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Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #10 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 7)

Peacemakers and persecuted are God’s children—persecutors are the devil’s children
(Matthew 5:9-12 NASB) “”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. {10} “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. {11} “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. {12} “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

(Matthew 23:29-33 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, {30} and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ {31} “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. {32} “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. {33} “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”

The God of peace (Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9) has emphasized that cherished but elusive reality by making peace one of the dominant ideas of His Word. Scripture contains four hundred direct references to peace, and many more indirect ones. The Bible opens with peace in the Garden of Eden and closes with peace in eternity. The spiritual history of mankind can be charted based on the theme of peace. Although the peace on earth in the garden was interrupted when man sinned, at the cross Jesus Christ made peace a reality again, and He becomes the peace of all who place their faith in Him. Peace can now reign in the hearts of those who are His. Someday He will come as Prince of Peace and establish a worldwide kingdom of peace, which will eventuate in ultimate peace, the eternal age of peace.

But one of the most obvious facts of history and of human experience is that peace does not characterize man’s earthly existence. There is no peace now for two reasons: the opposition of Satan and the disobedience of man. The fall of the angels and the fall of man established a world without peace. Satan and man are engaged with the God of peace in a battle for sovereignty.

The scarcity of peace has prompted someone to suggest that “peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.” In 1968 a major newspaper reported that there had been to that date 14,553 known wars since thirty-six years before Christ. Since 1945 there have been some seventy or so wars and nearly two hundred internationally significant outbreaks of violence. Since 1958 nearly one hundred nations have been involved in some form of armed conflict.

Some historians have claimed that the United States has had two generations of peace—one from 1815 to 1846 and the other from 1865 to 1898. But that claim can only be made if you exclude the Indian wars, during which our land was bathed in Indian blood.

With all the avowed and well-intentioned efforts for peace in modern times, few people would claim that the world or any significant part of it is more peaceful now than a hundred years ago. We do not have economic peace, religious peace, racial peace, social peace, family peace, or personal peace. There seems to be no end of marches, sit-ins, rallies, protests, demonstrations, riots, and wars. Disagreement and conflict are the order of the day. No day has had more need of peace than our own.

Nor does the world honor peace as much by its standards and actions as it does by its words. In almost every age of history the greatest heroes have been the greatest warriors. The world lauds the powerful and often exalts the destructive. The model man is not meek but macho. The model hero is not self-giving but self-seeking, not generous but selfish, not gentle but cruel, not submissive but aggressive, not meek but proud.

The popular philosophy of the world, bolstered by the teaching of many psychologists and counselors, is to put self first. But when self is first, peace is last. Self precipitates strife, division, hatred, resentment, and war. It is the great ally of sin and the great enemy of righteousness and, consequently, of peace.

The seventh beatitude calls God’s people to be peacemakers. He has called us to a special mission to help restore the peace lost at the Fall.

The peace of which Christ speaks in this beatitude, and about which the rest of Scripture speaks, is unlike that which the world knows and strives for. God’s peace has nothing to do with politics, armies and navies, forums of nations, or even councils of churches. It has nothing to do with statesmanship, no matter how great, or with arbitration, compromise, negotiated truces, or treaties. God’s peace, the peace of which the Bible speaks, never evades issues; it knows nothing of peace at any price.

It does not gloss or hide, rationalize or excuse. It confronts problems and seeks to solve them, and after the problems are solved it builds a bridge between those who were separated by the problems. It often brings its own struggle, pain, hardship, and anguish, because such are often the price of healing. It is not a peace that will be brought by kings, presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, or international humanitarians. It is the inner personal peace that only He can give to the soul of man and that only His children can exemplify.

False Leaders Are Cursed for Their Pretension

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the
monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? (23:29-33)

Seventh and last, Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for their pretension in presuming to be superior to others, including their forefathers.

For many hundreds of years these leaders had been in the vanguard of ventures to build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous saints and heroes of Israel. They would have been on the speaker’s platform in ceremonies honoring the great men of the past and would have voiced the loudest adulations. Realizing that many of those saints had been persecuted and martyred by their own forefathers, the scribes and Pharisees made vehement disclaimers for themselves, asserting self-righteously: “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”

But Jesus repudiated their pretension and exposed their true character, declaring that “consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” At that very moment they were plotting to kill Jesus, their Messiah and the Prophet of prophets, proving they were even more wicked than their ungodly ancestors. They were so consumed by hatred of the truth and righteousness of God that they were totally blinded to the fact that they were about to crucify the very Son of God.

Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers,” Jesus said. “Your scheming to put to death the greatest prophet of all,” He declared in effect, “will be the final measure of the murderous conspiracies of your fathers against God’s messengers.” They were about to culminate all the guilt of those in the past who killed God’s messengers. This was the supreme act of sin against God’s prophets, as they murdered the Prophet-Messiah. In a final curse Jesus exclaimed, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” The question was rhetorical, meaning that they could not possibly escape the sentence of hell if they carried out the evil intent that now poisoned their hearts.

 Ophis (serpents) was a general word for snakes, but echidna (vipers) referred to small poisonous snakes that lived primarily in the desert regions of Palestine and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. Because they looked like a dried twig when they were still, a person collecting wood for a fire would often pick one up inadvertently and be bitten, as happened to Paul on the island of Malta. That particular viper was deadly and when Paul suffered no harm from the bite, the superstitious islanders thought he was a god (Acts 28:3, 6). Vipers therefore had the understandable reputation for being both deadly and deceitful.

At the beginning of his ministry John the Baptist had called the unbelieving and unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him for baptism a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), using exactly the same phrase used now by Jesus at the end of His ministry to describe those same false leaders. Neither the messages of John the Baptist nor of Jesus had any positive effect on those men, but served only to harden them in their unbelief and in their opposition to the gospel and to God’s righteous messengers.

In pagan Greek culture, the echidna had long been associated with evil. In their mythology the name was given to a monster deity that was half snake and half woman and that gave birth to other monsters, including the murderous sphinx of Thebes.

By the time of Christ, echidna was universally associated with extreme wickedness and danger. Therefore when Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees a brood of vipers, He was declaring them to be both evil and deadly.

As explained earlier in this chapter, the term geenna (hell) was derived from the name of a valley near Jerusalem where trash and garbage continually burned. Jesus’ relating vipers to the sentence of hell suggests the common practice of a farmer’s burning the dried stubble in his field to prepare the land for the next planting. As the flames approached their dens, vipers would try to scurry away but were usually unsuccessful and consumed by the fire. Jesus said, in effect, “You wicked, deceitful men, do you really think you can outrun God’s fire of judgment?”

