With Jesus’ rebuke fully primed, the Son of God launches his assault on the religious elites, attacking first the teachings and practices that “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” and ending with a rebuke of their religious pride. The elites had not only imposed God’s commands on the people, but their traditions as well. They added more weight to an already impossible standard that they never kept. Next he attacked their traveling shows that won converts who became so dedicated to their hypocrisy that they would end up twice zealous for their wicked system as they were.
In the last five woes, Jesus attacks the elite’s ignorance of the law and their hypocrisy. More worried about the gold of the temple and the altar, the Pharisees tip their hand as to where the object of their true desire lied when they condemned anyone who swore by the gold of these sacred objects rather than the objects themselves. From there Jesus attacks the elite’s duplicity. Though they gave money to the church, they neglected the greater matters of justice and mercy; and though they carefully observed every rite and ritual that made them appear outwardly clean, they willfully neglected the dirt and filth of their hearts. Finally, Jesus condemns the elite’s religious parades and festivals that have them so self-deceived and so self-congratulating each other that they actually believed that they were the second coming of an Isaiah or Elijah, prepared and ready to receive the Messiah and his kingdom when he came – all while they’re stealing widows houses, persecuting those who demanded justice, neglecting the masses and oppressing the poor.
Throughout the Scriptures, we are warned of the religious pride that we see so perfected in these professionals. It’s so easy to keep up the outward shows of religion while neglecting to offer help to a brother or sister in need, a neighbor or even a family member. Here Jesus demands a religion that champions broken hearts and humbled minds and that values care and outreach to society’s most vulnerable members for the sake of spreading the Gospel. The subtle undertow of Christ’s rebuke is that God longs for hearts that are filled with faith, that depend on him fully so that they might carry out his character that is seen best in his undeserved mercy and love.