Responding to Tony Byrne and Peter Lumpkins on Matthew 23:37
This post has been a long time coming, for several reasons, not the least of which is because I really didn't want to deal with it. :) It isn't because the matters Dr. Peter Lumpkins and Tony Byrne raised in this blog post are not important; they are important. Rather, I am one who isn't overly fond of conflict, and sometimes I wonder if there is much point in continuing a discussion since I think to myself, "people aren't going to listen/read anyway."
There is also the issue of being frequently misunderstood. Without a question, I need to be more clear, but it seems that no matter what kind of a context I provide (or think that I do), inevitably I fail to make a point clear, or people refuse to read carefully, or both. A very recent example indicates just this with regard to Dr. Lumpkins, and such examples are not at all uncommon. My point in saying that he significantly missed Paul's point wasn't that he was wrong in saying that the passage was talking to and about believers. If you scroll up a few comments from the previous link, you'll see that I was saying that Peter missed the point that Paul was referring to non-believers when describing those who were in the flesh. Those who are in the Spirit, those who have no condemnation on them, they surely are believers. Paul is writing chapter 8 as a great bit of encouragement to the Christians at Rome rather than making sanctification his subject -- but I digress, as Romans 8 is not the subject of this particular post. I'll address that more fully later, doing a much more complete exegesis of the first ten verses. Anyway, back to the reasons I have delayed posting on the matter relating to the title.
Such thoughts (that is, those of people not listening, my not being understood, my not liking conflict) are truly copping-out, not to mention aren't very respectful to brothers in Christ who, by the Spirit of God, are capable of a great deal more than a lost person in understanding truth and working with another brother. It also isn't respectful to God Himself, the Author of truth and source of love among the brethren, Who is certainly able to make it so that I can be a better communicator. Other reasons for delay are a bit more legitimate, such as church responsibilities (I'm a deacon @ PHBC, teach Sunday School, teach discipleship, am a choir and praise team member, take a few classes from time to time, manage the church website, etc).
All delays aside, I begin my response(s), taking into account the difficulty of the task of polemics. There are a few things I would like to address specifically, the issue of Matthew 23:37, historical consensus and proper hermeneutics, and the importance of all of this. It is to this last point I shall turn first, and may my God and Savior, Jesus Christ, by His inexhaustible grace to His own, sustain and keep me in holiness, righteousness, and graciousness as I write.
I am not the kind of person who likes to "agree to disagree" on theological issues, especially among Christians. Were I to have an impasse with someone over the issue of how superior pepperoni pizza is to one with toppings of black olives and anchovies, I could let the matter slide. After all, such is merely a matter of opinion, and such a difference is reason to praise God for making us in the ways He did. We are different, and it pleased Him to give us differing tastes in food, pasttimes, music style, etc. However when it comes to theological differences, I am much more resistant to the suggestion that we "all just get along," even on points considered minor, or "Tier 3" as my pastor likes to say.
The reason I do not like to thrown in the towel on matters pertaining to the understanding of the teaching of Scripture (not a bad definition of theology, really) is because God has indeed revealed Himself in the pages of the Bible. Christians, people who truly have been saved by the amazing, unstoppable power of God, are people who (to an increasing degree) desire to know this awesome God. We want to understand Him more, that we may love, worship, serve, enjoy, and teach about Him more and more accurately. This is the main reason, I submit, that any Christian desires to come to the Scriptures: that we may encounter God and do so in a more pure fashion as we see how He has revealed Himself and then obey Him more perfectly.
Because of that conviction, when Christians have disagreement about something that the Bible teaches, it means at the very least that one of them is wrong. Further, again given my above conviction that the Bible is God's self-revelation, and that He had given it to His church to reveal Himself to His people, then if we are not right about part of its teaching we are missing that much of who God is. Such is something that leaves me uncomfortable at best. It is for that reason that I do not understand Peter Lumpkins's comment on the post I referenced already:
I am not here to convince you of anything, frankly. And you are entitled to be unconvinced by Geisler and happy with every subtle nuance James White places upon any passage of Scripture whatsoever. Be my guest.
His comments are in response to my first comment on his blog post/thread. There are other things he said in that particular comment (such as James White being too extreme, something that I do not intend to address here), but the quoted paragraph is my main point of concern.
