“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Let’s place this passage in its context. This occurs in the Temple. The Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees had tried to entrap Jesus but failed. They wanted Jesus to say or do something the Romans would arrest Him for. When that failed they tried to discredit Him by forcing Him to change His teaching. Jesus responded to this with want we referred to as the 7 woes.
These seven woes were a prophetic pronouncement. They brought God’s charges against Israel. They announced the imminent realization of the covenant curses. (see Isaiah 5:8–23; Habakkuk. 2:6–20). These warnings express God’s concern for His people and His desire they repent (Vv. 37–39).
Christ pronounced a curse on the Scribe and Pharisees. They had perverted their office. They had led the people to destruction. They held the government of the Church. They should have helped people enter the Kingdom of God. But instead, they built barricades to keep people out. The scriptures tell us the church holds the keys to the kingdom.
Protestants give nervous when we talk about the “keys of the kingdom.” This is because Rome has perverted that doctrine. The keys to the kingdom are the gospel. Roman understands the doctrine of the keys as the power to admit or refuse admittance to the Kingdom. That is, the church determines admittance to the Kingdom of God.
Scripture teaches the church holds the keys to eternal life. That is the knowledge of the Gospel. The true church teaches both the Law and the Gospel. Admittance to the Kingdom is for those who trust in Christ. But you cannot trust something you know nothing about. So The church holds the keys, that is the knowledge of God.
This is in direct conflict with Rome’s doctrine of the keys. They too teach a false doctrine. They contend they have some magical power apart from God’s word.
The Priests and Scribes studied and knew God’s word. So they held the keys to the Kingdom. But they taught a false doctrine. Christ said, they took away or stole the keys of knowledge. They should have opened the gates of heaven. Instead, they barricaded the gates closed.
Christ anticipated the Pharisees’ response. “What are you talking about? We travel far and wide to preach God’s Law. We travel over land and sea. There is no place we are unwilling to go.”
The Pharisees did do missionary work. At that point in Jewish history, the Jews were evangelical. They would travel all over the Roman Empire trying to convert people to Judaism. Today churches do the same. Churches send missionaries all over the world. When they make a convert, that convert becomes a zealot for their new religion. But they learn error. So they teach and defend that error.
Here Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing what many evangelical churches do today. They sent missionaries over land and sea for one purpose. They were to make converts. There was much rejoicing when they made a single convert. But they converted the person into a more remarkable child of hell than they were. The Pharisees made legalists. They made converts like themselves. These converts learn a false doctrine. They opposed receiving righteousness by faith.
Jesus did not praise them for their evangelical work. He cursed them for it. There are those who claim it does not matter what you believe. They claim God will judge your intent. They have not read Jesus’ words.
Next, Jesus cursed the Pharisees for behaving like children. They searched for loopholes in the Law. Anyone who has children recognizes this behavior. You can swear by the temple and that is meaningless. But swearing by the gold in the temple binds you to your oath. If you swear by the altar that has no weight. But if you swear by the sacrifice on the altar that binds to your oath. This was childish behavior. Children will claim they were not bound to a promise because they had their fingers crossed. God demands the truth from us.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)
Why would the Jews differentiate between the gold in the temple and the temple? Why the sacrifice on the altar and the altar? The answer is simple. They held the temple and altar as lesser values. It was not that the Temple and altar had no value. But they could spend gold. They could have eaten the sacrifice. But Temple and altar had no inherent value to them.
The reality was the Temple gave the gold its value. It was God who made the sacrifice holy. The Pharisees considered an item holy if they perceived its value. They thought they were the ones who determined the ultimate value. Christ told them otherwise.
We are no different. We have the idea we make things valuable. Do any of these ring a bell?
“I worship better with this style of music.”
” Church needs to start later”
“I don’t need to go to church I worship God in my own way at home.”
“I would much rather listen to that pastor. He is more dynamic.”
All those statements are “me” centered. People want to worship the way they enjoy. God’s commands have little meaning. God is not the object of worship. Like the Pharisees, we can appear pious. But there is no righteousness in us. This was both a foolish and dangerous error. It leads people into ridiculous fancies. There is nothing men are more prone to than falling away from the pure worship of God.
The Pharisees could retort they were scrupulous in obeying the law. They even tithed the little bit of mint, dill, and cumin they found. They could say they paid attention to even the smallest of details. Notice Jesus did not say, “These are minor details. They don’t matter.” No! He said, “You should do those things. But there are more important things y’all are ignoring.” We do not get to pick and chose the laws we will follow. God demands we followed them all. God does not grade on a curve.
We cannot claim we do not tithe because that is a minor point. If that is your takeaway. You missed the point. God requires us to obey all God’s Laws. Christ does not lessen the authority of even the smallest commandments.
Jesus compared the Pharisees’ to blind guides. They strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. The gnat was the smallest unclean animal. The camel was the largest unclean animal. In Aramaic, the two words sound similar. So Jesus is engaging in a little wordplay. It describes the effect of the hypocrites to a tee.
Christ used two examples to show the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. First was the example of cleaning the cup and dish only on the outside. The second was whitewashing a tomb to make it look good. These illustrate how the Pharisees were more concerned with appearance than actual purity. They look good but inside they are rotten and spoiling flesh.
The Scribe and Pharisees built monuments to the prophets. They wanted everyone to think of them as righteous, and holy. They wanted people to believe they cherished the memory of the prophets. And that they imitated the prophets’ teaching.
They even claimed if they had lived at the time of the prophets they would not have persecuted them. They were better than their ancestors. They were more righteous. They were more holy. They were purer. But Christ called them out on that. They were the sons of vile and evil people. They inherited that evil intent.
The Scribes’ and Pharisees’ actions are identical to their ancestors. Christ would send prophets and the Scribes and Pharisees beat and kill them. All the apostles suffered. And they kill all the apostles except John.
We too need to take a close look in the mirror. We are all evil. It is only by the grace of Christ we are redeemed. Our righteousness is an alien righteousness. God gives us Christ’s righteousness. Let us not presume upon it. Let us praise Christ for His mercy. For left to our own devices, we too would have killed the apostles.
Christ proclaimed a judgment on “this generation.” It was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.