As Jesus had just reminded them, those false leaders were guilty of keeping people out of the kingdom, guilty of subverting the people, guilty of perverting God’s truth, guilty of inverting God’s priorities, guilty of extorting God’s people, guilty of spiritually contaminating everyone they touched, guilty of pretending to be righteous while being malevolent, and worst of all guilty of preparing to execute God’s own Son.

False religionists pride themselves in a godly heritage. Christ said four significant things about this point.

  1. False religionists honor the relics of the past. They show great respect for former prophets. They build, renovate, adorn and look after the tombs of the great men of the past. But note: Christ says they pay honor to their tombs and memory, not to their teaching and godly lives.
  2. False religionists denounce former abuses. Their forefathers had rejected, abused, and killed many of the prophets. The false religionists denounced such evil behavior. They preached and taught against murder.
  3. False religionists are prideful, claiming that they are better than the religious people of former years. They feel they are beyond such sins and would never have rejected and abused the prophets of God. They believe they would have gladly heard the preachers of the past and done exactly what they said.
  4. False religionists witness against themselves. They reverence the prophets of old but reject the prophets who are living. They reverence Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and Zechariah; but they reject God’s very own Son. In rejecting Him, they prove that they are just as their fathers were: murderers. They are children of their fathers, following in the very steps of their fathers, rejecting the messengers of God. Like father, like son.

Note what Christ said: they were filling up the measure or cup of murder which was begun by their fathers. Christ was probably saying that His death was the last drop. The cup was about to reach the filled point; the cup would not be able to take another drop. There would be no chance to turn to God after they killed the Prophet, Christ Himself.

It is easy to honor great men of the past. They are not present to speak the truth and demand that we follow the truth. A dead man cannot disturb us with his warnings. Every generation has this one great deception: since they are more educated and technologically advanced, they think they are stronger and better off than the former generation. They think…

  • if they had been given the opportunities of the past, they would have done more with them.
  • if they had faced the temptations of the past, they would have withstood them better.


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Posted by on January 18, 2021 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #9 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 6)

Pure in heart—defiled in heart
(Matthew 5:8 NASB) “”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

(Matthew 23:25-28 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. {26} “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. {27} “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. {28} “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawless-ness.”

Jesus used two illustrations: the cup and platter, and the sepulcher. They both stated the same truth: it is possible to be clean on the outside and at the same time defiled on the inside. Imagine using dishes that were defiled! Whatever you put into the dish or cup would also become defiled.

The Pharisees were careful to keep the outside very clean, because that was the part that men would see; and they wanted the praise of men. But God sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). When God looked within, He saw “greed and self-indulgence” (Matt. 23:25, NIV).

Jewish people were careful not to touch dead bodies or anything relating to the dead, be-cause this would make them ceremonially unclean (Num. 19:11ff). They would whitewash the tombs lest someone accidentally get defiled, and this was done especially at Passover season. What a graphic picture of the hypocrite: white on the outside, but filled with defilement and death on the inside!

“Blessed are the pure in heart,” was our Lord’s promise. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23, NASB). The Pharisees lived for reputation, not character.

Here is one of those passages of Scripture whose depths are immeasurable and whose breadth is impossible to encompass. This incredible statement of Jesus is among the greatest utterances in all of the Bible. The subject of holiness, of purity of heart, can be traced from Genesis to Revelation. The theme is infinitely vast and touches on virtually every other biblical truth.

False Leaders Are Cursed for Their Extortion and Self-Indulgence

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for their extortion of others and indulgence of themselves.

To illustrate again their hypocrisy, Jesus used the figure of cleaning the outside of a cup and… dish, but not the inside. The Greek phrase behind dish was often used of a platter on which exquisite delicacies were served. The idea is of a person who offers a guest a seemingly lovely meal served with the best wine. But it turns out that, although the utensils are beautiful and ceremonially purified, the food served on them was putrid.

Outwardly the religious leaders gave the appearance of pious devotion to the Lord, but inwardly they were full of the moral and spiritual filfth of robbery and self-indulgence. They were ceremonially immaculate and attractive but spiritually squalid and repulsive.

 Harpageô (robbery) carries the ideas of plundering, pillaging, and extortion, and akrasia (self-indulgence) has the basic meaning of lack of self-control and was often used to denote unrestrained self-gratification. The unscrupulous religious leaders robbed the people they were supposed to serve in order to satisfy their own greed. They plundered both the souls and the wallets of the people and used the ill-gotten gains to serve themselves.

Making the accusation more personal and direct, Jesus said, “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” No utensil is clean that holds ill-gotten food or drink.

Throughout history false religious leaders have become rich and fat by fleecing those they pretend to serve. Outwardly they appear righteous, caring, and exemplary but inwardly they are rapacious wolves.

 False Leaders Are Cursed for Their Contamination

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for spiritually contaminating everyone they touched.

After the spring rains had ceased, Palestinian Jews in New Testament times had the custom of whitewashing houses, walls, and particularly tombs. They began this task on the fifteenth of Adar, which roughly corresponds to March, in order to make their communities more attractive for Passover pilgrims. They had an additional purpose for whitewashing grave sites, however, especially those in and near Jerusalem. Because a person became ceremonially unclean for seven days if he touched a dead body or even a grave (Num. 19:16), all tombs were carefully whitewashed to identify them to unwary travelers. They would be prevented from inadvertently touching the tombs and becoming defiled and thereby disqualified to participate in many of the Passover activities, including the offering of sacrifices. In some cases the entire tomb was painted, and in others drawings of bones were painted on it to mark it as a sepulcher. Because of all the whitewash, Jerusalem and its environs glistened in the sunlight during the Passover season.

Like the whitewashed tombs, the scribes and Pharisees on the outside appeared beautiful, but inside they were also like the tombs, full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. They were spiritually dead and had no genuine regard for God’s law despite their outward praise of it and claim to be its true interpreters and teachers. In an infinitely worse way than the tombs ceremonially defiled those who touched them, the scribes and Pharisees spiritually defiled those whom they touched.

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Posted by on January 14, 2021 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #8 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 5)

Obtaining mercy—rejecting mercy
(Matthew 5:7 NASB) “”Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

(Matthew 23:23-24 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. {24} “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

The Pharisees majored on minors. They had rules for every minute area of life, while at the same time they forgot about the important things. This crowd thought nothing of con-demning an innocent man, yet they were afraid to enter Pilate’s judgment hall lest they be defiled: (John 18:28 NASB) “They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praeto-rium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”

There is no question that the Old Testament Law required tithing (Lev. 27:30; Deut. 14:22ff). Abraham had practiced tithing long before the Law was given (Gen. 14:20), and Jacob followed his grandfather’s example (Gen. 28:20-22). The principles of Christian giving under grace are given in 2 Corinthians 8-9. We are not content simply to give a tithe (10 percent), but we also want to bring offerings to the Lord out of hearts filled with love.

