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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


Matt 11:20-24 Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not: woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida; for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the Day of Judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

In the lesson text we find Jesus reflecting on the results of the teaching of John the Baptist, as well as His own, about the kingdom of God that was soon to take place and the miracles that gave infallible proof that He was the Son of God. To upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done is to reprove, or speak reproachfully, about their refusal to hear, believe, and accept the things taught and done in these cities. It was not the cities that He was condemning, and neither was He passing adverse judgment on the entire population of these cities. It is well confirmed that some believed and accepted Him as the promised Savior, became His disciples, and followed Him throughout His ministry on earth. Jesus was merely expressing strong disapproval of the majority of the inhabitants of these cities. And because of the sinful ways of those living in each city, these cities would be woefully affected, because they heard the message of repentance that would lead to eternal salvation, but they repented not. Without any doubt these unrepentant Jews were given the complete message that would allow them to obey God's will, or else He could not have condemned them for their refusal to repent of their sins. Today, if we refuse to follow the complete will of God, we will face the same final condemnation.

Because of the overwhelming majority of inhabitants that refused to accept Him as the Son of God, and failed to hear and believe His teachings, Jesus pronounced woes upon all of these cities. As used in the lesson text, these woes were pronouncements of much grief, great sorrow, misery, and affliction that would come to them in future times. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! This city, thought to be only a few miles from Capernaum, certainly received the wrath of God because it has long been extinct. Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! Its name literally means "House of fishing or hunting." Situated on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, it was the home of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip, all of whom were fishermen. It too, was destroyed, and biblical geographers dispute its exact location. Not only was Chorazin and Bethsaida doomed for destruction and its unrepentant people destined for eternal death, but these cities were compared, by Christ, to Tyre and Sidon and found wanting. To demonstrate their degenerate state of sinfulness, Jesus said that if Tyre and Sidon could have heard His preaching the Gospel of Salvation, and had been privileged to witness the miracles He had performed, unlike Chorazin and Bethsaida, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes, which are known to be symbols of mourning and repentance. Jesus continued to say that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the Day of Judgment, than for you.

Jesus then pronounces a woe on Capernaum saying that, it had been exalted unto heaven for the teaching of salvation and the miracles performed, that they were privileged to hear and see. But because of their refusal to accept the will of God, they would be destroyed - that is, brought down to hell. This city was the home of the apostles James and John, and also the Galilean home of Jesus. True to Jesus prophecy, Capernaum was so totally destroyed, and its exact location is unknown to this day, Continuing His condemnation of this city, He said that if the mighty works, which they witnessed in Capernaum, but rejected, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. God destroyed Sodom because of its great wickedness. Yet Jesus says that its sinful inhabitants would have repented of their wickedness and their city would have been spared, if the same mighty works that were done in Capernaum would have been done in their midst. Jesus wasn't referring to the final Day of Judgment, but simply that God would have let it remain until this day. Sin destroyed these cities and their people. Only repentance and acceptance of Christ could have saved them.