieces; they would stone Paul; and if Christ himself were still in the world, they would burn him with a slow fire.
Our Lord, perceiving that the scribes and priests of his age were eager to obtain the applause of the people, on the ground of their being devout worshippers of the prophets, reproves them for deceit and mockery, because they not only reject, but even cruelly persecute, the prophets that are now present, 7 and whom God has sent to them. But it is a display of base hypocrisy, and shameful impudence, to desire to be thought religious on account of worshipping the dead, while they endeavor to murder the living.
30. If we had been in the days of our fathers. Not without good reason did Christ introduce this sentiment; for though he does not blame them for the conduct of their fathers, and does not make it the chief ground of accusation that they are the children of murderers: yet he takes a passing glance of their foolish boasting, in being accustomed to glory in their ancestors, while they were descended from the bloody enemies of God. The appeal may be thus stated: "You look upon the veneration which you pay to the deceased prophets as some sort of expiation for the wickedness of your fathers. Now then I have this to urge, that it is in vain for you to boast of a sacred ancestry, since you are descended from wicked and ungodly parents. Go now, and screen your crimes by the piety of those whose hands, you acknowledge, were stained with innocent blood. But it is an additional and far more heinous crime, that the sacrilegious fury of the fathers, which you condemn by raising sepulchers for the dead, is imitated by you in the murder of the living."
32. Do you then fill up the measure of your fathers. He at length concludes that they are not, in this respect, degenerate from their fathers; as if he had said, "It is not now that your nation begins to treat with cruelty the prophets of God; for this is the ancient discipline, this is the custom handed down from the fathers, and, in short, this way of acting is almost natural to you." And yet he does not bid them do what they are doing, to put to death holy teachers, but states figuratively that they have a hereditary right to rise against the servants of God, and that they must be permitted to oppose religion, because in this way they fill up what is wanting in the crimes of their fathers, and finish the web which they had begun. By these words he not only pronounces themselves to be desperate, and incapable of being brought to a sound mind, but warns simple people that there is no reason to wonder, if the prophets of God are ill-treated by the children of murderers.
33. Offspring of vipers. After having demonstrated that the scribes are not only base enemies of sound doctrine, and wicked corrupters of the worship of God, but likewise deadly plagues of the Church, Christ, being about to close his discourse, kindles into more vehement indignation against them; as it is necessary to shake off by violence the flatteries in which hypocrites indulge, and to drag them, as it were, to the judgment seat of God, that they may be filled with alarm. And yet Christ did not keep them alone in his eye, but intended to strike terror into the whole people, that all might guard against a similar destruction. How harsh and intolerable this roughness of language must have been to these reverend instructors may easily be inferred from the long period during which they had held a peaceful dominion, so that no one dared to mutter against them. And there can be no doubt that many were displeased with the great freedom and sharpness which Christ used, and, above all, that he was looked upon as immoderate and outrageous in venturing to apply such reproachful epithets to the order of the scribes; as many fastidious persons of the present day cannot endure any harsh word to be spoken against the Popish clergy. But as Christ had to deal with the worst of hypocrites, who not only were swelled with proud contempt of God, and intoxicated with careless security, but had captivated the multitude by their enchantments, he found it necessary to exclaim against them with vehemence. He calls them serpents both in nature and in habits, and then threatens them with a punishment, which it will be in vain for them to attempt to escape, if they do not speedily repent.
34. Therefore, lo, I send to you. Luke introduces it in a still more emphatic manner, Wherefore also the Wisdom of God hath said; which some commentators explain thus: "I, who am the eternal Wisdom of God, declare this concerning you." But I am more inclined to believe that, according to the ordinary custom of Scripture, God is here represented as speaking in the person of his Wisdom; so that the meaning is, "God foretold long ago, by the prophetic Spirit, what would happen with regard to you." This sentence, I acknowledge, is nowhere to be found literally: but as God denounces the incorrigible obstinacy of that people in many places of Scripture, Christ draws up a kind of summary of them, and by this personification 8 expresses more clearly what was the judgment of God as to the incurable wickedness of that nation. For if those teachers would have no success, it might have appeared strange that Christ should have desired them to weary themselves to no purpose. Men argue thus: "God labors in vain, when he sends his word to the reprobate, who, he knows, will continue obstinate." And hypocrites, as if it were sufficient of itself to have preachers of the heavenly doctrine continually with them, though they show themselves to be disobedient, entertain the conviction that God is reconciled and favorable to them, provided that the outward word be heard amongst them.
