Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces seven “woes” on the religious leaders of His day. The seven woes are addressed to the teachers of the law and Pharisees.
Jesus prefaced His seven woes by explaining to the disciples that they should obey the teachings of the Jewish leaders. But not to emulate their behavior because they did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3).
The Woe of Missing The Forest For The Trees
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”Matthew 23:23-24 NIV
The fourth of the seven woes called out the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy in the practice of tithing. They made a big deal of small things like tithing spices, while they ignored crucial matters. They diligently counted their mint leaves to give every tenth one to the temple. But they “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). Turning to hyperbole, Jesus said, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (verse 24). They were careful to avoid offense in minor things of little importance. Like straining gnats), while tolerating or committing great sins (swallowing camels.
The Woe of You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self- indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”Matthew 23:25-26 NIV
In the fifth, sixth, and seventh woes, Jesus further illustrated the different aspects of hypocrisy that characterized the religious leaders. In the fifth woe, Jesus likened them to dishes that were scrupulously cleaned on the outside but left dirty inside. Their religious observances made them appear clean and virtuous. Inwardly their hearts were full of “greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).
The Woe of I’m Fine
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”Matthew 23:27-28 NIV
In the sixth woe, Jesus compared them to “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). The rotting corpse inside a tomb was like the hypocrisy and lawlessness in the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees. They appeared righteous on the outside, but they were just beautified tombs; inwardly, they were spiritually dead.
The Woe of Skeletons In My Closet
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.‘ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!”Matthew 23:29-32 NIV
The hypocrisy Jesus addressed in the seventh woe was directed to those who erected monuments and decorated the tombs of the prophets of old. Jesus points out that those prophets had been slain by the Pharisees’ own ancestors. They imagined themselves much better than their fathers, saying, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets” (Matthew 23:30). But in that very statement they acknowledged their lineage: Jesus says they were truly their fathers’ sons; they had inherited their ancestors’ wickedness and were following in their steps. Jesus knew their evil hearts, which would soon plot to murder Him (Matthew 26:4) just as their ancestors had murdered the righteous men of old.
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