About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Seven Woes (ch. 23:1 - 39)


We’re in the last few days of Jesus’ earthly life before He is executed.  You might think the things He says now would be the things that a dying person would say, and they would be important.  What Jesus says here in verse 1 is said to both the crowd and His disciples.


Verse 2 tells us that the “teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sit in the sear of Moses”.   This is just another way of saying that the Jewish leadership sit in the same place as Moses did when he was alive.  They sit in a place of teaching the Law to the people so they can obey the Law of God.


In verse 3 Jesus tells the people that they “must” do as the Pharisees teach, but they’re not to do as they do, because they don’t practice what they preach.  The Jewish leaders were hypocrites as Jesus has often called them, so people aren’t to follow their example.  But when the Pharisees teach what is written in the Law accurately, then the crowd should obey.  They should obey, not because of the Pharisees who teach the Law, but they should obey for the Law’s sake. 


One thing we should note here is that these are still Old Testament days in which these words of Jesus are being spoken.  Once Jesus dies and is raised back to life, New Testament days begin and the Law of Moses takes on a whole new meaning to the Jews.  But until then, they are required to obey the Law and Jesus is required to uphold the Law.  If He didn’t uphold the Law He would be disobeying it and therefore could not fulfill it, as He was meant to do.  The idea that Jesus fulfilled the Law is important because His fulfillment partly effected the change in the meaning of the Law to the Jews.


In verse 4 Jesus says that the Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders”, all along not lifting a finger to help carry this load. This means that the Jewish leadership loaded men down with laws, both Laws of God and laws from men.  There were so many rules and law to obey that one could not possibly obey them all.  The Pharisees expected the ordinary people to obey them, but they didn’t attempt to obey the laws themselves. The cross of Christ would set us free from all these laws.


In verse 5 we see that everything the Pharisees do is to be seen by men and make them important in the sight of all who see them.  Their whole lives are merely a big display of show.  They are shallow, self serving and arrogant.


Note the word phylacteries. These were very little scrolls containing Scripture verses that dangled in a leather pouch from the upper left arm or between the eyes on a man’s forehead.  This was in direct fulfillment of one of the 613 Laws of Moses.  (Ex. 13:9, 16) 


Jesus says that the Pharisees make these phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long.  Things like this were simply done to draw attention to themselves.  This kind of self seeking attention grabbing was not acceptable to Jesus.  But we can’t sit back and judge the Pharisees alone on these things.  Modern Christian ministers do the same thing when they dance around an enlarged platforms and scream out all sorts of things to be heard.  The things we do that draw attention to ourselves and not to Jesus will all be burned in the fire of judgment.


In verse 6 we see that Jesus says that the Pharisees always take the best and most visible seats.  Once again, this is all for show. They love to be seen in the market place and have men call them rabbi.  Today, many pastors like being called pastor, as in “pastor Bob”.  This is not necessary and is self seeking in many cases.


Verse 8 needs some understanding.  Jesus says that His followers should not seek to be called “rabbi” as the Pharisees do.  The word “rabbi” means “master”, and in some cases means “my master”.   So what Jesus is saying here is that Christians should not be called master.  The reason for this is that there is only one Master and He is God.   Beyond that Jesus says that we are all brothers.  We are not masters over one another.  This is important in modern day church life because throughout history dictatorial and authoritarianism in church can be seen.  This is not right.  Church leaders are servants, not masters. 


In verse 9 Jesus continues in this vein.  He tells His followers not to call anyone on earth father because they only have one Father and that is their God in heaven.   The natural question that arises is, “is it wrong to call your earthly father because of what Jesus says here”?   This is my thinking at the moment here.  I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should not call our biological father.  If you take the word “father” in a similar contextual sense as the word “master” or “rabbi” in the last verse, then the word “father” should be understood as some elevated man in a high place of special authority.  We are not to elevate ourselves to such a place, and we’re not to elevate others to such a place either.  Our biological father isn’t in that elevated place so it is okay for us to call him father.  But what might not be okay is to call a pastor or a minister father as in the Catholic church.


In verse 10 Jesus says don’t call anyone teacher, or don’t be called teacher.  The word “teacher” must be seen in the same contextual sense of the word.  The Bible does speak of earthy teachers, so it is a legitimate ministry in the church.  The simple point here is not to get carried away with boastful pride and demand that people acknowledge you as some great teacher, and we’re not to acknowledge others as some great teacher.  There’s only one great teacher and that’s Jesus.


How we should understand the words “rabbi, father, and teacher” is clearly stated in verses 11 and 12.  Here Jesus says that we are to be servants.  We should view ourselves in a humble state of being, that of a servant.  The kingdom principle that Jesus sets forth is that we should humble ourselves now in this present life, and if we do that, He will exalt us in the next life.  Yet if we do not humble ourselves now, we will not be exalted in the next life. 


To me, this suggests that there other different levels of existence in the next life.  There are many passages that suggest people receiving varied rewards for what they have done and how they have done it in this life.