Thus the Jews fiercely boasted that, in comparison of other nations, they had always enjoyed the best prophets and teachers, and, as if they had deserved so great an honor, they considered this to be an undoubted proof of their own excellence. 9 To put down this foolish boasting, Christ not only affirms that they do not excel other nations on the ground of having received from God distinguished prophets and expounders of his Wisdom, but maintains that this ilk requited favor is a greater reproach, and will bring upon them a heavier condemnation, because the purpose of God was different from what they supposed, namely, to render them more inexcusable, and to bring their wicked malice to the highest pitch; as if he had said, "Though prophets have been appointed to you by heaven in close succession, it is idly and foolishly that you claim this as an honor; for God had quite a different object in his secret judgment, which was, to lay open, by an uninterrupted succession of gracious invitations, your wicked obstinacy, and, on your being convicted of it, to involve the children in the same condemnation with the fathers."
With regard to the words, the discourse as related by Matthew is defective, but its meaning must be supplied from the words of Luke. The mention of scribes and wise men along with prophets tends to magnify the grace of God; by which their ingratitude becomes more apparent, since, though God left nothing undone for their instruction, they made no proficiency. Instead of wise men and scribes, Luke mentions apostles, but the meaning is the same. This passage shows that God does not always bestow salvation on men when he sends his word to them, but that he sometimes intends to have it proclaimed to the reprobate, who, he knows, will continue obstinate, that it may be to them
the savior of death unto death, (2 Corinthians 2:16.)
The word of God, indeed, in itself and by its own nature, brings salvation, and invites all men indiscriminately to the hope of eternal life; but as all are not inwardly drawn, and as God does not pierce the ears of ally--in short, as they are not renewed to repentance or bent to obedience, those who reject the word of God render it, by their unbelief, deadly and destructive.
While God foresees that this will be the result, he purposely sends his prophets to them, that he may involve the reprobate in severer condemnation, as is more fully explained by Isaiah, (6:10.) This, I acknowledge, is very far from being agreeable to the reason of the flesh, as we see that unholy despisers of God seize on it as a plausible excuse for barking, that God, like some cruel tyrant, takes pleasure in inflicting more severe punishment on men whom, without any expectation of advantage, he knowingly and willingly hardens more and more. But by such examples God exercises the modesty of believers. Let us maintain such sobriety as to tremble and adore what exceeds our senses. Those who say, that God's foreknowledge does not hinder unbelievers from being saved, foolishly make use of an idle defense for excusing God. I admit that the reprobate, in bringing death upon themselves, have no intention of doing what God foresaw would happen, and therefore that the fault of their perishing cannot be ascribed to His foreknowledge; but I assert that it is improper to employ this sophistry in defending the justice of God, because it may be immediately objected that it lies with God to make them repent, for the gift of faith and repentance is in his power.
We shall next be met by this objection, What is the reason why God, by a fixed and deliberate purpose, appoints the light of his word to blind men? When they have been devoted to eternal death, why is he not satisfied with their simple ruin? and why does he wish that they should perish twice or three times? There is nothing left for us but to ascribe glory to the judgments of God, by exclaiming with Paul, that they are a deep and unfathomable abyss, (Romans 11:33.) But it is asked, How does he declare that the prophecies will turn to the destruction of the Jews, while his adoption still continued to be in force towards that nation? I reply, As but a small portion embraced the word by faith for salvation, this passage relates to the greater number or the whole body; as Isaiah, after having predicted the general destruction of the nation, is commanded
to seal the law of God among the disciples, (Isaiah 8:16.)
Let us know then that, wherever the Scripture denounces eternal death against the Jews, it excepts a remnant, (Isaiah 1:9; Romans 11:5;) that is, those in whom the Lord preserves some seed on account of his free election.
