Although many were affected positively by Jesus’ teaching, there was a large portion of the Jewish population that rejected his messages and refused to respond to Jesus’ call to repentance. Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 11:21). The Greek word Jesus used, which is translated repented, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh´-o) means “to think differently or afterwards that is reconsider” (3340). Jesus wanted God’s people to understand that his kingdom was not an imaginary, fictitious place, but a real destination that everyone would eventually arrive at. Jesus compared the cities within the borders of the Promised Land to “Gentile cities in Phoenicia, north of Galilee, which had not had opportunity to witness Jesus’ miracles and hear his preaching as the people had in most of Galilee” (note on Luke 10:14). Jesus’ vicious condemnation of the Jews made it clear that they would be judged for their rejection of his gospel message.
The town where Jesus had spent the majority of his time, Capernaum received the harshest reprimand of all. Jesus continued, “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 unto this day” (Matthew 11:22-23). The mighty works Jesus referred to were the numerous miracles he had performed in Capernaum, including raising a young man from the dead (Luke 7:14-15). “Although Sodom was so sinful that God destroyed it (Gen 19:24-28; Jude 7), the people who heard the message of Jesus and his disciples were even more accountable, because they had the gospel of the kingdom preached to them. This passage clearly teaches degrees of punishment. Some sins are worse than others and bring more judgment” (note on Luke 10:12).
The day of judgment that Jesus eluded to was mentioned numerous times during his ministry. Jesus’ example of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Sodom, as cities that would fair better in the day of judgment, was meant to startle or perhaps even shock his listeners into an awareness of their extremely dangerous spiritual state. The thought that Capernaum would be brought down to hell would surely have had a negative impact on those that believed territories within the border of the Promised Land would escape the judgment or at least be judged on a different scale than the notorious pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon and ancient city of Sodom. The truth that Jesus was declaring to them was that the Jews would be judged on a different scale, one much more harsh than others, because they had heard his gospel and rejected it.