Justice, mercy, and faithfulness are the important qualities God is seeking. Obeying the rules is no substitute. While it is good to pay attention to details, we must never lose our sense of priorities in spiritual matters. Jesus did not condemn the practice of tithing. But He did condemn those who allowed their legalistic scruples to keep them from developing true Christian character.

The first four beatitudes deal entirely with inner principles, principles of the heart and mind. They are concerned with the way we see ourselves before God. The last four are outward manifestations of those attitudes. Those who in poverty of spirit recognize their need of mercy are led to show mercy to others (v. 7). Those who mourn over their sin are led to purity of heart (v. 8). Those who are meek always seek to make peace (v. 9). And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are never unwilling to pay the price of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (v. 10).

The concept of mercy is seen throughout Scripture, from the Fall to the consummation of history at the return of Christ. Mercy is a desperately needed gift of God’s providential and redemptive work on behalf of sinners—and the Lord requires His people to follow His example by extending mercy to others.

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for inverting divine priorities. They magnified the insignificant and minimized the essential.

 Mint and dill and cummin were garden herbs used as kitchen spices, and were not generally considered farm produce, of which the Mosaic law required a tithe be paid to the treasury in Israel (Lev. 27:30). Because it helped support the government, which was a theocracy operated to a great extent by the priesthood, the tithe was a form of taxation. A second tenth was to be paid each year for support of the various worship ceremonies and national festivals (Deut. 12:11, 17). Another tithe was to be paid every three years for a type of welfare, to support the Levites, aliens, orphans, and widows (Deut. 14:28-29), which amounted to an additional 3.3 percent a year. Israelites were therefore required to pay just over 23 percent of their income a year in taxes to fund the theocracy.

The instructions for tithing produce (see also Deut. 14:22) related to marketable farm crops such as grains, olive oil, wine, fruits, and vegetables. But the legalistic scribes and Pharisees extended the provision to include the smallest potted plant grown in a kitchen window. As today herbs then were grown mostly for their leaves and seeds, and when the scribes and Pharisees picked leaves from a mint plant or gathered seeds from the dill and cummin plants, they would carefully count out the leaves and seeds, separating out one for God from each ten counted. They gloried in the self-righteousness of subscribing to such minutiae.

But with all their carefulness in such insignificant and often noncompulsory matters, they neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. They were obsessed with counting leaves and seeds but indifferent to basic ethics.

Jesus borrowed the word weightier from the rabbinical tradition, which had divided the law into light and heavy categories. In their inverted priorities the scribes and Pharisees had reduced such matters as justice and mercy and faithfulness to the light category and elevated the tithing of garden herbs to the weightier category. In His reference to the truly weightier matters, Jesus paraphrased the words of Micah. Some 700 years earlier that prophet had declared, “[The Lord] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).

The scribes and Pharisees were inequitable, unfair, unjust, unmerciful, brutal, unforgiving, unkind, greedy and abusive of others. They were everything that is contrary to the weightier provisions of the law. Worst of all, they walked by sight rather than faith, trusting in their own works rather than God’s grace.

Jesus did not denounce the tithing of herbs, which would have been perfectly acceptable if done in sincerity and faith. And because tithing was at that time still a valid requirement under the Old Covenant, He certainly did not reprove tithing in general. “These are the things you should have done,” He said, “without neglecting the others.” In light of the fact that such garden plants had not generally been considered covered under the Mosaic laws of tithing until rabbinical times, it seems likely that by these… things Jesus was referring to tithing in general. In other words, while being faithful to tithe according to scriptural instruction, they should not have neglected the Lord’s much weightier demands.

The tithe, however, was strictly a requirement of the Old Covenant. It is mentioned only six times in the New Testament, three times each in the gospels and in the book of Hebrews. In the gospels it is always used, as here, in regard to its abuse by the scribes and Pharisees (see also Luke 11:42; 18:12). In the book of Hebrews the Mosaic tithe is mentioned only in regard to its use in ancient Israel (Heb. 7:8-9; vv. 5-6). At no time in the New Testament is tithing mentioned as binding on the church or even recommended as the standard for Christian giving. This is easy to understand if one recognizes that tithes were a form of taxation to support the national life of Israel (see the author’s 1 Corinthians [Chicago: Moody, 1984], pp. 454-55). The closest New Testament parallel is the requirement to pay taxes indicated in Romans 13:6-7.

Almost without exception, false religions strongly magnify the insignificant and minimize or entirely ignore the truly spiritual. The worldly is idolized; the spiritual is disregarded.

It is also possible for true believers to become caught up in minutiae. Some Bible students, for instance, claim to have ascertained the meaning of virtually every obscure sign and symbol in Scripture yet give scant attention in their lives to the Bible’s clear and unambiguous moral truths.

Jesus graphically illustrated the scribes’ and Pharisees’ inversion of priorities by saying that they would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. The gnat and the camel represented the smallest and the largest, respectively of the ceremonially unclean animals (see Lev. 11:4, 42). Fastidious Pharisees would drink their wine through clenched teeth in order to filter out any small insects that might have gotten into the wine. In their typical reversal of values, those Jewish religious leaders were more concerned about being contaminated by a tiny gnat than by a huge camel. They were painstaking about formal, ceremonial trivialities but were unconcerned about their hypocrisy dishonesty cruelty greed, self-worship, and a host of other serious sins. They substituted outward acts of religion for the essential virtues of the heart.

False religionists stress the lighter commandments and omit the weightier ones. Christ said two things.

  1. Religionists stress the lighter duties and omit the greater duties. They pick and choose what they want and are willing to do and omit the rest. They stress outward duties such as tithing, observances, rituals, ceremonies, and works; they minimize the change and inward duties of the heart. Christ mentions three duties of the human heart that are omitted.
  2. There is justice: treating our neighbor as we should; doing and saying nothing that would hurt another person; showing honor and respect to all men; never being guilty of injustice.
  3. There is mercy: showing care, concern, kindness, and tenderness to all who are weak, bad, and needy; and not being hard, distant, demanding, or cruel.
  4. There is faith: believing God and trusting Him to fulfill His promises.

Christ said that the weightier matters of the law are these: justice and mercy and faith. But the false religionists minimize and omit these matters. They talk about and stress the lighter or outward matters of religion such as tithing. Outward matters such as observances, rituals, and works just do not carry the weight that inward matters of the heart carry. Why? Because, if the heart is right, then outward behavior will follow. All outward behavior will be changed and not just certain areas that have been picked out to show that a person is religious. Note what Christ says: stress the weightier matters and do not leave the other undone. Do the lighter, yes, but major upon the weightier matters.

  1. Religionists avoid the lesser sins, but commit the greater sins. They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. This was a humorous proverb in Christ’s day. Wine was carefully strained through a piece of linen cloth to catch gnats and other impurities before drinking. This was to avoid violating the law of purity (Leviticus 11:20-23; Leviticus 17:10-14).

