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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder

JESUS CONDEMNS JEWISH LAWYERS

Luke 11:45-48 Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto Him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And He said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers, for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe unto you, for ye build the sepulchers of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchers.

The occupation of lawyer is mentioned only in the New Testament. The "Law" of the Jewish people was contained in the first five books of the Old Testament. With intense study of these books, qualified Jews became lawyers that were given authority by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders, to interpret and explain the Mosaic Law for the Jewish people. In doing so, they expanded the law, according to the tradition of the elders, with volumes of commentaries that were made just as binding as the actual writings of Moses. With their knowledge of the Old Testament, they not only held the title of "Lawyers," but also they became "Teachers" of the Law of Moses, and even acted as court judges, in cases where this expanded Jewish law had been rejected, disregarded, and violated. These "Lawyers" were generally referred to as "Scribes." A good example of a member of the Jewish legal profession was a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law (Acts 5:34), who taught Paul (Acts 22:3), and gave legal advice to the Sanhedrin (see Acts 5:34 ff).

Prior to the lesson text, Jesus had severely admonished the Pharisees, and in some cases the scribes were included with them. This being the case, it seems that, in verse 45, one of the lawyers asked Jesus if His reproach, or accusation, of the Pharisees also applied to them. The manner in which the question was asked, it seems that the lawyer felt guilt for the same things for which Jesus condemned the Pharisees. Although lawyers were held in high esteem among the Jewish people, Jesus denounced them for sins that seemed to be overlooked by themselves and by other Jewish leaders. He gave them this scathing admonition: ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Later Jesus repeated this reprimand practically word for word in Matthew 23:4.

It is evident that the Jewish leaders, primarily of the sect of the Pharisees and the lawyers (scribes), required the Jewish people to rigorously comply with and obey the complete Mosaic Law, as well as the customs of the elders, which interpreted that law and made it more stringent and difficult to follow. Bible scholars agree that these rigid customs and ceremonies became burdens grievous to be borne, and were almost impossible for the average Jew to obey. These laws were too numerous, too expensive, to laborious, and required too much time to completely comply with that which was required by the spiritual leaders of the Jews. Not only were the Jewish people grieved with these spiritual burdens, but also there was no compassion demonstrated by these leaders to ease the hardships they imposed by these rigorous laws.

Condemning these lawyers further, Jesus makes this accusation: ye build the sepulchers of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. With similar wording, this passage was duplicated in Matthew 23:29ff. Very few prophets of old were held in high esteem by the Jewish people, and they were especially hated by most of the kings and their families, who reigned over them. Yet with the passing of time, these same prophets that had been persecuted and slain by their fellow Jews, became men of praise and adoration by later generations. In grateful memory of their lives on earth, the Jewish people erected sepulchers, which memorialized these same prophets that their forefathers had, in some instances, murdered. We are told that during the days of Jesus' life on earth, that memorial tombs were erected, whitened, and decorated by the Jewish people in loving remembrance of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zacharias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar (See Matt. 23:35).

The irony of these passages show that the current reverence for the prophets of God only applied to those of past generations. God's prophets/messengers during the present time were John the Baptist and Jesus, the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and, later the apostles of Christ. Although praise was given to prophets of old, yet Christ, Jesus, Himself, and His apostles were destined to be persecuted, ridiculed, and slain by the current generation of Jews. Jesus sought to save them, but they would not hear!