Many people today think that the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple was caused by the Jewish people’s so-called rejection of Jesus. But according to Matthew 23, the Pharisees (not the Jewish people) were responsible for the Temple’s destruction. According to Jesus’ words in Matthew, they (as distinct from other Jews) bore the guilt of, “all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah … whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (vv. 34-35).

We are not sure of the exact context of His words, but the Shepherd of Israel was clear – the Pharisees of that generation were bound to those who murdered the prophets of Israel, whether they realized it or not. Jesus held them responsible for the shedding of innocent blood both in Israel’s ancient past and in his own time.

Matthew’s account emphasizes the blood of Zechariah. Surprisingly, the later rabbinic literature (which often does not have a favorable portrayal of the Pharisees either), also deals with the story of the spilling of Zechariah’s blood and links that event to the destruction of the Temple!

It informs us that the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s guard entered the Temple and discovered the still boiling blood of Zechariah. The Jewish leaders gathered there confessed that it was the blood of the one, “who prophesied to us all that you [i.e. the captain of the guard] are doing and we arose against him [Zechariah] and slew him.” (b. Gitin 57b)

Like the story of Zechariah’s martyrdom, in the mind of Jesus, the Pharisees were not just guilty of murder – they were also guilty of desecrating the Temple with the blood of their victims. Like those who murdered Zechariah, the Pharisees defiled the Holy Temple. In doing this, they ultimately caused its destruction in 70 CE.

Imagine discovering more fascinating insights like this one from first-century Judaism and how they can broaden your understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry. We recommend our engaging online video course, Judaism in the Days of Jesus, taught by Professor Noel Rabinowitz.

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48 COMMENTS

  1. E gadz! This is very revealing. I know that the rabbis say the Temple was destroyed because of lashon harah and baseless hatred among the people, but this is the first time I've learned about Zecheria's blood being spilt and that being the cause of the destruction.
  2. The fences build around the law of Moses by the Pharisees were built after the babylonian captivity to avoid another diaspora. But they were the reason for the next diaspora: Jeshua kept the law perfectly but rejected the fences of the Pharisees. That was the reason why the jewish leaders didn't accept Jeshua as the Meschiach. He fulfilled his part, but they didn't, so he could not start his reign. And that was the reason why 40 years later Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel displaced.
    • Yes, and the Essenes (Qumran) and later Karaites likewise rejected the mishnaic rules of the rabbis. At the same time, Jesus was a Pharisaic rabbi (as was Paul) of Beit Hillel, so that this distinction is more complicated than it appears on the surface.

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    • I would say that most of the Jewish leaders did not accept Yeshua as the Messiah because he did not meet the job description. His mission was not to restore Jewish independence but to share the Gospel and reconnect us with God. His crucifixion as a convicted criminal (though thoroughly unjust) definitely put Yeshua out of the running to be the hoped-for Messiah.

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    • Hi Gabriel, You're right that the Pharisees rejected Yeshua because he didn't accept their authority and instead presented his own authoritative interpretation (his own "halakhah") of the Torah. But Yeshua didn't reject the idea of building a fence around the Torah, per se (this is in fact what he does many times, himself). As I argued above, the real reason, or the main reason, the Temple (and by extension, Jerusalem) was destroyed was because they polluted the Temple by directly, or indirectly, bringing about the death of the Righteous. This, at least, is Matthew's perspective
  3. If the Pharisees defiled the temple, then why did God continue to accept their sacrifices up until Yeshua died and rose again?
  4. I don't see in Matthew that the Scribes and Pharisees are the only ones who were guilty; just the people Yeshua was talking to were Pharisees and they were guilty. Furthermore it doesn't say every Pharisee is guilty, just the ones being addresses. Read on, Yeshua condemns Yerushalayim for killing the prophets and other Scribes. So not all Scribes could have been guilty either. Yerushalayim had many sects present besides Pharisees, however typically unless they were in the Temple weren't these kinds of discussions held between members of the same sect? So this was an "in house" argument.
    • Hi Dan, The Pharisees in Matthew are always, always, always, the Bad Guys - they are ones with the "Black Hats." There were, to be sure, other bad guys - Scribes, the priests and others, but the Pharisees are a special case in Matthew's Gospel. "The crowds," on the other hand, are viewed as "Sheep without a Shepherd." They are the ones to whom Jesus proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  5. I always understood that there was now no need to offer sacrifices in the temple, as after Yeshua had risen and entered heaven as the true sacrifice, no more was needed. Also I believe that as the temple records showed genealagies ect. Then future generations couldn't trace themselves back to being in the same family tree as Yeshua, therefore no one could say they were related to him.
  6. Shalom, Very good and very telling. I have a slightly different take on it though. It may not be Jewish but it is according to Torah. Shalom and berakot, CC
  7. Not just that but not obeying the Lord , in the Torah it says that if you obey my word he would always protect us, well guess what we got the beat down from the Lord so what does that tell us ! When the temple is rebuilt and we worship him for a 1000 years, that's because when the temple was around we didn't worship him right , so we owe him a 1000 years of real worship !!! Price Michael
  8. Matthew 21: 33 the landowner and the vineyard. He explains it there. They are responsible for it all because they also killed the son. Yes it was the leaders not the people. Those who wanted to be in control and did not believe or know HaShem.
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