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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder

WOE UNTO YOU SCRIBES AND PHARISEES

Matt 23:13 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.

In this verse we find the first of eight woes pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees by Jesus. Some bible scholars contend that these woes are contrasts to blessings bestowed upon the righteous followers of Christ found in the Beatitudes (See Matt. 5:1-11). However, in this study we will not attempt to make that same comparison. In this lesson text, and those that follow, Jesus describes Jewish leaders as "hypocrites." When this descriptive title is applied to a group of people, as it is here, it carries the meaning of actors or pretenders - those who act or pretend to be better, more virtuous, and more pious without being so themselves, or better than they really are in their conduct of life. In this study, each "woe" pronounced on these hypocritical scribes and Pharisees will be studied immediately following their introductory scripture.

The first woe, as found in verse 13, gives this pronouncement against these enemies of Christ; these so-called "religious" Jews: 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. How is it possible for one to close the doors, and disallow entry into heaven from others? By their studies of God's word, these Jewish leaders could have pointed innumerable Jews to Jesus and His soon-to-be established church through which God's plan of salvation would be revealed. But instead these scribes and Pharisees led them astray by their false teaching. By covetously seeking the praise of others, and by misinterpreting Old Testament prophecies, they persuaded and deterred other Jewish men and women from accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah, and prevented them from recognizing Him as the Savior, the Son of God. And, through their own disbelief of Jesus as the Savior, they refused to become His followers and be led into the kingdom of heaven themselves. Today we can rightfully say, "Woe unto you, atheists, hypocrites! For you deny the existence of God, His creation, and the soul-saving power of the blood shed by His Son, Christ Jesus, and lead others to follow your example." By one's unrighteous, hypocritical teaching, and by their rebellious conduct of life, such hypocrites have shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.

Matt 23:14 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.

In the second woe, these self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of the Jewish nation, claiming perfect knowledge of the Mosaic Law, use the pretense of making long prayers to demonstrate their "holiness" before others. Their false spirituality was used to plot against and deceive conscientious, but simple minded, widows. By doing so, these widows placed their trust in them, made them executors and guardians of their worldly estates, and gave them the liberty to use their wealth as they so desired. Not only were women, during this biblical age, known as the weaker sex, but also, when becoming a widow, they were found to be at their weakest and most vulnerable state of life. Therefore, they became easy prey for these covetous deceivers, who, under God's law, should have been their civil and spiritual protectors. Today false teachers fill the airways with false doctrine. They openly use the covetous scribe's and Pharisee's practices as examples in order to fill their own coffers with ill-gotten gain. They do so by solicited and taking (stealing) from naive men and women that are easily influenced by their appealing, but false, teaching. To these we should shout to the world, "Woe unto you, radio and TV evangelists, hypocrites! For ye beguile multitudes into believing that you possess healing powers through deception and trickery." "In error, you preach false doctrines including teaching that belief in Christ Jesus as the Savior is all that is necessary for eternal salvation," therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Matt 23:15 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.

In this woe, we find these hypocritical scribes and Pharisees traveling far and wide, using much effort and every means at their disposal, to convert Gentiles to Judaism. During this biblical age, the word "proselyte" referred to people of pagan, idol-worshiping cultures, being taught and converted by Jewish religious leaders, to embrace the Law of Moses, submit to circumcision and all other Jewish rites, and devotedly follow the doctrine established by these Jewish leaders. The problem was that they added to, altered, and made void the true word of God by the "traditions of the elders." Having an imperfect law adopted by these proselytes resulted in the same sinful life as these religious leaders were practicing. And, by doing so, these proselytic Jews also adopted their same outspoken blasphemous criticism of Jesus as the Savior. "Woe unto all you hypocritical teachers of error, who add to, deletefrom, alterand compromise the Holy Scriptures of God, in order to lure others to accept your self-indulgent doctrine of error." "By your erring teaching, you make them follow you, stumble, and spiritually fall, as, both you and they travel down the wide road that leads to eternal destruction."

Matt 23:16 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! (Also See Vss. 17-22)

Unlike the other "Woes," this one is pronounced by Jesus against ye blind guides, of which the scribes and Pharisees were surely included. This verse brought a thought to mind that is worthy of pondering: "It is more likely for one, having no knowledge of God's plan of salvation through Christ Jesus, to find their way into heaven, than one relying on blind guides to lead them there. Without sufficient knowledge one is apt to continue searching until the way is found, but with reliance on blind guides, one has a tendency to cease searching the scriptures for truth." To a multitude gathered around Jesus in or near Capernaum, Jesus previously described the spiritual teaching ability of the Pharisees much the same way as He does here. On that occasion He said that they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch (Matt. 15:14b). Indeed, woe unto you blind teachers, hypocrites! For ye lead naive, gullible men and women, who, due to lack of scriptural knowledge, are easily persuaded and led astray, into the slippery pits of hell, from which it is almost impossible for them to avoid or recover.

