But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!(Matthew 23:13-16)
We come now to the last of the factors, which I believe are essential to understanding the subsequent teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24, which would extend from his own day all the way to the very end of time as we know it and the final judgment.
That factor is Jesus’ final, scathing denunciation of Israel’s leaders, in Matthew 23. Judgment was coming upon the nation and they had kept the people from doing what they should have done to be prepared for it.
The teaching of the religious leaders of Jesus day, had not only failed to truly lead anyone to the reality of the God of the Bible, it actually distorted and killed any faith or piety which would have led to God.
… The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.(Matthew 23:3-4)
These leaders were incompetent, spiritually. They sat in a seat they didn’t truly belong in.
Jesus is referring to the system of Rabbinism, which had developed since the Babylonian captivity. Under Rabbinism, an unwritten “oral” law developed which actually superceded The Law of Moses. The Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were the ‘interpreters’ of that oral Law, and gave rulings to the common people on everyday case law and situational application.
Those who “sat in Moses’ seat” had devised their own complicated system. Their “rulings” were considered binding, and even more so than the written Law of Moses. For example the Law of God gives man rest , one day a week, as a blessing from God.
But the Pharisees , scripes and teachers had devised and accumulated 1,200 sub laws, statutes ad rulings governing conduct on the Sabbath. How far should one walk on Sabbbathe? What constitutes Work? Can one cook on Sabbath day?
They literally managed to make the Sabbath day a day of bondage!
This is just one example of how the leaders of Israel in the day of Jesus killed true religion, persecuted true piety and led the nation away from God and headlong into judgment.
The power these leaders had over the common “people of the Land” corrupted the Rabbis, reducing them to religious theocrats, motivated by love of position, recognition, vanity and self seeking. Any piety (inward devotion to God) these leaders once had was long dead, as the system they had manufactured canceled out the true Spirit and meaning of the Law of God.
Alfred Eidersheim documents the outlandish claims and pretensions of the Rabbis of the time of Christ and the superstitious esteem in which the common people held them;
…the claims which Rabbinism preferred may throw light on the words of Christ. It reads like a wretched imitation from the New Testament, when the heathen Governor of Cæsarea is represented as rising up before Rabbis because he beheld ‘the faces as it were of Angels;’ or like an adaptation of the well-known story about Constantine the Great when the Governor of Antioch is described as vindicating a similar mark of respect to the Rabbis by this, that he had seen their faces and by them conquered in battle.From another Rabbi rays of light are said to have visibly proceeded. According to some, they were Epicuraeans, who had no part in the world to come, who referred slightingly to ‘these Rabbis.’ To supply a learned man with the means of gaining money in trade, would procure a high place in heaven. It was said that, according to Prov. viii. 15, the sages were to be saluted as kings; nay, in some respects, they were higher – for, as between a sage and a king, it would be duty to give the former priority in redemption from captivity, since every Israelite was fit to be a king, but the loss of a Rabbi could not easily be made up. But even this is not all. The curse of a Rabbi, even if uncaused, would surely come to pass. … Nay, their self-assertion extended beyond this life, and a Rabbi went so far as to order that he should be buried in white garments, to show that he was worthy of appearing before his Maker.87 But perhaps the climax of blasphemous self-assertion is reached in the story, that, in a discussion in heaven between God and the heavenly Academy on a Halakhic question about purity, a certain Rabbi – deemed that most learned on the subject – was summoned to decide the point!
Such daring profanities must have crushed out all spiritual religion, and reduced it to a mere intellectual display, in which the Rabbi was always chief – here and hereafter.(Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah Eidersheim,Alfred )
When the Blind are leading the Blind, do they both not fall headlong into the pit of Hell? Is this not a starkly modern problem in the confessing church?
If the gospel of Matthew begins with eight Beatitudes for those truly repentant and seeking God, it ends here with a series of eight Woes, a full testimony and an indictment of the sins of those who had led the nation away from the Savior and from true religion, and into Judgment and the destruction of the Temple and people.
- But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. By establishing an “elite fellowship” of the Learned, and reducing all piety and religion to the accumulation of hidden knowledge, ( a knowledge reserved for they themselves) , and by multiplying rival sources of authority(Oral Law) and neglecting to teach scripture itself, they stood in the door of the Kingdom, blocking the way of the ignorant and unlearned and refusing to enter themselves.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. They had made religion into a personal, profitable enterprise, whilst at the same time turning it into an expensive and elusive puzzle for the ignorant, poor and unlearned.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Yes, the Pharisees made converts, but then passed onto them the same traits; reliance of the authority of “sages” over scripture, making void the Word of God for Tradition, and observance self seeking, man exalting hierarchies but pretend reverence for God.
- Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! As evidence of the utter spiritual bankruptcy of these ‘leaders’ ,Jesus points to the Rabbinic teaching which made distinctions between the precise wording of Oaths, displaying a complete moral blindness. How corrupting would be the teaching which lets people out of promises and vows on the basis of exact wording. Such people have no capacity whatsoever to know or worship God!
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Pharisaism became an exhausting system, teaching men to spend so much energy and zeal on mere trifles, yet causing them to miss the greater principles of the Law of God, it literally kills true faith
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. An emphasis on the external, to the exclusion of the inward and real is one of the unfortunate toxic ‘fruits’ of Rabbinism and the teaching and emphasis on the ‘oral law’ over and against the Written word of God.
- Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
The same National pride and self will which caused the children of Israel in Jeremiah or Isaiah’s day to slay the prophets, is what motivated this generation to pretend like they reverenced the prophets, building monuments and memorials to them, not realizing they have more in common with those who killed them!
A terrible Judgment drew near, it was an accumulated judgment, due to accumulated warnings unheeded and constantly heaped up resistance to prophets and wise men, sent by God. All of the blood of all of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah would be required of this generation. The leadership were neither Holy or Devoted As Moses and the Prophets were, in fact they were the very God defying serpents warned of in Genesis 3.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.(Matthew 23:33-36)
There were only two more things Jesus had to tell Israel in his final speech in the Temple in his capacity as Messiah of Israel….