Of course, I am not satisfied with any subtle nuance anyone would put on a text, whether it be Matthew 23:37 or any other Bible passage. That was largely my point; without solid, consistent exegesis done according to solid hermeneutics, we cannot hope to arrive at the correct meaning of a passage. Further, if we are not predisposed to submit ourselves to the discoveries made following correct exegesis, then we sin and remain in our previous error.
It is also why I desire very much to spend time in exegesis of Bible passages and analyzing things people say in light of Scripture. Ultimately, my opinion doesn't matter, nor does that of Peter, Tony, James White, or anyone else. What the Bible says matters, and simply having a discussion without the Sacred Scripture informing that discussion, there is little more accomplished than wasted keystrokes.
These reasons are why I am troubled when Dr. Lumpkins said that he was not there to convince me of anything. I simply ask, why not? If I am in error about my understanding of, in this case, Matthew 23, then it follows that I am not representing my God and Savior, Jesus Christ, as well as I could be, or should be. Worse, I may well be speaking untruth about God, teaching others to believe untruths. However well intended I may be is irrelevant; instead of helping others worship God more purely, and helping them know Him more and love Him more, I do just the opposite. Such would indeed be the case were I teaching something that is not in line with Scripture.
The issue of historical consensus came up at one point in the comments. What started the discussion of it was when I made a statement claiming that Scripture is really the only battleground that matters, and that is where we must spend our time if any resolution to a doctrinal disagreement is to be had. Tony added in his comment here that history also was a battleground needing to be considered, in terms of the history of Calvinism. He then went on to cite numerous examples of people who had what he termed a mainstream position on the text of Matthew 23:37, calling it John Murray's position. The links to his list of historical quotes can be found at a couple of links from within the comment I linked to above. He says in that comment, making his point clear:
I repeat: the battleground involves history as well as biblical interpretation. In short, the battleground is the truth in every field of study, and a failure to be honest with primary sources is indicative of Turretinfan and other White associates who are making a concerted effort to downplay God's revealed desire for the salvation of all men.
This is where the point of contention began. I immediately saw a red flag when I read Tony's comments, as it appeared that he was saying that history played a deciding part in our final understanding of the teaching of a particular Bible passage. It lead to my saying that I "care very little for historical consensus," and then him chastising me for that comment, even suggesting that I was being inconsistent by holding to the 1689 LBCF.
My point was certainly not to ignore the importance of history in informing our interpretation. I tried to say as much with some of my comments in the thread where I responded to Tony by saying:
You said I was missing the point of what you were trying to say, that you weren't trying to offer detailed exegesis but rather demonstrating a consensus, being in line with John Murray's position. However, I cannot help but think you have missed my point for raising my objection in the first place. I care very little for historical consensus; majority does not rule in biblical interpretation. Agreed of course that if we disagree with the majority on a matter (in this case about a context I think) then we must do so carefully, but since context is the first rule of interpretation, anything that doesn't take it into account is a questionable interpretation at best, no matter how many people say it is true (unless we are working in Proverbs).
My point with the Proverbs comment was that Proverbs often don't have a lot of context, if any, and therefore can often be interpreted in a single-verse manner.
I hope it is clear what I meant by my statement that I care little for historical consensus. It isn't that I don't value how God has worked in history; I surely do. We have tremendous things we can learn from the saints who have gone before us, how they have struggled with the text of Scripture in many different situations. I have had great encouragement from the likes of Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield, Arthur Pink, John Owen, and even John Calvin, not to mention a host of modern servants of Christ's church, including John Piper, John MacArthur, Sam Waldron, James White, and more. I could expand the list of both without much difficulty. God has given much wisdom and insight into the text of Scripture throughout history, and we would be foolish to ignore it. This is something that students in my classes at church have heard from me more than once. My sentiments on how to view church history, and my laments with regard to those who ignore it, are those of Drs. White and Barcellos in this video interview.
