The last of Jesus’ woes in Matthew 23 warns about the judgment coming on the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites for their treatment of the prophets. Several notes:

First, the Pharisees and scribes say that they would not have shed the blood of prophets as their fathers did (v. 30). This sounds like penitence, but Jesus draws another conclusion: By acknowledging that the prophet-killers are their fathers, the Pharisees and scribes acknowledge that they are the sons of prophet-killers (v. 31). What does Jesus expect them to do? “Anyone who does not hate his father or mother is not worthy of Me.” True repentance would involve renunciation of ancestry. It’s not enough to say, “Our fathers sinned.” Jesus calls to something more radical: “They are not our fathers; we are not their sons.”

Second, the Pharisees and scribes say that if they had been alive they would not have been partakers ( koinonoi ) of prophet-blood. Prophet-killers form murderous communions against the prophets, and the phrase “partaking/communing . . . in the blood of the prophets” hints at a sacrificial sacrament. What binds the prophet-killers is their common share in the chalice of prophet-blood. We inevitably think of the harlot city of Revelation 17-18, getting drunk on the blood of the saints.

Third, Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes to fill up the measure of their fathers. They are sons of prophet-killers, and their fathers have filled a chalice half-full. The Pharisees and scribes of the first century will finish filling and then drink it down. Yahweh’s statement to Abraham comes to mind: The sins of the Amorites are not yet full. Jerusalem is the new Jericho, Jews the new Canaanites. And a Joshua is coming to conquer the land.

Fourth, Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees as serpent and a nest of vipers (v. 33). They claim ancestry from prophet-killers, but the original prophet-killer is the great serpent, Satan. He is a murderer from the beginning, and he is their true father. Jesus is anticipating what He makes explicit in verse 35: Abel is the first prophet, Cain the prophet-killer. In the first century, the primal murder is played out again, with Jesus and the prophets He sends (v. 34) standing in the role of Abel and the Pharisees and scribes the sons of Cain.