In the Fulness of Time/Part 133

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2010
During His ministry Jesus presented many infallible proofs of His Messiahship, healing all kinds of disease and sickness, demonstrating His power over the elements, changing water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, and on several occasions even restoring life! In spite of all this and more, official Israel rejected Him.

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His Woes Upon Their Hypocritical Principles. Matthew 23:13-36

Rejecting the kingdom and preventing others from entering. Matthew 23:13

Mt. 23:13 “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 permit them that are entering to go in.”

By using the word “woe” Jesus was inferring more than the temporal calamity which would befit the nation in 70 A.D.; connected with these woes are severe words of eternal judgment as well. At the beginning of His ministry Jesus set down the requirement: “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). During His ministry Jesus presented many infallible proofs of His Messiahship, healing all kinds of disease and sickness, demonstrating His power over the elements, changing water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, and on several occasions even restoring life! In spite of all this and more, official Israel rejected Him. Therefore, at the end of His ministry, having done more than enough to convince any seeking soul, and having answered the questions of the Herodians, the Sadducees, yes, and even the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus finally came to the point where He could only pronounce judgments upon the leaders of Israel and upon the nation itself. In His most devastating language, Jesus called them hypocrites seven times, blind guides twice, fools and blind twice, as well as whited sepulchers, a generation of vipers and sons of hell, and “that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth.”

This first woe had to do with their obstructing those who were seeking to believe in Christ as Messiah. Not only did the scribes and Pharisees reject Him themselves; they also: “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.” The verb is kleiete, from kleio, which can mean “shut up,” or “lock up.” The noun form is kleis, “key.” Luke 11:52 puts it this way: “Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering, ye hindered.” There is little doubt that this was instigated by Satan, for Paul made a similar comment in II Corinthians 4:4: “In whom the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Christ will have something related to this in 23:15.

Devouring widows’ houses while pretending to be pious. 23:14.

Mt. 23:14 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; therefore, ye shall receive the greater damnation.”

Because a great number of the Greek manuscripts do not include this verse, it has been omitted from some of the modern versions. However, the Textus Receptus does have it; thus the KJV and New KJV both have it. The NASB has it, but in parentheses; the NIV omits it. Having said this, since Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 both include it in their list of woes, it is appropriate to comment on it here.

Matthew 23:14 gives another instance of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, who, in this case: “devoured (katesheite, literally, “ate down”) widows’ houses.” This was especially detestable in light of the Old Testament statement that the widows and orphans were not to be afflicted: “Ye shall not afflict any widow or orphaned child” (Exodus 22:22). Added to this was Deuteronomy 27:19: “Cursed be he who perverteth the justice due to the sojourner, fatherless and widow.” Punishment for mistreatment of the widow was death: “If thou afflict them in any way and they cry at all to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath shall burn, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:23-24).

In the era of the New Testament, Rabbis were often used as arbiters of legal matters, and were thought of as trustworthy. Luke 12:13-14 mentions the man who approached Jesus with this in mind: “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak unto my brother that he divide the inheritance with me, And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Jesus refused to take this responsibility unto Himself. It must be admitted, as Edersheim claims: “The more the Rabbinical code is studied, the higher will be our admiration of its provisions, characterized as these are by wisdom, kindness, and delicacy, we venture to say, far beyond any modern legislation” (Sketches of Jewish Life, p. 212). Yet, even Edersheim notes later in the same paragraph that the officials operated too much by zeal without knowledge. Certainly there were some honest officials, but those scribes and Pharisees condemned by Jesus were obviously not following the proper rules and regulations set down for the people. Then, they added pious pretense to their greed, making long prayers in their synagogues. There were eighteen eulogies formulated and repeated in the synagogues, the first three and the last three (which cover several printed pages) were the earliest, and were used in our Lord’s time, “other petitions inserted between them. There was thus room for the endless repetitions and ‘long prayers’ which the Saviour mentioned” (Ibid, p. 272).

Proselytizing followers but making their judgment twice as hard. Matthew 23:15

Mt. 23:15 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”

The word proselyte has been used in different ways; it was used generally in the Old Testament of a stranger (ger) who merely came under Jewish protection as “a stranger in the gate,” or of a Gentile who “feared God” (Acts 13:16), or who was devout (Acts 23:50). But when it was used of one who adopted all the observances (including circumcision) and the laws of Judaism, he was referred to as “ger hazedek” ( a proselyte of righteousness):

Proselytism was obviously widespread among the ordinary people. The statement of the New Testament that the Pharisees “compass sea and land to make one proselyte” (Matthew 23:15), suggesting a vigorous and active proselytism may possibly be an exaggeration, but on the other hand, the near pride which the rabbis took in the claim that some of their greatest figures were descended from proselytes point to an openhanded policy toward their acceptance (Jewish Values, p. 176).

Following this quotation from this Jewish book is an entire chapter dealing with the numerous regulations for proselytes. Even the two major schools of Pharisees, Hillel and Shammai, had different regulations. For example, concerning a proselyte who, for some reason, had already been circumcised at the time of his conversion, Shammai said he must be re-circumcised, but Hillel said it was not necessary (p. 178). Several writers have made the same observation, namely, that the eagerness of the Pharisees to travel far distances to make even one proselyte, was not to make a convert to Judaism as such, but to their particular scheme of Pharisaism. This is why Jesus could condemn them for: “making him twofold more a child of hell” than themselves. Such a proselyte came out of heathenism only to be prevented from entering the kingdom of heaven (23:13); instead, he was persuaded to enter another system, one of self-righteousness under the guise of worship of the true God.

In each of the first three woes therefore, there is a kind of double judgment. In the first, it is for rejecting and blocking the way to belief in Christ as Messiah; in the second it is for despicable greed and pious pretense, and is mentioned as “greater damnation.” In the third woe, it is for persuading someone ostensibly to leave the grinding dominion of idolatry, only to be bound by the unreasonable bonds of Pharisaism and be made a child of hell more than the Pharisees. This idea of degrees of punishment is alluded to by Christ in Matthew 11:22-24: “it shall be more tolerable… in the day of Judgment” and in Luke 12:47-48 where He said that some would be beaten with “many stripes” and others with “few stripes” as unbeliever, when the Lord returns “in the fulness of time.”

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