Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
The religious leaders paid attention to little things (like tithing from their garden spices) but missed the most important things (like justice, mercy and faithfulness). Everything in the Bible is equally inspired (2 Timothy 3:16), but not everything is equally important. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25) is more important than Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20).
Whenever we give too much attention to a less important passage, we make the same mistake as the religious leaders. A proper reading of God’s word will give the right amount of emphasis to any passage. We should do everything God requires, of course, but we should give the most attention to the most important parts.
Matthew 23:27-28 You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Jewish tombs were often painted white, to honor the dead, but also to guard against contamination. [A]nyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16), wrote Moses. Tombs were beautiful outwardly, but were smelly and rotten inside. That was Jesus’ assessment of the Pharisees: outwardly impressive, but inwardly corrupt.
This is Jesus at his most judgmental. He isn’t merely judging actions, but also motives. This seems to contradict his earlier teaching, Do not judge, or you too will be judged (Matthew 7:1).
But it is not wrong for Jesus to judge, because Jesus really is the judge. Some will hear him say, Well done, good and faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21). Others will hear him say, throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30). But everyone will give an account to Jesus Christ, because Jesus is the judge.
Matthew 23:33 You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
The word translated hell in this verse is Gehenna. Gehenna was a valley outside Jerusalem which may have been used as a garbage dump. During the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh, it was a place to burn children, as a sacrifice to idols (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6).
When Jesus wanted a metaphor for hell, Gehenna was an obvious choice. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into [Gehenna] (Matthew 5:30). Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in [Gehenna] (Matthew 10:28), he said.
These are some of the hardest words in the Bible, but they are meant to awaken us to the fact of eternal suffering, and lead us to Christ for salvation. Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else in the Bible, because he did not want people to go there.
A book came out several years ago titled, The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Chapter titles include: How to Escape From a Giant Octopus. How to Survive if Your Parachute Doesn’t Open. How to Stop a Car With No Brakes. How to Survive a Plummeting Elevator. How to Survive Being Buried Alive. How to Survive an Airplane Crash. And, How to Survive if Lost in the Jungle.
The only chapter missing is What to do if You Wake Up in Hell, because there is nothing you can do if you wake up in hell. It is the ultimate, eternal, everlasting, never-ending, worst case scenario. That is why the Apostle Paul said now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Matthew 23:37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Jesus was using imagery from the book of Psalms. [H]ide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:8). [U]nder his wings you will find refuge (Psalm 91:4). And, I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 57:1). Like chicks beneath their mother’s wings, we find refuge close to God.
A farmer’s field caught fire, and when he surveyed the damage, he noticed one of his hens had perished in the flames. He turned it over with his foot, and three little chicks scurried from beneath her body.
If you think of Jesus bearing God’s wrath on the cross, you can imagine taking shelter beneath his outstretched arms. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16), wrote John.
Reflection and Review
How do we know which parts of the Bible are most important?
Why did Jesus teach so much about hell?
How is Jesus like a mother hen?