We are in the holy week. On Sunday, Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, fulfilling the ancient prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. On Monday, Jesus entered the Temple and chased away the corrupt money lenders. He left the city to Bethany and spent the night there. On Tuesday, He is back again in the temple addressing the religious leaders of Israel. It is His last public speech before the crucifixion. Lord knows that He is about to die on Friday. He saved the most ferocious words that He ever uttered on this earth for His final public speech.
In Matthew 23, starting from v13 through v36, what we encounter is a severe condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees from the very lips of Jesus. No passage in the Bible is more biting, more pointed, and more grave than this pronouncement of Christ upon the false religious teachers.
It was not the first time Jesus condemned and warned about false teachers; He did that in His first sermon on the Mount (Ch.7). He told the people to beware of the false prophets who dressed in wolves’ clothing and destroy the flock. His first sermon was a warning about them, and His last sermon was a warning about them. From v13 He turns from the crowd which He was warning, to false religious leaders. He confronted them for their hypocrisy in the face before a packed crowd in the temple court.
Jesus pronounced seven divine damnations on the false spiritual leaders for seven reasons.
They shut the entrance to the kingdom (v13)
They say they have the keys to the kingdom. But, they refuse themselves to enter the kingdom and block the way to the kingdom for others. Pope Francis says, “Mary is not only the bridge joining us to God; she is more. She is the road that God traveled to reach us, and the road that we must travel in order to reach him.” Here is a false spiritual leader who won’t enter the kingdom, and who keeps people out of the kingdom. They preach a false gospel. The kingdom of heaven is the sphere of salvation. The false gospel cannot save anyone. People are searching for the kingdom, searching for God, searching for answers in life, but they shut the door in their faces by preaching a lie. They work for the hell.
They corrupt people in their false religion (v15)
They are active in promoting their brand of religion to others, but they were drawing them into an empty religion that had rejected the only Savior. They pursue converts and make them sons of hell. They reach out to the mass with their heresy on television, on the radio, in their books. They seduce people with mystical phenomena, mind-capturing music, bogus claims of miracles, signs, and wonders. They offer health, wealth, and prosperity to people instead of the message of eternal life.
They undermine the truth by their own interpretations (v16-22)
False systems are filled with lies and untruths. They make promises which cannot be delivered. They pride themselves on their spiritual sight and ability to guide people. They have built a system where they could lie. They counter the truth of God declaring anathemas for those who would oppose their teaching. For example, the charismatic movement resists theology, they resist doctrinal truths in the scripture. They use scripture as proof-text and twist it to fit to their liking. They are the blind guides because they live under the illusion that they are the guides to the blind. In the end, they both are going to fall into a ditch.
They fail to understand scripture (v23-24)
They are very good at perverting and interpreting the scripture out of context to feed their bellies. They are very good at counting out the ‘seeds’, and very bad at the weightier elements of the divine law -justice, mercy, and faith (cf. Micah 6:8). They abuse scripture, put heavy burdens on people. I remember one preacher telling us to give one-tenth of everything; when you go to the bank and withdraw money, pick the first bills from the pile as tithing. Ridiculous! Like Pharisees, tithing mint, dill, cumin! False religious leaders get wrapped up in other matters rather than in the real spiritual matters. They are careful about tithing but allow hypocrisy, dishonesty, greed, stockpile and self-worship into their lives.
They are extortioners (v25-26)
They look clean outside, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. Some ministries appear very religious outside, but the whole system is based on making merchandise out of people. Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Robert Tilton, Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker, Jesse Duplantis, Eddie Long, are only a handful of extortionists in the big sea. They are greedy robbers who steal the souls and the money of everybody they could touch by their deception. These false teachers become rich and wealthy with their false piety, and they have the heart of a thief.
They are Spiritual counterfeit (v27-28)
They are not what they claim. They appear beautiful outwardly but inwardly they are full of dead bones and all uncleanness. They outwardly appear righteous but inwardly they are full of hypocrisy and disregard for the law of God. There is no shortage of fallen heroes in the church in recent times. Ravi Zacharias, the famous Christian apologist was not the man many thought he was. There are many like him, using their spiritual authorities and ministerial resources to sexually prey on women and children. They are not only sexual predators but also spiritual abusers who twist the Christian faith to justify their actions and silence their victims.
They are false pretenders (v29-32)
They pose themselves much better than others. They are so consumed with their own lying deceit that they don’t even see the reality of the fact that they were lying. They pretend to be kind but have a murderous attitude towards God’s truth and the messengers of the truth.
False teachers have been always a huge threat to the Christian church. These wolves fleece the flock rather than feeding them; they scatter the flock rather than gathering them. Jesus called them hypocrites, sons of hell, fools, blind guides, snakes, and vipers – that’s very strong language. False spiritual leaders are condemned by God in the same way today. We must warn the flock to move away from the influence of these evil men in the same way with the same kind of strong language.