The Master’s Last Public Words
“Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:34-39)
We have before us the last words ever spoken in public by our Lord Jesus Christ, not the last words he spoke, but the last words he spoke in public to the multitudes and particularly to the Jewish nation. These words are some of the most solemn and stern words ever spoken by him. They are words of judgment from the God-man, whose heart was full of pity.
This passage of Scripture, so often twisted and perverted by Arminians in their vain attempts to disprove the gospel of God’s free grace in Christ, is in fact not a passage showing that salvation is by man’s will, but rather a passage declaring that man’s ruin and everlasting destruction is by his will. In these verses our Lord declares to the scribes, and Pharisees, and Jewish people that the basis of God’s judgment and the cause of their spiritual ruin was their obstinate, willful unbelief.
That which our Lord asserts concerning the nation of Israel is equally true of men today. There is nothing that keeps a man out of heaven but his own unwillingness to bow to Christ, receive him, and believe on him as Lord and Savior (John 5:46; 6:37-40; 7:37-38). Israel did not enter into the land of promise for only one reason – unbelief! (Heb. 4). That nation perished, not because God would not be gracious to them, but because they would not trust him (Isa. 48:18-19). And if you and I miss heaven it will be because of our own, willful unbelief. There is nothing that keeps a man out of heaven but his own will. And there is nothing that keeps a man out of hell but God’s will. The decree of God opens the door of heaven for a great, innumerable multitude of sinners. But the decree of God does not shut the doors of heaven against anyone. Be sure you understand this. — Eternal life is by God’s will, God’s gift, and God’s work (Rom. 9:16; 6:23; 2 Tim. 1:9). But eternal death is the result of man’s will, man’s work, and man’s merit. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23; 1:23-26; 10:21).
Space for Repentance
First, Our Lord here teaches us that God almighty graciously gives wicked men and women space for repentance. Our great King’s earthly life and ministry was to end soon. But, before this world, he delivered a royal and prophetical message. — “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city” (v. 34).
In this verse, our Lord speaks of his apostles as prophets, wise men, and scribes. And there is a sense in which all true gospel preachers may be described as such. Prophets declare what God will do. Wise men are made wise unto salvation and have wisdom to declare God’s salvation to others. Scribes interpret and teach the Word of God.
These “prophets, and wise men, and scribes” are Christ’s ascension gifts to his church. Here he declared the kind of reception his servants would have among the Jews. — “And some of then ye shall kill and crucify, and some of them I shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city.”
Pastor Henry Mahan wrote, “God’s mercy forgives sin, his grace bestows favor, his longsuffering and patience give space for repentance and faith.” As God sent his servants to the Jews and gave them repeated warnings, message, after message, after message, so he does today. God does not allow men to sin without rebuke. He does not allow iniquity to go unchecked in anyone. With every transgression, with every breach of God’s law, man must trample under his feet the hedge of warnings God has planted about him.
Your conscience is God’s law written on your heart, by which God speaks to those who have not had their consciences seared (Rom. 2:14-15). The Lord God, as it were, knocks at the door of conscience and gets a person’s attention by sickness, afflictions, bereavements, and fearful “brushes with death;” but rebels harden their hearts, and persist in their defiance of the Almighty. God opens the grave under their eyes, destroys their idols, and stirs their souls; but they soon ignore his warnings. Like cattle in the field, when one of the herd is slaughtered, they look up for a moment and return to grazing on the grass beneath their feet.
How often the Lord God gives a summons to sinners by the preaching of the Word. Frequently, men and women experience soul trouble, but do not know what is happening. Blind, deaf, and dead, they do not understand the Lord’s ways. So, they harden their hearts, as Pharaoh of old. But soon everyone will see and understand, “God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not” (Job 33:14). In the day of judgment, when it is too late, everyone will realize that there is a voice in every event of providence, saying, “Turn ye, turn ye! Why will ye die?” (Ezek. 33:11).
God’s servants today put the prophet’s question before eternity bound sinners, crying to perishing men, “Why will ye die?” Justice has been satisfied by Christ. Righteousness has been brought in by the Son of God. All who trust the Lord Jesus are saved by him (John 6:40; Heb. 7:25). Still, unless the Lord Jesus himself grants the rebel sinner repentance by his almighty grace, none will obey the gospel.
