Last month, I was discussing with a fellow-student of the Bible Matthew 23 which contains the “7 Woes or Curses” uttered by Christ, publicly judging or condemning the false-teachers who ruled Jerusalem in His time. Which of the two (judging or condemning) applies, assuming there is a difference? For we could argue that the Lord was “not condemning them” but merely “rebuking or correcting” them and giving them a chance to repent. Granted.
Most people would equate “judging” with “condemning”, that is, passing a verdict of guilt upon a person or, in effect, acting as court judge by rendering a final sentence or punishment for someone’s offense. “Go to hell!” or “Damn you!” – whether spoken out loud or implied by one’s actions or words – seem to echo in their minds for those “judged” or “condemned”. Their usual response then is: Thou shall not judge! Or, the more friendly approach: We should not impose our opinions or beliefs on others.
Religion, then, becomes the merry-go-round that it is of people going nowhere because they think they are headed somewhere, until they finally listen to the Truth and get down on the ground and walk the long and lonely path to life. People avoid rocking the boat within their group or with other groups for fear of hurting feelings of people or ostracizing them for their opinions or behavior, in spite of the fact that these people hurt or endanger themselves and others by their actions.
Judging can involve merely stating a fact that a person, based on a specific law or decree, has violated that law and will receive the punishment for the offense which the authority, a human or divine court, will impose in the end. It may have the force of a condemnation, especially if done in public; however, it is the duty and task of any person, teacher, parent, friend or even “enemy”, to seek redress or to help a person reform. “Repent of your sins” ends this line of reasoning. Christ spoke thus to those He believed were humble and teachable. It takes His wisdom, as well, for us to know when people are proud, un-teachable or, therefore, beyond rebuke.
Often, the common stance taken by many believers with respect to false teachers or leaders and those who preach a patently-unbiblical or distorted gospel takes a diplomatic or non-confrontational approach aimed at convincing people of their errors. However, pointing out people’s errors already requires “judging” or weighing their beliefs and measuring them with the revealed Truth.
Hence, since we are duty-bound to contend for our faith and point out people’s errors, our job often ends – or has already ended – when we see how such Pharisee-bred teachers have already raised themselves above the plain teachings of Christ and promote their own discounted or dysfunctional gospel. Certainly, each one must first judge whether he or she holds the Truth and then believe, act and judge accordingly. For we will all stand at the bar of judgment. Before it comes, however, our duty is to judge righteously. What the Lord forbade was to pass unrighteous judgment; that is, being guilty of the judgment one renders upon others. “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Do not judge if you are as sinful as the other person. Can a blind doctor cure another person’s cataract?
Nevertheless, the case of Christ and the Pharisees may have been quite extraordinary. Or was it? Yes, Christ had just entered Jerusalem with a show of People Power and, as we know, in the name and the power of the Father in Heaven. He was declaring war against the whole religious system and its leaders that had in their clutches the nation of Judah and, in extension, Israel. Moreover, He was declaring war against Satan who was about to put to death the Son of God for the sake of all humanity. Yes, that was a one-of-a-kind and momentous event indeed.
But, the real issue is this: Were the Pharisees one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence or a continuing menace to society and God’s dealings with the world? Have we ever had events in history before and after Christ of such encounters with false teachers or wicked “ministers of God” who exploited people and persecuted or killed those who opposed them? You can bet your high school diploma there were! False teachers existed then and they still do today. They may not be as brash or arrogant; but they do exist and can easily be pointed out using a few effective hacks any believer can learn to apply.
But beware: These people are experts at deception and can easily hypnotize or swindle the simple and unwary to sell their souls to their wicked master. The Pharisees were, in reality, replacement Israelites or fake descendants of Jacob who took over the Temple and introduced another form of Moses’ Law through the Talmud, and in effect, taught human traditions that became the final rule of conduct and not the word of God, as Christ also said in another encounter. And, they remain in power through many other forms of religions or faith-systems everywhere. Hence, judging is a vital tool for any person to determine his or her own spiritual destiny in the midst of all this confusion.
But are we at all qualified – that is, should we do a replay of the Lord’s 7-woes condemnation of false teachers today? Should we also bring two more witnesses in the person of the repentant Ninevites and the righteous Queen of the South, in a way, to pre-empt the judgment and to complete the three-witnesses-establish-the-guilt pronouncement on Pharisees and their modern descendants? (Matt 12:42) Or should we try to talk down terrorists as well with our theology or hermeneutics in the hope of convincing them to mend their thoughts and their ways?
