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What is the significance of the saying of Jews at Jesus’ time that “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25)?

As will be explained herein, many have taken this statement to justify anti-Semitic sentiments, or to explain horrible incidents like the Holocaust when millions of Jews were killed in gas chambers. But is it possible that a “curse,” which is placed by parents on their children and future generations, can automatically bring about such terrible results? Some turn for an explanation to the “curse” which God placed on parents and children who “hate” Him. 

In a previous Q&A, we asked and answered the question what it means that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him (compare Exodus 20:5), and explained that this does not contradict Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 24:16, stating that children are not to be put to death for their fathers, but that a person “shall be put to death for his own sin.”

We pointed out that the children will only be punished if they themselves are sinning, stating: “The Companion Bible comments to Ezekiel 18: 4, 20: ‘Descendants were not punished for the sins of their ancestors unless they persevered in their ancestors’ sins.’ The same thought is expressed in Exodus 20. Note that Exodus 20:5 speaks of those ‘who hate Me.’ Soncino points out that the phrase, ‘of those that hate Me,’ applies to the children, i.e. God will punish the children if they [the children] hate Him. Soncino comments, too, that the punishment will be brought upon the children, ‘when they retain the evil deeds of their fathers.’”

We also explained that “the conduct of the parents may have a lot to do with the fact whether their children or grandchildren love or hate God. The sins of the fathers do affect future generations — and so does the penalty for sin… When Adam and Eve sinned, the penalty imposed on them affected all mankind. Through their sin, they cut themselves – and man – off from God. Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2), and since all have sinned, all have incurred the death penalty for sin (Romans 5:14). One might say that the sin of Adam and Eve affected, at the very least, the third and fourth generation, but since Cain sinned, his sin affected the next four generations, and so on. The effect of sin is cumulative. Finally, sin had become so all-encompassing that God decided to destroy the entire world in a flood.

“Christ, in showing the evil influence of their parents and their own culpability in their continued hate of God, pointed out in Matthew 23:31-36, how the principle of Exodus 20:6 was fulfilled in the persons of the scribes and Pharisees at Christ’s time.”

We also stressed that the “vicious cycle of sin, penalty, and death can be interrupted, however, when a person turns to God, repents, and obtains forgiveness.” Norbert Link’s recent sermon, “The Fate of Our Children,” explains this topic in much detail, showing that “God determined to call some in this day and age to have a special relationship with Him. This includes the children of called-out parents. Whether they may realize it or not, parents have a tremendous influence on their children and grandchildren—in good and bad ways.”

In light of this concept, let us return to Matthew 27:25. In the context of that passage, Pilate washed his hands and stated that he was “innocent of the blood of this just Person,” Jesus Christ.   In response, the crowd yelled, “His blood be on us and on our children,” demanding His death by crucifixion.

Many commentaries feel indeed that this saying had automatic consequences for their future generations.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary writes: “The Jews’ curse upon themselves has been awfully answered in the sufferings of their nation.”

The Pulpit Commentary says: “A mad and impious imprecation, the fulfillment of which quickly commenced, and has continued unto this day. The terrible events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem, the overthrow of the theocracy, and the eighteen centuries of exile and dispersion, bear witness to the reality of the vengeance thus wantonly invoked.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible writes: “… his blood was in the sense they wished it; and for the shedding of it, wrath came upon them to the uttermost, in the entire destruction of their nation, city, and temple, and very remarkable it is, that great numbers of them were put to death by crucifixion; and very likely some of those very persons, that were so clamorous for the crucifying of Christ; and if not, at least their children; five hundred of the Jews and more, were sometimes crucified in a day, whilst Titus was besieging the city; till at length there wanted ‘room for crosses’, ‘and crosses for bodies’, as Josephus (u) says, who was an eyewitness of it: and to this day, this dreadful wish of the blood of Christ upon them, is to be seen in their miserable, abject, and captive state; and will be, until such time that they look to him whom they have pierced, and mourn…”

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says: “The Jews had no right to call down this vengeance on their children, but, in the righteous judgment of God, it has come upon them. In less than forty years their city and temple were overthrown and destroyed. More than a million of people [sic] perished in the siege. Thousands died by famine; thousands by disease; thousands by the sword; and their blood ran down the streets like water, so that, Josephus says, it extinguished things that were burning in the city. Thousands were crucified suffering the same punishment that they had inflicted on the Messiah… To this day, also, the curse has remained. They have been a nation scattered and peeled; persecuted almost everywhere, and a hissing and a byword among people. No single nation, probably, has suffered so much; and yet they have been preserved. All classes of people, all the governments of the earth, have conspired to overwhelm them with calamity, and yet they still live as monuments of the justice of God, and as proofs, going down from age to age, that the Christian religion is true – standing demonstrations of the crime of their fathers in putting the Messiah to death, and in calling down vengeance on their heads.”

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible says: “If this man be innocent, and we put him to death as a guilty person, may the punishment due to such a crime be visited upon us, and upon our children after us! What a dreadful imprecation! and how literally fulfilled!… they fell victims to their own imprecation, being visited with a series of calamities unexampled in the history of the world. They were visited with the same kind of punishment; for the Romans crucified them in such numbers when Jerusalem was taken, that there was found a deficiency of crosses for the condemned, and of places for the crosses. Their children or descendants have had the same curse entailed upon them, and continue to this day a proof of the innocence of Christ, the truth of his religion, and of the justice of God.”