The false religionists strained to keep the lighter matters of religion, but failed to keep the weightier matters. They did not sin by straining to keep the lighter matters; they sinned by omitting the weightier matters.

 Many have a form of religion, but few pay much attention to the weightier matters of godliness. How many attend church regularly, give of their money, pray, and take part in church affairs; but they…

  • do not give an honest day’s work to an employer (justice)?
  • do not humble themselves, showing mercy toward the weak and less disciplined?
  • do not sacrifice, showing mercy toward the needy and less fortunate?
  • do not act responsibly and lovingly toward others, even toward their own family (justice and mercy)?

Think about it. How easy it is to keep up an outward appearance of religion, but how difficult it is to be godly within. Yet inward godliness is what Christ demands. We are to treat all people with pure justice and mercy and to believe God in all things.

One of the great failures of false religionists is this: they emphasize and stress the wrong matters. They stress the lighter matters and omit the weightier matters. What they stress is important and should be done, but they are not the major matters.

The false religionist fails at both points of sin. He sins both by omission and commission. He omits the weightier duties, and he commits the greater sins.

Christ called false religionists “blind guides.” Note three things.

1)   Some are blind to what Christ was saying. They do not know they are stressing the lighter matters. The lighter matters are all they have ever known and been taught. Therefore, they are steeped in the lighter matters, knowing very little about the weightier matters of religion.

2)   Some do know they are stressing the lighter matters; and they deliberately continue in their error, refusing to change lest they face ridicule, loss of position, security, and all they count dear in this world.

3)   Religionists are guides, teaching the lighter matters of religion and omitting the weightier matters.


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Posted by on January 11, 2021 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #7 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 4)

Hungering for holiness—greedy for gain
(Matthew 5:6 NASB) “”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

(Matthew 23:16-22 NASB) “”Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ {17} “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? {18} “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’ {19} “You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? {20} “Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. {21} “And he ho swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. {22} “And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”

This beatitude speaks of strong desire, of driving pursuit, of a passionate force inside the soul. It has to do with ambition—ambition of the right sort—whose object is to honor, obey, and glorify God by partaking of His righteousness. This holy ambition is in great contrast to the common ambitions of men to gratify their own lusts, accomplish their own goals, and satisfy their own egos.

Jesus declares that the deepest desire of every person ought to be to hunger and thirst for righteousness. That is the Spirit-prompted desire that will lead a person to salvation and keep him strong and faithful once he is in the kingdom. It is also the only ambition that, when fulfilled, brings enduring happiness.

A starving person has a single, all-consuming passion for food and water. Nothing else has the slightest attraction or appeal; nothing else can even get his attention.

Those who are without God’s righteousness are starved for spiritual life. But tragically they do not have the natural desire for spiritual life that they do for physical. The tendency of fallen mankind is to turn to itself and to the world for meaning and life, just as ‘“a dog returns to its own vomit,’ and ‘a sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:22; cf. Prov. 26:11).

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for their perversion of truth. God is the God of truth and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18), and His people are therefore to be people of truth. On the other hand, there is no truth at all in Satan. “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature,” Jesus says; “for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). His followers are also skilled in lying, and perversion of truth is the hallmark of every false religious system. From the beginning, those who have rejected God have rejected His truth. They have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

In this particular indictment, Jesus did not call His opponents hypocrites but blind guides, emphasizing their unawareness that they were ignorant of the truth. As God’s chosen people who were entrusted with His revelation, the Jews had long considered themselves as guides to the blind, lights to those in darkness, correctors of the foolish, and teachers of the immature (Rom. 2:19-20; cf. 3:2). But as Jesus had declared earlier in His ministry they were “blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves in their superior religious knowledge and understanding, but they were blind leaders trying to lead blind Israel, and together they were doomed to judgment if they would not come to the light.

Among their many perversions of truth was the teaching that Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated. The very fact that they had developed such a double standard for swearing gives evidence that their concern was not for truth but for the evasion of it when it did not suit their selfish interests. The underlying purpose behind the first part of the standard was to provide sanctimonious justification for lying with impunity. A person could lie all he wanted, provided he swore by the temple and not by the gold of the temple. Since no society can survive without some provision for verifying and guaranteeing such things as promises and contracts, the second part of the standard was developed as a necessary expediency. If a person wanted to make absolutely certain that someone was telling the truth or would live up to an agreement, he would make him swear by the gold of the temple, which supposedly made his word binding. A person who broke his word after taking such an oath was subject to penalties under Jewish law.

Societies have had various means of trying to make its people keep their word. In some, the most sacred and binding vow was sealed with the blood of the parties involved. In others, an agreement is written in a contract, which each party signs and which often specifies penalties for defaulting. Until recent years, many western courts of law required those giving testimony to swear to tell the truth by placing their right hand on a copy of the Bible and invoking God’s help.

The use of oaths had become so perverse in Israel that they were used even to renege on promises made to God. If a person, for example, vowed to give a certain amount to the Lord’s work, he would often swear to his vow by the temple. If he later decided he had pledged too much, or if he never intended to give the full amount, he had an out, because that vow was considered to be nothing.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemned all swearing of vows. “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil” (Matt. 5:34-37). A godly person will always tell the truth, and for him a simple yes or no is sufficient, because his virtuous character is his bond.

Jesus was not teaching a new principle. The psalmist declared, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High” (Ps. 50:14). In other words, a vow made is a vow to be kept. David testified, “Thy vows are binding upon me, O God; I will render thank offerings to Thee” (Ps. 56:12), and again, “I will sing praise to Thy name forever, that I may pay my vows day by day” (Ps. 61:8; cf. 66:13; 76:11). It is significant that in each of those quotations the keeping of vows to God is directly related to praise and thankfulness to Him.

The great offense of Ananias and Sapphira was not in giving less to the Lord’s work than they were able to give but in lying about it. When Peter confronted them, he charged them with lying to the Holy Spirit and putting God to the test. The Lord takes lying very seriously and for their deception those two believers lost their lives. It is not surprising that, as a result, “great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:1-11).

The idea that swearing by the gold in the Temple was binding but swearing by the Temple itself was not binding was moral chicanery and logical absurdity “You fools and blind men,” Jesus said; “which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?” In other words, by what perverted logic had it been determined that making a vow on something lesser was more binding than one made on something greater? The only reason the gold could be thought of as sacred, and thereby make the vow supposedly more obligatory, was the temple that sanctified the gold.

The religious leaders applied the same twisted logic to swearing by the altar, which was considered to be nothing, that is, nonobligatory and to swearing by the offering upon it, which was thought to make a person obligated to keep his vow “You blind men,” Jesus said, “which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?” The whole idea was both theologically and logically preposterous. Those standards were nothing more than wicked pretenses for using holy things to disguise their unholy propensity to lie.

