Woe to the children of their fathers, Part 1
Jun 20, 2014
When the Pharisee disputed Jesus’ practice of not washing his hands before eating in Luke 11:38, he uncovered an entire range of important issues that came rushing to the surface. The primary issue was whether God was pleased with outward rituals or the inward condition of the heart.
Luke 11:41 says,
41 But give that which is within as charity [eleamosuna, “alms”], and then all things are clean for you.
Giving alms to the poor was good, but if it was done only as a duty, or to get some benefit in return, then it missed the whole point of giving alms. Duties are obligations imposed by the command of another. It is only when one gives out of love from the heart that the alms carry weight with God. In fact, Jesus says, this is what makes their actions “clean” in the sight of God.
This is the true basis of all of the laws concerning cleansing. In the law there were many cleansing rituals that God commanded in various circumstances. To be “clean” involved being fit to approach God and to be eligible for divine service. But outward rituals were only designed to teach people the deeper spiritual truth about a “clean” relationship with God. Such inner cleanliness was manifested not by fulfilling duties but by giving out of a heart of love.
Giving alms in an outward manner is limited, because few give everything that they possess. But giving in an inward manner is unlimited, because such people give all that is within them. Further, as Lightfoot tells us,
“For indeed, this principle was the spawn of their own schools, that giving of alms had a value in it that served for atonement, justification, salvation, every thing… And hence is it that, in those numberless places in the Holy Scriptures, where the praises of justice and righteousness are celebrated, and all the blessings of it pronounced, they apply it all to the giving of alms…. Almsgiving delivereth from sudden death, and from the judgment of hell. R. Meir saith, If any wicked man should make this objection, that if your God love the poor, why doth he not feed them? do make this answer; it is, that we by them might be delivered from the judgment of hell.” (Commentary, Vol. III, p. 122)
The effect of this rabbinic teaching was that people gave alms as penance to atone for sin, to attain justification, and to gain favor with God. Almsgiving, then, was reduced to a commercial enterprise to purchase favor with God. The inner desire to help others in need was overlooked, as the poor became the means by which others might obtain atonement. Even beggars themselves found themselves in the strange position of being a necessary part of the community, providing a quasi-priestly service to others as the means for their being “delivered from the judgment of hell.”
In the context of Luke’s narrative, those who truly heard the word of God were filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, and so all of their works are done by nature. That is, the nature and character of God is within them, and so they are givers by nature.
The traditions of men, taught by the Pharisees and lawyers, distorted the word, added to it the ideas of men, and confused men’s works with their character. Jesus showed that washing one’s hands before eating does nothing to cleanse the heart, and for this reason Jesus had little or no interest in performing this ritual. He and others are “clean” because of the inner light, which is the heart and nature of God Himself.
Luke 11:42 continues,
42 But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
Rue was a shrub that had medicinal value. Many grew it in their gardens and paid tithe on it along with all other vegetables. Jesus did not instruct the people to omit the tithe. The problem was that their precision in calculating their tithe on each vegetable distracted them from the real issue of “justice and the love of God.”
Luke 11:43, 44 says,
43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the front seats in the synagogues, and the respectful greetings in the market places. 44 Woe to you! For you are the concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.
A “concealed tomb” is an interesting metaphor. The Greek word for “concealed” is adela, “unseen.” It carries the same meaning as hades, made up of alpha and eido. The alpha makes it a negative, and eido means “to see or perceive.” Hence, hades literally means “the unseen” or “imperceptible.” It is a state of being, rather than a location, and hence, when men die, their souls descend to hades (or “hell”). Their souls are said to descend into a state of sleep (Psalm 13:3; 1 Corinthians 11:30), not perceiving anything in their soulish (mental) or physical senses. The spirit, on the other hand, has a consciousness (mind) of its own and is never said to “sleep” but to “return to God” (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Luke 23:46).
So when Jesus called the Pharisees “unseen tombs,” He was calling their bodies “tombs” and linking their hearts to the death condition of hades because they were unable to see, hear, or perceive the word that Jesus was teaching. Furthermore, the people also were unaware of the Pharisees’ heart condition, so they walked over these tombs unaware of their contact with death. Only by hearing the word and receiving the light of revelation through Jesus’ teachings could the people come forth from their grave condition.