All that being said, however, the usefulness of church history in the interpretation of Scripture is directly proportional to how it properly handles the text of the Bible with regard to proper hermeneutics, first and foremost with regard to the context of a passage. On the right sidebar on my blog here you can read a couple of posts that deal with context. I recommend that you read them, as they form much of the foundation with regard to how I try to approach a Bible passage, prayerfully seeking the Spirit's guidance. So, no matter how many people, modern or historic, say something about a particular passage, if the context is not the main guide in understanding the argument or discussion of a biblical writer, then the interpretation provided is suspect at best, flat out errant at worst. This was my meaning when I said that I cared little for historical consensus; it was merely to say that we cannot allow a majority-rules hermeneutic.
Now, to be fair, Tony was quick to respond when I started speaking of the issues of context and how to understand a passage, agreeing that context was the most important thing:
Of course the bible is the ultimate authority and of course the context of a given biblical passage is of highest priority for understanding the true sense of it. All I am saying is that if you're going to depart from such an overwhelming Reformed and Calvinistic consensus on the text and side with John Gill's hard dichotomy between "Jerusalem" and the "children" and view the text in totally and singularly in a judgment sense, seeing in it nothing of Jesus' yearning love that accords with God's revealed desire for the salvation of all in the city (even those that perish), then you should pause and wonder if you're actually engaging in novel, pseudo-exegesis or the kind of obvious system-driven interpretation that is so common in John Gill, who utterly denied God's revealed desire for the eternal salvation of any of the non-elect.
As I haven't studied John Gill to any significant extent at all, I cannot comment on Gills view. However, Tony's caution (with my emphasis provided above) is a wise sentiment, one with which I agree completely, and one I use to give caution to others. This is clearly Tony's belief, and it is a right one. At the same time, I see a large inconsistency in how Tony presented this principle, and some other things he said.
If you, the reader, followed one of the links I gave earlier to Tony's comments (and then followed his links to many a quote on Matthew 23:37) you will notice something, probably the same thing I noticed. The context of Matthew 23 wasn't referenced at all in any of those quotes he gave. He mentioned that this wasn't the point:
Many of the men cited are not cited because they're offering detailed exegesis in any way, but as testimony to the fact that they are basically in the mainstream John Murray position on the text, which White and those like him have departed from. Then there are other places where I seek to offer some critical analysis.
A quick perusal of Tony's blog in his section on Matthew 23:37 didn't reveal any critical analysis that I could find. Admittedly, I didn't look past the first page of quotes and citations, so there may be some deeper than I checked. Given his statement above, I trust that to be the case. I did find however, a large number of quotes from a large number of people, very few of which referenced much in detail beyond the one verse, none of which took us all the way back to verse 13 or went through verse 39. So, it would seem that Tony considers having a large number of people, even a large number of Reformed people, saying one thing about a passage carries some weight. However, given the fact that none of them went into the context in depth means that their understandings may well not carry any weight. It doesn't mean that they are wrong; in fact, given that so many say something similar about a passage should indeed give one pause should one desire to disagree with them. The fact that the context wasn't considered must tell us that, if we are to agree OR disagree with them, we need to be sure that they have interpreted the text in question aright. If we cannot find support for their conclusions in the context of the passage, but rather find support for understanding the passage differently, then the given interpretation must be rejected. It doesn't matter how many people have said something for however long: if the context indicates something else, then we must interpret the text differently. Traditional understandings may be long lived and popular, yet still be incorrect.
Now we get to the heart of the matter. Truly, without biblical exegesis, and conforming to the teaching of Scripture once we understand it, there is no progress in a theological discussion. So, it is to that I now turn!
Often Matthew 23:37 is used as a text that speaks of the desire of God for the salvation of all people, irrespective if they are elect or not. This is nearly always the main focus of people when they approach this text, whether they be Reformed or otherwise. The problem with this focus, even if it were true, is that it ignores the context of the passage and the judgment of God contained in it, of which verse 37 is clearly a part. That being the case, and that the whole of verses 13--39 is a judgment of Israel's leaders, past and present, the main focus of any exegesis of verse 37 must be that of Jesus's judgment against the leaders of Israel before we can talk about any other implications of the passage. Our implications then need to be seen in light of the context and the main focus of what Jesus is talking about. Do they line up, or are they inconsistent with each other? Such questions will be explored to some extent below.