35. That upon you may come. He not only takes away from them their false boasting, but shows that they had received prophets for a totally different purpose, that no age might be free from the criminality of wicked rebellion; for the pronoun you embraces generally the whole nation from its very commencement. If it be objected, that it is not consistent with the judgment of God that punishment should be inflicted on the children for the sins of the parents, the answer is easy. Since they are all involved in a wicked conspiracy, we ought not to think it strange if God, in punishing all without reserve, make the punishment due to the fathers to fall upon the children. Justly then is the whole nation--in whatever age individuals may have lived--called to account, and likewise punished, for this unceasing contempt. For as God, by an uninterrupted course of patience, has unceasingly contended with the malice of the whole people, so the whole people is justly held guilty of the inflexible obstinacy which continued to the very last; and as every age had conspired to put to death its own prophets, so it is right that a general sentence should be pronounced upon them, and that all the murders, which have been perpetrated with one consent, should be avenged on all.
From the blood of Abel. Though Abel (Genesis 4:8) was not slain by the Jews, yet the murder of Abel is imputed to them by Christ, because there is an affinity of wickedness between them and Cain; otherwise there would have been no propriety in saying that righteous blood had been shed by that nation from the beginning of the world. Cain is therefore declared to be the head, and leader, and instigator of the Jewish people, because, ever since they began to slay prophets, they succeeded in the room of him whose imitators they were.
To the blood of Zechariah. He does not speak of Zechariah as the latest martyr; for the Jews did not then put an end to the murder of the prophets, but, on the contrary, their insolence and madness increased from that period; and posterity, who followed them, satiated themselves with the blood which their fathers only tasted. Nor is it because his death was better known, though it is recorded in Scripture. But there is another reason, which, though it deserves attention, has escaped the notice of commentators; in consequence of which they have not only fallen into a mistake, but have likewise involved their readers in a troublesome question. We might suppose it to have arisen from forgetfulness on the part of Christ, that, while he mentions one ancient murder, he passes by a prodigious slaughter which afterwards took place under Manasseh. For until the Jews were carried to Babylon, their wicked persecutions of holy men did not cease; and even while they were still under affliction, we know with what cruelty and rage they pursued Jeremiah, (32:2.) But our Lord on purpose abstains from reproaching them with recent murders, and selects this murder, which was more ancient--which was also the commencement and source of base licentiousness, and afterwards led them to break out into unbounded cruelty--because it was more suitable to his design. For I have lately explained, that his leading object was to show that this nation, as it did not desist from impiety, must be held guilty of all the murders which had been perpetrated during a long period. Not only, therefore, does he denounce the punishment of their present cruelty, but says that they must be called to account for the murder of Zechariah, as if their own hands had been imbrued in his blood.
There is no probability in the opinion of those who refer this passage to that Zechariah who exhorted the people, after their return from the Babylonish captivity, to build the temple, (Zechariah 8:9,) and whose prophecies are still in existence. For though the title of the book informs us that he was the son of Barachiah, (Zechariah 1:1,)
yet we nowhere read that he was slain; and it is , forced exposition to say, that he was slain during the period that intervened between the building of the altar and of the temple. But as to the other Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, the sacred history relates what agrees perfectly with this passage; that when true religion had fallen into decay, after the death of his father, through the wicked revolt of the king and of the people, the Spirit of God came upon him, to reprove severely the public idolatry, and that on this account he was stoned in the porch of the temple, (2 Chronicles 24:20, 21.) There is no absurdity in supposing that his father Jehoiada received, in token of respect, the surname of Barachiah, because, having throughout his whole life defended the true worship, he might justly be pronounced to be the Blessed of God. But whether Jehoiada had two names, or whether (as Jerome thinks) there is a mistake in the word, there can be no doubt as to the fact, that Christ refers to that impious stoning of Zechariah which is recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:21, 22.
Whom you slew between the temple and the altar. The crime is rendered still more heinous by the circumstance of the place, since they did not revere the sacredness of the temple. Here the temple is put for the outer court, as in other passages. Near it was the altar of burnt offerings, (1 Kings 8:64; 18:30,)
so that the priest offered the sacrifices in presence of the people. It is evident, therefore, that there must have been furious rage, when the sight of the altar and of the temple could not restrain the Jews from profaning that sacred place by a detestable murder.