In this scripture we find false teachers described as blind guides - teachers that have closed their eyes to the truths found in the wisdom of God's Holy Word by replacing it with erroneous interpretations that have resulted from human wisdom. And yet being spiritually blind, they profess to be religious leaders who taught that whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! To swear, as it is used here, means the same as taking an oath. It can mean to personally attest to that which is true, or to assure that a certain promise or action will be fulfilled. Although frivolous swearing was condemned by Jesus and the apostle Paul in the Christian era, it was used extensively during the days of Old Testament authority (See Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12). Here these blind guides were teaching that to swear by the temple was not binding, but to swear by the gold of the temple, established a debt that must be paid - in other words, to become a debtor to those responsible for Jewish worship and spiritual training. Since these blind guides were, more than likely, scribes and Pharisees, such promised contributions were to be used by these spiritual leaders at their discretion.

To fully understanding the true meaning of this text, one must apply the doctrine of "Corban," that was established by the scribes and Pharisees (See Mark 7:5-11). This word literally means "a gift," that was vowed by an oath, dedicated to God, generally set aside for temple use, and its use was under the supervision of the religious leaders. To promise this gift and pronounce it to be "Corban," relieved the donor from the responsibility of using it for any other obligation required under Jewish Law, such as for the support of one's parents (Again See Mark 7:10-13). One can see immediately that contributions of all forms of coins, gold, and other precious metals and jewels was the object of these spiritual leaders. They could easily be converted to personal gain, which most assuredly took place according to biblical scholars. To swear by gold is to give more importance to the same object which these blind guides coveted, and thus, by the use of "Corban," brought in greater contributions to the religious leaders of the Jews.

The teaching of these blind guides, Jesus rebukes as error in verses 17-22, which follow. From these verses we know that all religious contributions are gifts to God. With the exception of the required support given to the tribe of Levi, all gifts that were promised, and sworn to by oaths to the temple, the alter, or to the sacrifice upon the alter, carried no restrictions or distinctions. They were for the service of God and were not to be converted, in any degree, to the personal use of other Jewish religious leaders. "Woe unto you blind guides - erring religious preachers and teachers, that today, solicit gifts in the guise of supporting the proclamation of the word of God to the world, and instead, convert those contributions to satisfy your own lust-driven, covetous desires."

Matt 23:23 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. (Also See Vs. 24)

Although the practice of giving a tenth part of all income, crop/livestock yield, and/or certain other possessions, for religious purposes, was practiced before the Law of Moses was given, there was no recorded law that specifically required them to do so (See Gen. 14:17-20; 28:22). Under the Jewish dispensation this practice continued but was also required by the Mosaic Law, which was given in writing (See Lev. 27:30-32; Num. 18:21-32; Deut. 12:5-7; 11-12; 17-18). Here we find these scribes and Pharisees obeying the Law by paying tithe of mint and anise and cummin, herbs which they grew or acquired by purchase or trade. How was their obedience to this law a spiritual problem of error that prompted Jesus to condemn these religious leaders? These herbs were used, not only as food flavorings, but were also fragrant scents, which brought a pleasant aroma in areas of homes and the temple where they were sprinkled and scattered about. However, they were common herbs that were readily available to all Jews, were of very small monitary value, and were insignificant when compared to other more valuable offerings of farm and garden produce.

The tithing of these lesser valued herbs was, indeed, required. However, Jesus said that these scribes and Pharisees tithed only the items that were less valuable, more plentiful, and required less sacrifice but they omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. Offerings to God should be sacrifices of the heart. The things that were most dear to these religious leaders, that is, their self-pride, their rank in Jewish society, and their riches - these things they refused to give up by tithing them to the temple and to God. Jesus called them blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He said that, to be acceptable in the eyes of God, they must deal justly with all mankind, extend mercy to those suffering misfortune, and faithfully serve God as His Holy Word demands. These characteristics were lacking in the scribes and Pharisees, who, in their own opinion, considered themselves to be more righteous than all other Jewish brethren. With these thoughts in mind, we can rightfully say, "Woe unto you, who,in like manner, are self-serving hypocrites such as were those Jewish religious leaders." "You are likened unto these sacriligioius scribes and Pharisees." "You rob God by withholding your best,by failing to unselfishly use the talents and earthly wealth, given to you by your Heavenly Father, to effectively further the cause of Christ."

