The Judgment of Galilee

[A guest post by Chris Wooldridge]

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Matthew 11:21-24)

If we are paying careful attention to the historical context of this passage, it should be clear enough that the “day of judgment” referred to was fulfilled in the Jewish war of 66-70 AD. But why then does he seem to bring Tyre and Sidon/Sodom onto the scene in verses 22 and 24? Are we dealing here with a future judgment of the inhabitants of these cities, perhaps one which awaits the second coming of Christ?

I think the answer is no, but to help us understand why, let’s see what Josephus has to say. [1]

For starters, we can look at what happened to the three Galilean cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Near the beginning of the Jewish War, in 67 AD, war broke out in Galilee:

“nor did the Romans, out of the anger they bore at this attempt, leave off, either by night or by day, burning the places in the plain, and stealing away the cattle that were in the country, and killing whatsoever appeared capable of fighting perpetually, and leading the weaker people as slaves into captivity; so that Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood” (War of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 4)

It is worth noting that this conflict occurred near the beginning of the Jewish War, just as Jesus’ oracle against the Galilean cities occurred near the beginning of his ministry. But what of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom? Well, there was an event which occurred near the start of the war as cities began to rise up against the Jews:

“Besides this murder at Scythopolis, the other cities rose up against the Jews that were among them… those of Tyre also put a great number to death, but kept a greater number in prison…

only the Antiochtans the Sidontans, and Apamians spared those [Jews] that dwelt with them, and would not endure either to kill any of the Jews, or to put them in bonds… I think the greatest part of this favor was owing to their commiseration of those whom they saw to make no innovations.” (Ibid, Book 2, Chapter 18)

Based on this response, it seems unlikely that Tyre would be a likely location for further resistance from the Jews. Even if further resistance did occur, it would not likely be as violent a conflict as the one which occurred in Galilee. Regarding Sidon, it would appear that they spared the Jews who dwelt within their city because they seemed to “make no innovations”, which I think suggests that the Jews of that city were not deemed to be a threat. So for both cities, there probably wouldn’t have been much turmoil going on as a result of the Jewish war. They would also have been relatively unaffected by the civil war of 69 AD, since they supported Vespasian, who managed to secure the throne and bring about relative stability.

But what about Sodom? Once again, let us turn to Josephus:

“The country of Sodom borders upon it. It was of old a most happy land, both for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that Divine fire, and the traces [or shadows] of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits; which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes. And thus what is related of this land of Sodom hath these marks of credibility which our very sight affords us.” (Ibid, Book 4, Chapter 8)

So we can fairly safely conclude that Sodom would have been unaffected by the wars of 66-70 AD. However, Jesus seems to have had in mind an actual judgment involving both Sodom and Capernaum. Thus far we have been focusing on the earthly cities, but now let us consider what happened to their inhabitants at the end of the old creation:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32)

In his covenant with Abraham, God had promised that nations would be blessed and cursed through him. In 70 AD, the Abrahamic covenant came to an end and the blessings and curses were distributed. Nations were resurrected, stood before Christ in heaven and were judged in accordance with their treatment of the people of Abraham. Israel herself would be judged in accordance with her treatment of the apostolic church. The blessing would take the form of reigning with Christ in heaven for the remainder of the new covenant era (Revelation 20:4-6). The cursing would take the form of returning to the grave in “shame and contempt” (Daniel 12:2) to await the end of the new covenant and eternal destruction in the lake of fire.

Now Sodom and Tyre (and Sidon) would certainly have been involved in this judgment. They all had a sort of covenant relationship with Israel, Sodom because of Abraham’s pleading (Genesis 18) and Tyre and Sidon because they formed an alliance with Solomon and donated material towards the construction of the temple (1 Kings 9). The old covenant destruction of these cities also related to their treatment of the people of Abraham, in particular, Sodom’s sinful attitude towards Lot and his household (Genesis 19) and Tyre’s sinful attitude towards Jerusalem (Ezekiel 26). For the cities of Galilee to be compared with these cities was surely a great insult.

To top it off, there would also have been many righteous gentiles in the judgment:

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:41-42)

All of this would have caused great shame and humiliation for the generation of Israel which witnessed the ministry of Christ and yet refused to heed his warning. The blood of all the righteous, from Abel to Zechariah, was required of that wicked generation.

[1] For this study, I enlisted the help of, which hosts a searchable edition of “The Works of Flavius Josephus”.

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