“Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berakiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.” (Matt. 23:34-36)By all indications, this is a different portrayal of the same statement. The setting between the two verses is consistent, for example. In both, Jesus is speaking of the Pharisees as he says, "woe to you..." This is consistent between Luke 11:42 to 11:44 and Matt. 23:23 to 23:27.
We find many other similarities between the two - both speak of sending prophets, both speak of those prophets being killed, both speak of Abel and Zechariah and both state how Zechariah was killed between the temple and the altar (or "altar and the sanctuary").
While we find no specific verse in the Old Testament where this precise statement by God is written - at the time of Jesus there were other Hebrew texts that didn't make it into the Canon.
We do, however, find similar statements made by God. For example, God instructed Ezekiel:
“Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against Me to this very day." (Ezekiel 2:3)So we can see that God certainly communicated that some from the nation of Israel had forsaken Him, and had killed some of those who worshipped Him.
However, the question whether the Supreme Being said this statement in the Old Testament is not important. Why? Because Jesus is God's representative - and if he said it, we can conclude that God said it.
This can also be said of many of the statements made by prophets such as Moses, Isaiah, David and many others, who spoke on behalf of the Supreme Being. Consider for example, Isaiah's statement, passing on the message of the Supreme Being:
The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught." (Isaiah 29:13)So whether Jesus is quoting a previous scriptural passage - as Jesus had quoted Isaiah 29:13 in Matt. 15:8 - or whether he is directly speaking for the Supreme Being is not important.
The message is important
What is important is the message. And its meaning. And the fact that it is being spoken by God's representative - Jesus.
Yet another issue that may be brought up is that the message of Matt. 23:34-36 appears to be Jesus speaking of those who will be sent in the future, while Luke 11:49-51 appears to be speaking solely of those prophets and apostles from the past who were persecuted.
What is obvious from the comparison of the statements in Matthew and Luke is that each is portraying the hearing of Jesus' statement from two different perspectives - neither of which should be considered wrong.
In reality, in both the Luke and Matthew statements, Jesus is speaking of the past, present and the future. Those leaders and promoters of ecclesiastical institutions and power structures - created by those who seek their own power and authority in the name of religion - are responsible for persecuting God's representatives who have been sent periodically by the Supreme Being to teach us.
'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.'
Is this statement saying the purpose of the Prophets being sent is to be killed or persecuted? No. It is saying they were sent by the Supreme Being. That is the central message. But the Supreme Being also knew they would be either killed and/or otherwise persecuted.
One might ask: Why would God send His prophets and allow them to be persecuted?
To that, ecclesiastical sectarian institutions and their teachers will drone on about martyrs and such.
The reality is that we are not these physical bodies. They are temporary vehicles that we drive. The spirit-person within who operates this physical body is not touched by what happens to the physical body. This was taught specifically by Jesus:
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)So if the body being killed does not kill the soul, we know that the killing or persecution of the prophets took place upon the physical bodies of the prophets. Those prophets - exalted spirit-persons who were lovingly serving the Supreme Being - were not harmed. Rather they were protected. After they left their bodies, they simply returned to the spiritual realm after being sent to pass on the message of the Supreme Being.
Furthermore, their allowing their physical bodies to be persecuted because of their teachings illustrates their total commitment to those teachings, and their loving relationship with the Supreme Being.
"Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary."
How could this be true?
The fact is, it has been mistranslated. The phrase "this generation" - taken from the Greek γενεᾶς ταύτης - contains the key root, γενεά (genea) - which can certainly be translated to "generation." But it can also mean, when used metaphorically, "a group of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character."
As such we cannot say that everyone living at that time in history are solely responsible. That would necessarily eliminate those who actually persecuted those prophets centuries earlier - a crazy proposition.
But if we understand that Jesus is speaking of a common denominator - a type of people that both were existing around Jesus and have existed for centuries before (and after) Jesus - then we have the formula for who Jesus is speaking of - those responsible for the murder and persecution of these prophets.
What is that common denominator?
It is those who were a part of the ecclesiastical sectarian institutions that were either involved directly or have allowed the persecution of prophets and apostles through the ages.
It is the leaders of these organizations, who seek power and authority over others - and those who promote such organizations in order to gain acceptance by these leaders and others - who Jesus is speaking of.
And as we've seen historically among these groups - such as the ecclesiastical Jewish institution led by the high priests and pharisees that were responsible for the arrest of Jesus and the recommendation that his body be put to death. This same institution was responsible for allowing John the Baptist to be arrested and John's body to eventually be put to death without any protest.
And this ecclesiastical Jewish institution - as Jesus indicates here - was the descendant of those institutions and leaders that allowed Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos, Zechariah and others to be persecuted over the centuries. They were either directly implicated in the persecution or allowed the persecution to happen without protest.
Rather than allowing one of God's representatives to be persecuted, human society and its various organizations should be providing protection for them at all costs.
"Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all."
This can also be applied today. Those who lead or promote institutions that have been responsible for the persecution of God's messengers as well as innocent people are in effect approving the prior activities of those institutions. To the degree of their involvement, they will also be held accountable, according to Jesus' teachings.
This is part of the law of consequences. The physical world designed by the Supreme Being maintains the law of consequences, which means that whatever we do with a self-interested motive will come back to us, either in this lifetime or the next.
And just as aiding a criminal will also be punishable under most laws, accommodating the actions of an institution by ones involvement with that institution also creates responsibility.
Serving the Supreme Being, however, does not create physical consequences. This is because serving God is our innate occupation and position.