Venturing on to the twenty-fifth verse, and not allowing for a breach in the continuous stream of thought, Jesus can be heard continuing to speak about the Temple and its corrupt rulers (though those who were Pharisees were not necessarily Temple authorities, nor is this necessarily true of the experts in the law, but they would represent that which stood behind the laws and traditions, which was the Temple) when He says “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgences. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!” (Matthew 23:25-26) Though a personal application is surely intended here, one should not allow the personal and individual application to completely override the major focus of the woeful discourse that is on offer from Jesus.
With yet another statement that could be dually applicable to individual and Temple, Jesus adds “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (23:27-28). Piling on and making sure that it is well understood that Jesus still has the Temple not only as the setting (in view of His judging speech), He adds “For this reason I am sending you prophets and wise men and experts in the law, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar” (23:34-35). With the close of this statement, Matthew and Jesus provide a reminder of the earlier mentions of Temple and altar, giving this portion of the statement even greater weight as it relates to the pronounced judgment. Jesus then adds: “I tell you the truth, this generation will be held responsible for all these things!” (23:36)
Now, what would His hearers have understood by “this generation”? Most likely, they would have understood that phrase in its very plain and literal sense of “this generation,” meaning those that were hearing him would be held responsible for what has been outlined throughout His discourse---they would experience that which represented the Creator God’s judgment. Jesus then goes on to say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!” (23:37) Then, while standing in the Temple courts, Jesus makes yet another very clear reference to the Temple, continuing His speech to Jerusalem and saying “Look, your house is left to you desolate!” (23:38) The house, of course, is the Temple---the house of God.
The desolation of the house could be a backwards and then-present reference to the fact that the shekinah glory of the Creator God had never rested in this particular Temple from the time that it was rebuilt in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (though it was an ongoing project), or it could be a forward reference, encompassing the generation to be held responsible and pointing to the desolation of the Temple that would also be its destruction. Though both are probably legitimate inferences to be drawn from the statement, Matthew’s narrative seems to clearly point toward the latter, as he moves his audience onward to learn that “as Jesus was going out of the Temple courts and walking away, His disciples came to show Him the Temple buildings” (24:1).