I mentioned to Tony that Matthew 23 was a passage of judgment. His response was as follows:
But White says, "it's a judgment passages! a judgment passage!," as if anyone denies that. Of course the text involves judgment, but not only judgment. Jesus expresses a desire for something that did not come to pass, a desire to "gather the children," which is soteriological in nature.
He rightly agrees that the text involves judgment, and is also correct that it does not only involve judgment. The problem is, I do not believe with Tony that it is absurd to think that anyone denies it. Rather, I think the opposite is true -- that most Christians, especially of the non-Reformed variety, do not even take the judgment context into account when they read this passage. Far, far too often is verse 37 provided without regard to its context, and in doing so, those who quote it engender misunderstanding at best, poor hermeneutical habits tending to follow.
Dr. James White does provide a brief exegesis of some of the context in his excellent book, The Potter's Freedom. It is quite helpful, and I shall cite it below. Tony didn't seem to care for it, saying "White is not "exegeting" Matthew 23:37. He's exploding it, not explaining it." Such a comment, aside from being uncharitable, doesn't address the main reason Dr. White makes the statements he does about this passage being a judgment context: that of verse 13.
It might be helpful to bring out Dr. White's exegesis in full from the aforementioned book, and then review it and provide a further exegesis of the text relying on the context. So, I provide Dr. White's comments on the passage from pages 137--139 in The Potter's Freedom, 2nd edition. All emphasis is in the original.
The first fact to ascertain in examining any passage of Scripture is its context. This passage comes in the midst of the proclamation of judgment upon the leaders of the Jews. Matthew 23 contains the strongest denunciations of the scribes and Pharisees in all of the Gospels.
Who, then, is "Jerusalem"? It is assumed by Arminian writers that "Jerusalem" represents individual Jews who are, therefore, capable of resisting the work and will of Christ. But upon what warrant do we leap from "Jerusalem" to "individual Jews"? The context would not lead us to conclude that this is to be taken in a universal sense. Jesus is condemning the Jewish leaders, and it is to them that He refers here. This is clearly seen in that:
1. It is to the leaders that God sent prophets;
2. It was the Jewish leaders who killed the prophets and those sent to them;
3. Jesus speaks of "your children," differentiating those to whom He is speaking from those the Lord desired to gather together.
4. The context refers to the Jewish leaders, scribes and Pharisees.
A vitally important point to make here is that the ones the Lord desired to gather are not the ones who "were not willing"! Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow Him to "gather." Jesus was not seeking to gather the leaders, but their children. This one consideration alone renders the passage useless for the Arminian seeking to establish freewillism. The "children" of the leaders would be Jews who were hindered by the Jewish leaders from hearing Christ. The "you would not" then is referring to the same men indicated by the context: the Jweish leaders who "were unwilling" to allow those under their authority to hear the proclamation of the Christ. This verse, then, is speaking to the same issues raised earlier in Matthew 23:13:
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering in to go in."
John Gill added this insight:
"That the persons whom Christ would have gathered are not represented as being unwilling to be gathered; but their rulers were not willing that they should. The opposition and resistance to the will of Christ, were not made by the people, but by their governors. The common people seemed inclined to attend the ministry of Christ, as appears from the vast crowds which, at different times and places, followed him; but the chief priests and rulers did all they could to hinder the collection of them to him; and their belief in him as the Messiah, by traducing his character, miracles, and doctrines, and by passing an act that whosoever confessed him should be put out of the synagogue; so that the obvious meaning of the text is the same with that of verse 13 . . . and consequently is no proof of men's resisting the operations of the Spirit and grace of God, but of obstructions and discouragements thrown in the way of attendance on the external ministry of the word."
So we can now plainly see that CBF has absolutely no basis for its assertion that it is the "plain meaning" of the text that God wanted "all of them, even the unrepentant, to be saved." One of the three primary passages used in CBF is seen, then, to have no connection with the application made of it over and over again in the text.
So, are Dr. White's observations and conclusions about the text accurate? To decide this, we must read the whole passage in question, which would be Matthew 23:13-39. I recommend strongly that you do so now, either at this link or a Bible of your choice, and then examine Dr. White's conclusions in light of the passage. I shall do some of that and provide some of my own conclusions from the text as a whole and on some individual verses, 37 included among them.
