Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. What is coming is a sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. We are now in the last week of Jesus’ life. His entry into Jerusalem, his final instructions to the crowds and to the disciples. Now he exposes the true character of the religious phonies – the hypocrites who pretended to speak for God.
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.
35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth. Matthew 23:33-35a
1. Identifying the Hypocrite, and Thus the Enemy. Jesus now reserves his harshest criticism for the phony religious leaders in Israel, the ones pretending to be and do God’s biding, but actually were tools of the devil to confuse the genuine seeker or pilgrim. Jesus introduces their hypocrisy as follows:
1a. They tell others to do what they are unwilling to do themselves.
1b. They burden others with tasks they are unwilling to do.
1c. They publically pretend to be religious, but it is all for show, never for go.
1d. They love positions and titles of honor, terms reserved only for God the Father.
2. Jesus summarizes their conduct as follows Matt 23:13-32):
3. No fence sitting! You can know a person by his conduct. Here Jesus finishes his excoriation of the Pharisees – brood of vipers, shedding of righteous blood, murderers. The path of the prophets is both a warning to the true follower of Jesus, and a guide to the real rather than the counterfeit.
Jesus had warned his disciples of this from the beginning of his ministry and the Beatitudes:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12.
Now the demands of discipleship and the test of devotion, for the disciples, is at hand. They will fail more tests than they pass in the next hours, with confusion and fear, but will now understand the message of the cross and the resurrection.