Harmony of the Gospels

 -Tuesday-
Jerusalem
(10) Jesus’ Last Sermon
Matthew 23:1-39 (focal passage), Mark 12:38-40, Luke 20:45-4

 

Matthew 23:1-39

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,
2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.
3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.
6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,
7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’
8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.
9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.
11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’
17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?
18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’
19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?
20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.
21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.
22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.
26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,
30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.
33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?
34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city,
35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
38 See! Your house is left to you desolate;
39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”


This was our Lords last public message.  It is a scathing denunciation of false religion that paraded itself under the guise of truth.  Some of the common people no doubt were shocked at his words, for they considered the Pharisees righteous. 

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that not all of the Pharisees were hypocrites.  There were about 6,000 Pharisees in that day, with many more who were followers but not full members of the group. Most of the Pharisees were middle class businessmen and no doubt, they were sincere in their quest for truth and holiness.  The name “Pharisees” came from a word that means, “To separate.”  The Pharisees were separated from the gentiles, the unclean Jews who did not practice the law and from any who oppose the tradition that governs their lives.

Among the Pharisees were a few members who sought for true spiritual religion.  Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and the unnamed man mentioned in Mark 12:32-34, come to mind.  Even  Gamaliel showed a great deal of tolerance toward the newly formed church—“Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while” (Acts 5:34).  But for the most part, the Pharisees used their religion to promote themselves and for their material gain. No wonder Jesus denounced them. 

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,

Paraphrase: After Jesus confronted the Pharisees with the question, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He? He began to preach to the crowd that followed Him from place-to-place, and to those who believed upon Him and confessed Him (disciples).

There was always someone sent by the religious leaders, in those crowds that followed Jesus, and sometimes those leaders were there in person. They were always hoping He would get careless and say something they could use to discredit Him with the people. Jesus had been denouncing the false teachings of these men for some time, but now, just a few days before the Crucifixion, He confronted them directly in what I have titled “Jesus Last Sermon.” It is the most powerful and sustained denunciation that Jesus ever gave of anyone: and it ends with Him weeping over this great city that He loved so much—but could not gather to Himself! One important truth runs through this passage: THE GREATEST DANGER OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS AND INSTITUTIONS IS HYPOCRISY.

2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.

Paraphrase: He spoke to those scribes and Pharisees in the crowd, who like Moses, were teachers and judges; men of prominence and influence.

In the opening verses of this chapter, the Savior warns the crowds and His disciples against the scribes and the Pharisees. These leaders sat in  Moses’ seat, and taught the Law of Moses. Generally, their teachings were dependable, but their practice was not. Their creed was better than their conduct. It was a case of high talk and low walk. But, let us give them some credit.  Not all of them were bad; they did some good things, such as, insisting that everyone know the scriptures.  They were national heroes, since early in their history many became martyrs for standing up and defending Gods Word. However, they had changed for the worse, and now they were Jesus enemies and they were planning to kill Him.

The term Moses’ seat would have been understood by the Jews, since Synagogues had a stone chair at the front of the room where the teacher sat, (Sitting was the common position of a teacher)—“Then He (Jesus) closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down…” (Lk. 4:20), and explained the meaning of the scriptures. To sit on someone’s seat was often a sign of becoming that person’s successor. “The scribes and the Pharisees wanted to sit in Moses’ seat and be honored as a great teacher and judge”; however, only Jesus was qualified to sit in Moses’ seat. Those who sit in Moses’ seat, that is, in the chair of the teacher of religion, are under a greater obligation to practice what they preach. The expression “to sit in Moses’ seat” meant that they had the highest authority to instruct people in the Law.  The expression may be translated “they had seated themselves in Moses seat,” emphasizing that this is an imaginary authority they claim for themselves. The priests and Levites had some authority to decide matters of the Law—‘And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment” (Deut. 17:9), but the scribes and Pharisees had exceeded any legitimate authority and were adding human tradition to the word of God—“He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?... Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:3, 6).

To the Pharisee, righteousness meant outward conformity to the Law of God.  They ignored the inward condition of the heart.  Religion consisted of obeying numerous rules that govern every detail of life, including what you did with the spices in your cupboard—“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith…” (Matt. 23:23).  The Pharisees were careful to say the right words and fallow the right ceremonies, but they did not inwardly obey the law.  God desired truth in the inward parts—“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (Ps.51-6).  To preach one thing and practice another is only hypocrisy.  

The scribes and Pharisees occupied very much the same position that church leaders occupy today. People looked up to them for the interpretation of the truth.