Second, the Lord God takes notice of and remembers the relentless persecutions of his people by wicked men. — “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (vv. 34-36).
Our Savior’s prophecy was literally fulfilled among the Jewish people. He said, “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” And, before that generation had passed away, Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed. There was a sufficient interval for the full proclamation of the gospel and the gathering out of God’s elect among them, who were made to know that the crucified Christ is the Messiah. Then came the awful end, which the Savior foretold.
But our Lord’s warning here was not for the Jewish people alone. It speaks to this generation as well. As Cain, the first murderer, began to show this hardness of heart and bitterness of spirit against Abel, so every persecution and blood shedding the cause of Christ has suffered, from the days of Cain to the end of that holy war between the seed of the serpent and the woman’s Seed, will be required of the serpent’s generation (1 John 3:12; John 8:44).
God’s servants in this world are often lied about and scandalized by those who oppose them, held in contempt by those they serve, and despised and abused by some who pretend to love them. Frequently, people who would not openly abuse God’s messenger will abuse his wife and children. Such people think, “No one really knows what I am doing.” What fools!
There is a day of reckoning coming. If not in this world, in the next those men and women will understand that their actions were observed by God, punished by God (in their own experiences, their own families, and their own woes), and shall be a matter of eternal ruin, not only for themselves but for their children, and their children’s children.
Who would ever have imagined that the dying words of Zacharias (2 Chr. 24:22) would find their fulfillment in his murderers descendants, not only when he was murdered, but 800 years later? Our Lord declares that anything done to one of his servants is done to him (1 Sam. 8:7; Matt. 10:40-42). On one occasion, some children were mocking God’s prophet, and God sent two bears to destroy forty-two of them at one time.
Be warned, God will destroy those who would destroy his church and kingdom (1 Cor. 3:16-17). God’s servants should find great satisfaction in this. The God we serve will not allow any to get by with the abuse of his servants. There is an Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and a Hand that records everything done against God’s servants. He who lives forever says, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye” (Zech. 2:8). Yes, “God requireth things that are past” (Eccles. 3:15).
Third, this passage of Holy Scripture declares that false prophets, lost religious leaders are murderers of men’s souls. — “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (v. 37).
Our Lord did not say, “How often would I have gathered you, and you would not.” Neither did he say, “How often would I have gathered thy children, and they would not.” Rather he says, “How often would I have gathered thy children and ye would not! This verse of Scripture must be understood in its context. Our Lord was condemning the scribes and Pharisees. He is saying the same thing here as he said in verse 13. — “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”
Without question, our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified what a true preacher of the gospel is and must be. — One who is full of compassion and care for men’s souls. The words of verse 37 express the tenderness and compassion of Christ as a man, not his immutable will as God. They display our Lord’s human affection for his fellow men (Mark 10:21). Our Lord’s understanding of God’s absolute sovereign election, particular redemption, and irresistible grace did not keep him from caring about the souls of men (Rom. 9:2-4; 10:1). He knew the wickedness of that city. He knew what crimes had been committed by them. He knew all the prophets they had hated and murdered. He knew what they wanted to do and soon would do to him. Yet, he pitied them!
Still, it must be asserted plainly that any who make our Lord’s words in verse 37 to represent a frustration of his will, purpose, and grace toward chosen sinners are greatly mistaken. Our Lord, obviously, is not suggesting that he desired the spiritual and eternal salvation of multitudes that he could not (or did not) save, because they chose to reject his grace. There were none upon earth for whom so much had been done, to whom so much had been given. The tabernacle, the temple, the priesthood, all the ordinances of divine worship in the Old Testament, and the many preincarnate appearances of Christ were theirs.
By all these things our blessed Christ displayed his great love for his elect among that nation and people, watching over them by the secret workings of his Holy Spirit throughout those days of old. Oh, what great love it is in our Savior’s heart that is revealed in the countless gifts of his grace and providence today, by which he comes to us as he does not to the world (John 14:18-22). Every ordinance of worship, every blessing of providence is given to lead chosen, redeemed sinners into the knowledge, apprehension, and experience of his love for them and his grace to them. All are revelations of “the good will of him that dwelt in the bush” (Deu. 33:16). With all the tenderness of a hen, spreading her wings over her brood to protect them from danger, our blessed Savior watches over his elect, gathers them unto himself, and protects them from all danger. He has always done so, is doing so, and ever shall do so. It is written, “There shall no evil happen to the just” (Pro. 12:21).
