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Woe to the children of their fathers, Part 2

Jun 21, 2014

The Law says in Deuteronomy 24:16,

16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.

This is supported by the prophets in Ezekiel 18:20, “the son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity.” Yet God appears to contradict this in Exodus 34:7, “visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” Furthermore, Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “in Adam all die.”

The simple solution is to see that God does not judge any man directly for the sin of his father (or ancestor). It is an indirect judgment. Adam’s sin made all of us mortal, or death-ridden (Romans 5:12), and in this way the sins of father Adam are visited upon the children. This mortality then has become the weakness or disease by which we all sin personally. We are then judged directly for the sins that we personally commit, but only an indirect judgment for the sin of our father Adam.

To be given the death penalty (mortality) on account of Adam’s sin still contains a ring of injustice. But this apparent injustice is rectified by the fact that Jesus Christ came as the Last Adam to reverse the curse of Adam’s sin and to restore all that was lost in Adam. In other words, Jesus took the responsibility for the sin of the world which men committed on account of their mortality. God’s commitment under the New Covenant to save all mankind fully satisfies the demand of the law and absolves God in the matter of Deuteronomy 24:16.

In other words, when God’s New Covenant promise is fulfilled and His work is complete, His actions and His plan will leave no permanent conflict in the mind of God.

The Metaphoric Children

Jesus said in Luke 11:48-50 that the “prophets and apostles” were persecuted and killed in times past, and that this blood would be charged to the children of those who murdered them. But there is still more liability placed upon the children, as we see in Luke 11:51,

51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.

Some have taught that this proves that the Jews in Jesus’ day were physically descended from Cain, who killed Abel. They interpret “fathers” and “children” in its genealogical sense. But the Hebrew language is richly metaphoric, as is clearly seen in many biblical statements.

A wise man was said to be one of the “children of wisdom” (Luke 7:35). Someone with revelation was a “son of light” (Luke 16:8). A bad person was a “son of the devil” (1 John 3:10). A man of faith was a son of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). James and John were “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). In Hebrew, thunder is kol, “voice.” Either they were loud mouthed or, in a good sense, they spoke the words of God, which was often compared to thunder.

It is clear, then, that this Hebraism was not to be taken in a genealogical sense. The “generation,” or offspring of those who killed the prophets are those who follow the example of past murderers, not only those in Jerusalem but also going back to Cain himself, the original murderer.

Three Men Named Zechariah

Jesus specifically mentions the time frame from Abel to Zechariah. There were at least three men named Zechariah who were killed in similar fashion. Matthew 23:35 calls him “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah,” who is the prophet that wrote the book of Zechariah. See Zechariah 1:1.

An earlier Zechariah, “the son of Jehoida the priest,” was also killed “between the altar and the house of God,” as we read in 2 Chronicles 24:19-21,

19 Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the Lord; though they testified against them, they would not listen. 20 Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you.” 21 So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord.

Josephus also tells us of a third Zechariah (Greek version, Zacharias), who was killed in similar fashion about 34 years after Jesus spoke these words during the Jewish War before Jerusalem was destroyed. Zacharias, the son of Baruch, was killed for opposing the Jewish War. In urging the people to submit to Rome, he followed the instructions of Jeremiah 29:4-14, wherein the prophet told the captives in Babylon to submit to the judgment of God during their captivity.

Jeremiah himself was accused of treason and persecuted for speaking the word of God. Like him, Zacharias the son of Baruch was persecuted and even killed for being on God’s side of this contentious issue. Josephus writes the story:

“And now these zealots and Idumeans [Edomites who converted to Judaism in 126 B.C.] were quite weary of barely killing men, so they had the impudence of setting up fictitious tribunals and judicatures for that purpose; and as they intended to have Zacharias, the son of Baruch, one of the most eminent of the citizens, slain…. So they called together by a public proclamation seventy of the principal men of the populace, for a show, as if they were real judges, while they had no proper authority….

“Now there appeared no proof or sign of what he was accused… Now when Zacharias clearly saw that there was no way remaining for his escape from them, as having been treacherously called before them, and then put in prison, but not with any intention of a legal trial, he took great liberty of speech, in that despair of life he was under. Accordingly, he stood up, and laughed at their pretended accusation, and in a few words confuted the crimes laid to his charge….

“Now the seventy judges brought in their verdict, that the person accused was not guilty; … hereupon there arose a great clamour of the zealots upon his acquittal, and they all had indignation at the judges for not understanding that the authority that was given them was but in jest. So two of the boldest of them fell upon Zacharias in the middle of the temple and slew him.” (Wars of the Jews, IV, v, 4)

Luke does not identify the Zechariah of whom Jesus spoke. However, Matthew 23:29-39 also gives a longer account of Jesus’ words. He writes in Matthew 23:34-36,

34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.

This identifies him with the prophet Zechariah who wrote the book bearing his name.

The Blood of the Prophets

It is obvious that Jesus was identifying His opponents—who would soon crucify Him—with all those of the past who were afflicted with the spirit of murder. This group was not of a single genealogy, but all were (as it were) sons of murder. Their murderous spirit was soon to be manifested openly when they crucified Jesus Himself.

In Acts 4:10 Peter said to the Sanhedrin,

10 Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health.

In Acts 5:30 Peter again answered the accusations of the Sanhedrin,

30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.

Later, in Acts 7:51-53, Stephen told the same Sanhedrin,

51 You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.

In the actual account of Jesus’ crucifixion, John 19:15-18 we read,

15 They therefore cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him; crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he [Pilate] then delivered Him to them [the chief priests] to be crucified. 17 THEY took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There THEY crucified Him…

To this day it is a point of contention between Jews and Christians as to who crucified Jesus. Jews make the claim that the Romans crucified Jesus, whereas Scripture shows how Pilate wanted to set Him free. Pilate refused to crucify Him but instead allowed the chief priests to do it.

So they fulfilled the measure of their fathers, who had persecuted and killed all the prophets before them.

Incidentally, it is important to know who crucified Jesus, because Jesus was the final Sacrifice for sin, fulfilling all of the types and shadows set forth by the animals that were sacrificed since the beginning of time. The law prophesied also that these animals should be sacrificed by the priests of Levi, not by the Romans. If Jesus had been crucified by the Romans, then one might have reason to question the legitimacy of that sacrifice on behalf of the sin of the world.

It was necessary for Him to be crucified, and in this case, that divine service was done by the high priest himself, either directly or indirectly. Though he did so with murder in his heart, yet he also fulfilled the law and the prophets in this. The real problem was that he and many others did not follow through by fulfilling the law of sacrifice in Leviticus 17:3-9. They were instructed to apply the blood of the sacrifice to the altar of the sanctuary, but they did not treat His blood as a sacrificial element.

It is only by applying His blood to our heart-altars in our temple (1 Corinthians 3:16) that we are able to escape liability for sin.


This is the sixtieth part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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