3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

Paraphrase: Since the scribes and Pharisees are in the same position that Moses was in as teachers and judges of the Law, do everything they tell you to do, however, you must be careful not to do what they do, because they don’t practice what they preach.

This is how the apostle Luke wrote about this same incident: “Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Lk. 20:45-47). Here we see that God will assign different degrees of punishment; some will be worse-off than others.

Jesus publicly warned the crowd against the scribes. He said, “... whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” No Pharisee would have maintained his place in the brotherhood for long, if it had been obvious that he preached but did not practice. Man-made laws had been added to the Law of Moses so that it was a massive thing consisting of 613 laws in all. Most of the man-made laws were aimed at guaranteeing the keeping of the divinely given laws.

Bearing in mind the Scriptures that follow, it seems clear that this means they are to do all lawful things, that is, it depends on the extent to which they do really sit in Moses’ seat and teach what is contained in The Books of Moses (the first five books of the Bible).But, they should not teach, the traditions of the elders as coming from God (see the condemnation of some of these in Matt.15:1–20). However, as the verse goes on to show, the sin of the Pharisees lay more in their evil practices than in their teaching, for they themselves did not practice what they preached.

Jesus was not criticizing the teaching in the synagogues, but rather the teachers themselves. By teaching man-made traditions instead of God’s truth, they took away the key of knowledge and closed the door to salvation—“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves (enter heaven), and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:52).  Their lives proved they were hypocrites.

4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their  phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.
6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,
7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘ Rabbi, Rabbi.’
Note, that in verses 8-12, Jesus is speaking specifically to the disciples.
8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren
.

Paraphrase: They (the scribes and Pharisees) place severe religious demands on men through extreme interpretations of the letter of the law, but they will not assist anyone in removing these intolerable burdens. They do good deeds, but it is for the wrong reason, that is, to be highly respected and honored by other men. They draw attention to themselves by enlarging their phylacteries and the fringes of their tunics. At feasts, they take the chief place at table and they set on the front row in the Synagogue. They love to receive compliments in the marketplace, and to be called teacher or master by one and all. But, I will say to each of you, do not call any man your master in a spiritual sense, because your master is Christ, you have the same ancestors, you belong to the same people, You are a fellow believer united to another by the blood of affection, and you are His brothers by blood—Christians who will be exalted to the same heavenly place.

The Pharisees’ love for praise paralleled their greed for money. Widows needing assistance to administer their estates often turned to “spiritual leaders.” Scribes gladly aided them, however, they benefited personally from a plan contrived for their own personal gain. For appearance sake, Pharisees and scribes were outwardly religious. They recited long prayers—great swelling words of vanity—empty prayers that were mere words, and they loved to parade around in long robes, which customarily was worn by distinguished persons on special occasions. This distinguished them from the common herd and gave them a sanctimonious appearance. They loved the best places at feasts (the places of highest honor), and to be greeted with high-sounding titles in public places. It did something for their ego! They sought the places of honor in the synagogues, as if physical location had something to do with godliness. They not only wanted religious prominence, but social distinction as well.

It is clear that the Pharisees had a wrong concept of ministry.  To them, ministry meant handing down laws to the people and adding to their burdens.  In other words, the Pharisees were harder on others then they were on themselves.  Jesus came to lighten man’s burdens—“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30), but legalistic religion always seeks to make burdens heavier.  Jesus never asks us to do anything that he has not first done.  The Pharisees commanded, but they did not participate.  They were hypocritical religious dictators, not spiritual leaders.  A true spiritual leader directs his people into freedom and a closer fellowship with Christ, not into bondage to his ideas and beliefs. 

It is also clear that they had a wrong concept of greatness. To them, success meant recognition by man and praise from men.  They were not concerned about the approval of God.  They used their religion to attract attention, not to glorify God—“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). 

Inwardly, they were greedy and insincere. They robbed widows of property and their income in order to enrich themselves, pretending the money was for the Lord! In short, they loved attention (long robes); popularity (greetings); prominence (best seats); priority (best places); possessions (widows’ houses); mock piety (long prayers).

