TEXT: MATTHEW 23:13-24
Jesus begins to list His complaints against the scribes and Pharisees. He doesn't mention the Sadducees in these verses.
As an outline of verses 13-36, we see that Jesus lists the sins He has found among the scribes and Pharisees from verses 13-33. He judges those sins from verses 34-36.
Jesus lists 8 pronouncements of "woe" to the scribes and Pharisees from verses 13-29, each beginning with, "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" So we know where he's going in these passages. That group has been declared a bunch of hypocrites because they are one way in administering the law, and another in their own lives. This is an extension of Matthew 23:3," where Jesus describes their characteristics but doesn't call them hypocrites directly.
But their hypocrisy extends even further – they are performing religious rituals without knowing the God behind the law, and have not surrendered their hearts so they can properly serve both God and the people of Israel and point souls to the end of the Law – Jesus, the Messiah, the righteousness and the fulfillment of, and the sacrifice for, the law that leads to eternal salvation.
THE KEY OF KNOWLEDGE
In Matthew 23:14, we see Jesus accusing the religious leaders of guarding a door they didn't want to enter, and a door they didn't want anyone else to enter, either. In Luke 11:52, we see that what prevented anyone from opening the door was a "Key of Knowledge."
What is a "key of knowledge?" And what kind of knowledge is Luke talking about? We'll get to that in a minute.
This is an important point. The law was established to make man aware of his sin, and to act as a blueprint leading to eternal life with God in Heaven as the outcome. God laid down 10 commandments, and other rules and regulations grew around those commandments.
The Law showed man that everything he did was sin, and that he would be sinful if he did nothing but live and breathe. That's because man's nature after The Fall was to be sinful, even from birth. The only immediate escape under the Law was to offer sacrifices for every single committed sin every single day, and then to rely on faith and believe that God had forgiven that sin. On top of that was the requirement that man obey and DO those commandments.
But how does one live righteously before God, when stacks of sin are always staring the sinner in the face? How would Original Sin be dealt with? That is to say: How could man overcome his natural tendency to sin without some kind of heart change?
It became a vicious cycle, and by Jesus' time, man's relationship with God in Israel had become ritualistic, full of sacrifices, sin and the stumbling blocks of numerous burdens placed on the shoulders of God's people by the likes of the scribes, Pharisees and others. Man did not feel free to love God as he wanted, and God wasn't getting the love He wanted. In short, there appeared to be no way out. The door was closed.
But scripture foretold that the Law would be fulfilled for all time through a Messiah sent from God, and that the 10 commandments – the Law – were solely designed to show man's sinfulness and God's provision for it. What was not common knowledge is that the Gospel would fulfill the Law.
But there is a large secret here: The key to God's Kingdom is by fulfilling the law; and the key to fulfilling the law is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the Gospel opens up access to the Kingdom. The Law required sacrifice; the Gospel shows that sacrifice was Jesus. The Law showed that God demanded man not break any of the commandments; the Gospel shows that Jesus – as God - fulfilled the requirements of Law.
The priesthood had obscured the Law, and supporting scriptures – effectively clouding the path to Heaven.
The Law showed that all mankind had broken one or more of God's laws, as contained in the 10 Commandments and was guilty and deserved punishment. The Gospel shows that Jesus is the one who took that punishment upon himself and gained salvation for all of mankind.
They did not want to investigate if Jesus was the Christ, nor did they want anyone else to find out if it were true – assuming the scribes and Pharisees even told the people of Israel about there being a scriptural promise of a Messiah in the first place.
Jesus, the Messiah, is the key to eternal life, the key to open the door to God and eternal life in heaven through His sacrifice on the Cross and the very fulfillment of the law in literally every way demanded by God when the Almighty first established the law.
And there is a bonus: When we accept Christ in our heart, a love between God and man is born – a love that is no longer tainted by sin and disobedience. And it is because God loved man that he sent His Son to fulfill the law, that now ANY man or woman who accepts Christ as his Savior can freely love God with all of his or her heart, soul and mind. Man can't help it – love flows freely and naturally from the soul of the redeemed heart to both God and to those who don't know Christ from the redeemed heart, as well.
The scribes and Pharisees knew that the "Messiah" was the key to both the law and eternal life, but they didn't want to recognize that the Messiah spoken of in Messianic prophecies was Jesus. Let's face it, in the minds of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus as the Messiah would have been "bad for business," both in terms of diminishing their revenues from temple concessions and of making the Jews "look bad" in the eyes of their Roman captors.