When the Lord told those false teachers (verse 12) ”he who humbles himself will be exalted and he who exalts himself shall be humbled”, was he referring to a future judgment when the haughty will be humbled (that is, condemned AND punished) or was He already declaring a judgment on those people, RIGHT THEN AND THERE, that they were being condemned AND deserving of the punishment already AS THEY WERE? That is, was the Lord rendering judgment that was effective at that moment as well as in the future, He being Lord and Judge? In short, His 7 woes (Greek ouai, for Alas!) meant certain or impending doom upon those people.
For the sins of those people, as well as the sins of everyone else, were and are the particular and the only basis of the coming judgment upon them and upon us all. Sins are done in the body, in the present; but their fruits of offense or evil effects reach to the future, to eternity. Christ, in addition, knew the hearts of those Pharisees and He would not have spoken those words if there was any hope in their ever repenting. They were the same persons who plotted and delivered Him to die on the cross — and the same ones who tried to cover up His resurrection afterward. We would think, in our naiveté, that they still had a good bone in their bodies. Or were they ripe for burning in hell-fire, as the Lord had decided at that time? For so it appears that way.
Yes, Christ’s death gave hope to all repentant sinners. But were not His rebukes, woes or curses also His warnings for them to turn back, as well as His own vain attempt at saving Himself from dying on the cross? Would He have cursed them at all if He knew they would realize their mistakes, weep like babies and hug Him as their Messiah, instead of forcing the Romans to crucify Him? Those Pharisees died in their sins, that is, they were already “dead in their sins” and “condemned in the sight of God”. Christ’s words were mere affirmations of the coming judgment they would surely suffer. No other people in history ever had a more tragic spiritual destiny than those who heard the Son of God render them their coming judgment to their faces while they lived in the flesh. And so would all of those who refuse to turn back.
Prophets and martyrs died in the hands of wicked religious teachers and rulers throughout history. Whether it was the Lord or His servants declaring the warning or judgment, the same principle applies. We are all dead in our sins, unless we humble ourselves and repent NOW. We are to judge righteously according to the Word of Truth NOW as well. Otherwise, we fail to fulfill our prophetic role as believers who should be reigning and judging with Christ the household of God NOW, NOT TOMORROW. And as Paul said, how shall those who are outside of the Kingdom stand in the judgment to come? Either we STAND TODAY or NEVER
The Pharisees, in reality, were not in the Kingdom, for Christ said they “did not enter themselves and even prevented others to enter the Kingdom”. False teachers, likewise, do not belong to the Kingdom of God; otherwise, they would not be speaking lies and false doctrines. And, sadly, those who follow them fall in the same ditch with those blind guides. Now, we can understand why the anger of Christ against those people reached the highest decibels in divine indignation even before the appointed Judgment Day.
Ask yourself this: Would He be less angry at those Pharisees when the last day comes? Would we expect Him to “lose His temper” and tone down His voice by then? Would He be as gentle to them as He was to the little children who followed and cheered Him on the streets of Jerusalem? Did He not warn that anyone who led such a child astray would have been better off tying a rock with a rope around his neck and throwing himself into the sea? Would we excuse that as allegorical exaggeration or a plain warning, disguised as a morbid metaphor, to scare a sinner to repent? Either way, the final outcome is the same: death as judgment for violators. Pedophiles and their ilk, beware!
Before you forgive or even consider others as being sincere in their religiosity or their own faith-systems, ask yourself whether you should be judging the thoughts and actions of people according to the teachings and examples of Christ or not. Yes, He said He “did not come to Judge but to save sinners.” Today, He still saves sinners who humble themselves. But He is also, and still, coming again to finally judge all humans who ever lived. And His judgments then will not be different from His judgments today and in the future. His mercy and His justice remain the same.
Summary of the 7 Woes against Scribes and Pharisees:
These words of Christ may seem harsh or unkind words to say to people today who prop themselves up as teachers of the Gospel; but these all come from the Lord and anyone worthy of His calling and His salvation must learn to understand and use them in determining what people really are and what they deserve to hear, if we dare follow the example of the Lord. Otherwise, we will also be judged for neglecting to do our duty as His ambassadors or heralds.
Thus, the Lord said of the Pharisees, Scribes and Lawyers:
- They were NOT in the kingdom and prevented others from entering as well. These people had never understood or accepted the Truth and cannot, therefore, teach the Truth as it is. Beware of them!
- They were “twice sons of hell” as their converts. You know teachers by their students – their faults, vices, attitudes, deeds and pursuits in life are their seeds and fruits.
- They “swore by the gold” more than “the temple” itself – selective or opportunistic worshipers boasting of their good religious works but failing to fulfill genuine spiritual service. When money becomes the primary basis of transactions in religious matters, beware!
