Matthew 23:33
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
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(33) Ye generation of vipers.—Better, as in Matthew 3:7, brood, or progeny of vipers. The word of rebuke which had come before from the lips of the Baptist, comes now, with even more intense keenness, from those of the Christ.

How can ye escape?—Better—to maintain the parallelism with the Baptist’s words, which was, we can hardly doubt, designed—How should ye flee from?

23:13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.Ye serpents - This name is given to them on account of their pretending to be pious, and very much devoted to God, but being secretly evil, At the heart, with all their pretensions, they were filled with evil designs, as the serpent was, Genesis 3:1-5

Generation of vipers - See the notes at Matthew 12:34.

Damnation of hell - This refers, beyond all question, to future punishment. So great was their wickedness and hypocrisy, that, if they persevered in this course, it was impossible to escape the damnation that should come on the guilty. This is the sternest language that Jesus ever used to wicked people. But it by no means authorizes ministers to use such language to sinners now. Christ knew that this was true of them. He had an authority which none now have. It is not the province of ministers to denounce judgment, or to use severe names, least of all to do it on pretence of imitating Christ. He knew the hearts of people. We know them not. He had authority to declare certainly that those whom he addressed would be lost. We have no such authority. He addressed persons; we address characters.

33. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?—In thus, at the end of His ministry, recalling the words of the Baptist at the outset of his, our Lord would seem to intimate that the only difference between their condemnation now and then was, that now they were ripe for their doom, which they were not then.Ver. 31-33. You (saith our Lord) confess that you are lineally descended from those who killed the prophets: you have not only their blood communicated to you, but their spirit; your behaviours and carriages towards me and my disciples have witnessed, and will yet further testify, that you are the children of those who killed the prophets in a moral as well as a natural sense; you inherit the same spirit, and are full of the same malice and rancour. They killed them, and you bury them: seeing there is no reclaiming you, go you on, fill up the measure of your fathers’ sins. There is something more to be added to make the iniquity of this nation full. You are a company of serpents, vipers, that cannot escape the damnation of hell.

Ye servants, ye generation of vipers,.... The latter of these names, John the Baptist calls the Sadducees and Pharisees by, in Matthew 3:7 and Christ, in Matthew 12:34 both express their craft and subtlety, their inward poison, and venomous nature; their fair outside, and specious pretences; their hypocrisy, malice, and wickedness; in which they were like to the old serpent, their father the devil, and to their ancestors, that murdered the prophets; nor could any good thing be expected, from such a viperous generation:

how can ye escape the damnation of hell? signifying, that it was impossible that they should; nor could they surely expect it themselves, who must be conscious to themselves of their wickedness, malice, and deceit. The Persic version reads it, "where can ye escape?" &c. and so Beza says it was read, in one ancient copy of his; and the sense is, whither can ye flee? to whom, or what can you have recourse to, to screen you from the wrath to come? Rocks and mountains, caves and dens, will be of no service. The phrase,

, "the judgment, or damnation of hell", is a phrase often used in the Talmud (p), and Midrashes (q) of the Jews; and intends future torment, and the everlasting vengeance and wrath of God, the unquenchable fire prepared for the devil and his angels, and which impenitent unbelieving sinners cannot escape,

(p) T. Bab. Berncot, fol. 61. 1. Erubin, fol. 18. 2. Yebamot, fol. 102. 2. Sota, fol. 4. 2. & 5. 1. & Bava Bathra, fol. 10. 1.((q) Bemidbar Rabba, fol. 203. 1. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 14. 2. & Midrash Kohelet, fol. 76. 1.

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Matthew 23:33. Πῶς φύγητε] Conjunctive, with a deliberative force: how are you, judging from your present character, to escape from (see on Matthew 3:7), etc. Comp. Matthew 26:54; Mark 4:30 : Hom. Il. i. 150: πῶς τίς τοι πρόφρων ἔπεσιν πείθηται Ἀχαιῶν;

The κρίσις τῆς γεένν. means the pronouncing of the sentence which condemns to Gehenna. The phrase judicium Gehennae is also of very frequent occurrence in Rabbinical writers. See Wetstein. The judgment comes when the measure is full. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:16.

Matthew 23:33. wful ending to a terrific charge, indicating that the men who are predestined to superlative wickedness are appropriately doomed to the uttermost penalty.—ὄφεις, γεν. ἐχιδνῶν; already stigmatised as false, fools, blind, they are now described as venomous, murderous in thought and deed. Cf. Matthew 3:7.—πῶς φύγητε, the deliberative subjunctive. “The verb of a deliberative question is most frequently in the first person, but occasionally in the second or third. Matthew 23:33, Romans 10:14.”—Burton, § 170.

33. generation of vipers] See note ch. Matthew 3:7.

the damnation of hell] Rather, the judgment of Gehenna.

Matthew 23:33. Ἐχιδνῶν, of vipers) Which are mentioned in Matthew 23:30-32.—πῶς φύγητε, how can ye escape) The subjunctive.

Verses 33-39. - Declaration of the sentence on these Pharisees and their generation. Verse 33. - Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers; γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν: offspring of vipers. Our Lord repeats the Baptist's denunciation (Matthew 3:7). They were of devilish nature, inherited from their very birth the disposition and character of Satan. So Christ said on another occasion, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stood not in the truth" (John 8:44). How can ye escape? Πῶς φύγητε; the deliberative conjunctive, How shall ye escape? Quo mode fugietis? (Vulgate). There is no emphasis on "can" in the Authorized Version. What hope is there now of your repentance? Can anything soften the hardness of your hearts? The Baptist had spoken more hopefully, "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" But now the day of grace is past; the sin against the Holy Ghost is committed; there remaineth only the fearful looking for of judgment. The damnation of hell; literally, the judgment of Gehenna; judicio Gehennae (Vulgate); i.e. the sentence that condemns to eternal death (Matthew 5:22). The phrase is common in the rabbinical writings (see Lightfoot). "Before sinning, we ought to fear lest it be the filling up; after sinning, we should trust in a truly Christian hope that it is not, and repent. This is the only means to escape the damnation of hell; but how rare is this grace after a pharisaical life!" (Quesnel). Hypocrisy is a bar to repentance. Matthew 23:33
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