Sister Piety Summerlin of Garner, N. C., requests my comments on Matthew 23:37-39, which reads as follows: “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.”
Before we proceed to endeavor to conform to the request of our Sister’s inquiry, we will do well to consider the circumstance involved when the above words were spoken and to whom they were spoken. These words were not spoken to the multitude, but to the scribes and Pharisees who were the rulers of the Jews. They were known as the fathers, not as blood relatives, but as rulers of the people, hence the subjects under their rule were called or spoken of as children.
Jesus, by nature and by birth, was a Jew. His mother was a Jewish woman and Jesus had a human body as well as a human nature, and He had a Godly nature, hence He was without sin, because God was His Father. Paul said, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Heb. 4:15. So possessing two natures, He was both human and divine; in his human nature, “He was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.” He wept and had pity and compassion upon the poor and afflicted and the humble who were in grief and trouble.
The common people were, in bondage under the rule of the Scribes and Pharisees and Jesus had pity and sorrow in His tender compassion for His kindred in the flesh. They followed Him and attended His ministry at different times and places in vast crowds, but the chief priests and rulers made constant effort to hinder them from following after Him. These priests and rulers did not accept Him as the Messiah or Christ and they did not want those who followed after Him to believe Him as the Messiah or Christ. They traduced and slandered His character and the miracles He did. They threatened them (the common people) with curses and excommunications, making a law that whoever confessed Him, should be turned out of the synagogue. This they did for the blind man whose eyes He opened and gave sight.
In His compassion for these poor and afflicted Jews who were the subjects of the Scribes and Pharisees, He pronounced a curse on their rulers. He said, “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. Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye devour widows houses, and for a pretense make long prayers, therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte and when he is made, ye make him two-fold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, “Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing! but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor.”
By nature these Jews were the kindred of Jesus, because He was a Jew, so they were brethren in the flesh, therefore He said: “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!” Our readers will observe that the persons whom Christ would have gathered are not here represented as being unwilling to be gathered together under the protecting hand of Jesus, as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings; as many would have God’s people believe, for it is not said: How often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not, nor is it said, How often would I have gathered Jerusalem, and she would not; neither is it said: I would have gathered thy children and they would not; but it is said: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” It was the rulers – the Scribes and Pharisees – who prevented these Jews from having contact with Jesus, not the Jews themselves, their desire was to follow Him. This alone is sufficient proof to destroy or disallow the argument found in this passage in favor of free-will salvation.
All those whom Christ would gather according to His eternal will to eternal salvation, will be gathered, notwithstanding all the opposition made by the rulers of any people. We cannot accept the idea that Jesus was not aware of all the evil deeds which were imposed upon Him and the chosen vessels of His mercy by the Scribes and Pharisees who were rulers of the Jews. They did that which was written in the law and spoken by the prophets. The Apostle Paul said, “For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew Him not (meaning they knew Him not as the Christ) nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him.” Acts 13:27.
The meaning of this scripture is that ‘Jesus Christ is the true Messiah and He as man’ – for He was both man and Christ – the Messiah, for whom they were looking, out of a compassionate regard for the people of the Jews to whom He was sent as the minister of the circumcision, would have gathered them together under His ministry and have instructed them in the knowledge of Himself as the Messiah, which if they had only nationally received, would have secured them, as chickens under the wings of the hen, from impending judgment which afterwards fell upon them; but their governors, and not they, would not; that is, they would not suffer them to receive Him and embrace Him as the Messiah.
Verses thirty-eight and thirty-nine read as follows: “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.” This scripture, the thirty-eighth verse had reference to the destruction of the city and the temple in which they had formerly worshipped, but no longer did, for this people had departed from the faith and the city was destroyed within forty years, and it became a desert. God had abandoned the temple and the Messiah did likewise and it was destroyed with the city.
The Messiah, Jesus Christ, said, “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.” (the thirty-ninth verse) Jesus here had reference to His crucifixion and departure from the earth soon thereafter, never to return in person until the destruction of the world when He will return to receive His own into everlasting life. This scripture is composed of the parting words of Jesus to a disobedient and gainsaying people. They were spoken to the Jews who were once the favored people of God. They departed from the Holy commandments of God which were written in the law of Moses and followed the tradition of the Elders. They worshiped the creature and not the Creator. The temple at Jerusalem was the stronghold of the Jews. They made laws to prohibit the few believers among them from worshipping God according to the dictates of their consciences. They rejected the Messiah. They made threats and cast out of their Synagogues, any who said that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Many were afraid to confess openly for fear of the Jews who denied Christ as the Messiah. This was true of the parents of the son who was born blind and whose eyes Jesus opened. When the parents of this blind man were questioned by the rulers of the Jews as to whether this man was born blind and by what means he could see, they frankly admitted this was their son and that he was born blind, but by what means his eyes were opened, they knew not. They said, “He is of age, ask him, he shall speak for himself.” Jon. 9:121. “His parents feared the Jews, for the Jews already had asserted that if any man did confess that He was Christ, he should be put out of the Synagogue.” Jon. 9:22. Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, “For fear of the Jews.” See Jon. 19:38.