First, it is certainly worth pointing out where Dr. White put the emphasis with regard to interpretation -- it rests on the context of the passage. I agree wholeheartedly, and have written on the matter here and here. Dr. White is a far greater and far more capable an interpreter than I ever could be; in fact, it is because God working through him and those like him that I have come to understand the rules of biblical interpretation to the extent that I have. At the same time, it doesn't matter how good a person is per se, but if that person is consistent in the interpretation of a particular passage. Do I believe that Dr. White has done this with the passage in question? Well, I suspect the answer to that will come out as I work through the passage myself. The first stop will be with verse 13:
Matthew 23:13 ESV "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
I won't touch on all parts of every verse, but will focus on the main theme of the passage, that of judgment. This theme begins with verse thirteen cited above. We see Jesus prescribing a woe on them, that is, denouncing them, and calling them hypocrites. Jesus says they "shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces." The idea behind this phrase is that the Jewish leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees in particular here, were doing what they could to oppose Jesus's ministry. They spread falsehoods about Him, and strongly discouraged people from following Him. They attributed His miracles to Satan (more than once), and said that He Himself was demon possessed. The examples could be multiplied, but these should suffice to demonstrate what Jesus meant by His statement.
The next part of what He said is truly fascinating. Jesus says first that the scribes and Pharisees do not enter the kingdom of heaven. What does it mean to "enter the kingdom of heaven"? Searching through Matthew's Gospel alone identifies this with salvation, both in this life and Heaven itself after this life is over. Jesus flatly says that the scribes and Pharisees do not enter the kingdom of heaven. They are not being saved, and will not be either. Surely, this statement alone must be seen as judgment against them! What a turn of events this must have been in the minds of the Jewish leaders! The Pharisees and Scribes thought they were right with God in opposing Jesus, in doing all that they could to keep people from embracing Him and His teaching. However, in the end, it will be they who end up outside of God's kingdom, not all of those they were deceiving. They shut up the kingdom against others, but entrance to the kingdom will instead be blocked from them.
I say "instead" because, though they shut the kingdom against others, they are truly not successful in their efforts. For all of their lies and opposition to Jesus, in spite of the threats of being thrown out of the synagogue, there were still those who "would enter." A better translation that maintains the participle would be from the NASB, "nor do you allow those who are entering to go in."
We know elsewhere from Jesus's words that everyone given Him by God will come to Him:
John 6:37-40 ESV All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (40) For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
The Jewish leaders were obstacles to the people coming, but they were obstacles that would eventually be moved out of the way. There were still people who were believing in Jesus, and the Jewish leaders could not stop it from happening!
So, we can already see that in verse thirteen that Dr. White's point #4 is seen to be true. Clearly Jesus is condemning the Jewish leaders in verse thirteen.
Moving down through the passage, we encounter several other woes Jesus makes against the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus says that they bring greater condemnation on their proselytes than themselves (15), that they do not understand the value of sacred objects used in worship and swear amiss by them (16-22), and that they are blind guides, unable to lead people after God (16). Jesus says that they have neglected the most important things in the Law of God, which are justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23), and exposes the filth of their lawlessness and hypocrisy (24-28), demonstrating that their righteousness is only skin deep, merely an outward appearance and having no real substance. To say that Jesus is continuing to condemn them is needlessly stating the obvious. Moving further into the chapter:
Matthew 23:29-32 ESV "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, (30) saying, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' (31) Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. (32) Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.
In these verses, Jesus flatly calls the Jewish leaders on their hypocrisy. They claim that they will not repeat the sins of their fathers in shedding the blood of the prophets, but in the process end up condemning themselves. They will, as Jesus says, "fill up the measure of [their] fathers" sins. They have already proven that they are more than the biological descendants of those who came before him; they have been persecuting Jesus, and He certainly held the office of prophet. Further, the Scribes and Pharisees would continue to show this as they would persecute those Jesus would later send in His Name.
Matthew 23:33 ESV You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
This statement of our Lord Jesus to these Jewish leaders is not meant as an invitation; rather, it is rhetorically asked thus making a point. He means to indicate that they cannot escape being condemned. This question is another declaration of judgment. D.A. Carson, an astounding Bible scholar who has probably forgotten more than I'll ever learn (though I'll disagree with him ever so slightly later), explains why what I said is true:
The transition from the preceding verse is clear: if the teachers of the law and Pharisees are filling up the measure of the sin of their forefathers, how can they possibly escape the condemnation of hell?