As Jesus went on to point out, to swear by the altar was to swear by everything on it; to swear by the temple was to swear by Him who dwells within it, namely, God Himself; and to swear by heaven was to swear both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. In other words, everything involved with the temple and everything involved with heaven involved God. In fact, since God is the creator of everything, to swear by anything at all involves God.

false religionists mislead others; they are blind guides in oaths and commitments. Note: Christ said that they were blind guides; they misled people. How? They stressed the secondary over the primary. They took the least important and made it more meaningful than the essential. Christ gave two examples.

  1. They stressed the gold of the temple over the temple itself. Anyone who swore by the temple did not have to keep his commitment nor was he held responsible for his oath. But if he swore by the gold of the temple, he was held responsible and did have to keep his commitment.
  2. They stressed the gift over the altar upon which the gift lay. Making a commitment or swearing by the altar was not binding, whereas a commitment or swearing by the gift was binding.

Christ used strong words against the religionists at this point. They were “fools and blind.” Christ meant two things by these words.

  1. What they were doing and saying was absurd and irrational. Common sense should tell anyone that the temple is greater than what is within it, and the altar is greater than the gift that is laid upon it.
  2. What they were doing and saying was full of folly and sin. They were merely trying to evade commitments and responsibility for swearing. They wanted the right to make promises and to swear, but they also wanted the right to break their promises if it benefited them later.

Christ pointed out the raw facts about commitments and oaths.

  1. All commitments and oaths are heard by God. There is no evasion of commitments made or of swearing done.
  • God is the One to whom sacrifices are made upon the altar (implied) (Matthew 23:20).
  • God dwells in the temple (Matthew 23:21).
  • God sits upon His throne in heaven (Matthew 23:22).
  1. All commitments and oaths are binding and accountable to God.

There are at least four sins seen in what the religionists were saying and doing.

1)   The sin of stressing the secondary over the primary.

2)   The sin of evading commitments.

3)   The sin of covetousness. By stressing the gold over the temple, they were centering the people’s minds upon the gold, the wealth, and the gifts instead of upon the God who dwelt in the temple.

4)   The sin of self-righteousness. By stressing man’s gift over the altar, they were saying in essence that man’s gift was more important than God’s altar which sanctified the gift. The gift honored the altar instead of the altar honoring the gift. Such, of course, was ridiculous; for symbolically God stood behind the altar. And no gift is ever greater than God.

The very same sins are committed today.

1)   Ritual, ceremony, programs—commitment to practically every phase of church life is often stressed over God. Commitment to the various phases of church life is even said to be commitment to God.

2)   The gift is stressed more than the altar. A commitment to give and to make sacrifice often takes precedence over the altar (commitment to God). Stewardship of money (the gift and the gold) is even said to be an equal part with the stewardship of life to God.

3)   The motive is often to make the institution stronger instead of making people stronger by centering their lives upon God.

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Posted by on January 7, 2021 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #6 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 3)

Meek inherit the earth—proud send souls to hell
(Matthew 5:5 NASB) “”Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”

(Matthew 23:15 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

Like the first two beatitudes, this one must have been shocking and perplexing to Jesus’ hearers. He taught principles that were totally foreign to their thinking.

Jesus’ audience knew how to act spiritually proud and spiritually self-sufficient. They were proficient in erecting a pious facade. They actually believed that the Messiah was coming soon and would commend them for their goodness. He would, at last, give the Jewish people their rightful place in the world—a position above all other people, because they were the chosen of God.

They eagerly anticipated that the Messiah would deal gently with them and harshly with their oppressors, who for nearly a hundred years had been the Romans. After the Maccabean revolution that freed them from Greece, the Jews had a brief time of independence. But Rome’s rule, though not as cruel and destructive, was much more powerful than that of Greece. Since 63 b.c., when Pompey annexed Palestine to Rome, the region had been ruled primarily by puppet kings of the Herodian family and by Roman governors, or procurators, the best known of which to us was Pilate.

The Jews so despised Roman oppression that sometimes they even refused to admit it existed. One day as He taught on the Mount of Olives, Jesus had one of His strongest exchanges with the Pharisees. When He said “to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,’” the Pharisees’ response was strange. “We are Abraham’s offspring,” they said, “and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free?’” (John 8:31-33).

The fact was, of course, that Israel’s history was one of repeated conquest and oppression—by Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and, at that very time, Rome. Apparently pride would not allow those Pharisees to acknowledge one of the most obvious facts of their nation’s history and of their present situation.

The blessings of the Beatitudes are for those who are realistic about their sinfulness, who are repentant of their sins, and who are responsive to God in His righteousness. Those who are unblessed, unhappy, and shut out of the kingdom are the proud, the arrogant, the unrepentant—the self-sufficient and self-righteous who see in themselves no unworthiness and feel no need for God’s help and God’s righteousness.

Most of Jesus’ hearers, like fallen men throughout history, were concerned about justifying their own ways, defending their own rights, and serving their own ends. The way of meekness was not their way, and therefore the true kingdom was not their kingdom. The proud Pharisees wanted a miraculous kingdom, the proud Sadducees wanted a materialistic kingdom, the proud Essenes wanted a monastic kingdom, and the proud Zealots wanted a military kingdom. The humble Jesus offered a meek kingdom.

Meekness has always been God’s way for man. It is the way of the Old Testament. In the book of Job we are told that God “sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (5:11). Moses, the Jews’ great deliverer and law-giver, “was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). The Jews’ great King David, their supreme military hero, wrote, “He [the Lord] leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way” (Ps. 25:9).

Meekness is the way of the New Testament. It is taught by Jesus in the Beatitudes as well as elsewhere and is continued to be taught by the apostles. Paul entreated the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:1-2). He told the Colossians to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). He told Titus to remind those under his leadership “to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1-2).

(Matthew 23:15 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

A proselyte is a convert to a cause. The Pharisees were out to win others to their legalistic system, yet they could not introduce these people to the living God. Instead of saving souls, the Pharisees were condemning

A “child of hell” is the equivalent of “child of the devil,” which is what Jesus called the Pharisees (Matt. 12:34; 23:33; John 8:44). A “child of the devil” is a person who has rejected God’s way of salvation (righteousness through faith in Christ).

This person parades his own self-righteousness through whatever religious system he belongs to. The convert usually shows more zeal than his leader, and this “double devotion” only produces double condemnation. How tragic that people can think they are going to heaven, when actually they are going to hell!

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for their subversion of the people. They not only excluded them from the true faith but subverted them with false faith.

In New Testament times a great effort was being made to convert Gentiles to Judaism. They worked aggressively, traveling about on sea and land to make one proselyte. The word proselyte had the basic meaning of a person who has arrived, and came to be commonly used of an outsider who was brought into a religion.