It was not the common people to whom the words of Jesus were directed, but their governors, rulers – the Scribes and Pharisees of whom Jesus said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Matt. 23:38. Their temple was torn down by the Roman Army. They were taken captive. They became a dispersed or scattered nation, which is essentially true even to this day. (However, it is now known that since the Second World War, provision was made for them to become a reestablished nation in or near the area of Palestine, which appears to the writer to be a fulfilling of the scriptures. Read the 37th chapter of Ezekiel and especially note verses 21 through 28.) God made a way of escape for the remnant (the few believers) among them. Jesus was born of the lineage of Judah. It is recorded, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh (Jesus) comes and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Gen. 49:10. They were His favored people. When Jesus was born of the lineage of the Jews, which was according to prophecy, they rejected Him. It is recorded, “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” (A remnant did receive Him.) “But as many as did receive Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on His name; which were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jon. 1:11-13.
The gospel was first preached to the Jews. They rejected the teaching of Jesus as well as His Apostles. It was for this reason that Paul and Barnabas waxed bold and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it far from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Acts 13:46. This was near the beginning of the conversion of the Gentiles and the cutting off of the Jews.
The cruel treatment by the governors, rulers, Scribes and Pharisees which they inflicted upon the Messiah, brought His final judgment upon the Jews until a future, appointed time. “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.” These words are not meant to imply that they would not see Him in person anymore, for they did see Him many times before they put Him to death in the flesh, for they crucified Him. That was the last time they saw Him. However, a few of His most endeared disciples did see Him after His resurrection, but not the unbelieving Jews, nor will they (who were once His favored people) see Him anymore till they shall say, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” This is the appointed time of God. At the appointed time of God, they will again receive the love and favor of God as a people. This will be the appointed time of God, this will be when the fullness of the Gentiles “Be come in”. See Rom 11:25
Paul said “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” Rom. 11:25. By Israel here is meant the Jews, the descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, after he was touched in the hollow of the thigh by the angel of the Lord, and became a cripple.
Blindness had now befallen the Jews, who were once the favored people of God. They were favored with divine revelation of God, His will and worship. None were so blind as their rulers, priests, Scribes and Pharisees. They had the law and the prophets. They could not see Christ, who before was concealed in the law and revealed in the gospel.
This was not a natural blindness, and they had no knowledge of the law. They sought the righteousness of God by the deeds of the law, but knew nothing of the righteousness of God by faith. Peter adds to this by saying, “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness (the righteousness contained in the law which is by works) than after they had known it, to turn from the Holy Commandments delivered unto them.” II Peter 2:21. They had departed from the law of Moses and followed the traditions of the elders. The words of the Apostle Paul, “That blindness in part is happened to Israel ” does not signify that each person was partly blind and could only see in part.
The unbelieving Jews were in total darkness, spiritually speaking. The few believing Jews could see spiritually. Hence, the Apostle said, “Blindness in past is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” They were not blind naturally speaking.
The Apostle reveals a great mystery by illustrating the breaking off and grafting in. Grafting is a very common practice with those who propagate trees. The Jews were the natural branches. They had the favor of God as a nation. The oracles of God were committed to them. They had the law and the prophets. At this time the Gentiles were without Christ, “Being aliens and strangers from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the Covenants of Promise, having no hope and without God, in the world.” Eph. 2:12. It was in the purpose of God that some of the natural branches, (the Jews) should be broken off. They were broken off because of unbelief and the Gentiles or the spiritual seed among them, were grafted in. The Jews are a dispersed or scattered nation, and have been since the destruction of their temple, which occurred shortly after the crucifixion of Christ. Even though they are a dispersed nation, having no king nor government, yet God has a spiritual seed among them who will be grafted into their Good Olive Tree (Jesus Christ) when the fullness of the Gentiles “be come in.”
The Apostle clarifies his statement which he had previously spoken to the Gentiles according to Rom. 11:24, by saying, “For if thou (the Gentiles.) wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, (Jesus Christ) how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own Olive Tree (Jesus Christ)?” (Note it was not contrary to nature to graft a branch taken from a good olive tree, into a wild olive tree, but it was contrary to nature to graft a wild olive branch into a good tree. So God did that which was contrary to nature.) “For I would not Brethren, (Paul is still speaking to the Gentiles) that ye should be ignorant to this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. (Their blindness accompanies their unbelief.) So all Israel shall be saved; as it is written. There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” Rom. 11:25-27. This statement by the Apostle is confirmed by the law and the prophets. David said, “Oh, that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of His people, Jacob shall rejoice and Israel shall be glad.” Psa. 14:7. The Prophet said, The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.” Isa. 59:20.
When the Lord shall bring again the captivity of the spiritual seed of Christ among the Jews, it will be a glorious day for those who will be grafted into their own olive tree. This will be the fullness of the spiritual seed among the Gentiles who are brought in. God, at His appointed time, will call them by His grace and reveal His Son in them. This will be the fulfilling of the words of Jesus which He spake to them. “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.” Matt. 23:39. As a nation, the Jews deny Christ, but if it pleases the Lord to reveal Himself to them, and bring them to repentance, they then can say in sincerity and in truth, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord”
(Elder) T. F. Adams
Willow Springs, N.C. 27592
Volume CI, No. 2
December 1, 1967