“You build tombs for the Prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous ...” (Matthew 23:29-33)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the Prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the Prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the Prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:29-33)

Why is Jesus criticizing this?

Jesus is pointing out that many of the Prophets and teachers were murdered or otherwise persecuted by the same institution that was criticizing Jesus - and would eventually try him.

According to Jesus' statement, these Prophets were murdered by the forefathers of some of those same institutionalists who were proud of their worship of these Prophets.

From this statement, we can see that Jesus is quite upset about this. Why was Jesus so upset? Why did Jesus say such terrible things about these institutional temple teachers and officials who were supposedly worshiping the same Prophets that Jesus followed and quoted?

Because they were offending these Prophets with their lives and their teachings. Jesus is upset because of his love for the Prophets, and because these teachers and Pharisees were supposedly representing the teachings of the Prophets, but they were actually taking advantage of their titles and positions, and becoming wealthy and powerful on the backs of their temple followers.

While Jesus recognizes that they outwardly did not condone the murder of Prophets by their forefathers, Jesus sees that they are continuing the tradition of their forefathers by condemning Jesus, which eventually led to the murder of Jesus' body.

Which Prophets were persecuted?

• Abel (killed by Cain)
• Isaiah (mortally cut with saw)
• Jeremiah (stoning)
• Ezekiel (martyred)
• Zechariah (martyred)
• Amos (killed with a staff)
• Uriah (beheaded)
• John the Baptist (beheaded)
• Jesus (crucified)
• Stephen (stoning)
• James (stoned)
• Antipas (burnt)
• Peter (crucified upside down)
• Andrew (crucified)
• Thomas (stabbed)
• Philip (martyred)
• Matthew (stabbed)
• Bartholomew (martyred)
• Matthais (burnt)

Why did they refuse to accept Jesus?

As is the case with many of the list of martyrs above, the Pharisees and chief priests didn't accept Jesus because they felt threatened by Jesus' teachings. Why were they threatened by Jesus' teachings even when Jesus strictly followed the teachings of the Prophets?

Because Jesus exposed the fact that they were not teaching the essence of the Prophets' teachings. Rather, they claimed to represent them while their teachings and activities contradicted the teachings of the Prophets.

We often see this in the physical world. In His mercy, God sends His loving servants to the earth in an effort to bring us home to Him. His representative teaches us to love and serve God, and shows how to do this with their life.

Yes, some follow sincerely. But some who occupy positions of power will feel threatened by those teachings because they know their teachings are not pure. So they will criticize and persecute those sincere messengers of God.

We can see this occurred not only in Jesus' life, but also in Jesus' teacher, John the Baptist's life. It also occurred among Jesus' disciples, including James and Peter. This also occurred among many of the Prophets as Jesus refers to in his statement.

Jesus is pointing out that this act is the most heinous act of all: To murder the body of one of God's messengers. Jesus is very upset that while these temple teachers may be descendants of those who have killed the Prophets, yet they are proud of their positions of power: This is the ultimate in hypocrisy, as Jesus indicates.

So we must ask: How did these institutional temple teachers and officials gain their positions of authority? We see from Jesus' remarks that they were not true followers of the Prophets.

How did they get their positions?

The Pharisees and chief priests of the temple gained their positions by appointment - through politics. By impressing the councils that appointed teachers amongst the institutional temple, these teachers gained their positions. They did not, as Jesus did with John the Baptist, submit themselves to God's representatives before them.

They did not commit their lives to the service of God without compensation, title or any pomp and circumstance as Jesus did, John did, and Jesus' disciples did. They were appointed by a council of men and embraced their paid positions together with their flowing robes and began to exert authority over their followers.

The true teachers such as Jesus, John the Baptist and all the Prophets before them did not gain authority through a council. Nor were they elected through a political process. God's true representative is empowered and chosen by God after having submitted to previous messengers of God.

Jesus illustrated this process by example as he took baptism (a ceremony representing becoming a disciple) from John, and then took students and disciples on himself. Jesus then sent his disciples off to teach, just as he had. These are not coincidences. This is how God's empowerment works: Connection with God is gained by pleasing His loving servant and establishing a loving relationship with God - not through a political process among councils.

And previous to Jesus' disciples, Jesus and John the Baptist, we find many other instances of this student-teacher relationship among the Prophets, including Samuel and Eli, David and Samuel, Solomon and David, Joshua and Moses, Abraham and Melchizedek and many others. All of these Prophets were first students who pleased and became enlightened by their teacher, and then were empowered by God (via a personal loving relationship with Him) to represent Him. None of them were elected by political councils.

Do they profit on the backs of followers?

Today we find amongst those who supposedly represent Jesus, the same ecclesiastical systems of gaining authority found amongst the institutional temple teachers and officials that Jesus is criticizing here. We find preachers, priests, ministers, reverends, popes, bishops and others all elected to their positions.

We find them paid for their services just as the Pharisees were paid. They drive around in their big cars (and pope-mobiles) and live in big houses, paid for by those who innocently attend their churches and give tithings.

In some cases, we find charismatic ministers, reverends and priests who earn millions of dollars every year from their ministries and indulge in many luxuries from salaries paid for by their ecclesiastical organizations that trick people to donate money with their prayer towers and prayer handkerchiefs. Like wolves, they prey on unfortunate people who believe that if the reverend prays for them, they will receive relief from their suffering.

And do they teach what Jesus taught? Do they teach love for God and doing God's will? No. They teach that we can pray to Jesus to gain wealth, health and a good job. They teach that Jesus can give us power and prestige. They teach that we can live it up as long as we come back to their church on Sunday and "be saved" by the depictions of the persecution of Jesus' body.

Is this what Jesus taught? Think again. The sad yet ludicrous thing is that the very same hypocrisy that Jesus was criticizing in this statement is now taking place in the name of Jesus.

Jesus never taught us to pray to him to get wealthy, or to get our leg fixed or get a great job. Jesus taught:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21)
Jesus also taught, just as Moses taught:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'" (Mark 12:30)
This teaching is, according to Jesus, "The most important one," (Mark 12:29) and precisely what the prophet Moses also taught - illustrating how the pure spiritual teachings were passed down through this succession of spiritual teachers:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5)