As Jesus is announcing God’s plan for salvation and the judgment that is coming upon Jerusalem and its leaders, he pronounces seven woes upon the Pharisees and religious leaders of that day. We are going to look at these woes and reflect on ourselves to see if we can gain wisdom and warning from the stubbornness and rebellion of the Pharisees. Let’s begin in Matthew 23.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
The Pharisees shut the door of the kingdom to other people because they reject Jesus and his teachings and tell others to do the same. By telling others to reject Jesus, they are helping close the door to Jesus and the kingdom for those people.
You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
This woe most likely connects to the practice of the leaders who convert people but teach their hypocrisy. By doing so, these people are just as in danger of hell and more so because they are believing a lie.
If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’
Jesus gives a bunch of examples of the hypocritical teachings that the leaders teach. They try to find loopholes around the laws and make up their own teachings to fit their way. He uses oaths as an example. Jesus calls them blind guides and fools. They are supposed to be leading the people but they themselves are blind to the truth.
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.
Jesus then comments on how well they tithe. They always tithe the right amount and with fancy spices. But Jesus says they don’t have mercy on people or faith. These are actually the important things that God’s law actually tries to bring out. Jesus says they should practice these things while also tithing and doing the requirements. We should be the same way. We should make sure we are showing mercy and faith in Jesus while also doing things like going to church and reading the Bible. Practicing the love of God is better than just reading or learning about it.
You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
Jesus exposes their pride and greed in this woe. Outwardly, they appear so religious in how they dress and act. However, on the inside, their hearts are not full of love but instead hate and pride. This is like a dish that is clean on the outside but dirty on the inside. The dish is not really clean, just appears to be.
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.
The next woe is similar to the previous. Things that appear clean on the outside but are unclean. Jesus paints an unsightly picture of tombs. Tombs that are whitewashed are clean and white on the outside. But inside the tombs, are rotting corpses and bones, things that are unclean to them. Their pride and hateful hearts are what really shows on the outside and not their beautiful outward appearance.
You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.
This woe is pronounced because of what is going to take place shortly. Their ancestors killed the prophets and yet they say that they would never have done that sort of thing. Because of their claim, they build tombs and honor the prophets to look good for the people. However, just as their ancestors killed the prophets, in a matter of days they would kill Jesus, the ultimate prophet.
These 7 woes should be a warning for us. Greed, pride, and wickedness lead to woe. If we live in faith, love, and show mercy to all people, we inherit the kingdom Jesus taught.