The eight woes to the religious leaders (Continued).
3. (15) The religious leaders led their converts on the wrong path.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
You travel land and sea to win one proselyte: Their zeal in evangelism did not prove that they were right with God. These religious leaders went to great lengths to win others but they brought people to darkness, not light.
Paul had the same idea in Romans 10:2 where he observed that some of the Jewish people of his day had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
“The word proselyte is an English transliteration of a Greek word proselutos, which means one who has approached or drawn near. The proselyte was the full convert who had accepted the ceremonial law and circumcision and who had become in the fullest sense a Jew.” (Barclay)
“A sizable body of scholarship convincingly argues that the first century A.D. till the Fall of Jerusalem marks the most remarkable period of Jewish missionary zeal and corresponding success.” (Carson)
When he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves: Through their great energy they could win some, but to no lasting good to those who were won.
“Their business was not to turn men from sin unto God, but merely to convert them to an opinion, if they had once got them into their church, so as they could make their markets of them; never regarding their souls more.” (Poole)
“Jesus did not criticize the fact of the Pharisees’ extensive missionary effort but its results … they ‘out-Phariseed’ the Pharisees.” (Carson)
4. (16-22) The religious leaders made false and deceptive oaths.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.”
Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing: Out of obedience to God’s word they refused to swear by the name of God (as commanded in Exodus 20:7). Yet they constructed an elaborate system of oaths, some of which were binding and some were not. It was a way of making a promise while keeping fingers crossed behind one’s back.
“To the Jew an oath was absolutely binding, so long as it was a binding oath. Broadly speaking, a binding oath was an oath which definitely and without equivocation employed the name of God; such an oath must be kept, no matter what the cost. Any other oath might be legitimately broken.” (Barclay)
For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Here Jesus emphasized that the altar itself is greater than the sacrifice made upon it. The altar is the established meeting place between God and man, and our altar is Jesus Himself and His work on the cross.
Having never been separated from God the Father by sin, Jesus Himself needed no altar. He had a free and glorious relationship with His Father. It was the freedom of Adam before the fall – or even more so, because Jesus had a history of relationship with His Father that Adam did not know.
It is worthy to think of the greatness of the Old Testament altar:
– The purpose of the altar is significant: it sanctified what was put upon it, and it sustained and bore up the sacrifice until it was consumed.
– The location of the altar is significant: it shows that we come to Jesus and His atoning work first.
– The shape of the altar is significant: it is square and perfectly proportioned, stable and unshakeable.
– The horns of the altar are significant: they show the power of God inherent in Jesus.
– The position of the altar is significant: it is not raised, but is low enough for all to approach; it has no steps that would reveal human flesh.
– The appearance of the altar is significant: it is smeared with the blood of sacrifice.
– The material of the altar is significant: it is brass, forged in the fire and able to endure the judgment of the flames.
He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it: Jesus reminded them that every oath is binding and God holds the oath-maker to account, even if they excuse themselves.