The Eight Woes :: by Grant Phillips

In Matthew 23 Jesus delivers a scathing judgment toward the religious leaders of His day. When reading what Jesus had to say to them, it is clearly seen just how corrupt they had become. If the religious leaders of today changed seats with those then, would the message be the same? Let’s take a look.

Matthew 23

1Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

2Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:

3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

4For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Today’s religious leaders are “supposed” to be better trained in God’s Word, in order that they might teach and guide, by word and deed, those who are under their charge. Jesus says to do what they say (from the Scriptures), but do not do what they do, because they don’t walk the talk. It seems to me that the leaders of Jesus’ day generally went in the direction of extreme legalism, and the leaders of our day travel the road of extreme liberalism. That simply means that they both use God’s Word for their own advancement. Just stop and think of the number of religious leaders over the last few years who have been caught in one scandal after another, some even criminal. How many of our religious leaders have praised Jesus out of one side of their mouth, while “sleeping around,” some even with their own sex? How many have abused their own children and other folk’s children, sexually and in other ways? How many have become thieves with nice suits because of the greed in their corrupt hearts? So these religious leaders of today, and then, say “do this or do that, because this is what the Word says,” but they ignore its message.


5But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

There is no lack of egotism among many of today’s leaders. Jesus calls it “pride”. They parade their “superior” knowledge and look so sharp in their snappy “church” clothes. They get on stage and strut their stuff, so full of themselves, adorned in their jewelry, shiny shoes, and wrinkleless suits; they can hardly wait for the expected compliments from their underlings who listen with rapt attention.


The scribes and Pharisees bound portions of Scripture in leather pouches and tied them to their head and arms, instead of following the Lord’s intentions by allowing His Word to change their hearts and renew their minds. They also adorned their garments, so others would know how important they were. Many of today’s leaders follow suit by trying to impress others of their importance, whether it be from their education or position in the church.


6And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

These are the guys and gals who are at the head table for the church dinners, and sit up and above everyone else, around the pulpit, holding their place of importance, while they look down on the spiritually starving sheep. While everyone “sitting out there” looks upon them, they alternate their religious look from the Cheshire cat smile, to the sad face of the funeral director. They have the religious look and the religious words (with a complimentary package of soulful voice fluctuations) down pat.


7And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

I’ve noticed over the years that the number of religious leaders who place “Dr.” before their name has grown substantially. Others use “Reverend” or “Right Reverend.” Now obviously, that isn’t to say that all who do this are choking on their own pride, but it sure makes you wonder, especially when they emphasize their title in a spiritual manner. One world renowned religious leader in particular has always had my respect in that he, to my knowledge, has never used any title before his name. He even seemed to brush it off. That tells me he is a humble man. By the way, a Rabbi was a teacher, and “doctor” means teacher in Latin. Many I’ve seen aren’t fit to be called students, let alone teachers.

(Jesus is not saying to not address your medical doctor as “Dr.” or your male parent as “father.” [see verse 9 below] He is referring to using these titles as a distinctive means to place yourself above others spiritually.)


9And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

One cultic group that has been around a long time, and is familiar to all, always calls their leaders “father”. This should not be. As Jesus said, one is our Father (if we are a Christian), and He is in Heaven.


10Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

11But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

The scribes and Pharisees of today love to “lord it over” other people. “They’re smarter. They’re in the know. They’ve got the title. They’re Jesus’ buddy. They have special revelations. They see visions. They have dreams. They talk to God.” Actually, they’re full of gas (hot air or fumes from hell). Don’t get around them. They may explode and take you with them. These are the self-righteous, pseudo Christian, hot air, hand in your pocket, feel good, in your face, do-gooders.


12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

When listening to today’s scribes and Pharisees, it takes about two seconds to determine if these hypocrites are exalting themselves or the Lord Jesus. Keep in mind, just because they may use Jesus’ name, and “praise” Him, doesn’t mean they do so with a humble heart. Satan knows all the maneuvers and teaches his protégés well. This is another important reason to know the Scriptures well, and especially the Author. It is easier to discern when one is truly promoting Jesus or himself.


13But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

This is the first in a series of “woes” Jesus pronounces upon these hypocrites (scribes and Pharisees). Jesus is simply saying to them, and those of today, that He is the only door to the Father, and that they and those who follow them are refusing the only means of salvation. These false leaders are headed to hell, and taking others with them. (Galatians 1:6-7)


14Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

The second woe: Severe punishment awaits those who con poor folk out of their only financial means of survival. Some even have them sign over their property or stocks, bonds and insurance and even strive to be included in their wills. It breaks my heart and makes me quite angry when hearing of especially the elderly being sucked into these charlatans’ greed machine. Those who fit this mold have no conscience in taking food right off the table from those who simply want to support the work of Jesus, but instead get taken in by wolves. To top it off, knowing they have swindled the innocent, they then put themselves on display with long pretentious prayers. I’m glad that Jesus added, “Therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” They deserve every spark and cinder from hell.


15Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Woe number three: Today these same false religious leaders can reach the world by television, internet, short-wave radio, and even personal travel. These spawn of Satan travel the globe either electronically and/or personally to convert others to their devilish gospel, so they can keep the payments up on their mansions, cars, boats, etc. Those who follow them then become just like them, headed for hell because they accepted the lie over the Truth. Some religious leaders I am thinking of now have become even more self-centered and greedy than their mentors. Instead of being like flowers that draw bees, they are like manure that draws flies.


16Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

17Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?

18And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.

19Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?

20Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.

21And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.

22And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

Woe number four: Jesus is basically telling these stuff-shirts, of yesteryear and today, that they do not have their priorities in order. They are trying to skirt their vows and responsibilities by placing importance in the wrong area.

For example, in Mark 3:1-6 is an account of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Since He “broke the law of the Sabbath” (according to them), the scribes and Pharisees wanted to kill Him. Now here’s the rub; (1) God made the Sabbath. (2) God (Jesus) sanctified the Sabbath. The Sabbath did not sanctify Him.

When checking out Luke 6:1, we find that Jesus’ disciples were hungry. Being hungry, they picked corn from the fields on a Sabbath, and ate. Guess who didn’t like that?

One more: Let’s say that in the year 2011, Mr. Smith works six ten-hour days a week from Monday through Saturday. When he returns from the Sunday (the Lord’s Day) morning worship service with his family, and after they have eaten, he goes outside and mows his lawn. Unfortunately, Rev. and Mrs. Goody-Two-Shoes drive by from church and witness Mr. Smith mowing his lawn on Sunday. “Alas! We’ll have to church him!” they cry in their most pious tone they can muster.

These snobs worship what God has ordained instead of God. It is God that makes it holy. Mr. Smith had his priorities in order. They did not.


23Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Woe number five: Most religious leaders do not even know what tithing is, but in order to keep the funds coming in, they stand ignorantly on Malachi 3:8. Others know what it is, but continue their false teaching for the same reason. False religious leaders will themselves tithe, right down to the last penny, but fail to provide justice, mercy, and faith, which are the important things. It’s called legalism.

These leaders are absorbed in ritualism. They will say, “Let us pray for Mrs. Jones who as no food,” instead of taking Mrs. Jones food.

(Should Christians financially support Christ’s work? Yes. Read 2 Corinthians 8:1 and following and 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. 10% is usually a copout.)


24Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

This verse is saying that the scribes and Pharisees would strain their water so they would not swallow a gnat, but then they would swallow a camel (per Jesus). These are the nitpickers. They just pick, pick, pick at all the little legalistic rules they think are going to get them in Heaven, and then miss the ride there, the “ride” being Jesus.

I’ve seen this crowd for years. “Your hair is too long. Your dress is too short. Don’t wear make-up. In other words; “do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that.” They are so blinded by their concept of the Law, they miss the heart of the Law.


25Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Woe number six: Greed and self-indulgence consumed the scribes and Pharisees. Can it not be seen today also? You bet it can.


26Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

At best, the 21st century scribes and Pharisees need to repent as prodigal sons. Otherwise, they need to be born again in Jesus.


27Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

28Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Woe number seven: Today’s false religious leaders appear righteous, but in this case anyway, clothes don’t make the man. They look sharp. They know their parts in the play. They have the “act” down. They know the words. Outwardly they appear to be a man or woman of God, but inwardly they are of their father the Devil.


29Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

30And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

31Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.

32Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

33Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

34Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:

35That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

36Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

Woe number eight: These religious leaders hallow the church buildings and writings of Christ’s followers of the past who paid the ultimate price for the Gospel, but if they were alive today, would stone those same martyrs because of the Gospel that would accuse them of their hellish deeds. Many of today’s religious leaders would be among the scribes and Pharisees with stones in hand.


37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

38Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

39For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

If the scribes and Pharisees had turned to Christ, they would be in Heaven now, but, as a whole, they did not. If those same type leaders of today would just turn to Christ, their souls would be saved. Unless that happens, they will spend eternity with one of their mentors, Caiaphas.


What is the best thing we could get from this message of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees? “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)


Grant Phillips