Had that Jewish effort been made in the right way and for the right reasons, it would have been commendable, because Israel had been called to be God’s channel for reaching the world for Himself. In His covenant with Abraham the Lord promised that through him and his descendants “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). In the covenant at Sinai the Lord set Israel apart as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), who, like her Messiah, was meant to be a light to the nations (Isa. 49:6).

But for most of her history, Israel aspired to do anything but bring Gentiles to God. Like Jonah, they loathed the idea of pagans repenting, being saved, and thereby gaining the same standing before God that they enjoyed. By his own admission, it was for the purpose of forestalling, and no doubt if possible preventing, the repentance and forgiveness of Nineveh that Jonah tried to flee to Tarshish (Jonah 4:2).

By the time Jesus began preaching, however, a different spirit had arisen among some of the Jews, and they were zealously trying to win converts. As the result of those efforts, many synagogues had regular Gentile worshipers who had turned from paganism. Partly because Jews had such an unsavory reputation for exclusiveness and bigotry. Gentile proselytes were not easy to make, and when one of them converted he was considered something of a prize.

There were two kinds of proselytes in the synagogues. One was called “a proselyte of the gate,” a Gentile who only attended the services. He now worshiped the true God, but he had not committed himself to full ritualistic and legalistic Judaism. Such proselytes are referred to in the book of Acts as a person who was devout (10:2, 7; 13:50), as “God-fearing” (10:2, 22, 35; 17:4, 17), or as “a worshiper of God” (16:14; 18:7).

The other kind was referred to as “a proselyte of righteousness,” so called because he became as religiously Jewish as a Gentile could become. They participated in all the ceremonies, rituals, and feasts; they observed all the cleansing and other rites, both biblical and traditional; and if males, they were circumcised. Those converts were even given Jewish names in order to separate them as much as possible from their pagan past. Contrary to their popular appellation, however, they became anything but righteous. Like the scribes and Pharisees who instructed them, they became paragons of self-righteousness.

For obvious reasons there were many more proselytes of the gate than proselytes of righteousness. It was the latter kind in which the scribes and Pharisees delighted, and it was considered a great achievement to initiate a Gentile into all their legalistic practices.

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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #6 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 2)

Mourners comforted—destroyers condemned
(Matthew 5:4 NASB) “”Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

(Matthew 23:14 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.”

There are also, of course, other kinds of sorrow, legitimate sorrows that are common to all mankind and for which reasonable mourning is appropriate. To express these sorrows and to cry over them opens an escape valve that keeps our feelings from festering and poisoning our emotions and our whole life. It provides the way for healing, just as washing out a wound helps prevent infection.

An Arab proverb says, “All sunshine makes a desert.” The trouble-free life is likely to be a shallow life. We often learn more and mature more from times of sorrow than from times when everything is going well. A familiar poem by Robert Browning Hamilton expresses the truth:

I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chattered all the way, But left me none the wiser For all she had to say I walked a mile with Sorrow, And ne’er a word said she, But, oh, the things I learned from her When Sorrow walked with me. (Cited in William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew [rev. ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 1:94)

These false religioinists use the guise of religion for greed and covetousness, especially to steal from widows. This is a gross sin and it is common. There are some persons—preachers, leaders and professing hypocrites—who court the attention and favor of people, especially widows, for the purpose of securing or getting their money. They seek large donations, endowments, trusts, investments, and gifts to promote themselves or their institution. And the great tragedy is this: such false and hypocritical hearts use the guise of religion to promote themselves and their false ideas. Their call to people is to institutional religion, not to the honor of God. Of course, vain men are succeptible to such appeals, but widows in particular are exposed to those who seem to be so devoted to God.

Note: Christ said that the damnation of these shall be greater. There are some sins more horrible than others. Using religion for selfish ends is one of them. This sin will receive a greater damnation. Another fact should be noted here: widows hold a special place in God’s heart. He has always instructed His people to care for widows in a very special way.

Stealing from widows (and widowers) is one of the most serious sins that can be committed. It will receive “the greater damnation,” yet it is done every day, even by religious persons. It happens like this: a man covets something—to have his ideas spread through the media, or his institution strengthened and enlarged, or his pockets filled. Therefore, the man begins to court people who have money, especially widows. He seeks either donations and investments or to become trustee of their estates.

The sin is twofold.

1) The money sought is not for the honor of God, but for the promotion of oneself or one’s institution.

2) The guise of religion—being a religious person, organization, or institution—is used to secure the money.

There is one question that needs to be asked with an open heart by every man in every generation: Can the godly concern for the lost and starving masses of the world and the huge ornate buildings and homes and bank accounts of Christians be from the same God?

The point is this: a man’s motives must be pure. He must seek only the honor of God and the salvation and strengthening of people. Two specific things must be done.

1) Whatever money a man seeks, especially from widows, must be carefully used for God and for people in need, not for oneself nor for institutional religion.

2) Every single believer must deny himself totally. He must give and give, and he must work in order to have enough to give to others (Ephes. 4:28). He must always be in a state and condition of sacrificing. He must never store up. Storing up can reap only one benefit: to be called rich and to feel materially secure. The fallacy of this is that true security can come only from God (Matthew 6:25-34; 1 John 5:11-15).

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Posted by on December 28, 2020 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #5 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 1)

Matthew 23 records Jesus’ last public sermon. It was not a sermon on salvation, on the resurrection, or on principles for living the kingdom life but rather a vital and sobering message of condemnation against false teachers.

In verses 1-7 He warns the people about false religious leaders in Israel, and in verses 8-12 he admonishes the disciples and other true spiritual leaders not to emulate them.

He then turns His attention directly to the false leaders themselves, epitomized by the scribes and Pharisees, and gives them His final and most scathing denunciation (vv. 13-36).

In His closing comments (vv. 37-39) He expresses His intense compassion for unbelieving Israel and gives the assurance that one day in fulfillment of God’s sovereign promise, His chosen people will turn back to Him in faith.

Since the Garden of Eden , the world has always had false religious leaders, pretending to represent God but representing only themselves. False leaders were active in the rebellious scheme to erect the tower of Babel. Moses came into serious conflict with the religious sorcerers and magicians of Egypt when he demanded the release of God’s people by pharaoh, who probably considered himself to be a god (see Ex. 7:11-12, 22; 8:7).

Ezekiel faced the false prophets in Israel, whom God called “foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing” (Ezek. 13:3).

Jesus referred to spurious religious leaders as “false Christs and false prophets [who] will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). Paul called them preachers of a perverted gospel (Gal. 1:8) and purveyors of the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Peter spoke of them as those who “secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1). John called them antichrists who deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ (1 John 2:18, 22).