The People’s New Testament says: “His blood be on us. That is, let us have the responsibility and suffer the punishment. A fearful legacy, and awfully inherited. The history of the Jews from that day on has been the darkest recorded in human annals.”

Wesley’s Notes say: “His blood be on us and on our children – As this imprecation was dread, fully answered in the ruin so quickly brought on the Jewish nation, and the calamities which have ever since pursued that wretched people, so it was peculiarly fulfilled by Titus the Roman general, on the Jews whom he took during the siege of Jerusalem. So many, after having been scourged in a terrible manner, were crucified all round the city, that in a while there was not room near the wall for the crosses to stand by each other. Probably this befell some of those who now joined in this cry, as it certainly did many of their children: the very finger of God thus pointing out their crime in crucifying his Son.”

This will suffice. Even though the human mind might hastily conclude that the sufferings of the Jews are the direct result of a curse uttered by parents for them and future generations, such interpretation is not biblical. However, the consequences of this kind of interpretation have indeed been terrible. Adolf Hitler used this Scripture and the concept that the “Jews killed Christ” to exterminate millions of them during the Holocaust. Others, prior to him, had used the same “justification” for their horrible and ungodly deeds towards the Jews. But what is forgotten is the fact that the Jews were persecuted long before the death of Christ—we may recall that in the book of Esther, all the Jews would have been killed if it had not been for Esther’s intervention. Clearly, Satan was behind that attempt to exterminate the Jewish people to make prophecy “fail,” by trying to prevent the birth of Jesus Christ—knowing that He would be a descendant of the house of Judah.

The Nelson Study Bible comments that “The destruction of Jerusalem was one of the results of this sin [the curse uttered by the parents].” For proof, the commentary points at Matthew 23:32-39. However, that passage describes the results of the sins of those who were involved—it does not inflict a curse on innocent children who do not participate in the evil life style of their parents. In addition, we should realize that this was not a curse uttered by God, but a curse uttered by ignorant people. God is not bound by such a curse. To the contrary, we read that no one can curse or effectuate a curse on someone whom God does not curse (Numbers 23:8).

Recognizing the injustice of categorically condemning all future generations to a terrible curse uttered by some of their ancestors, some commentaries take a more differentiated point of view. The New Bible Commentary: Revised states that the “saying has been wrongly used in later generations to persecute the Jews.” The Broadman Bible Commentary agrees, saying: “Verse 25 has unfortunately been used in anti-Semitism, and such use is to be deplored. Jesus was crucified by Romans at Jewish initiative, but not all Jews then supported the crime, and Jews today are no more guilty than any other people. Jesus died on account of the sins of the world, not of the Jews alone.”

This is indeed true. Christ came to die for all men—Jews and Gentiles—and all of us are guilty of His death, because all of us have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. In addition, our sins—not unfriendly words uttered by ignorant men—bring about curses in our lives. Christ came to free us from sin and the death penalty through the shedding of His precious blood, and to remove from us the curse of eternal death (For more information, please read our free booklet, “Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery.”). It is also a fact that this is Satan’s world, and that Satan is anxious to destroy all of mankind. Millions of people have died in wars, famines, disease epidemics and “natural” catastrophes, and millions of Christians were murdered during the times of the Inquisition. As explained in this Q&A, we suffer the consequences of our own misconduct, and we are only responsible for the misconduct of our parents if we adopt their life style and make it our own.  To say that Jews were singled out by God and persecuted and killed throughout history because of a curse uttered by some Jews at the time of Christ’s death is equally as wrong as to hold the current generation of Germans responsible for the crimes of some of their fathers and grandfathers against the Jews and others during Nazi Germany.

We should also focus on another possibility as to how to understand Matthew 27:25. Even though the Jews who uttered these terrible words were misled and meant them as a rejection of Christ to be applied to them and their children—apparently not realizing what they were saying—God might have inspired the recording of these statements to point out quite a different concept. For instance, we read that the high priest recommended the death of Jesus Christ, as “it is expedient to us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:49-50). He meant that Jesus should die so that the Romans would not come in to destroy Judah, but God inspired this saying for quite a different reason. As John 11:51-52 explains: “Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.”

In that sense, some commentaries understand the saying in Matthew 27:25 in a similar way. The One Volume Bible Commentary by J.R. Dummelow refers to the Jews’ saying also as “a blessing upon believers, on whom the blood of Jesus came for sanctification, and the remission of sin, compare John 11:50.” Indeed, when the blood of Jesus covers our sins, this will have a positive influence on our children. When a parent is becoming converted and accepts the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins, his children become “holy” or “sanctified” (1 Corinthians 7:14); that is, they are being set aside for the holy purpose of realizing their potential of entering into a relationship with God. In that sense, the “curse” of the parents in Matthew 27:25 could perhaps be understood, in God’s eyes, as the (unrealized) cry for a blessing for them and their children.

God will answer that cry. He will soon send Jesus Christ to this earth to offer all of mankind—Jews and Gentiles alike—the gift of eternal life and freedom from sin and the curse of eternal death. That is why we are to pray daily for the coming of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 6:10).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link