It is delightful to seize every opportunity to observe our Savior’s grace and goodness, love and care, and ceaseless mercy toward his elect. But, here our Redeemer is describing the ruin of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel, among whom his beloved people were preserved and blessed throughout the Mosaic age. How often he would have gathered their children together; but their religious leaders (the scribes and Pharisees), like false prophets in every age, “shut up the kingdom of heaven against them” and would not have any to enter it.
Remember, our Savior is here addressing the scribes and Pharisees, condemning them for their treachery in destroying the souls of men. He is not suggesting that he would have gathered them to himself in grace. They were never the objects of his grace. Yet, had the Jewish people, as a nation, received him as the Christ of God, instead of crucifying the Lord of life and glory, they would have been saved as a nation, and the Romans would not have been sent by him to destroy the nation.
A Willing Savior
That which is spoken here is not a word of grace, but of judgment. Yet, I cannot fail to take this opportunity to show that our Lord Jesus Christ is a willing Savior. Oh, what a willing Savior our Savior is! He is a God who “delighteth in mercy!” The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is as willing to save as he is mighty to save (Isa. 45:22; 55:1-3, 6-7; 59:1-2; Matt. 11:28-30; John 5:40; 7:37-38). Aren’t you thankful? The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save lost sinners. He said, “I am come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The Son of God died in the room and stead of the ungodly. The Lamb of God is seated upon the throne of grace in heaven, waiting to be gracious, waiting to save sinners.
Salvation is entirely the work of God. All will be saved in the end who were chosen to salvation from the beginning, them and no one else. All will be with Christ in glory for whom Christ made atonement and satisfaction at Calvary, them and no one else. All will be crowned with the heavenly hosts who have been effectually called by the Holy Ghost, them and no one else. Yet, he who is God our Savior is ready and willing to save all who come to God by him, and will most assuredly save them.
“If I should die with mercy sought,
When I the Lord have tried,
This were to die,
As sinner never died!”
Cause of Ruin
Fifth, these words from the Master teach us that all who are lost are lost and ruined forever because of their own, willful rebellion and unbelief. — “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (vv. 37-39).
It is written, “O Israel, thou has destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help” (Hosea 13:9). If we are saved, we will be saved by grace alone. If we are destroyed, we must destroy ourselves. The judgment of God is always just. Three things are clearly established in these last three verses of Luke 23: (1.) The cause of man’s ruin is his own will. J. C. Ryle wrote, “Impotent as man is by nature, unable to think a good thought of himself, without power to turn himself to faith and call upon God, he still appears to have a mighty ability to ruin his own soul.” (2.) Often eternal ruin begins in this world with judicial reprobation (v. 38; Hosea 4:17). And (3.) there is a day coming when all men shall see and acknowledge who Christ is and what he has done (v. 39; Phil. 2:9-11). In the last day, in that great day of judgment, he will be completely vindicated and honored, even by those who perish under his wrath.
“Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!” — This is what you have chosen. You shall forever eat the fruit of your own ways. The God you have despised and forsaken has despised and forsaken you forever! “Jerusalem,” wrote Spurgeon, “was too far gone to be rescued from it’s self-sought doom.” Their city, their houses, and their temple would be abandoned and destroyed forever; and they would be forever cast into hell.
“I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” — You shall see me no more until you see me glorified by all as the Christ of God, in my glorious second advent when you shall say, as the gaping pit of hell opens wide its mouth to swallow you up, “Here is the Blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Rev. 1:7; Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 45:22-25).
Ye sinners, seek His grace,
Whose wrath ye cannot bear;
Fly to the shelter of His cross,
And find salvation there.
So shall the curse remove,
By which the Savior bled;
And that last, awful day shall pour
His blessings on your head!
If we are saved, go to heaven, enjoy eternal life and glory in the bliss of God’s presence, it will be by God’s will, and God’s work alone. If we are lost, perish under the wrath of God, and go to a dark, Christless, eternal hell, it will be altogether our fault alone, because of our will, our unbelief, and our sin!