Jesus has Harsh Words for the Pharisees
In all of the lessons and parables that Jesus gave as He and his disciples traveled around Israel from town to town healing and teaching; we cannot find any of His words or teachings that come close to the angry words He had for the scribes and Pharisees! We read Jesus’ severe warnings to the Jewish people concerning the Pharisees in Matthew 23.
Jesus begins by saying: “The teachers of the law, and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat,” (Matthew 23:2) Several thousands of years earlier, God had given the Ten Commandments and other laws to the Jewish people through Moses. The scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, were the idols and darlings of the Jewish people because they spent their whole life studying God’s laws. They were supposed to interpret God’s laws to the people just as Moses had done.
But Jesus added that the scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and puts them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger of it.” (verse 4) Jesus was speaking about the many additions that the scribes and Pharisees had illegally added to God’s law given by Moses. All these man-made laws had become a great burden for the Jewish people to follow; and this deeply grieved and angered Jesus. How dare the religious leaders lie to the people, telling them that the laws they thought up were the same as God’s laws! God wanted to give the people life: but the Pharisees, who were supposed to speak for God, were standing in the way!
The Pharisees loved to dominate the people and show off their authority by forcing the people to follow their own man-made ceremonies and traditions. These goody goody religious leaders prayed eight to ten hours a day out in front of all the people, to impress everyone as to how pious they were. They lied to the people telling them that God would send them to hell if they didn’t obey each of their knit picking ordinances. All of this enraged Jesus.
Jesus goes on: “All their work is done for people to see. They made their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their clothes long: they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue….to have people call them “Rabbi”. But you are not to be called “Rabbi” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.” (Matthew 23:5-8)
Jesus was all about humility. And Jesus also taught that a spirit of humility should govern the action of believers. He tells us not to give other humans the authority that should only be given to God. He said: “Do not call anyone on earth “father” for you have one Father and He is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) Jesus continued: “The greatest among you will be your servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:10b-11)
Jesus went on his tirade by calling the religious leaders “Hypocrites”. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of God in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. You travel over land and sea to make a convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)
Jesus is furious because the religious leaders have “shut the kingdom of heaven” away from the people. Do some religious leaders do that today? The people were relying on these supposed “men of God” to lead them in God’s Way, and instead the people were being led away from God’s Way. As religious leaders and interpreters of Scripture, the Pharisees should have been the first to respond to Jesus as their Messiah and then influenced the people to follow.
Their Scriptures, our Old Testament, had promised that a Messiah and a Savior would be given and that they were to look for Him. The Pharisees read the Scriptures day and night and should have asked themselves questions when Jesus healed so many and performed miracles and raised dead persons back to life. But when Jesus, their Messiah, finally came to them, the Pharisees didn’t want to “see” Him. That is “see” Him with their hearts. Their hearts were too hardened to be able to “see” Jesus. They might have to change their ways if they were to “see” Jesus and recognize Him as their promised Messiah, and the proud Pharisees surely didn’t want to change!
Jesus went about healing many people all over Israel. People who were blind were given their sight and people who were lame were given the strength to walk when Jesus would come their way. Sick people were healed and deaf people could hear again when Jesus touched them. Demon possessed people were freed from their demons and mentally ill people were healed when Jesus prayed for them.
Jesus even broke up funerals and raised people from the dead. Scripture had prophesied that the coming Messiah would heal their illnesses. The religious leaders should have wondered if possibly Jesus was indeed their promised Messiah! But instead the Pharisees and scribes were furious when Jesus healed the sick and especially when He raised Lazarus from the dead! In fact Lazarus’s resurrection from the grave caused them to agree among themselves that they would find a way to have Jesus crucified! Too many of their people were following Jesus and they were jealous. The Pharisees might lose some of their power and influence over the people if they couldn’t get rid of Jesus!
Jesus had harsh words for these religious leaders who at that very moment were plotting his death. He told them that they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.” (Matthew 23:13b) He also called the Pharisees “blind guides”, “a brood of vipers”, and “whited tombs, which are beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones”.(Matthew 23:27b) He told them that they killed and persecuted God’s prophets. And Jesus asked the Pharisees this question: “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33b)
Jesus was standing in the temple when He spoke these harsh words to the religious leaders. And a few days after this, Jesus was crucified as angry crowds called out “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” As Jesus stood there in the temple speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus looked over Jerusalem and cried out these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:37-39)
A sad day indeed. Jesus left the temple that day and never returned. A temple abandoned by the Messiah! A house left desolate indeed! The Lord’s public ministry was finished. Jesus tells them: “You will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:39) At Christ’s second coming the nation of Israel will recognize their rejected Messiah and will welcome His return with great emotion! (Romans 11: Zechariah 12:10) What a day that will be!