“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town… I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.” (Matthew 23:33-34, 36 NIV)

I have been bitten by mosquitoes, horse flies and red ants. Wasps and bees have stung me multiple times. There is no way I need a viper’s fangs in one of my limbs to know that it would hurt–a lot! I will learn from the experience of others, thank you very much.

In Matthew 23, Jesus did not name the teachers of the law and the Pharisees after a poisonous snake without good reason. He could have referred to them as an irritating insect, like chiggers or gnats, but, as John the Baptist did before him (Matthew 3:7), the Lord chose vipers to describe the Jewish religious authorities.

Our previous post, “Prophet/Prophecy Haters”, contained words of grief. Our brother Elijah wrote of a “friend’s” stinging accusation that inflicted pain where we are all vulnerable, in the heart. A personal indictment was leveled against Elijah for passionately sharing prophecy. The context may not fit, but the words in Zechariah 13:6 seem to apply: “If someone asks, ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ he will answer, ‘The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.’ ” Ouch, that hurt!

We must employ the “near/far prophetic” of Matthew 23 to identify this generation’s vipers. For Jesus and his Jewish disciples, they were the religious leaders of their nation. It did not take long for their hatred for Jesus to manifest itself in blood, the blood of the cross. The thirst for more spilled over onto those whom Jesus sent as apostles. Men like James, the Elder, and Stephen were executed. Great persecution broke out against all the disciples, scattering them abroad (Acts 8:1, 11:19). Peter and John were miraculously spared. Believers in Jerusalem and Judea were surrounded by vipers.

If Jews persecuted, imprisoned and murdered fellow Jews for following Jesus (near), what will believing Christians face as we inch closer to Christ’s return (far)? Our Lord singled out prophets, wise men and teachers, in Matthew 23:33, as those who suffer the venom of vipers. God’s people understand the hatred of humanistic secularists or Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist religious radicals, but are we prepared for what Jesus promised? Can we picture “Christian” leaders hunting down believers because of their prophetic message, their wise counsel or their teaching of Bible truth?

“How could what Jesus said happen to us?” you ask. It is instructive to look at the discussion among the chief priests and Pharisees in John 11:47-50. After Lazarus was raised, the elites of the religious class became afraid. Jesus threatened their worldly status. When Peter and John sent the cripple into the temple courts walking and jumping and praising God (Acts 3:8), they were again frightened. The officials seized the disciples and put them in jail (Acts 4:3). Later on these same disciples felt the sting of the flagella as they were flogged (Acts 5:40).

In a conversation with my wife, I asked her thoughts about why Elijah’s best friend attacked him over prophecy. She nailed it. “He is afraid.” Those who love their position in this world, real or imagined, want to silence those whom Jesus sends.

Many of Christians fall into the category of haters: They show great displeasure in any talk of terrible times or the last days. Some are within our own families. Brother will betray brother to death, and a son his father or a father his son. Beware of the vipers. If they get close, it will really hurt.