These teachers of the Law wore unique robes, expected special favors, received coveted honors, and were treated as prestigious guests at the social events of the day. They sought the honor belonging only to God.
They went through religious observances to be seen by men, but not because they loved God. Their use of phylacteries was an example. In commanding Israel to bind His words as a sign upon their hands and as frontlets between their eyes ( Ex. 13:9, 16;  Deut. 6:8;  11:18), God meant that the law should continually be before them, guiding their activities. They reduced this spiritual command to a literal, physical sense. Enclosing portions of Scripture in leather capsules, they bound them to their foreheads or arms. They were not concerned about obeying the law as long as, by wearing ridiculously large phylacteries, they appeared super-spiritual. The law also commanded the Jews to wear tassels with blue cords on the fringes and corners of their garments, ( Num. 15:37–41;  Deut. 22:12). These distinctive trimmings were intended to remind them that they were a distinct people, and that they should walk in separation from the other nations. The Pharisees overlooked the spiritual lesson and satisfied themselves with making longer fringes. Jesus had tassels on His robe according to Matthew 9:20, “A woman who had been sick for twelve years with internal bleeding came up behind him and touched a tassel of his robe.” (The Living Bible).

They make their   phylacteries broad. A phylactery was an amulet consisting of a strip of parchment on which was inscribed certain portions of the Pentateuch and which was rolled and placed in a small metal cylinder inside a square leather case. The cases were attached by the Jews with straps to their foreheads and to the back of their right hands, following a strictly literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:8–9. They were normally worn only during prayer, but the Pharisees appear to have worn them all the time, and in addition, they appear to have made them showpieces, drawing attention to their supposed adherence to Scripture.

9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

Paraphrase: And do not give honor to any man on earth by calling him Father, because, in a spiritual sense, there is only one person who is your Father, and He is in heaven

There must have been some in the crowd, that day, who were shocked when Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father,” since it was the custom to call your natural father, father; we do the same today. This appears to condemn the use of the word “Father” when addressing the clergy in the unreformed churches. However, Jesus is not speaking of natural relationships, but of spiritual things. We should call no man father,because God is our Father.

The Greek word for father is pater (pronounced pat•ayr). The Authorized Bible version translates it as “Father” 268 times, and “father” 150 times.
 “father” can have any of the following meanings:
• A male ancestor, who is the nearest ancestor; natural fathers of the physical nature.
• A more remote ancestor, who is the founder of a race or tribe; forefather.
• One advanced in years, a senior.
• One who stands in a father’s place and looks after another in a paternal way.
• A title of honor.
• One who is a teacher; those from whom pupils have received knowledge and training.
• The members of the Sanhedrin, whose prerogative it was by virtue of the wisdom and experience in which they excelled, to take charge of the interests of others.
God is called “Father:”
• God is called the Father of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator.
• God is called the Father of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector.
• God is called the Father of spiritual beings and of all men.
• GOD IS CALLED THE FATHER of Christians; those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father.
• God is called the Father of Jesus Christ, who shares His own divine nature.
When He said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father,” it was a warning for His disciples and the crowd against using distinctive titles, which should be reserved for the Godhead. It is a declaration of the essential relations of man to God. Three things constitute a Christian—what he is, what he believes, what he does; doctrine, experience, practices. Man needs three things for his spiritual being—life, instruction, guidance; just what our Lord declares in the words of the Gospel—“I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” Acknowledge no man as Father, for no man can impart or sustain spiritual life, neither can a man be seen as an infallible teacher. Moreover, do not allow anyone to assume the office of spiritual director; your relation to God and to Christ is as close as that of any other person.  Christ is both our pattern and our power.

It has become customary in English speaking lands to address all priests as father.  Matthew deplores all insignia of rank, because only God is Father and only Christ is Master, Teacher, or Professor.  A father is a live-giver.  To call a man a “father” in spiritual matters is to put him in the place of God as the one who gives spiritual life.  This is blasphemous.  Only God the father gives life.  A master is one in a position of authority.  Christ is the one in the position of authority as the head of the church today.  If one takes this command literally—“Do not call anyone on earth your father,” then the titles doctor and professor as well as rabbi and father, are forbidden to Christians in addressing their leaders.  I believe the church in general is giving the wrong impression, but the main problem is that they have really misunderstood who Jesus is.  He is not the love-child that the liberal thinks he is.  Certainly, it is true that he loves sinners and died for sinners, but also he is going to judge sinners.  We need to have a correct perspective of Him. 

10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

Paraphrase: And do not honor yourself or  any man on earth with the title “teacher,” or master, because in a spiritual sense, there is only one person who is your Teacher and Master; the God of heaven and earth.

The Lord warned the crowd and His disciples against using distinctive titles, which should be reserved for the Godhead. For example, we are not to be called Rabbi as a distinctive title because there is one Teacher—the Lord Jesus Christ.