The priesthood's ultimate master plan to rid themselves of the Messiah was to use Jesus as a sacrifice to the Romans, as we see in John 11:47-53.
Jesus was drawing attention to the Jews with his miracles, and was threatening to divert attention away from the scribes and Pharisees' corner on the way to God because people were believing on Him. The priesthood was afraid the Romans were going to do away with their place of authority, and could even do away with Israel as a nation.
They would later implement their master plan and turn Jesus over to the Romans for sacrifice whenever they could lay hands on Him.
In so doing, the scribes and Pharisees "kicked the can down the road" to another day – to "another" Messiah … just as long as it wasn't Jesus. And because the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day decided to reject Jesus as the Messiah, Israel has been left wandering throughout the centuries without Jesus since that time, because the very same scribes and Pharisees who were upbraided by Jesus here in Matthew and in other Gospels had told the people of Israel that the Messiah "had not yet come."
The scribes and Pharisees will have a lot to answer for on the Day of Judgment, together with the rest of mankind.
PREYING ON WIDOWS
In Matthew 23:14, Jesus accuses the scribes and pharisees of preying on widows. Jesus described it as "devouring widows' houses." After getting money from widows, the scribes and Pharisees made a long prayer (perhaps in those widows' homes) to make it seem that what they had done was just.
(REFERENCE 2 TIMOTHY 3:6). Timothy said that some homes were easy targets, and targeted homes were "crept into" by those having a form of godliness, but who denied the power thereof (2 TIMOTHY 3:5). This sort of person preyed on women laden with sins, and took financial advantage of them.
(REFERENCE: TITUS 1:11). Titus said a common tactic used by the religious world on an unsuspecting household was called "subverting" (misleading) the household into believing a lie – which, Titus said, involved separating unsuspecting householders from their money by "teaching things which they (the subverters) ought not."
SCRIBES & PHARISEES AS EVANGELISTS
In Mathew 23:15, we see that if scribes or Pharisees converted someone to Judaism that person was worse off. That's because the scribes and Pharisees weren't right with God in the first place, and neither would the convert be right, especially under their blind teaching. How could they lead someone to God, when they didn't know God themselves?
It's also important to note that decision is not conversion. Decision is an act of the will; conversion is an act of the heart, facilitated by a Divine move of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 23:16-22, Jesus upbraids the scribes and Pharisees on the subject of oaths.
An oath is holy to God, and must be performed. Jesus showed the scribes and Pharisees that whatever item is offered as an expression of an oath is not more important than where it is offered (the altar or temple) and to whom it is directed (God).
We should also note that in Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus said it was better to not swear (take an oath) at all. Anything other than a "yes" or "no", he said, comes out of an evil heart (Matthew 5:37).
Evil heart? What does that mean? Most translations of Matthew 5:37 more clearly say "comes from the Evil One." Jesus seems to be saying that if you will speak the truth about your intentions, you don't need to swear an oath to prove to others that what you are saying is really the truth.
In short: Let your "yes" mean "yes" and your "no" mean "no." Don't tell someone "yes" and then not do it. Don't tell someone "no" and then do it.
In Matthew 23:16-22, we see the tokens placed in Holy places to show to all the sincerity of oath-takers: gold and gifts. And this is the evil part: The scribes and Pharisees honored the gold and gifts more than the Holy places where the gold and gifts were placed and, by extension, the God who sanctifies those things which are put in His Holy places.
In sum, then, the scribes and Pharisees acted as if God wasn't even there in His house. Just the gold and gifts.
THE HEART BEHIND THE LAW
You can now see a picture of the temple, both outside and inside, in Jesus' day. Outside, they were getting rich from the exchange of money of foreign currencies into Jewish currency, which was the only money allowed by the priests to be spent in the temple. We see the selling of animals, religious trinkets and more. Inside of the temple, we see more importance on the gifts and gold offered to God than to either God or his House. And we see profound hypocrisy by the scribes and Pharisees in the everyday work of ministry.
REFERENCE: MATTHEW 23:23. The scribes and Pharisees were so busy "doing ministry" that they completely missed the heart of God behind His law – judgment, mercy and faith.
REFERENCE: MATTHEW 23:24. Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees "blind guides", and added that their condition was tantamount to "straining at a gnat" (focus on religious minutae and empty, mindless ritual) and "swallowing a camel" (ignoring the overall picture and plan of the law).