by John Greene
“Then Yahshua [Jesus] spoke to the crowd and to His disciples, saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have sat down on Moses’ seat. Then all things, whatever he (Moses) tells you to keep, keep and do. But do not do according to their (Scribes & Pharisees) works, for they talk, and do not do. For they bind heavy and hard to bear burdens, and lay them on the shoulders of men, but they do not desire to move them with their finger.
And they do all their works to be seen by men. And they widen their tefillin (phylactery) and lengthen the tekhelet (blue string in the tassel) of their robes. And they love the chief places at festivals and the chief seats at the synagogue. And the greetings in the markets, and to be called by men, ‘Rabboni, Rabboni.’ But do not you be called Rabboni (my great one) for One is your Great One, the Messiah, and you are all brothers.
And call no one your father on earth, for One is your Father, the One in Heaven. Nor be called master, for One is your Master, the Messiah. But he who is greater of you, let him be your servant. And whoever will exalt himself shall be humbled, and whoever will humble himself shall be exalted.’” – Matthew 23:1-12, HRB
Yahshua [Jesus] was to the point about the religious behavior of the elite, or those that held themselves out to be the religious elite, during His time on earth. He called these unrighteous leaders hypocrites, children of the grave, blind guides, fools, whitewashed tombs, murderers, and serpents. (John 12:42-43) They became wards of death. The rabbinical elite of first century Jews wanted reverence and obedience. They enjoyed the authority, lifestyle and appearance of righteousness that they had crafted for themselves. Many probably believed in their own righteousness because of their fine personal attributes in the eyes of man, and as champions of personal discipline. They were focused on building themselves up and reducing others around them. Does this behavior sound like fruit of a loving Creator or the works of the devil?
In His observations, Yahshua [Jesus] was not simply talking about the behavior of the elite. He laid a template of woe for everyone that behaves in a similar way against the Will of YHWH, the Most High. Yahshua [Jesus] was talking to every disciple about walking the other way from this kind of behavior for personal good. Disciples must not participate in glorifying the religious hierarchy of man or the status of their religion as the Jews of that day did. Disciples must not be glorified by titles and status. They must not give or receive glory for these illustrious titles. They must not exploit brothers and sisters in the gathering of Messiah.
Yahshua [Jesus] the Master is your High Priest, the power and authority of the Almighty, your significance. The religious leaders of that day simply piled their personal sins high as they determined what righteousness was for them and pressed that same yoke on others. This kind of behavior won’t do for anyone that claims to be a disciple of Messiah or a worshiper of Father YHWH. Participation in this type of behavior will yield the fruit of judgment. Hypocrites are actors, pretenders. Actors and pretenders are not what disciples can be.
In the eyes of Messiah, the woes of the hypocrites were great. When understood in context, the Master’s statement expressed His pity for them because of their imminent punishment. (Isaiah 5):
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of Heaven before men; for you do not enter, nor do you allow those entering to go in.” (vs. 13, HRB)
They shut the spiritual door in the faces of others to bolster their own social standing. They had taken away the knowledge, and right understanding of prophecies respecting the Messiah. This did everything possible to prevent the people from receiving Yahshua [Jesus] as their Redeemer. They led people to follow them and their authority, to follow the traditions and mysticism endorsed by their teaching. They became antichrists-antimessiahs, sworn enemies to the gospel of the Messiah, and to the One they professed to serve.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour the houses of widows, and pray at length as a pretext. Because of this you will receive more abundant judgment.” (vs. 14, HRB)
These spiritual leaders employed a lifestyle of exploitation. These claimed an exact knowledge of religious law and perfect observance. They pretended to exercise justice toward the poor, friendship for the distressed and the willingness to assist. In other words, they pretended to be charitable, honest good hearted humanitarians. They persuaded the poor to allow them to manage their property and their affairs. They inspired devotion and giving by those that could ill afford it and with great pretense, to meet their immediate personal desires and agendas.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you go about the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte; and when he has become so, you make him twofold more a son of Gehenna than yourselves.” (vs. 15, HRB)
These spiritual leaders spared no mention of effort to gain adherents. They sought the “righteous,” who fully embraced their leadership, who were baptized, circumcised and conformed to all rituals of the faith. They also sought “proselytes of the gate,” supporters that approved of Jewish customs and rites, those that were willing to renounce other gods, but remained unbaptized and uncircumcised. They sought the money of these proselytes under various schemes while making little effort to train them. The Jewish leaders spoke out of both sides of their mouths. They seduced the proselytes while saying among themselves that the proselytes were “scabs of Israel” and hindered the coming of the Messiah by their great wickedness. Who do you see was more wicked?
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, Whoever swears by the Holy Place, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the Holy Place is a debtor. Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold, or the Holy Place that sanctifies the gold?” (vs. 16-17, HRB)
These blind guides were unfit to be guides for others. They were ignorant of the spirituality of the law, blinded by the god of the world. They coveted gold as symbolic of their importance and power. (Romans 2:19) The Pharisees came to believe that the gold of the temple was more sacred than the temple, undoubtedly because of the importance that they came to place on it. They recommended the good works from which they received the most advantage. They honored gold and influence over the temple. They had already demeaned the purpose and correct teaching of the One they professed to serve. Now they demeaned the sacred nature of YHWH, Elohim of Hosts and their temple, in exchange for mammon and self-serving indulgence.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and you have left aside the weightier matters of the Torah judgment, and mercy, and faith. And these things were necessary for you to have done, and these things you should not have forgotten.” (vs. 23, HRB)
These spiritual leaders were scrupulous in the performance of the rites and ceremony of their religion, but neglected the exercise of genuine trust, purity of heart and right relationship with YHWH. They wanted to be seen by others to gain human respect. They were absorbed by the materialism of life.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within they are full of extortion and iniquity.” (vs. 25, HRB)
These religious leaders were diligent about ritual washing and obligations that they had made for themselves. (Mark 7:4) They appeared clean and well-kept on the outside, all of which was a show as far as the Heavenly Father was concerned.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened graves which outwardly indeed appear beautiful, but within are full of bones of the dead, and of all uncleanness.” (vs. 27, HRB)
The inside of these religious leaders were full of the world: extortion, oppression and wickedness, in opposition to the word they professed to follow. They made great pains to appear as “white as snow” despite personal excesses of wickedness and iniquity, traditions handed down through generations of their successors.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and adorn the tombs of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’” (vs. 29-30, HRB)
The religious leaders were historical revisionists. They loved and honored the sentimental memory of the past. They jealously looked after the tombs of prophets and venerated structures. They put man ahead of YHWH. They professed great respect for the character and veneration of the memory of dead associates. They believed that they were somehow better than the past, and that, had they been in charge, the world would have been a different place.
Messiah contrasted the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes of His time of earth with the righteous. (Matthew 5) The righteous enter the Kingdom of YHWH, while the unrighteous keep people out of His Kingdom. The righteous are comforted, the unrighteous condemned according to the fruit they bear. The righteous inherit YHWH’s promises, while the unrighteous are eternally doomed to destruction. The righteous hunger for righteousness, as the unrighteous long for personal gain. The righteous find YHWH’s favor and exhibit His mercy, while the unrighteous are as merciless as the world. The unrighteous are patterned after the world, defiled in heart, contrasted with pure in heart. The righteous are children of heaven, while the unrighteous are the children of hades: death and eternal cutting off from YHWH and His Kingdom.