The obvious meaning of the Savior’s words is that in the kingdom of heaven all believers form an equal brotherhood with no place for distinctive titles, which set one above another. Just think of the pompous titles found in Christendom today: Reverend, Right Reverend, Father, and a host of others. Even the seemingly harmless “Doctor” means teacher in Latin. (This warning clearly applies to spiritual, rather than natural, professional or academic relationships). For instance, it does not prohibit a child’s calling his parent “Father,” or a patient addressing his physician as “Doctor.”) As far as earthly relationships are concerned, the rule is “respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Rom. 13:7).

11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

Paraphrase: However, the one among you, who is the greatest, will be obvious, since he will serve the others. And, whoever praises himself will be humiliated, but the man who puts others ahead of himself will be designated “the best,” by God. But “grief and sorrow” will come to the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites! For you show hostility against men by doing what you can to lock-up the kingdom of heaven. You will not go in yourselves, because you have stopped others from coming to faith in Christ.

Once again, the revolutionary character of the kingdom of heaven is seen in the fact that true greatness is exactly opposite to what people suppose it is. Jesus said, “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The scribes and Pharisees should have been the first to respond to Jesus and should have influenced others to follow Him; but, they didn’t. The fact that they had rejected both John the Baptist and Jesus showed that they had not submitted themselves to the sovereignty of God.

No one is greater than when he stoops to serve others. Pharisees who exalt themselves will be knocked down. True disciples who humble themselves will be exalted in due time.
Here they are charged with shutting up heaven against men by substituting their wretched traditions for a right knowledge of God’s revealed word. Knowledge is the only key that will open the door to heaven.

14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

Paraphrase: Pay attention, you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you will receive only Sadness and despair at the Judgment for you exploit widows by stealing their houses, and then you pretend to be godly men by making long prayers. Therefore, you will be given greater damnation by the One who judges all men.

Jesus pronounced eight woes, condemning the proud religious hypocrites of His day for rejecting the kingdom, false teaching of Scripture, attempts at purification, and for having a bad attitudes towards the prophets God had sent. These are not “curses,” but rather expressions of sorrow at their fate, like the expression, “Unfortunately for you!” Jesus’ language had been strong and cutting. Nevertheless, His heart ached over the situation, and He yearned to forgive and heal.

The first woe is directed against their stubbornness and obstructionism. They refused to enter the kingdom themselves, and aggressively hindered others from entering by putting obstacles in the way of sinners coming to repentance and conversion. Their antagonism against Jesus had caused many to turn away from Jesus. Furthermore, these men managed to rob widows of their houses, that is, extort money from the helpless, and bring them into debt and bondage, while making an outward show of religion.

It is strange that religious leaders are often the most active opponents of the gospel of grace. They can be sweetly tolerant of everything but the good news of salvation. Natural man does not want to be the object of God’s grace and does not want God to show grace to others.

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one  proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Paraphrase: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you go by land and sea to win one convert to Judaism, and when you succeed, you cause him to become twice as much a son of hell as you are yourselves.

The third charge against them is misdirected zeal. They would go to unimaginable lengths to make one convert, but after he was won they made him twice as wicked as themselves. A modern analogy is the zeal of false cults. One group is willing to knock on 700 doors to reach one person for their cause; but the final result is evil. As someone has said, “The most converted often become the most perverted.”

Judaism, in the first century, was a missionary religion. They traveled great distances over land and sea to make a single convert to Judaism. That is what our missionaries are doing today, in response to the Great Commission—“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). So, could anything be wrong with the Jews going to such great lengths to bring Judaism to the world? Well, the problem with this was that by their actions they were condemning many individuals to eternal damnation. By imposing eternal restrictions of rabbinic traditions on their converts, they were preventing these people from seeing the truth. In fact, such a convert became twice as much a son of hell as the Pharisees were, that is, he became more pharisaic than the Pharisees themselves! “A son of hell” (lit. “of Gehenna”) was one deserving eternal punishment and is equivalent of “child of the devil.”.

The initiation of a covert involved baptism, circumcision (for men), and an offering in the temple.  One who became a Jew in this way, had all the privileges and obligations of a native Jew. 

