Why did Jesus utter the seven woes against the Scribes and Pharisees?

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Ignored the weightier matters

Jesus uttered the seven woes against Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-22) because of their sins against God and man. They confessed full allegiance to the Scriptures, but failed to live by its principles. Their good works involved a painstaking attention to ceremony and ritual requirements rather than to the “weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 9:13; 22:36; 23:23).

The religious leaders gave great weight to man-made laws and to the external forms of law keeping (Mark 7:3–13). But they ignored almost fully the true spirit of the law itself. They ignored love toward God and toward one’s fellow men (Matthew 22:37, 39). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had sought to expose their wrong teachings. He tried to restore the spirit of love to the people’s outward keeping of the law (Matthew 5:17–22).

Uplifted man-made traditions

The scribes and Pharisees were demanding taskmasters, but not burden bearers. These “heavy burdens” were not part of the laws of Moses, but of their own rabbinical tradition (Mark 7:1–13). These rabbinical requirements caused nothing but difficulty and discouragement to those who tried to bear them. The truth is that there was nothing whatsoever about God’s laws that brought sadness or tiredness. This was true only of the harshness of the man-made laws (Matthew 11:28–30).

The religious leaders seemed to forget that God sees the heart, and that if He should test their hearts, He might find nothing there that shows they were obedient to His law. Their obedience was only external (Matthew 23: 25, 26). Their way of life was regulated by what they expected people to think of them, more than by love for God (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Practiced hypocrisy

They sought places of honor at the synagogue and important functions to show their prominence in the community. And they wore Phylacteries and borders on their clothes to draw attention to their piety. They wanted to be called Rabbis to assume an authoritarian role in matters of theology. And they lived to be “seen of men” (Matthew 23 v. 5), apparently totally unaware of the fact that God could see their hearts and knew full well the hypocritical motives that provoked their outward religiousness.

The scribes and Pharisees had made it almost impossible for the honest in heart to find his path to salvation, first, by making religion a great burden (Matthew 23:4), and second, by their own hypocritical example (v. 3). Instead of enlightening the way of salvation, rabbinical tradition buried it that seekers could only be lost in the darkness (Mark 7:5–13).

And because they were spiritual leaders, their evil lives in God’s eyes were more inexcusable than the life of the common people. In the first place, they knew the law very well, and in the second place, their lives would be looked to by others as vindicating their own transgressions.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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