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.