This woe prompts us to ask what is the difference between proselyting and a true missionary passion. Proselyting, we all know, is a hateful endeavor.  But, how is it different from the work of a missionary?  Proselyting has these characteristics (a) It is concerned with a cult or a form, rather than with the large horizons of a new life; (b) it is conducted by men well satisfied with themselves, and thus is marked by self-righteousness; (c) it is subtly intent, not on God, nor even on the good of the convert, but on the access to prestige that will come to the cult and the Zealot.
Compare the Christian mission to proselyting. It is eager for God in Christ, not for a cult. It is conducted by sinners who have found peace and power, and wish to share the benefits.  It does not coerce, but is concerned for those to whom it goes. Its best weapon is the light of a discovered joy.  The gentile convert to Judaism was often worse off than before: twice as much a child of Gehenna. 

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’
17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?
18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’
19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?
20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.

Paraphrase: Woe to you religious leaders who teach the ignorant and inexperienced, you have become callus and hard and lack spiritual perception. You blind guides say, “a vow by the temple amounts to nothing; but a man that makes a vow by the gold of the temple, is obliged to carry it out.” And a vow made by the alter is nothing, but if a man swears by his offering that he places on the alter, he is obligated to act upon that vow. You foolish, foolish people, who are blind to the gospel, tell me, which is more important, the offering or the alter that sanctifies that offering. Therefore, the person who swears an oath by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And, anyone whose oath is sworn by the temple swears by God who dwells in it. And the man who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the Lord Himself, who sits on it.

Fourthly, the Lord denounced them for their deliberate dishonest way of thinking. They had built up a false system of reasoning to evade the payment of vows. For instance, they taught that if you swore by the temple, you were not obligated to pay, but if you swore by the gold of the temple, then you must perform the vow. They said that swearing by the gift on the altar was binding, whereas swearing by the empty altar was not. Thus they valued gold above God (the temple was the house of God), and the gift on the altar (wealth of some form) above the altar itself. They were more interested in the material than the spiritual. They were more interested in getting (the gift) than in giving (the altar was the place of giving).

Addressing them as blind guides, Jesus exposed their dishonesty. The gold of the temple took on special value only because it was associated with God’s abode. The altar gave value to the gift upon it. People who think that gold has built-in value are blind; it becomes valuable only as it is used for God’s glory. Gifts given for carnal motives are valueless; those given to the Lord or in the Lord’s Name have eternal value.

The fact is that whatever these Pharisees swore by, God was involved, and they were obligated to fulfill the vow. Man cannot escape his obligations by erroneous reasoning. Our Lord teaches that all vows are binding and promises must be kept. It is useless to appeal to technicalities to evade obligations.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you  pay tithe of  mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Paraphrase: God will chastise you, scribes, and Pharisees, for being hypocrites! You tithe of the mint, anise, and cumin from your garden, but you have neglected the significant matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. You did the right thing by tithing from the products of your garden, but it is more important to give the Lord justice, mercy, and faith, which you have omitted. You are like blind guides who cannot see the path ahead. You are the religious leaders of your people, but you give attention to the wrong things—the trivial points of the Law; and therefore, you have missed the crucial precepts of God.

The fifth woe is against ritualism without reality. The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous in giving the Lord a tenth of the most insignificant herbs (mint and anise and cummin) they raised, even though Deuteronomy 14:22-23 prescribed tithes of oil, grain, and wine; herbs were not included. Jesus did not condemn them for this care about small details of obedience, but He criticized them for being utterly unscrupulous when it came to showing fairness, compassion, and faithfulness to others. Using a figure of speech unsurpassed for expressiveness, Jesus described them as straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. For instance, the Jews strained wine through a fine cloth before drinking it to avoid touching or swallowing anything unclean. The gnat, a tiny insect that often fell into a cup of sweet wine, was strained out by sucking the wine through the teeth. How ridiculous this would be, to take such care with the insignificant, then wolf down the largest unclean animal in Palestine! The Pharisees were infinitely concerned with details, but grossly blind to enormous sins like hypocrisy, dishonesty, cruelty, and greed. They had lost their sense of proportion. They had rules for every minute area of life, while at the same time they forgot about the important things.  The Pharisees’ living was obtained by extorting wrongfully from others; inside they were full of extortion and excess.

These verses are humorous, in a way. Can you imagine one of these religious rulers measuring off a little piece of mint and taking a tenth of it to give to the Lord?

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.
26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Paraphrase: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  You wash the stains and dirt off the outside of the cup and dishes, but you ignore the inside, which is full of extortion and self-indulgence. First, you should clean the inside of the cup and dishes, and then the outside; that will make them clean without a doubt.