Obviously, they would not. They were being condemned, and rightly so for reasons Jesus Himself has mentioned before, and would continue to declare.
Matthew 23:34-36 ESV Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, (35) so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (36) Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
The judgment sayings against the scribes and pharisees continue. Jesus said that He would send them prophets, wise men, scribes. These, sent from Jesus, would be killed in various ways by the Jewish leaders. In this, as Jesus has already said, they would be filling up their fathers sins. This is why Jesus lays at their feet the guilt of the righteous men who have walked the earth, those who have been calling to the people to turn in faith and repentance to the One True God. By killing those Jesus would send they demonstrate His words about them to be true -- they are their fathers' children. They persecute God's messengers just like their fathers did, when they should have been leading the people to them. They would be rightly punished for it, as verse 36 indicates, certainly including the destruction of Jerusalem among other things.
From these verses we can see clearly that points 1 and 2 that Dr. White set forth (quoted above) are valid. The Jewish leaders were the ones who were responsible and guilty for killing the prophets Jesus would send to them.
Now we get to the main verse in question, but, having spent the time we needed to in the context leading up to it, we are prepared to give a fair treatment of it in light of what Jesus has been saying all along. Even now, the verse should not be taken without more context, the two verses that follow.
Matthew 23:37-39 ESV "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (38) See, your house is left to you desolate. (39) For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
About this verse, as we noticed above, Dr. White says the following, his 3rd point: "Jesus speaks of 'your children,' differentiating those to whom He is speaking from those that the Lord desired to gather together.' Is this an acceptable understanding of the passage?
On the surface of it, it would seem that he is correct. Jesus speaks to "Jerusalem" and also identifies the children of Jerusalem, and does not appear to be speaking to them. In fact, to suggest that the two different groups are really one and the same in Jesus's words would require exegetical evidence. It would seem D.A. Carson attempted to provide such evidence. If you follow this link, you'll find what Dr. Carson said about the verse over at Tony Byrne's blog. There is a particular section of what Dr. Carson has said that I find to be particularly relevant to our discussion:
There is also a change of number from Jerusalem to people of Jerusalem: "you [sing.] who kill . . . sent to you [sing.] . . . your [sing.] children . . . your [pl.] house . . . you [pl.] will not see." The effect is to move from the abstraction of the city to the concrete reality of people.
Dr. Carson is surely right in that there is a change of number, and that the idea is to move from the abstraction of the city to the concrete reality of people. However, why must the change in number be "from Jerusalem to people of Jerusalem"? This is simply stated, and not supported by Dr. Carson's exegesis. Rather, it seems best to see Jerusalem, and this move to plurality, as another way to address the leaders of the people rather than all of the people. We can see this if we compare 23:37 with some of the previous verses, First, look back to verses 35-36. Who is it in these verses who kill the prophets? Jesus is clearly talking about the scribes and pharisees. Compare in verse 34:
"Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify"
with this phrase in verse 37:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"
Given that Jesus is talking to the Jewish leaders in verse 34 and is providing the same condemnation for Jerusalem in verse 37, it follows that again, He is denouncing the Jewish leaders, making more concrete this fact when he gets to verse 38, saying that their house would be left desolate to them. Everything that they loved, the power over the people they abused, and their leadership in its entirety, would be taken from them. They would have nothing.
Further, compare a couple of sentences from verse 13 with verse 37:
"For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in."
"How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"
Jesus was seeking to gather people in Jerusalem, and the leaders (that is, Jerusalem in 37) were standing in the way, and opposed Jesus. They would not submit to and obey Him, they would not stop doing all they could to hinder His message. So then, it seems clear that Jesus was drawing the children referred to in 37, and continuing to speak judgment against the leaders of the people. It also seems clear that He was not drawing those against whom He was directing judgment, especially when we take into account the fact that Jesus said in verse 13 that they would not enter the kingdom of heaven, and that they would not escape being condemned to Hell in verse 33.