37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem. By these words, Christ shows more clearly what good reason he had for indignation, that Jerusalem, which God had chosen to be his sacred, and--as we might say--heavenly abode, not only had shown itself to be unworthy of so great an honor, but, as if it had been a den of robbers, (Jeremiah 7:11,) had been long accustomed to suck the blood of the prophets. Christ therefore utters a pathetic exclamation at a sight so monstrous, as that the holy city of God should have arrived at such a pitch of madness, that it had long endeavored to extinguish the saving doctrine of God by shedding the blood of the prophets. This is also implied in the repetition of the name, because impiety so monstrous and incredible deserves no ordinary detestation.
Thou who killest the prophets. Christ does not reproach them with merely one or another murder, but says that this custom was so deeply rooted, that the city did not care to slay every one of the prophets that were sent to it. For the participle, (ajpoktei>nousa tou<v profh>tav), (killing the prophets,) is put for an epithet; as if Christ had said, "Thou who oughtest to have been a faithful guardian of the word of God, a teacher of heavenly wisdom, the light of the world, the fountain of sound doctrine, the seat of divine worship, a pattern of faith and obedience, art a murderer of the prophets, so that thou hast acquired a certain habit of sucking their blood." 10 Hence it is evident, that they who had so basely profaned the sanctuary of God deserved every kind of reproaches. Yet Christ had likewise the intention to obviate the scandal which soon after arose, that believers, when they saw him basely put to death at Jerusalem, might not be confounded by the novelty of such an exhibition. For by these words they were already warned that it was not wonderful if a city, which had been accustomed to strangle or stone the prophets, should cruelly put to death its own Redeemer. This shows us what value we should attach to places. There never certainly was a city in the world on which God bestowed such magnificent titles, or such distinguished honor; and yet we see how deeply it was sunk by its ingratitude.
Let the Pope now compare the abode of his robbery with that holy city; what will he find worthy of equal honor? His hired flatterers boast to us that the faith flourished there in ancient times. But admitting this to be true, if it is evident that it has now, by wicked rebellion, revolted from Christ, and is full of innumerable deeds of sacrilege, what folly is it in them to maintain that the honor of primacy belongs to it? Let us, on the contrary, learn from this memorable example, that when any place has been exalted by uncommon instances of the favor of God, and thus has been removed from the ordinary rank, if it degenerate, it will not only be stripped of its ornaments, but will become so much the more hateful and detestable, because it has basely profaned the glow of God by staining the beauty of his favors.
How often would I have gathered together thy children. This is expressive of indignation rather than of compassion. The city itself, indeed, over which he had lately wept, (Luke 19:41,) is still an object of his compassion; but towards the scribes, who were the authors of its destruction, he uses harshness and severity, as they deserved. And yet he does not spare the rest, who were all guilty of approving and partaking of the same crime, but, including all in the same condemnation, he inveighs chiefly against the leaders themselves, who were the cause of all the evils. We must now observe the vehemence of the discourse. If in Jerusalem the grace of God had been merely rejected, there would have been inexcusable ingratitude; but since God attempted to draw the Jews to himself by mild and gentle methods, and gained nothing by such kindness, the criminality of such haughty disdain was far more aggravated. There was likewise added unconquerable obstinacy; for not once and again did God wish to gather them together, but, by constant and uninterrupted advances, he sent to them the prophets, one after another, almost all of whom were rejected by the great body of the people.
As a hen collecteth her brood under her wings. We now perceive the reason why Christ, speaking in the person of God, compares himself to a hen. It is to inflict deeper disgrace on this wicked nation, which had treated with disdain invitations so gentle, and proceeding from more than maternal kindness. It is an amazing and unparalleled instance of love, that he did not disdain to stoop to those blandishments, by which he might tame rebels into subjection. A reproof nearly similar is employed by Moses, that God, like
an eagle with outspread wings, (Deuteronomy 32:11,)
embraced that people. And though in more than one way God spread out his wings to cherish that people, yet this form of expression is applied by Christ, in a peculiar manner, to one class, namely, that prophets were sent to gather together the wandering and dispersed into the bosom of God. By this he means that, whenever the word of God is exhibited to us, he opens his bosom to us with maternal kindness, and, not satisfied with this, condescends to the humble affection of a hen watching over her chickens. Hence it follows, that our obstinacy is truly monstrous, if we do not permit him to gather us together. And, indeed, if we consider, on the one hand, the dreadful majesty of God, and, on the other, our mean and low condition, we cannot but be ashamed and astonished at such amazing goodness. For what object can God have in view in abasing himself so low on our account? When he compares himself to a mother, he descends very far below his glory; how much more when he takes the form of a hen, and deigns to treat us as his chickens?