The sixth woe concerns externalism (making a show of being pious). The Pharisees were careful to maintain an outward show of religiousness and morality, but their hearts were filled with extortion and self–indulgence. They should first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that is, make sure their hearts were cleansed through repentance and faith. Then, and only then, would their outward behavior be acceptable. There is a difference between our person and our personality. We tend to emphasize the personality—what we want others to think we are. God emphasizes the person—what we really are. He desires truth in the inward being—“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” (Ps. 51:6). God desires purity in the inward part, but it is the wisdom of God to know that we are impure from the very moment of conception.

Externalism his present in churches today.  The average church is overly busy making the outside of the cup and platter clean.  They go through all the ceremonies.  They want to have the best equipment.  They talk so nice and piously on the outside, but inside they do not deal with sin.  In most cases, they do not even like the word sin.  But all of the external ceremonies cannot cleanup their inner corruption.  The Pharisees substituted ritual for reality, formality for faith, and liturgy for God. 

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Paraphrase: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you resemble whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside they are unclean for they contain the bones of dead men. You are not unlike tombs, because all others see is your righteous act, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and turmoil.

The seventh woe also strikes out against externalism. The difference is that the sixth woe criticizes the concealment of false piety and self–indulgence, whereas the seventh condemns the concealment of hypocrisy and excess.

Tombs were whitewashed each spring, following the rainy season, so that no one would accidentally touch them and, as a result, become ceremonially defiled according to the Mosaic Law. Jesus likened the scribes and Pharisees to whitewashed tombs, which looked clean on the outside but were full of corruption inside. Men thought that contact with these religious leaders would be sanctifying, but actually, it was a defiling experience because they were full of hypocrisy and injustice.

Jesus used two illustrations: the cup and platter, and the sepulcher. They both stated the same truth: it is possible to be clean on the outside and at the same time the defiled on the inside.  Imagine using dishes that were defiled!  What ever you put into the dish or cup would also become defiled.  The Pharisees were careful to keep the outside very clean, because that was the part that men would see; and they wanted the praise of men.  But, God sees the heart—“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). When God looked within, he saw “greed and self-indulgence.” I have already suggested that externalism is present in our churches today, but here the tomb pictures today’s average churchgoer. They are beautiful on the outside, but on the inside, they are dead in trespasses and sins. They have a form of godliness, but they denied the power of it to make them new creations in Christ. 

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the  prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,
30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.

Paraphrase: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build and repair the tombs of the prophets and decorate  their monuments, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestral fathers, we would not have joined them in killing the prophets, “you are witnesses against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets. They are guilty of murder, but when you murder the Son of God, your gilt will exceed theirs.

The final woe was against what we might label “Outward Homage, Inward Homicide.” The scribes and Pharisees pretended to honor the Old Testament prophets by building and/or repairing their tombs and putting wreaths on their monuments. In memorial speeches, they said they would not have joined their ancestors in killing the prophets. Just as Christians are all to ready to make excuses for the many crimes committed down the centuries in the name of Christ (the churches treatment of the Jews probably being the worst), so the Rabbis could seldom bring themselves to a whole-hearted denunciation of their ancestors. They were virtually saying, “It could not happen here.” The rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders shows the justice of His words. Jesus said to them, “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

But how did they become witness against themselves? It almost seems from the preceding verse that they dissociated themselves from their fathers who killed the prophets. First, they admitted that their fathers, of whom they were physical sons, shed the blood of the prophets. But Jesus used the word sons in the sense of meaning people with the same characteristics. He knew that even as they were decorating the prophets’ graves, they were plotting His death. Second, in showing such respect for the dead prophets, they were saying, “The only prophets we like are dead ones.” In this sense, also, they were sons of their fathers.
Then our Lord added, Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. The fathers had filled the cup of murder part way by killing the prophets. The scribes and Pharisees would soon fill it to the brim by killing the Lord Jesus and His followers, thus bringing to a terrible climax what their fathers had begun.

What will be the result of this long history of murders?  Terrible judgment!  This generation (the “generation of vipers” see verse 33) would taste the wrath of God when the cup of equity was full (Gen. 15:16). Some of this judgment came when Jerusalem was destroyed and the rest will be meted out in eternity.  As we review these tragic woes from the lips of our Lord, we can see why the Pharisees were His enemies.  He emphasized the inner man; they were concerned with externals.  He taught a spiritual life based on principles, while the Pharisees majored in rules and regulations.  Jesus measured spirituality in terms of character, while the Pharisees majored it in terms of religious activities and conformity to external laws.  Jesus taught humility and sacrificial service; but the Pharisees were proud and used people to accomplish their own purposes.  The holy life of Jesus exposed there artificial piety and shallow religion.  Instead of coming out of the darkness, the Pharisees tried to put out the light; and they failed. 

