Matthew 23

Seven Woes

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (v. 13)

In this chapter we have what is commonly called “The Seven Woes”, and this is the first. Actually there are eight, but seven of them are pronounced directly against the scribes and Pharisees, and seven times Jesus refers to them as “hypocrites.” Here we see some of the strongest preaching in the entire Gospels, and it is against the religious as well as the scholarly. Much of the rebuke is for their bad testimony and their attitude among men, but also and definitely for outright unbelief, which proved to be the crux of their problem. In verse 13 we see an indictment against their teachings; in 14, Jesus rebukes their hypocrisy toward outward show; in v. 15, they do proselyte, but their discipling is way off course; and in verse 16, they are referred to as “blind guides” which gain the confidence of men, and then lead them astray. This is the only “woe” that Jesus does not aim at them specifically by their titles, and the only one in which He does not call them hypocrites openly. Jesus attacks their oaths, and the hypocrisy of them in this verse.
Then, in v. 23 they are rebuked for putting the law above man in value and worth; and in v. 25 He shows them that the inside is what needs cleaning, and not merely the outside; then He tops it off with v.27, and shows them that they are dead inside, and need to be quickened; and Jesus wraps things up in v. 29 where He points out that they are sinners, just as their forefathers were, driving the point home for their need of salvation. What an amazing sermon! Jesus goes further and calls them snakes, and asks the final question in v. 33; then He proceeds to answer His question, showing them that their escape from hell had been provided, and rejected already in the prophets. The message ends with a heartfelt plea, a “wrenching of Spirit” for Christ, as He cries for His people in v. 37.

The call could be compared to the call of Moses, “Let my people go” as the devil tightens his grip on the necks of God’s people. Satan uses people, sometimes religious people, to accomplish his evil deeds. Let’s learn from these Pharisee’s and be sure that we do not hinder any from entering the Kingdom of God, and be careful not to weigh them down with such heavy burdens that their joy in the Lord becomes a sorrow, and their hope, despair.

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