In verse 13 Jesus says “woe to you teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” .  I don’t think we can really understand the feelings that Jesus exhibits here.   Jesus detested hypocrisy more than anything else, and He certainly was not afraid to say it.  By this time, and it’s almost at the end of His ministry, Jesus was furious with the Jewish leadership and they were furious with Him. 


We see the “righteous anger” of God at work in Jesus in what He says.  Jesus does not like  hypocrisy in any way shape or form.  You see this anger against church hypocrisy in the book of Revelation.  


Jesus says that the Jewish leaders shut the doors to the Kingdom of God to those who are trying to enter therein.  They themselves won’t go in, and they will never get to go in.  Jesus is saying that the ordinary Jew might well like to enter the Kingdom of God as Jesus speaks of it, but the Pharisees and teachers of the Law try their best to stop them from entering. 


The Jewish leaders, in the name of the Kingdom of God , have their own kingdom and it is this kingdom that they want the ordinary people to be a part of.


Jesus clearly states that these Jewish leaders will never enter God’s Kingdom, and I might add, this includes the present day Kingdom of God as well as the future Kingdom of God .       


You will notice in the NIV that there is no verse 14 as there is in the KJV.  This is due to certain discrepancies in the original text.  Some manuscripts have  verse 14 and some don’t.


In verse 15 Jesus speaks to the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees again.  He’s not giving up His rant against them.  Once again Jesus calls these people hypocrites because they travel land and sea just to make one disciple and when they make one they make him twice a son of hell than they are. 


Notice that Jesus says that the Pharisees are sons of hell, or as He says in John 8, sons of the devil.  The Jewish leadership that were to be representing their God, the God of Abraham are in fact representing the devil, the enemy of God.  Then those who follow these demonic leaders become even more demonic themselves. 


In verse 16 Jesus calls the Jewish leaders “blind guides”.  They are to be guiding God’s people in  accordance with God’s word, but they are blind.  They don’t have any clue how and where God wants them to lead His people.  They’re so far removed from the real things of God that they are walking in total darkness.


From verses 16 to 23 Jesus points out the fallacy of the Jewish leadership concerning oaths.  They say for example, one who swears by the altar doesn’t have to keep his oath, but those who swear by the gift on the altar does have to keep his oath. Jesus says elsewhere and here than all this is so very silly.  Jesus’ simple thinking is that “let your yes be yes and you no be no”.  If you agree to something, don’t change your mind, and don’t swear by anything.  Your word should be your word.


From verses 23 to 24 Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for their practice of tithing.  They tithe to the letter of the Law but they lay aside the more weightier issues of the Law as Jesus says, which are, mercy, justice, and faithfulness.  This is similar to when Jesus says that the whole Law hangs on loving God and your neighbour.  What Jesus is saying here is that the foundation of the law of Moses has all to do with Justice, mercy, and faithfulness, and if you don’t live according to these things, tithing is worthless.


Jesus does not tell them to stop tithing.  He does tell them to live righteously as well as tithe.  Jesus’ words should not be misunderstood here.  He is not suggesting that tithing is a New Testament principle or law to live by.  Remember, Jesus is still living in Old Testament days, and He must obey the Law in order to fulfill it on our behalf.  Therefore He cannot tell someone to disobey the Law, because that would be an act of disobedience in itself. 


I will not get involved in the discussion here, but the whole of the Old Testament, including the Law of Moses has been redefined in New Testament terms.  Concerning tithing, it is not something that New Testament Christians are required to do.  Christians are required to be generous with all they have, and in accordance with their ability to give.


In verse 24 Jesus tells the Pharisees that they “strain a gnat and swallow a camel”.  His point here is that they go to great length in trying to not obey the Law in all its detail but they go at great length in obeying all of their additional laws, all along missing the whole point to the Law of God.  Things have not changed since then.  Humans are still the same.  Christians today go to great lengths practicing their version of Christianity, all along missing the basic point to the love of Jesus.


In verse 25 and 26 Jesus speaks to the Law issues concerning cleaning of cups, pots and pans.  The Pharisees do quite well at following such rules.  We’ve seen them earlier get irritated at the disciples of Jesus not washing their hands before they eat.  Yet what Jesus is implying here went far beyond the washing of cups.  He speaking of the very lives of the Pharisees.


By telling the Jewish leadership that they clean the outside of cups and leave the inside dirty, He’s saying that their lives look nice on the outside but in side they are really dirty.  Their lives are full of greed and self-indulgence.  This is why they’re hypocrites.   They present themselves to be one thing, when in reality they are just the opposite.


Jesus continues on this theme in verses 27 and 28.  He compares the lives of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law to tombs full of dead men’s bones.  The tombs, like the lives of the Pharisees look nice and clean from the casual observer, but inside both the tombs and the lives of the Jewish leaders is death and decay.  Their lives are rotten to the core.