Besides, if this charge was justly brought against the ancient people, who lived under the Law, it is far more applicable to us. For though the statement--which I quoted a little ago from Moses--was always true, and though the complaints which we find in Isaiah are just, that
in vain did God spread out his hands every day to embrace a hard-hearted and rebellious people, (Isaiah 65:27)
that, though he rose up early, (Jeremiah 7:13) he gained nothing by his incessant care of them; yet now, with far greater familiarity and kindness, he invites us to himself by his Son. And, therefore, whenever he exhibits to us the doctrine of the Gospel, dreadful vengeance awaits us, if we do not quietly hide ourselves under his wings, by which he is ready to receive and shelter us. Christ teaches us, at the same time, that all enjoy safety and rest who, by the obedience of faith, are gathered together to God; because under his wings they have an impregnable refuge. 11
We must attend likewise to the other part of this accusation, that God, notwithstanding the obstinate rebellion of his ancient people, was not all at once so much offended by it, as to lay aside a father's love and a mother's anxiety, since he did not cease to send prophets after prophets in uninterrupted succession; as in our own day, though he has experienced a marvelous depravity in the world, he still continues to dispense his grace. But these words contain still deeper instruction, namely, that the Jews, as soon as the Lord gathered them together, immediately left him. Hence came dispersions so frequent, that they scarcely remained at rest for a single moment under the wings of God, as we see in the present day a certain wildness in the world, which has indeed existed in all ages; and, therefore, it is necessary that God should recall to himself those who are wandering and going astray. But this is the crowning point of desperate and final depravity, when men obstinately reject the goodness of God, and refuse to come under his wings.
I said formerly that Christ speaks here in the person of God, and my meaning is, that this discourse belongs properly to his eternal Godhead; for he does not now speak of what he began to do since he was manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 2:16,) but of the care which he exercised about the salvation of his people from the beginning. Now we know that the Church was governed by God in such a manner that Christ, as the Eternal Wisdom of God, presided over it. In this sense Paul says, not that God the Father was tempted in the wilderness, but that Christ himself was tempted,12 (1 Corinthians 10:9.)
Again, when the sophists seize on this passage, to prove free will, and to set aside the secret predestination of God, the answer is easy. "God wills to gather all men," say they; "and therefore all are at liberty to come, and their will does not depend on the election of God." I reply: The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result. For since by his word he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself. It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God, but his will, which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man.
If it be objected, that it is absurd to suppose the existence of two wills in God, I reply, we fully believe that his will is simple and one; but as our minds do not fathom the deep abyss of secret election, in accommodation to the capacity of our weakness, the will of God is exhibited to us in two ways. And I am astonished at the obstinacy of some people, who, when in many passages of Scripture they meet with that figure of speech 13 (ajnqrwpopa>qeia) which attributes to God human feelings, take no offense, but in this case alone refuse to admit it. But as I have elsewhere treated this subject fully, that I may not be unnecessarily tedious, I only state briefly that, whenever the doctrine, which is the standard of union, 14 is brought forward, God wills to gather all, that all who do not come may be inexcusable.
And you would not. This may be supposed to refer to the whole nation, as well as to the scribes; but I rather interpret it in reference to the latter, by whom the gathering together, 15 was chiefly prevented. For it was against them that Christ inveighed throughout the whole of the passage; and now, after having addressed Jerusalem in the singular number, it appears not without reason that he immediately used the plural number. There is an emphatic contrast between God's willing and their not willing; 16 for it expresses the diabolical rage of men, who do not hesitate to contradict God.
