“For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
– Matthew 23:39
Having squelched the religious leaders’ questioning, Jesus now turns to his disciples and the crowds to instruct them on how to handle these “teachers”. He also pronounces condemnation upon these religious leaders and their character.
Jesus instructs the disciples that they are to do whatever the scribes and Pharisees tell them to do. They have the authority of being the religious leaders and they must show obedience to those who have been placed in authority over them by God. Jesus, however, warns them not to imitate the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites – they do not live up to their own teaching. The Pharisees would require more of others than they would themselves and they would be most concerned with making themselves look better than others. In public worship, they desired to be in the center of attention instead of giving the attention to God.
In , Jesus tells his disciples not to call any of the scribes and Pharisees a rabbi or teacher or father or instructor. They are told that they only have one father – the Father in heaven; they only have one instructor – Jesus Christ. Jesus shows how titles can, at times, be damaging to ministry. Titles can cause us to seek exaltation where none is deserved. Instead, Christ commands his disciples to be servants of one another in humility.
Jesus turns from instructing his disciples to condemning the religious leaders. He pronounces several “woes” upon them for their unfaithfulness and hypocrisy.
The first woe that Jesus pronounces deals with the religious leaders’ evangelism. They shut the door of the kingdom in people’s faces because of their hypocritical actions. Those who would enter the kingdom of heaven do not because of the hypocritical and burdensome lives of the religious leaders. Their converts are doomed just as much as they are because they fall into the same trap of hypocrisy.
Jesus condemns the extra-biblical teaching that the religious leaders developed which allows loopholes for carefully crafted oaths. Jesus had already taught about foolish oaths in . Making oaths is dangerous in itself because we are fallible human beings who sometimes do not keep what we promise. Instead, disciples must be people of integrity who need no oath to be considered trustworthy.
In , Jesus continues to show the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. They were careful to follow the letter of the law when it came to their practice, so they would be sure to tithe on everything, even minuscule things such as spices, but they neglected to exhibit justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They kept the details, but they missed the larger picture. Jesus illustrates this when he says that they strain out a gnat – the smallest of unclean animals – from their food, but the proceed to swallow a camel – the largest of unclean animals. They miss the more important parts of the law by their meticulous adherence to the letter of the law.
Jesus exposes the hearts of the religious leaders when he tells them that they clean up on the outside, but the inside is full of filth. Jesus’ words from apply well here: what we say and do reveals the intentions of the heart. When our inside is filthy, our words and deeds reflect that filth. When our inside is clean, our words and deeds reflect that cleanliness.
Jesus compares the scribes and Pharisees to whitewashed tombs. People would whitewash the stones of tombs to make them look pretty on the outside, but on the inside, all there was was a rotting corpse. The filth and sin of the religious leaders could not be covered up by their outward appearance – their hearts remained rotten.
Jesus finally shows the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees by showing their rejection of the Messiah. They would say that they would not have shed the blood of the prophets if they had been alive when they were in Israel. Surely they would have been the righteous ones. This statement is hypocritical because one who is greater than any of the Old Testament prophets is standing right before them, yet they plan to crucify him! Jesus says that he will send messengers of the truth to them, but they will do just as their ancestors had done and will torture and kill them.
Jesus turns to Jerusalem and laments over her. He had longed to gather the people of Israel to himself, but they were reluctant to do so and the house has been left desolate. The people of Israel had rejected their promised Messiah.