It would then appear that Dr. White was correct in his assessment of Matther 23:37, when all of the context is considered. Yet I think I would do a disservice to the passage were I to leave it without first metioning something important in verse 39, quoted above. Jesus tells them that they wouldn't see Him again unless they said "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Surely since they would physically see him again (at the crucifixion and at other times) we need to look for an understanding for this statement other than physical perception. Jesus is alluding to something that many of the people did say, and certainly, some truly meant:
Matthew 21:8-9 ESV Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (9) And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
I find this truly amazing. Our Lord had condemned the Jewish leaders, and He had effectively sentenced them to Hell; they were not going to inherit eternal life. However, even given this, Jesus still tells them what they must do to be saved! To put it in slightly different terms, even though they were not elect, and Jesus knew that to be true, He still proclaimed the truth to them, that they needed to believe Him to be Who He truly was. In this statement, and even though it is not the main point of the context of the passage, we do see Jesus's desire for even those who would be condemned to Hell for all eternity to obey Him and believe in Him. It is a minor point, but still present, nonetheless, and it should motivate us all to proclaim the Gospel to all, no matter what we think of them. We shouldn't try to figure out who the elect are anyway, but considering Jesus DID know that and still told people who would remain lost that they needed to believe in Him, we must certainly do no less.
I do truly hope and pray that this post, exegesis and all, will be beneficial to God's people. May the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, be magnified.
Soli Deo Gloria,
PS -- please read the rules for commenting at the right before doing so here. Further, please also keep comments on topic.
1. These are not the only issues present in the post, of course. For example, I firmly believe (as does every other 5 point Calvinist I know of) that Dr. James White is not a hyper-Calvinist. I may address that in a different post, I may not. However, for any who wish to comment on this current post, the matter in this footnote is not to be considered "on topic" in the ensuing discussion.
2. This is of course not to say that I shouldn't be thankful for a pizza of olives and anchovies if that is what I had to eat; most certainly I should, but the point I trust wasn't missed.
3. I do realize that eventually, some situations will not be resolved between brothers on theological matters. However, if I am going to arrive at that conclusion, it won't be without a fight to expound the Scriptures and correct understanding, whether it be mine, the person with whom I disagree, or both.
4. This is part of the reason, I believe, that James gives the warning he does about teaching in the first part of James 3.
5. Specifically by saying that I was probably the first self-described Reformed person he had seen make such a statement in this comment.
6. Though I have said this already, it bears repeating, because the witness of history IS important. I would concur wholeheartedly with R.C. Sproul's sentiments on this issue as he is quoted in the Amazing Grace DVD set. I shall paraphrase it, as I don't have my DVDs in front of me at the moment: If your interpretation has been virtually unknown for the past 2000 years of church history or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, then chances are pretty good you should abandon your interpretation.
7. That is, Norman Geisler's book, Chosen But Free.
8. This doesn't mean that the things the Jewish leaders were doing against Jesus didn't have any effect at all; obviously they were standing in the way and opposing Jesus's teaching. However, those who truly were coming, and were not just the crowds coming for a show, would still indeed come. People cannot thwart God's purposes, and for all the deception and opposition, the efforts of the Jewish leaders would ultimately fail.
9. This hearkens back to a passage in Genesis:
Genesis 15:14-16 ESV But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (15) As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. (16) And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
Why was God going to wait to bring the Israelites into the promised land? In this text, the reason is that it was going to take 400 years for the iniquity of the Amorites, their sin, to be complete. God was going to use His people to bring divine judgment against the Amorites and the other peoples in the land, but they hadn't finished sinning the sins for which they were to be judged. So, when Jesus tells the Jewish leaders to fill up the measure of their fathers sins, He is indicating in a not-so-subtle way that He intends to bring further judgment against them once they do.
10. Carson, D.A. Matthew in The Expositor's Bible Commentary Frank Gaebelein, Ed. Electronic version cited.
11. The fact that God is the one Who sends messengers and that Jesus is saying He is the one sending them was a fact not likely missed by the Jewish leaders. Again, Jesus was claiming to be the One True God they claimed to serve.
12. It also seems very likely, if not a certainty, that those children of Jerusalem (ie, those over whom the leaders had responsibility) are to be equated with the ones coming from verse 13. That being the case, then verse 37 is speaking of those who were truly coming and would come when it speaks of "the children."