Matt 23:25 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. (Also See Vs. 26)

With the pronouncement of this woe, Jesus again condemns the scribes and Pharisees. This time He does so by accusing them of hypocritically making clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. In all of the external characteristics that could be seen by their fellow Jews, these hypocritical religious Jewish leaders went to great lengths to make themselves appear pure, holy, and obedient to the will of God. In similar manner Luke wrote this rebuke spoken by the Lord, Jesus Christ: Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness (Luke 11:39). The priests were diligent in cleansing themselves, as well as all articles of worship, in full obedience to God's Law that was given to them through His servant Moses. This sect of the Jews expanded the cleansings, which God required, by addinig their own errant human wisdom regarding cleansings. It was through these additions, known as the tradition of the elders, that they required all Jews, before eating, to wash their hands oft, as well as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables (See Mark 7:3-4).

Certainly Jesus was not reprimanding them for hygienically cleaning hands and dishes before eating, but he was severely rebuking them for their lack and total disregard of the internal purity God required of them. Among many other selfish, greedy, and avaricious deeds, these "so-called religious men," with an outward pretence of righteousness, hypocritically robbed the elderly, naive Jews that relied on their assistance, and misused their authority to extort from them, their money and other possessions, because of their deceiving external show of piety. Jesus gives them this warning: Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also (Vs. 26). Many "religious men and women" today need the same warning: "Woe unto you hypocrites, who demonstrate for the world to see, their pretentious gladness and joy to be called a Christian, yet within their hearts, they have little or no desire to live holy lives dedicated to Christ Jesus and the plan of salvation He died to establish."

Matt 23:27-28 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

This woe pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees is nothing more that a truthful commentary on the previous woe Jesus described in verses 25 and 26. In order to plainly understand the symbolism used here, we need to be aware of the Mosaic law of uncleanness, as it dealt specifically with sepulchers. In Numbers 19:16, we find this law of God given to the Israelites through Moses which says that whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days (Num. 19:16). Sepulchres were often carved in stone similar to those found in the mountains of the Gergesenes as well as the tomb in which Jesus was buried. However, as it is used here, it refers to any human grave. Because of the uncleanness caused by touching a grave, these burial plots were periodically whitewashed so they could be easily identified and avoided.

Being often whited for the purpose of identification, these tombs outwardly appeared to be clean and beautiful, but, as we know, they contained the decayed bodies and bones of the deceased. To the "hypocritical" nature of sepulchres, Jesus compares the sacrilegious character of the scribes and Pharisees. Their outward appearance of piety and virtue was a pretense, which hid their inward hearts,which were filled with self-pride, envy, and malice. In a like manner, today we proclaimto the irreligouus world: "Woe unto all that hypocritically pretend to be followers of Christ for the world to see, and yet follow a life void of unconditional love for God and for all mankind."

Matt 23:29-30 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. (Also See Vss. 31-33)

These religious leaders remembered and honored past prophets of God by building new monuments to them and restoring their known, existing sepulchres. Yet they hypocritically ignored their prophecies, failed to imitate their dedicated service to God, and completely disregarded their instructional, prophetic warnings. Outwardly they condemned their historic parents for rebelliously persecuting and slaying these prophets, but their actions demonstrated the same defiant characteristics that their forefathers possessed. Jesus assured us of this when He said of them: 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. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell (Vss. 31-33)?

They did not deny being descendents of their rebellious fathers who were guilty of slaying many Old Testament prophets of God. Although they outwardly denied oppressing and persecuting God's prophets, yet they continued to deny and seek to slay the greatest of all prophets, Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah. The cup of vengeful iniquity demonstrated by their forefathers, they continued to fill with even greater measure. Jesus then describes these scribes and Pharisees as serpents and vipers spoken of as those filled with beguiling vengeance similar to that of the serpent in the Garden of Eden (See Gen. 3:1-5). On another occasion Jesus referred to these religious leaders in this manner: O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh (Matt. 12:34). The final phrase of verse 33 assured these scribes and Pharisees that if they continued in their same corrupt doctrine that opposed Jesus as the Son of God, it would be impossible for them to escape the damnation of hell - that is, they would be destined for the final punishment that awaits all that are unrepentant of their failure to obey the will of God and accept His Son, Christ Jesus as their Savior. "Woe unto all people of the world that recognize the prophets of God, but fail to accept their fulfillment in New Testament Christianity."

Woe unto all mankind that hypocritically conduct their lives in a manner like unto that of the scribes and Pharisees, for ye shall be banished from the face of God and fail to inherit the kingdom of Heaven prepared for His children from the beginning of time!