- They valued tithes (offerings) more than justice, mercy and faith; that is, they neglected the more important things. These religious leaders fill their coffers with the contributions of the poor to support their luxurious life while the poor languish in their poverty.
- They loved to clean the outside of things but neglected purifying the condition of their inner being – “full of extortion and self-indulgence”. How can there be real transformation among those teachers and their followers when they think only of their own pleasures and selfish ends?
- They presented a false outward appearance of righteousness but neglected the purity of their souls – “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness”. They are experts in propaganda and deception and deceive millions to be moral through their fake or shallow religiosity or outward piety. We know who these immoral guides are because their immoral or fleshly deeds follow them to the courts, no matter how they try to hide them.
- They showed outward respect to the prophets and the righteous by building tombs and monuments but were actually murderous descendants of the prophet-killers. Yes, they have money to build vain and expensive structures and monuments of the apostles (and their false gods or idols), thus, “killing” the spirit (or message) of those holy and faithful messengers by turning them into graven images the Lord had gravely forbidden to the Israelites in the beginning. They even justify their idolatry and rebellious spirit by housing their treasures in majestic cathedrals and basilicas which, compared to Solomon’s Temple, are mere shanties. And what did Christ say about the temple? All these will be thrown down to the ground. Judgment was also rendered even on the Temple by His mouth and His word – and the declaration came 70 years later. What better way to put those false teachers and rulers in their proper place than to destroy their pride in their undeserved erstwhile dwelling-place of God?
God had departed the Temple long before that. The one they rebuilt and continue to rebuild (after every judgment of God) no longer represents God but what He abhors. And what the modern Scribes and Pharisees have endeavored to rebuild, in whatever forms of worship structures or systems, are the ashes of the Phoenix that will someday finally burn never to rise again. Why do people still prefer to enter these places consigned to burn in intense fire someday? Because they fail to appreciate what God and the Son of God had actually done to humble those who exalt themselves. Words may seem harsh to the ears. Wait till you see the tongues of fire eat up your own precious wealth that separates you from God.
Christ ends His judgments with the statement: All these things will come upon this generation. WILL COME, NOT PERHAPS. NO IFS, NO BUTS. Hence, His judgments, woes or curses were not mere warnings but a foretelling of the final judgment of those people and those who followed them. Thus, we have clearly proven our conclusion that Christ’s words were not mere warnings but the actual passing of judgment upon those people – in their ears and their faces.
The most exciting and, decidedly, the most challenging and difficult moments are the final stages or “end-times” of any activity. School final exams, the final episodes of a TV series, the last two minutes of a game, the final dash to the finish-line or the final words of a sentenced convict are some of the examples. The time to make peace with God’s real enemies may be or may have been over, as the spiritual warfare also reaches its final stages. By now, we should all know who truly serve and love God among the many groups or people we find in our midst. We cannot leave the ultimate decision to anyone else, except ourselves, as we are guided by the Word of Truth from Christ Himself and not the claims or teachings of any other person, no matter how much they claim to be His messengers.
Our own final, personal judgment will be based upon our own appreciation and comprehension of the Gospel of Christ. He spoke to ordinary folks and to little children. He also taught doctors, teachers and rulers, declaring the Truth without fear and without reservation. Today, He speaks the same message to each one of us. Being the Son of God, He has made sure His message remains pure and effective and readable and available in your own dialect or language. Read it in a book, on your tablet or google it in your phone. His unadulterated, unstained and unbiased Truth is free for anyone to savor and benefit from for the salvation of one’s soul. Your life is so precious to be surrendered to those who want nothing but to fill their coffers with gold or satisfy their greed for power, their lust for riches and their lust for pride, preeminence and dominance.
It is so easy to recognize these people. Simply follow what Christ said: They speak things they do not do themselves. So, do what they teach; not what they do. Moreover, they are easy to figure out because the titles that Christ Himself had forbidden people to use, they now use shamelessly: Father, Rabbi and Master or Lord – titles only the Son of God deserves to use. (One may use such words in the proper context, such as referring to one’s physical father, boss or school-teacher. But to use it as a religious title or even as a mere entitlement over others smacks of arrogance, as the Lord had already clearly declared. Anyone or any group who insists on using such titles deserves more than a smack on the mouth from the Lord. We can only say, “The Lord rebuke you!”).
Can we be more obvious than this? If we cannot judge these simple things wisely, we do not deserve to be called sincere or honest believers of the Word of Truth. Beyond saying these words, the final judgment will come from the Lord when the time comes.
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