Chapter

Luke 11:47

ESV Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed.
NIV Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.
NASB Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them.
CSB "Woe to you! You build tombs for the prophets, and your fathers killed them.
NLT What sorrow awaits you! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago.
KJV Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.

What does Luke 11:47 mean?

Having told the lawyers that they burden the people with regulations God did not ordain and the people cannot fulfill (Luke 11:46), Jesus goes into an extended argument. He says the lawyers are as guilty of killing prophets as those in the Old Testament who physically committed the crime. The amount of time Jesus spends on this idea reflects its importance to Him (Luke 11:48–52).

The term "tombs of the prophets" is typically interpreted metaphorically, but it need not be. There is a complex called the Tombs of the Prophets which is thought to hold the remains of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi on the Mount of Olives. According to scholars Gideon Avni and Boaz Zissu, the original chamber reflects second temple architecture and is thought to have been built in the first century BC. It's very possible that Jesus is referring to this burial site. Jewish tradition says that Haggai and Malachi died of natural causes. Zechariah, however, was murdered by the king to whom God had sent him to chastise for idolatry (2 Chronicles 24:1–22).

Jesus may be using this fact to reveal the lawyers' hypocrisy. All of God's prophets spoke His divine revelation and many were murdered for it, such as Jeremiah. The point is that some prophets were honored—even in death—while others were murdered. Most recently, John the Baptist was executed for speaking God's truth (Mark 6:14–29).

Jesus also foretells His own death, here, as Stephen explains in his last confession:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. (Acts 7:51–53)

The religious leaders claim that Jesus' power comes from Beelzebul, but they don't know the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness (Luke 11:14–15). They claim to be experts in the Mosaic law, but they reject the prophets.

The King James Version uses "sepulchres" instead of tombs. It refers to a small room cut out of stone or built with stones where a body lies, which fits the description of burial practices at the time.

Jesus says something similar in Matthew 23:29–30.
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