“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.” — Matthew 23:13-22.
A. For failing to save others (v.13) – They were teachers and religious leaders. They ought to have been practitioners of God’s word and influenced the people by their lives. They failed to truly show the way to the kingdom of heaven, and refused to go in themselves. Through their doctrines they had rendered the commandments of God of no effect (Matthew 15:3-6). Their hearts were far removed from God (Matthew 15:7-9) and this was reflected in their teaching.
B. Misusing Religion for Money and Prestige (v.14) – They used religion to take advantage of widows, and impress others by pretentious long prayers. Jesus says that their condemnation would be greater because of their hypocrisy.
C. Making People Worse than themselves (v.15) – The Pharisees did not make people better, but made them worse! They would have known the word of God to some degree even though they lacked spiritual insight. They emphasized on the traditions of men, rather than upon God’s word. By neglecting God’s word, they would have starved those who received their teachings who became “twice as much a son of hell” as themselves!
D. Making Distinctions Where God has not – They made fine distinctions between the types of oaths one could swear. They had developed an extensive system of valid and invalid oaths, using God’s name (see Matt.5:33-37; James 5:12). It was a way to allow lying while appearing religious (see Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 23:21).
“to win one proselyte” (v.15) — There were two kinds of Jewish converts — (1) those who were circumcised, self-baptized and offered a sacrifice were called “proselytes of the gate”, and (2) those who just regularly attended the synagogue were called “God-fearers.”
“you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (v.15) — A shocking statement from Jesus Who is offended by their self-righteous legalism. This reinforced His statement of Matt. 5:20. They made the proselyte worse by their false teachings and a likely candidate for hell and eternal judgement. Jesus’ love for fallen humanity did not prevent Him from addressing the awful consequences of rejecting His words and works (see Matthew 25:46).
“blind guides” (v.16) — This is a sarcastic metaphor for the religious leaders.
“swears by” (16-22) — Jesus ridicules their false system of valid and invalid oaths and exposes their inherent absurdities.