Great men of God, preachers, evangelists, and missionaries, were denounced and ridiculed by their generations, but they are honored today.  That was true of Spurgeon, Moody, Torrey, and many others.  Our Lord sure did know human nature, and it has not changed.  You build the tombs to commemorate the prophets after they are gone.

33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?

Paraphrase: There is no way that snakes like you can escape being condemned to hell?

At this point, the Christ of God speaks those thunderous words, “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” I do not think the scribes and Pharisees in the crowd, that day, liked being called a snake. How tragic that people can think they are going to heaven, when actually they are going to hell. 

How can Jesus, who is God, and who possesses an Incarnate Love speak such scathing words? It is because true love must also be righteous and holy. The popular conception of Jesus is that He was an inoffensive reformer, capable of no emotion but love. Well, that is unbiblical. Love can be firm, and must always be just.
Can you imagine stronger language than Jesus uses here?  What does he mean by calling them a brood of vipers; snakes?  He means that they are the offspring of snakes!  This is devastating to that damnable doctrine of the universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God.  God does not claim you if you have rejected Jesus Christ.  The only way to become a child of God is to receive Christ.  “But as many as receive him, to them gave he power (the right) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn. 1:12). Jesus Christ was no love child.  He came to earth to die for your sins because he loved you. But, if you reject him, he becomes your judge. 

It is thought provoking to remember that these words of condemnation were hurled at religious leaders, not at drunkards and reprobates. In an ecumenical age when some evangelical Christians are joining forces with avowed enemies of the cross of Christ, it is good to ponder the example of Jesus, and to remember the words of Jehu to Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD?” (2 Chron. 19:2).

34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will  scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city,
35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Paraphrase: Why will your souls be relegated to Hell? For your sakes, I will send to you prophets, believers endowed with spiritual and practical wisdom, and scribes learned in the Mosaic law and in the sacred writings: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute in the cities where they live. Therefore, I will charge you with shedding all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon you during your lifetime.

Jesus not only foresaw His own death; He plainly told the scribes and Pharisees that they would murder some of the messengers whom He would send—prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some who escaped martyrdom would be scourged in the synagogues and persecuted from city to city. That is why; the religious leaders of Israel would pile up to themselves the accumulated guilt of the history of martyrdom. Upon them would come all the righteous blood shed on the earth from ... Abel ... to ... Zechariah, whose murder is recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, the last book in the Hebrew arrangement of the Bible. (This is not Zechariah, author of the Old Testament book.) The Lord was anticipating the nations continuing rejection of the gospel, which the apostles would proclaim after His death.

That on you may come. The generation to which these words were addressed represented the culminating point of the whole sinful history of the nation, beginning with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (see Gen 4; Heb 11:4) and going on to the murder of Zachariah son of Batrachians ("son of" can mean descendant). In II Chronicles 24:20–21 we find the account of the murder of Zechariah son of Jehoiada “in the court of the house of the Lord.” Since the books of Chronicles closed the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures, if this is the incident referred to here, then the mention of Abel and Zacharias may be intended to cover the whole Old Testament revelation. The difficulty is that the Zechariah murdered in II Chronicles 24 was not the son of Berechiah. This Zechariah was the prophet (Zech 1:1). Though he lived after the exile and toward the close of Old Testament history there exists no tradition or record that he was murdered. Another possibility is that the Zechariah referred to here is identical with “Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah” mentioned in Isaiah 8:2, but nothing further seems to be known of him. This passage is also recorded by Luke (Lk 11:49–51) and was evidently understood by His listeners.

The guilt of all the past would come on this generation (the people to which Christ was speaking), as if all previous shedding of innocent blood somehow combined and climaxed in the death of the sinless Savior. A torrent of punishment would be poured out on the nation that hated its Messiah without a cause and nailed Him to a criminal’s cross. This generation experienced the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple in A.D. 70.

We must not read this series of denunciations with the idea that Jesus lost his temper and was bitterly angry. Certainly, he was angry at their sins, and what those sins were doing to the people.  But his attitude was one of painful sorrow that the Pharisees were blinded to God’s truth and to their own sins. 