In verses 29 to 32 Jesus speaks of the relationship the Pharisees have with their forefathers.  It was a well known fact their forefathers killed the godly prophets of old.  But the Pharisees say that if they had lived in that day they would not have done such bad things.  Well, Jesus knows better.  These men would have done just that and worse.  They came against John the Baptist and they’ll soon kill Jesus.  In this sense, the Pharisees are hypocrites. 


What Jesus means in verse 31 is that by condemning their forefathers, the Pharisees are actually condemning themselves.  That is their heritage and they are following in their father’s footsteps.  They’re all guilty of their father’s sins by association.


Verse 32 says, “fill up, then, the measure of the sins of your forefathers”.  What Jesus means here is that He is suggesting to these evil Jewish leaders to keep following their forefather’s example of sin.  Keep going until you fill up the cup of sin.  Keep going because you’ll soon have the chance to be the ultimate sinners by killing the One and Only Son of God.


Think of a cup of water where the water represents sin.  The cup of sin is three quarters full of the forefather’s sin.  Jesus is telling these Pharisees to go ahead and fill the cup all the way to the top with their sin, and the biggest sin they’ll commit is killing Jesus.  In a round about way, Jesus is telling them that His time of execution is now ready.  Basically, He’s signaling them to kill Him.    


In verse 33 Jesus calls the Pharisees snakes and  vipers. They will not avoid condemnation and their place in hell, or the final place of the wicked which is the Lake of Fire .  These so-called men who were to lead God’s people will end up in the same place where satan himself will end up.


Because of this fate, in verse 34 Jesus says that He will send them prophets, teachers and wise men.   These men will provide the Jews their last chance to change, but Jesus says that the Jewish leadership will kill some, flog others, and follow many of these godly men from town to town until they catch them.  They will do to those whom Jesus sends out the same their fathers did to the prophets of old.  These words are a direct prophecy to the fate of those who followed Jesus.


It is interesting to me that Jesus gives the Jews one last chance at accepting their Messiah once He leaves the earth.  He does this at Pentecost and the years following up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.


In verses 36 and 37 Jesus tells this generation of Jews that they will be responsible for all of the blood shed that took place in the lives of righteous men, going back as far as Abel.  These are drastic words.  Even though this generation of Jews did not kill Abel and all of the righteous men in Old Testament times, they will be held responsible for their deaths. Why would this be so?


One reason why this is so is that they will kill the one who those past righteous men represented. Beyond this, these Jews represents the fulfillment of all the evil things the Jewish forefather’s committed. This is what “filling up your forefather’s sins” as mentioned earlier is all about.  These sins have been accumulating over the centuries to the point that the cup is almost full, and the cup will indeed fill up with the death of Jesus.


Think about this cup analogy again.  The cup was three quarters full of their forefather’s sin.  The present Jewish leadership that Jesus is speaking to fill the cup to the brim with their own sin, and because their sin is mixed in the cup with all the previous sins, and because they fill the cup up, they are the ones held responsible for the sin in the cup.  


Verses 37 to 39 are important.  We’ve seen how very upset Jesus is with Israel .  Now we see His broken heart.  The reason why He is so upset is that they are missing what God really wants for them.  He says, “O Jerusalem Jerusalem”.  By repeating the word Jerusalem twice you see the intensity in the words and emotions of Jesus.


Jesus continues by pointing out the fact that the Jews have killed all the godly men of old, but even with this Jesus has tried to gather Israel together as a hen would gather her babies.  Despite all the evil things that they Jews had don in the past, Jesus still tried to gather this evil nation together and have them return to their true heavenly Father, but they wouldn’t come to Him.   It’s amazing to note that after seeing all the harsh things Jesus has said against these people, He’s still willing to have them come to Him.  He’s still willing to forgive them upon their true repentance, but they are unwilling to repent.


In verse 38 Jesus says, “look, your house is left to you desolate”.  The word “look” tells us that Jesus is pointing to the Jewish nation, either literally or figuratively.  He wants the Jewish leadership to understand that their great house has become like an old broken down and decayed barn, having no more use left in it for anyone.  These words were also prophetic of the desolation that would come to the Jewish nation in the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 AD.


Jesus in verse 39 closes this section by telling the Jews that they will not see Him again until they say, “blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord”, which is in reference to the return of Jesus at the end of this age.  At that point many within Judaism will return to their true Messiah.


Jesus says here that He wanted to gather God's people as if He were a hen gathering her chicks. God's people have been scattered over the centuries  To a degree they are all in one place at the time Jesus spoke these words, but still they are not free.  God, throughout the centuries tried to gather His people, but they refused to be gathered.  He finally will gather them at the end of this age when remnant of Israel will recognize Him as their Messiah. Even though the Jews were together, they were not under the wings of their God. 


The desolation of Israel is in fact granting the Gentiles salvation.  These words are words of judgment by Jesus when He says that they will no longer see Him until they recognize Him as their king at the end of this age.     


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