Of course, contact with the dead made people unclean in the law. Therefore, when the people were touched, or influenced, by the teachings of the Pharisee “tombs,” the people were rendered unclean without realizing it.
Luke 11:45 says,
45 And one of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.”
Unfortunately, the problem permeated the entire religious culture in Judea. Though not of the sect of the Pharisees (as his words indicate), this lawyer was thought to be an expert on the law and apparently taught the same outward ritualism that the Pharisees believed. So he complained that he too was being insulted. But Jesus did not back down.
46 But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”
The “burdens” in question were the multitude of legalistic requirements that the rabbis had set forth in their traditions. These were their interpretations of the law which often went far beyond the text of the law itself. Instead of being content with teaching the law itself, they established thousands of specific applications of the law in daily life.
Jesus overthrew these cumbersome burdens in favor of the heart and essentially left it to each individual to be led by the Spirit in those matters that were not specifically commanded in the law. The religious leaders, however, saw this as a violation of the law, because they confused their interpretations with the law itself.
The next “woe” was perhaps the most serious charge. Luke 11:47, 48 says,
47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. 48 Consequently, you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs.
The prophets were not killed for being true prophets. The civil and religious leaders of their day killed them because they were charged as false prophets. The prophets prophesied things that went against the common understanding of the leaders and their prophets. The true prophets were executed for going against the traditions of men, which were the commonly accepted views of their time.
The people of Jesus’ day had the same heart problem. Hence, they would plot soon against Jesus in the same manner that their fathers had plotted against the prophets in earlier times. The problem was not that the scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers had built tombs to honor the prophets posthumously. One could hardly fault them for this. This condemnation should be viewed in the light of Jesus’ previous metaphor about the Pharisees being unseen tombs.
Their fathers killed the prophets, and the succeeding generations honored those same prophets. How did they honor them? By claiming those prophets as their own, as if they disagreed with their forefathers and were in agreement with the dead prophets. This is established in Matthew’s account, where he says in Matthew 23:30,
30 and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”
Yet those dead prophets were no longer alive to dispute their claim. The prophets spoke with the same light of revelation that was seen in Jesus, and if they had been alive in Jesus’ day, they too would have been executed by those who had put away the law to maintain their traditions of men.
It was the traditions of men that had brought about the death of the prophets; those same carnal understandings prevailed in the hearts and minds of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. These religious leaders were unseen tombs. In building tombs for the prophets, they had encased the prophets in the traditions of men who themselves were tombs. Their actions seemed to make the claim that these later generations agreed with the word of the prophets; but in actuality, it claimed that those prophets were in agreement with the religious leaders of later generations.
Because the real issues remained unchanged, this later generation were said to be the “children” of those who persecuted the prophets. This was a common Hebrew metaphor indicating that people were following in the footsteps of their “fathers.” Genealogy was subordinated to following the example of the predecessors.
Luke 11:49 continues,
49 For this reason also the Wisdom of God said, I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, in order that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation.
The Wisdom of God is Jesus Himself. This is shown in Matthew 23:34, where Jesus Himself spoke these words without quoting the Old Testament or an apocryphal book. Jesus expands the issue by taking it back to its prophetic roots since the day Cain murdered Abel. I explained these roots more fully in my book, The Genesis Book of Psalms, where Psalm 2 prophesies of the roots of all martyrdom from the story of Cain and Abel.
The judgments of God are pronounced against the guilty when the offense occurs; but God then gives a grace period to give people time to repent before the judgment is actually executed. This is apparent at the beginning with Adam’s sin, for if he had been executed immediately, history would have ended almost as soon as it had begun.
Because men are mortal, the execution of judgment usually comes in succeeding generations, falling upon those who follow the example of the original offender. Hence, the fathers and the children are considered to be one. So when the grace period ends, that generation pays the penalty not only for their own sin, but they take upon themselves the liability for the sins of their fathers whom they have imitated in their actions.
Those who find grace are exempt from the judgments of God, for they do not imitate the offending man or nation against whom the judgment was pronounced. These blessed ones hear a different voice and thus have a different “father,” legally speaking.
So how will this judgment come upon the spiritual children of those who killed the prophets and saints? We will discuss this in the next weblog.
This is the fifty-ninth part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones