“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. 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
(Matthew 23:13-15 ESV)
Jesus continues His severe condemnation of the religious leaders (the scribes and Pharisees) in today’s passage. This includes the first two of seven “woes” – harsh critiques of the religious and political leaders of Israel. The Greek word translated “woe” here is ουαι (pronounced: oo-ah’-ee). This was a word of condemnation but it also conveyed an accompanying sadness. Jesus had very strong words for these leaders but He spoke them out of love and concern for their welfare.
Jesus’ most scathing rebukes were not motivated by hate for religious people but by love. His harsh words were intended to open their eyes to the grave and eternal mistake they were making.
The scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites because they shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. They themselves were not going to enter heaven nor were their actions allowing others who would like to enter to go in either. The word “hypocrite” is a Greek theatrical term used to describe one who pretends to be something he is not (e.g. an actor).
The religious leaders of the day in Israel thought they were spiritual but they were not. As a result they would not end up in heaven. Even worse, the people who looked to these men for spiritual direction were likewise not going to heaven because they end up believing and doing the same things they did.
This is the nature of false religions; they don’t lead people to God. They lead people away from Him. This, of course, includes religions that don’t worship the one true God such as Islam and Hinduism. But it also includes those that claim to be “Christian” faiths such as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism.
Sometimes such misleading is unintentional. But there are times when it is very intentional such as in the case of the scribes and Pharisees who tried to keep people from Jesus [Matthew 12:14, 22-24]. Such behavior continued after Jesus was killed as the Jews tried to stomp out the early church [Acts 4:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16].
It’s also true that people who adhere to man-made religions make a great effort (travel across sea and land) to make a single proselyte (i.e. convert). They energetically reach out to those outside their faith – as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do. But their message is false.
These people demonstrate zeal without knowledge [Romans 10:2]. Their motivation is not to bring people into a relationship with God. Their motivation is to convert people to their way of thinking. Their converts, therefore, often inherit a similar enthusiasm without realizing they are on the wrong eternal path. In the end, they all end up in hell.
We see the same thing happening today as our political leaders in America rampantly remove all references to the Bible from public life and enact legislation that contradicts God and instead espouses their world view. These leaders will spend eternity in hell (unless they change what they believe) as will the people who buy into their lies.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.