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Jesus Denounces the Scribes and Pharisees - etching by Friedrich Ludy (Unknown date)

Jesus chastised the towns in which he had performed miracles, but they still refused to repent.

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Pity on you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in your cities had been performed in Tyre or Sidon, they would have repented along ago in sackcloth and ashes. I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you.”

What the story means to us today

The consequences for our behavior are severe if we refuse to repent

Ancient synagogue remains in CapernaumJesus dove headlong into a battle with the Jewish state and its citizens in a furious attempt to win their hearts and souls. Despite his efforts, the Jews refuse to heed Jesus’ call.

Jesus does not denounce the Jewish cities because they are immoral, unjust, or backward but because they refused to repent even after seeing Jesus’ perform his miracles. Everyone will ultimately be judged for their behavior – likely here on earth, definitely in the afterlife. But we have a “get out of jail free” card” that can be played – repentance of our sins. God understands that we are flawed and does not expect our behavior to be perfect. He does however, expect us to recognize bad behavior and seek forgiveness.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Ironically, the non-Jewish (Gentiles) are more receptive to Jesus’ message than the Jews

The cities Jesus chastises are Jewish cities, Jesus’ primary audience and highest priority for his ministry. But even now, Jesus seems to recognize that the Gentiles will be more receptive to his message. Today, Gentiles are the primary driver of the Christian movement.

Are there degrees of evil?

When addressing the state of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus says, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you.” For Capernaum, he says, “it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you.” The comparisons between Chorazin and Tyre/Sidon and Capernaum and Sodom seem to imply degrees of evil but this is not the case. Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point that the Jewish cities are refusing to listen and thus, will be held accountable for their rejection of the messiah.

The science and history behind the story

The cities that Jesus chastised

Tall el Hammam Jordan Valley - possible location of SodomJesus chastises Chorazin and Bethsaida, popular Jewish cities during Jesus’ time.

Chorazin (or Korazin) is only mentioned here and in Luke 10:13. Chorazin was a town of Galilee, probably modern day Kirbet Keraze, about two miles northwest of Capernaum.

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Bethsaida was the home of Andrew, Peter, and Philip. It was located on the west side of Galilee (Bethsaida Julias was a different city, located on the northeast shores of Galilee near the Jordan river inlet).

Jesus compares Chorazin and Bethsaid to the Gentiles cities of Tyre and Sidon. The cities of Tyre and Sidon were mentioned in several Old Testament verses, primarily for their pagan worship of Baal. They were Phoenician cities located on the Mediterranean.

The cities Jesus chastises were Jewish cities. In later verses, we will see Jesus visit the areas of the Gentiles and even veer from his task to witness to the Israelites in order to heal a Gentile.

Sackcloth, the rough fabric made from camel hair

Jesus says if his miracles had been performed in the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, “they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes”. Sackcloth was a fabric made from camel hair and was worn to express sorrow or sadness. Similarly, ashes were placed on the head or clothing to further express grief.

Bible Text

AinSur AinHiram at Tyre - spring where Jesus drank water fromNIV

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. l For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

11:20 Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent. 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you! 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. 11:24 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, 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. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

Ancient synagogue remains at ChorazimThe Message

20 Next Jesus let fly on the cities where he had worked the hardest but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way.

21–24 “Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom, Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half of the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. At Judgment Day they’ll get off easy compared to you. And Capernaum! With all your peacock strutting, you are going to end up in the abyss. If the people of Sodom had had your chances, the city would still be around. At Judgment Day they’ll get off easy compared to you.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

20 Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: 21 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. 22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 23 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. 24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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