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Paraphrase: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I have  wanted to gather your families together, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

It is highly significant that this chapter, which, more than almost any other, contains the despair of the Lord Jesus, closes with His tears! After His bitter denunciation of the Pharisees, He utters these touching words from His broken heart, and then, weeps for the city because of its lost opportunities. The repetition of the name—“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”—is charged with unutterable emotion. She had killed the prophets and stoned God’s messengers, yet the Lord loved her, and would often have protectingly and lovingly gathered her masses to Himself— as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they were not willing! “Jerusalem,” refers to the entire nation of Israel. The final rejection of the Truth is a tragedy. There is no argument here about divine sovereignty and human responsibility, for both is included. God could not force His salvation on the people; neither could He change the consequences of their stubborn rejection. “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Jerusalem rejected him in his so-called triumphal entry, and he has rejected Jerusalem, but now he weeps over this city.  Yes, he denounced them, but he does love them.  And knowing the judgment, which must come, he weeps. 

God is utterly sovereign and therefore fully capable of bringing to pass whatever he desires (Isaiah 46:10), including the salvation of whomever he chooses (Eph. 1:4-5). Yet he sometimes expresses a wish for that which he does not sovereignly bring to pass (Gen. 6:6; Deut. 5:29; Psalms 81:13; Isa. 48:18).  Such expressions in no way suggest a limitation on the sovereignty of God or imply any actual change in Him (Num. 23:19). But, these statements do reveal essential aspects of the divine character: he is full of compassion, sincerely good to all, desirous of good, not evil, and therefore not delighted with the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11).  While affirming God’s sovereignty, one must understand his pleas for the repentance of the reprobate as well-meant appeals and his goodness toward the wicked as a genuine mercy designed to provoke them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). 

38 See! Your house is left to you desolate;
39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

Paraphrase: Give it some thought! Jerusalen and the Temple will be destroyed, and you will be killed or made slaves. I say to you, you shall see Me no more until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

In closing His lament, the Lord Jesus said, “See! Your house is left to you desolate.” The house here is probably the Temple, but may also include the city of Jerusalem and the nation itself. It would all be destroyed by a Roman army in A.D. 70.

Not only were the religious rulers in shock, but his apostles were in shock, also.  This seemed to be a strange turn of events.  They expected him to establish the kingdom, with Jerusalem as the capital.  But now, he says that their house is to be left desolate and that they will not see him again until they say, “Blessed as he that comes, in the name of the Lord.”  You see, although he is on his way to the cross at this time, he gives them the assurance that he will return, and that will be his triumphal entry! 
There would be an interval between His death and Second Coming during which unbelieving Israel would not see Him (after His resurrection He was seen only by believers). However, there will be a believing portion of Israel that will accept Him as their Messiah-King. This acceptance is implicit in the words, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.” These are among the final words of Jesus. He promised that He would one-day return. The nation would see Him then, and say, “Blessed is He…”

The fact that the nation had rejected her king would not hinder God’s great plan of redemption. Instead of establishing His glorious kingdom on earth, Jesus would build His church, (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:11-22).
There is no suggestion that those who murdered Christ will have a second chance. He was speaking of Jerusalem, its inhabitants and of Israel in general. The next time the inhabitants of Jerusalem would see Him after His death would be when they would look on Him whom they pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son (Zech. 12:10). In Jewish reckoning, there is no mourning as bitter as that for an only son.


Summary

The Word of God has authority, even if the people who teach it lack integrity. Our Lord’s standard is that we both do and teach His truth. Those who practice hypocrisy erode their character and do untold damage to others. The tragedy is that hypocrisy blinds people so that they cannot see the Lord, themselves, or other people.

The God of the Pharisees is not the God of the Bible. He is a rigorous Law Giver who pays back those who pay Him. He is not “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10) or the loving Father who cares for His children (Ps. 103:1–14).

The Pharisees were blind to themselves. They were right, and everybody else was wrong. Because they majored on the externals, they never saw the rottenness in their hearts (vv. 25–28). Because they majored on the minor details, they ignored the great principles of the Word (v. 23).

We cannot read this severe denunciation without marveling at the patience and goodness of the Lord. No nation has been blessed like Israel, and yet no nation has sinned against God’s goodness, as has Israel. They have been the channel of God’s blessing to the world, for “salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22). Yet they have suffered greatly in this world.

Hypocrites never see the damage done to others: closing doors of blessing (v. 13); defiling those who touch them (v. 27); giving people a wrong sense of values (vv. 16–22). No wonder Jesus wept! These “woes” were born of anguish, not anger; and perhaps He is weeping over you and me.

 

Questions and comments are welcomed.

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