Like the generation whose dead bodies lined the wilderness floor, the generation who killed God’s Son would be shut out of God’s New Covenant kingdom and would pay mightily for their crimes. That is the context we must understand if we are going to understand Matthew 24, which is one of the most misunderstood chapters in all of the Bible.
The Confusing of Curses
As a child who grew up on Disney, I learned that curses came from magic spells, brought to boil in a big black cauldron, were wielded by wicked witches in shadowy towers, and cast upon unsuspecting innocents. These evil potions turned princes into frogs and princesses into ogres, that would be locked away in castles. But, should a hero arise, discovering the magical power of eroticism, and other such things that will make you gag, then the curse would be broken by the power of love and all would turn out right again.
Perhaps nonsense like this is why I had so much trouble understanding curses in the Bible and why God was the one putting people under them.
I was never told that God invented blessings and curses as a feature of covenantal relationships and not as a weapon against the innocent. You see, a covenant is a terms-based relationship between God and man. It is a relationship where a holy God makes promises to dwell with a sinful people. To do that, laws must be instituted to limit human sin and sacrifices must be given to atone for that sin. Without that there would be no relationship.
Then, once the relationship has been codified, God gives a sign to the people to remember their commitment to God and His commitment to them. For those who obey God’s covenant, great blessings and favor end up coming upon the people. The greatest and best blessing of course is being near to and knowing God. But, for all those who hate God, spurn His commands, and live in opposition to His covenant, God would rain down curses upon them.
In the Bible, curses do not come from the hand of a malevolent tyrant but a merciful God. They are not applied to good people who need to be rescued, but to deplorable people who must be destroyed. And the way these curses are avoided is not through the triumph of a love-sick, dragon-slaying, hero but by the loving obedience of the dragon-slaying LORD.
By the time we get to Matthew 23, the people have hated God so ferociously and lived in opposition to His covenant for so long, that the cup of His bitter curses was about to tip and drown them in His suffocating wrath.
The Need for Curse
God was gracious to outline all of the stipulations, laws, and requirements in the Mosaic covenant. He gave them explicit and specific commands to obey, feasts to attend, and sacrifices to offer whenever they sinned. He gave them priests to represent them before God and to mediate reconciliation on their behalf. The point of the law was not perfect obedience lest a lightning bolt will be slammed on top of your head. The covenant was a relationship of grace with a thousand mercies for sinners to be reconciled to God. Only those with the hardest of hearts toward God would experience the curses laid out in chapters like Deuteronomy 28.
In that passage, God warns the ones who persist in covenant rebellion, that they will be brought under a total and unrelenting curse (Dt. 28:14). This curse would impact their food supply, it would poison their produce, and would kill all the livestock in their possession. It would cause the nation to be plunged into insanity, confusion, and chaos. It would doom their children, infect their citizens with incurable illnesses and diseases, rain down plagues upon the population, and leave their soldiers dead and roasting in the sun.
If the people did not repent after the first round of seven curses, an additional seven curses would be poured out onto the people with terrifying and increasing intensity. This would culminate in a bitter exile where the people would be violently removed from their ancestral lands and mistreated in a place that was not their home. If they still did not repent, even after all of that, a terrifying nation would overwhelm them, besieging them in their cities, cutting off their food supply, raping and killing them, leaving them so hungry for food that they would willingly roast their children in the fire (Dt 28:15-68). As revolting as all of this sounds, this was precisely the kind of disasters that befell Judah during the Roman invasions of AD 70.
In Malachi-like fashion, Jesus came to Jerusalem to forecast their destruction. The culmination of all of God’s covenantal fury was soon to descend upon them, destroying the root and branch of Jesse through covenantal cursing. In Matthew 21-22, Jesus came into the city with the prophetic fire (Mal. 4:1-2) but the people refused to repent. Now, in Matthew 23, His righteous indignation is boiling over and the hard-hearted people will be left to their demise.