38. Lo, your house is left to you desolate. He threatens the destruction of the temple, and the dissolution of the whole frame of civil government. Though they were disfigured by irreligion, crimes, and every kind of infamy, yet they were so blinded by a foolish confidence in the temple, and its outward service, that they thought that God was bound to them; and this was the shield which they had always at hand: "What? Could God depart from that place which he has chosen to be his only habitation in the world? And since he dwells in the midst of us, we must one day be restored." In short, they looked upon the temple as their invincible fortress, as if they dwelt in the bosom of God. But Christ maintains that it is in vain for them to boast of the presence of God, whom they had driven away by their crimes, and, by calling it their house, (lo, your house is left to you,) he indirectly intimates to them that it is no longer the house of God. The temple had indeed been built on the condition, that at the coming of Christ it would cease to be the abode and residence of Deity; but it would have remained as a remarkable demonstration of the continued grace of God, if its destruction had not been occasioned by the wickedness of the people. It was therefore a dreadful vengeance of God, that the place which Himself had so magnificently adorned was not only forsaken by Him, and ordered to be razed to the foundation, but consigned to the lowest infamy to the end of the world. Let the Romanists now go, and let them proceed, in opposition to the will of God, to build their Tower of Babylon, while they see that the temple of God, which had been built by his authority and at his command, was laid low on account of the crimes of the people.
39. For I tell you. He confirms what he had said about the approaching vengeance of God, by saying that the only method of avoiding destruction will be taken from them. For that was the accepted time, the day of salvation, (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2,) so long as that very person who had come to be their Redeemer, attested and proclaimed the redemption which he had brought. But at his departure, as at the setting of the sun, the light of life vanished; and therefore this dreadful calamity, which he threatens, must of necessity fall upon them.
Until you say. We come now to inquire what period is denoted by this phrase. Some restrict it to the last day of judgment. Others think that it is a prediction, which was soon afterwards fulfilled, when some of the Jews humbly adored Christ. But I do not approve of either of these interpretations. And I am certainly astonished that learned men should have stumbled at so small an obstacle, by taking great pains to inquire how unbelievers can say concerning Christ, Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord; for he does not declare what they will be, but what he himself will do. And even the adverb until extends no farther than to the time which goes before. Joseph did not know his wife until she brought forth Christ, (Matthew 1:25.) By these words Scripture does not mean, that after Christ had been born they lived together as husband and wife, but only shows that Mary, before the birth of her son, was a virgin that had not known man.
So then the true meaning of the present passage, in nay opinion, is this: "Hitherto I have lived among you in humility and kindness, and have discharged the office of a teacher; and no having finished the course of my calling, I shall depart, and it will not be possible for you any longer to enjoy my presence, but him whom you now despise as a Redeemer and a minister of salvation, you will find to be your Judge." In this manner the passage agrees with the words of Zechariah, They shall look on him whom they pierced, (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:37.) But Christ appears also to make an indirect allusion to their vain hypocrisy, because, as if they ardently longed for the promised salvation, they sung daily the words of the psalm,
Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord,
while they treated with scorn the Redeemer that was offered to them. In short, he declares that he will not come to them until, trembling at the sight of his dreadful majesty, they shall exclaim--when it is too late--that truly he is the Son of God. And this threatening is addressed to all despisers of the Gospel, more especially to those who falsely profess his name, while they reject his doctrine; for they will one day acknowledge that they cannot escape the hands of him whom they now mock by their hypocritical pretensions. For the same song is now sung by the Papists, who, after all, care nothing about Christ, until, armed with vengeance, he ascends his tribunal. We are also reminded, that so long as Christ exhibits himself to us in the name of the Father as the herald of salvation and Mediator, we ought not only to honor him with our lips, but sincerely to wish that he would make us and the whole world subject to himself.
Luke 11:53. And while he was saying these things to them. I have formerly mentioned that the preceding sentences were not inserted by Luke in their proper place. For while he was relating that Christ at a dinner reproved the scribes, he introduced also the latest discourses by which, a little before his death, he reproved their wicked courses; and in like manner, the reproof which we have just now examined is inserted by Luke, in connection with a different narrative. If any one prefer to follow the opinion of those who conjecture that Christ repeated the same discourses on various occasions, I have no great objection. After pronouncing the curses which have been now explained, he concludes by saying that all the scribes became more inveterate against Christ, so that they did not cease to entrap him by ensnaring questions; which ought to be referred to the conversation held at the table, rather than to his latest discourse. But I have not thought it a matter of great importance to be very exact about the time--a matter which the Evangelist has disregarded.