This is a question that I’ve asked myself a lot over the last few years. After all, the Pharisees generally meant well. And that’s not to say that every person that’s conservative is a Pharisee. Pharisaism is a hyper-conservatism. It is only obtained when the traditions become the law as we read in various examples. I’d like to take a look at some of the charges that Jesus brought against the Pharisees.
Mat 23:2-4 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: (3) All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. (4) For 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.
Many of the things that the Pharisees taught were true. And that’s an important fact to remember. The problem is that they often didn’t do as they taught.
Mat 23:5-7 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, (6) And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, (7) And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
The Pharisees love to have the approval of men. They can’t stand for people, especially other Pharisees, to not approve of their actions. It creates a pride as they all try to out Pharisee each other.
Mat 23:8-12 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. (9) And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. (10) Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. (11) But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. (12) And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
A lot of people take these passages as proof that we are not to have titles here on this Earth. They speak ill of denominations that use titles such as priest, reverend, etc. But if we stop there we don’t absorb the essence of what Jesus is telling us. We are all brothers and sisters. None of us is above or better than anyone else. We are to have a humble manner about us. Those who are Pharisees may not use titles, but they think that they are better than other Christians for many reasons (doctrine, knowledge, purer lifestyle, etc.).
Mat 23:13 But 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.
To me, this is one of the most interesting “Woes.” The Pharisees tell other people that they are not going to Heaven. And by their actions, they prevent people from going to Heaven, but they don’t enter into the Kingdom themselves. By continually trying to “guard” God’s Kingdom against corruption, they find themselves on the outside.
Mat 23:14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
We see here that Pharisees neglect the widows and they pray long prayers just to be heard. You can’t go into too many churches without hearing the latter. But what about the former? Have you checked in with the widows in your congregation lately to see if they needed anything? Or is that “someone else’s” job?
Mat 23:15 Woe 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.
When I think of this one I think of all of my friends (and I’ve done the same thing many times) that have sat down with people of other denominations and tried to “save” them. They go through a long drawn out process, only to make people who already claim Christ follow the traditions that they believe in.
Mat 23:16-24 Woe 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! (17) Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? (18) And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. (19) Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? (20) Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. (21) And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. (22) And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. (23) Woe 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. (24) Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Here Jesus points out the flaws in their logic. Pharisees divide things so finite that it’s laughable. Everyone uses faulty logic occasionally. But we really need to examine ourselves and make sure that we’re not swallowing camels.
Mat 23:25-28 Woe 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. (26) Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. (27) Woe 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. (28) Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Everyone likes to appear righteous. Especially at church the place that everyone else appears righteous. The Pharisees make a show about how righteous they are, but they’re still sinners like everyone else. Do we try to look like we’re acting right, giving no appearance of evil, but sin when no one is looking?
Mat 23:29-39 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, (30) And 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. (31) Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. (32) Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. (33) Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (34) Wherefore, 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: (35) That 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. (36) Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. (37) O 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! (38) Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. (39) For 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.
The last thing Jesus says about the Pharisees is that they don’t have a good sense of reality. They talk about how they would do things if the prophets lived in their generation. However, they had the chance and they crucified Christ. Modern day Pharisees often talk about what they would do if they were in Biblical times. However, they staunchly oppose anything that does not fit in with their traditions even if it comes from the Word of God.