The Jewish Elders in
Matthew did not write in a vacuum. He communicated to and about Israel in a way that is consistent with what is found throughout the entire Bible. As with the prophets of old, Yeshua’s rebukes were either directed at individuals, at groups or at the nation as a whole. And like the prophets of old, some of His harshest statements were only relevant to His generation.
In Matthew 23, Jesus criticizes a group of scribes and Pharisees with a string of rebukes, addressing their heartless worship and the impact it has on others. We actually have no reason to believe that Jesus felt this way about all scribes and Pharisees, which is sometimes assumed by historical Christian commentators. The last of these rebukes or “Woe!” statements finds Jesus pointing out the hypocrisy of venerating the prophets while behaving like the generation that rejected them. Jesus strongly asserts, “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matthew 23:31-33). In the strongest way possible, Jesus reveals their sin, warns what will happen as a result, and specifies that the consequences will apply to His generation (23:36). Again, this passage is not about all Jewish people—it’s about certain scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ generation who didn’t recognize the time of God’s visitation.
In Matthew 27, Pilate offered to set Jesus free if the crowd desired. The people, led by the chief priests and elders (27:12, 20), refused and instead called for his crucifixion, uttering the words, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” (27:25). Indeed, the chief priests and elders—those who had political and religious power—suffered this very consequence when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, with the eventual exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. However, this passage is not about all Jewish people as the ensuing judgment fell upon the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ generation. And unfortunately, as is found true throughout the Bible, the judgments fell upon the entire nation as the innocent suffered with the ungodly.