Jude called them dreamers who “defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties” (Jude 8). As Paul declared to the Ephesian elders in his brief and touching reunion with them on the beach near Miletus, false religious leaders are “savage wolves” of the spirit world whose purpose is to corrupt and destroy God’s people (Acts 20:29).

The religion pages of major newspapers in our day are filled with advertisements for every kind of sect and false religion, including deviant forms of Christianity as well as cults and the occult. One writer suggested that a cult is either “Bible plus or Bible minus.”

Many of those groups masquerade as forms of Christianity and claim to teach a new and better gospel. But while purporting to offer spiritual life and help, they instead teach the way of spiritual death and damnation. While claiming to lead people to heaven, they usher them directly into hell.

Dialogue between Jesus and the Temple authorities had ended, because “no one was able to answer [Jesus] a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question” (Matt. 22:46). Although the Lord had frequently spoken against the unbelieving religious leaders (see Matt. 5:20; 15:1-9; 16:6-12; John 8:44), it was necessary to give a final word, a last comprehensive warning, to them and to everyone else, about the eternal danger of their perverse teachings. Jesus also no doubt wanted to give those unbelieving leaders themselves opportunity to turn from their falsehood and follow Him to forgiveness and salvation.

It seems evident that many hearts were softened to the gospel that day including the hearts of some of the leaders. On the day of Pentecost alone some three thousand souls came to the Lord (Acts 2:41), and it may well have been that eight or ten times that number believed within a few more months, as the apostles “filled Jerusalem with [their] teaching” (Acts 5:28). We can be certain that many, and perhaps most, of the converts in those early days had seen and heard Jesus personally and been drawn by the Holy Spirit to His truth and grace. Perhaps for some, this message was the point of initial attraction to Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the best way to deal with these eight “woes” is to contrast them with the eight beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord described true righteousness; here He described a false righteousness.

Entering the kingdom—shutting up the kingdom
(Matthew 5:3 NASB) “”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(Matthew 23:13 NASB) “”But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”

The poor in spirit enter the kingdom, but the proud in spirit keep themselves out and even keep others out. The Greek verb indicates people trying to get in who cannot.

It is bad enough to keep yourself out of the kingdom, but worse when you stand in the way of others. By teaching man-made traditions instead of God’s truth, they “took away the key of knowledge” and closed the door to salvation (Luke 11:52).

Discussion of this first beatitude demands that it be looked at from five perspectives: the meaning of poor in spirit, the location of this virtue in the list, the way to achieve that attitude, how to know if we have that attitude, and the result promised for having it.

False Leaders Are Cursed for Their Exclusion

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. (23:13)

Christ said two things in this point.

  1. The false religionists did not enter heaven themselves. There are three reasons why they did not enter. (These reasons are pointed out in the preceding Scriptures.)
  2. They rejected God as Messiah, as being the Lord from heaven, the very Son of God (cp. Matthew 22:41-45; John 10:31-39).
  3. They preferred their own ideas of religion rather than God’s ideas. They preferred a religion that honored man’s ability to do religious things rather than a religion that honored God’s mercy for man.
  4. They chose the world over God’s demand for self-denial. They chose the things of the world such as position, honor, recognition, esteem, wealth, power, authority, and security.
  5. The false religionists not only did not enter heaven themselves, they did not allow seekers to enter. They shut the door by misleading people, and thereby doomed them to an eternity apart from God.
  6. They tried to discredit Jesus Christ, denying that He was the Son of God incarnated in human flesh (Matthew 21:23-22:46).
  7. They twisted the Scriptures, falsely interpreting them (cp. Matthew 22:41-46).
  8. They ridiculed and threatened anyone who confessed Christ (John 9:22, 34).

Throughout its pages, Scripture highly honors genuine spiritual leaders who rightly and faithfully represent God and seek no self-glory. God lifts up His true servants and presents them as examples for others to follow and respect. The Christians of Galatia must have greatly pleased God’s heart when they received the apostle Paul “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself” (Gal. 4:14).

Paul called upon the Philippian church to receive Epaphroditus “in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ” (Phil. 2:29-30). He implored the Thessalonians: “Appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and… esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). He advised Timothy “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17).

The writer of Hebrews exhorts believers: “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).

On the other hand, no one in Scripture is more condemned than the religious charlatan who teaches and practices falsehood. God’s most furious wrath is reserved for those men who parade themselves as His servants but who are servants only of evil and falsehood, liars and deceivers whose own spiritual father is Satan himself (John 8:44).

The seventeenth-century Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote, “Many a tailor can go in rags while making costly clothes for others. Many a cook may scarcely lick his fingers when he has prepared the most sumptuous dishes for others to eat” (The Peformed Minister [Portland. Ore.: Multnomah, 1982], p. 28). His point was that many religious leaders supposedly offer spiritual provision for those in their care but are themselves spiritually shabby and starving. Such were most of the Jewish religious leaders in New Testament times.

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Posted by on December 21, 2020 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees: #4 Relationship to Other Groups

In the Gospels, the various authorities who oppose Jesus are grouped together in a number of ways. The accompanying table attempts to categorize these occurrences. All four Gospels link scribes and Pharisees (Mt 5.20; 12.38; 15.1; 23 ( 7 occurrences); Mark 2.16 (scribes of the pharisees); 7.1; Luke 5.21; 5.30 (Pharisees and their scribes); 6.7; 7.30 (Pharisees and lawyers); 11.53; 15.2; John 8.3; cf also Acts 23.9. This is simply to say that some scribes were Pharisees, and were likely because of their learning to take leading roles within the movement.

Matthew alone links Pharisees with the Sadducees (3.7; 16.1, 6, 11, 12). Without other context this may suggest that they represented the leaders of the people; but it is clear that in general the Gospel writers see various combinations of chief priests, elders and scribes as taking that role. Matthew’s usage may suggest that he saw these two groups as advocating doctrines which were most distinctive from other strands of Judaism (see further below). The opposition between Pharisees and Sadducees is an important part of Josephus’ portrait, and figures also in the later rabbinic materials; cf also Acts 23.6–10.

Matthew also once links them with the chief priests (21.45); and in John this combination is the moving force behind the formal opposition to Jesus (7.32, 45; 11.47, 57; 18.3). This might suggest, as Josephus also claims, that the Pharisees wielded considerable political power. Josephus however also notes that some of the leading priests were themselves Pharisees; though Matthew’s reference appears to be to two separate groups.

The central thrust of His message to every group and every person, of whatever persuasion or inclination, was that the way of His kingdom is first and above all a matter of the inside—the soul.

Jesus lived in a highly complex religious society, one that included many professional religionists. Those professionals were in five primary groups: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Zealots and the Herodians. At this point, it is only necessary to introduce these groups briefly.

