Matthew 23:13-22 (ESV)
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
Jesus continued to speak against scribes and the Pharisees, pronouncing seven “woes” upon them. The first three of the seven are found in verses 13-22. A woe is a verdict of punishment and an expression of sorrow. The first woe resulted from the scribes and Pharisees keeping others from entering the kingdom of heaven. Many in the crowd heard the teaching of Jesus and may have wanted to follow him, but because of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ disdain for Jesus, and the people’s fear of displeasing the religious leaders, many in the crowd turned away from the gospel. The second woe resulted from the scribes and Pharisees pursuing converts, because those who followed their ways ended up just as messed us as they were, if not worse. The third woe concerned the religious leaders’ use of oaths. Jesus taught that we should always be truthful and shouldn’t need to add anything for emphasis. The Pharisees and scribes employed an intricate system of oaths. For example, if one swore by the temple, it wasn’t binding, but if he swore by the gold in the temple, that really meant something. Jesus spoke against this craziness. How ridiculous to think that God would consider some oaths as obligatory yet not enforce others simply based on the clever way they were worded.
The distinctions created between the temple and the gold or the altar and the gift were ways the religious leaders manipulated the rules to justify breaking their own promises. Jesus let his audience know that the final judgment for the scribes and Pharisees would be terrible and filled with sorrow. He warned the religious leaders of doom if they continued to reject him. At the same time, we shouldn’t miss the compassion and concern Jesus showed the scribes and Pharisees as he exhorted them to respond to his teaching and get this right before it was too late. When people in your life are rejecting the message of Jesus, sometimes you just need to do what Jesus did and tell it like it is. For those who continue to turn their backs on the gospel, judgment is promised. Let’s not shy away from this fact. Pray that God would give you the courage to speak the truth in love today, just like Jesus did.