Hypocrites: An Obstacle to Others

Matthew 23:13

We need to begin by defining some terms used in today’s text.

Consider the word, “Pharisees.” Do not stereotype every Pharisee as being “a person who misrepresented God.” Even Jewish society recognized there were distinctions to be made among the Pharisees. Not all Pharisees held identical views. What was generally true of the Pharisees as a group might not be true of an individual Pharisee. Remember Nicodemus, the person who had a private talk with Jesus in John 3, was a Pharisee. He was Jesus’ friend before and after Jesus’ crucifixion (John 7:50,51; 19:39). Gamaliel, who influenced the Sanhedrin not to kill the apostles, was a Pharisee (Acts 5:34-40). The Talmud speaks of seven types of Pharisees: the “shoulder” Pharisee who paraded his deeds on his shoulders; the “delaying” Pharisee who made people wait for him while he went to do a good deed; the “bruised” Pharisee who walked into walls to avoid looking at women; the “pestle” Pharisee who [with a false sense of humility] walked with his head bowed; the “what is my duty” Pharisee who asked that question to encourage others to extol his virtues; and the “admirable” Pharisee who loved God as did Abraham (T.B. Sotah 22 b).

Consider the term, “the kingdom of heaven.” The Jews regarded God’s name as too holy to say. Thus commonly a word was used as a substitute for the word, “God.” [Often, as in this society in the past, religious people substituted a slang word for a curse word.] The “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” are inter-changeable phrases. Both have the same meaning. Each refers to God’s rule in the lives of people. Each refers to allowing God to be the person’s king.

Consider the term, “from men.” This is likely a reference to audiences composed of devout Jews and proselytes. Their efforts were directed toward discrediting Jesus in the eyes of those who followed Judaism. In the next woe Jesus will focus on their efforts to convert people to Judaism.

The efforts of the Pharisees to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the public (see Matthew 12:2, 14; 15:1, 2; 19:3; 22:15) came from numerous motivations.

  1. They were dedicated to preserving their position of influence and leadership in Israel.
  2. They were committed to preserving Israel’s existence as a nation.
  3. They wanted to preserve their influence and relationship with the Roman authorities.
  4. They were qualified interpreters of the law because they were students of the appropriate Rabbis in Jerusalem, and Jesus was not. (See John 11:47-50 for insights into their motives).
  5. Jesus’ concepts of appropriate behavior on the Sabbath, purity, correct associations, and Jewish tradition as a primary means for interpreting the Law were in radical contrast to their concepts.

The Pharisees as a group never saw God working through Jesus’ acts, miracles, or teachings. They followed him to criticize (see Matthew 12:1,2). They declared he received his power to cast out demons from the prince of demons (see Matthew 12:22-24). They grumbled because he associated with the wrong Jewish people (see Matthew 9:10,11) His teachings lacked God’s authority (see Matthew 22:34-40).

The Pharisees found the things Jesus did on Sabbaths particularly irritating (see Luke 13:14). According to their rules, Jesus permitted work or did work on the Sabbath. Their irritation was not over the fact that Jesus did miracles. Often what irritated the Pharisees was when Jesus did miracles – on the Sabbath! If a situation was a “life or death” emergency, a Sabbath deed or miracle was in order. But, if it was not a “life or death” situation, a Sabbath deed or miracle was regarded as an evil rebellion against God.

In your readings about the Pharisees note they never saw God at work in anything Jesus did. There were occasions when the gathered group praised God for the happening (see Matthew 9:8; 15:31; Luke 5:26; 7:16). However, the Pharisees saw only something evil or dangerous in what Jesus did. Never did they sincerely declare, “This can be explained only by God being present in this man!”

Rather than point Jewish people and proselytes to Jesus’ words and deeds, the Pharisees tried to blind people to considering God’s presence in Jesus. They saw nothing in Jesus’ deeds that pointed them (or the Jewish people!) to God. They heard nothing in Jesus’ words that pointed them (or the Jewish people!) to God. They simply could not see God in Jesus! When the Pharisees declared Jesus’ power to cast out demons came from Beelzebub, included in Jesus’ response was this statement: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Jesus said, “You cannot explain me unless you understand that God is in the active process of showing you the kingdom of God.”

The Pharisee’s did not see God’s kingdom revealed in anything Jesus said or did! To them, he was a threat to God’s kingdom [Israel], not one who revealed God’s kingdom!

Not only did they fail to note God’s presence in Jesus, but they wanted no other Jew or proselyte to see God’s presence in Jesus. To them, to see God’s presence in Jesus was deception! Israel was God’s kingdom – not something Jesus said or revealed!

The Pharisees’ failure to see God’s presence in Jesus coupled with their determination to blind others to God’s presence in Jesus constituted hypocrisy. Why? God did reveal Himself in Jesus! God used Jesus to reveal His kingdom! God’s rule in people’s lives was understood in Jesus’ teachings!

This is the frightening truth: to distort God’s intent by misusing God’s message was (and is!) hypocrisy! To say, “Thus says the Lord” to give authority to a perspective that does not represent God’s intent or God’s values is to practice hypocrisy. The Pharisees powerfully represent all people who use God’s word to declare their own [not God’s] intent and perspective.

The Pharisee’s said God concerns were found in traditional details. Jesus said God’s concerns are found in heart responses. The Pharisee’s said God’s concerns in purity issues were focused in external behavior. Jesus said God’s concerns in purity issues are focused in the person’s inner motivations. Internal purity is reflected in external behavior. What a physical body does in external acts is meaningless unless those acts are motivated by a heart the belongs to God.

Thought Questions:

  1. What did the Pharisee’s never see in Jesus or His teachings? Why?
  2. According to Jesus’ emphasis, what is hypocrisy?
  3. Draw a contrast between Jesus’ emphasis and the Pharisees’ emphasis.