The Pharisees believed that right religion consisted in divine laws and religious tradition. Their primary concern was for fastidious observance of the Mosaic law and of every minute detail of the traditions handed down by various rabbis over the centuries. They focused on adhering to the laws of the past.

  1. The Sadducees focused on the present. They were the religious liberals who discounted most things supernatural and who modified both Scripture and tradition to fit their own religious philosophy.
  2. The Essenes were ascetics who believed that right religion meant separation from the rest of society. They led austere lives in remote, barren areas such as Qumran, on the northwest edge of the Dead Sea.
  3. The Zealots were fanatical nationalists who thought that right religion centered in radical political activism. These Jewish revolutionaries looked down on fellow Jews who would not take up arms against Rome.
  4. The Herodians are mentioned in only three places in the New Testament (Matt. 22:16; Mark 3:6; 12:13). In the earliest reference in Mark, they joined with the Pharisees in a plot to kill Jesus. The other two passages refer to the sending of Pharisees and Herodians to ask Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. It is assumed that they were Jews who supported Herod Antipas or sought to have a descendant of Herod the Great given authority over Palestine. At this time Judea and Samaria were under Roman governors.

In essence, the Pharisees said, “Go back”; the Sadducees said, “Go ahead”; the Essenes said, “Go away”; and the Zealots said, “Go against.” The Pharisees were traditionalists; the Sadducees were modernists; the Essenes were separatists; and the Zealots were activists. They represented the same primary types of religious factions that are common today. But Jesus’ way was not any of those. To the Pharisees He said that true spirituality is internal, not external. To the Sadducees He said that it is God’s way, not man’s way. To the Essenes He said that it is a matter of the heart, not the body. To the Zealots He said that it is a matter of worship, not revolution.


Group Basic thrust Category What Jesus said to them
Pharisees Go back Traditionalists True spirituality is internal, not external
Sadducees Go ahead Modernists It is God’s way, not man’s way
Essenes Go away Separatists It is a matter of the heart, not the body
Zealots Go against Activists It is a matter of worship, not revolution
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Posted by on December 7, 2020 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series: #3 Were all the Pharisees Wrong?

Among the Pharisees were a few members who sought for true spiritual religion. Nicodemus (John 3; 7:50-53), Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38ff), and the unnamed man mentioned in Mark 12:32-34, come to mind. Even Gamaliel showed a great deal of tolerance toward the newly formed church (Acts 5:34ff). But for the most part, the Pharisees used their religion to promote themselves and their material gain. No wonder Jesus denounced them.

They are the quintessential bad guys. In looking at the Apostle Paul it is only fair to ask if this classic understanding is accurate, because Paul refers to himself as having been a Pharisee before his conversion:

· Acts 26:5 “I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”
· Acts 22:3 “I am a Jew, born of Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.”
· Acts 23:6 “I am a Pharisee, a son of a Pharisee . . .”
· Phil. 3:5 “circumcised on the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee.”
· Gal. 1:14 “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countryman, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.”
    Perhaps we should remind ourselves that not all of the Pharisees were hypocrites. There were about 6,000 Pharisees in that day, with many more who were “followers” but not full members of the group. Most of the Pharisees were middle-class businessmen and were sincere in their quest for truth and holiness.
Among the Pharisees were a few members who sought for true spiritual religion.
(John 7:50-53): “Nicodemus said to them (he who came to Him before, being one of them), {51} “Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” {52} They answered and said to him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” {53} And everyone went to his home.”
   Joseph of Arimathea
(Mark 15:43-46): “Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. {44}And Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. Mark {45} And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. {46} And Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock;
and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
    (John 19:38-40:) “And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. {39} And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. {40} And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”
   The unnamed man mentioned in Mark 12:32-34, come to mind:
“And the scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that HE IS ONE; AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; {33} AND  TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE  UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” {34} And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.”
   Even Gamaliel showed a great deal of tolerance toward the newly formed church
(Acts 5:34-40): “But a certain Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. {35} And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. {36} “For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody; and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. And he was slain; and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. {37} “After this man Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away some people after him, he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. {38} “And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; {39} but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” {40} And they took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them.”
   But for the most part, the Pharisees used their religion to promote themselves and their material gain. No wonder Jesus denounced them.

Their major beliefs
· The Pharisees were strongly monotheistic (one God)
· They accepted all the Old Testament as authoritative.
· They affirmed the reality of angels and demons.
· They had a firm belief in life beyond the grave and a resurrection of the body.
· They were missionary, seeking the conversion of Gentiles (Matt. 23:15).
· They saw God as concerned with the life of a person without denying that the individual was responsible for how he or she lived.
· They had little interest in politics.
· The Pharisees opposed Jesus because He refused to accept the teachings of the oral law.

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Posted by on November 30, 2020 in Pharisees


Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees #2 Seven kinds of Pharisees

William Barclay who devoted many years to biblical research in Palestine, reports that the Talmud (Sotah, 22b) speaks of seven kinds of Pharisees:

  1. The first group Barclay calls “shoulder Pharisees,” so named because of their custom of displaying accounts of their good deeds on their shoulders for other people to see and admire. When they prayed, they put ashes on their heads as an act of humility and wore sad expressions on their faces to suggest piousness
  2. The second group he calls “wait a little,” due to their cleaver ability to come up with a fabricated spiritual reason for putting off doing something good. Pious excuses were their stock in trade.
  3. The third group were the “bruised and bleeding.” In order not to commit the sin of looking at a woman lustfully those Pharisees closed their eyes whenever women were around. Understandably they received many bruises and abrasions from bumping into walls, posts, and other objects. They measured their piousness by the number and severity of their injuries.
  4. The fourth group were the “humpback tumbling.” In order to show off their supposed humility they slouched over with bent backs and shuffled their feet instead of taking normal steps, leading to frequent stumbles and tumbles.
  5. The fifth group were the “ever-seeking,” named because of the meticulous record keeping of their good deeds in order to determine how much reward God owed them.
  6. The sixth group were the “fearing” Pharisees, whose terror over the prospect of hell motivated everything they did.
  7. The seventh and last group were the “God-fearing,” those whose lives were motivated out of genuine love for God and a desire to please Him. The Pharisee Nicodemus (see John 3:1; 19:39) would doubtlessly have been classed in this group. But Nicodemus and the few other Pharisees who believed in Jesus were very much the exceptions. For the most part, the Pharisees were the Lord’s most strident critics and implacable enemies.
  8. Like so many things, what started as a good and noble thing became in the end mere vanity. Everything we have looked at so far has been commendable. Here is a group that desires to please God by living in obedience to the statues He had given them. How is that objectionable?  What the Pharisees neglected was not the letter of the law, but the giver of it. In trying to earn God’s favor, they missed the fundamental message of the law: no one is holy except God alone.
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Posted by on November 23, 2020 in Pharisees

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