The Seven Woes Of Jesus


In Matthew 23:13-36 we find some of the fiercest words ever spoken by Jesus, the text contains which is commonly called, ‘The Seven Woes.’ The seven woes are judgements against the so-called spiritual leaders of the time who failed in their leadership roles and responsibilities. I’m sure as we go through this study we will learn from the many mistakes that these ‘spiritual leaders’ continued to make, at least I pray we do.

The First Woe

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.’ Matthew 23:13

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were ‘hypocrites’, in other words, they were stage actors under an assumed character, they pretended to be someone or something, but they weren’t.

The teachers of the law were scribes who caused a whole load of trouble for others because of the way they interpreted the Law, there were much like our politicians of today, always debating with others, always debating among themselves. Much like some Christians today, they believed that they were the only ones who correctly interpreted the Scriptures.

As hard as it is to believe, these religious ‘hard-liners’ got a lot of respect from the people because of the great responsibility they had for sticking to the letter of law and interpretations of it. They also got a lot of respect because most of them were members of the Sanhedrin, Matthew 22:35 / Mark 14:43 / Mark 14:53 / Luke 22:66 / Acts 4:5.

Their main problem was they were so obsessed with the details of the Law, they missed the simplicity of the Law, Matthew 23:23, they got to the stage where they demanded that their interpretation was right, and their opinion carried more weight than anyone else’s opinion and it got to the point where the joy was just sucked out of the people who simply wanted to serve God.

The teachers of the law, along with the Pharisees should have recognised Christ as the Messiah, they should have freely accepted Him as the Son of God, but they didn’t, they did the opposite, they hated Him, they rejected Him and done everything within their power to get rid of Him. But what they were guiltier of was turning the people against Jesus, instead of turning the people towards Jesus and it’s in this way they were ‘shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven’.

We could say they were the ‘spiritual bouncers’ who were closing the door in people’s faces. Honest, sincere people who wanted to serve God and do His will were being prevented from entering in.

Imagine being told that if you go through a certain door, you will witness the most beautiful place you’ve ever been, you’ll experience the most wonderful things you’ve ever had! But as you approach the door, the ‘spiritual bouncers’ are present, and you ask them, what it’s like inside and they say, ‘we don’t know we’ve never been inside!’

This is what Jesus is saying, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees are stopping people from entering the kingdom of God but they themselves have never been inside. It’s’ obvious that anyone who truly has entered the kingdom of God and seen its beauty and experienced the love of God would never stop people from entering but encourage people to enter. There’s no sitting on the fence here, people are either for Christ or against Him.

The Second Woe

‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and make long prayers just for show. This is why you will receive a harsher punishment.’ Matthew 23:14

I’m sure I don’t need to point out that not all translations have this verse included in the text, this isn’t a problem though because the actual text itself is in perfect harmony with other texts of Jesus when He speaks to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, Mark 12:40 / Luke 20:47.

No one knows how they went about ‘devouring widow’s houses’, but maybe when we think of the parable which Jesus taught about ‘Unjust Judge’ in Luke 18:1-8 we can get a glimpse of what they were doing. Maybe they were charging a huge amount of money when some widows were seeking justice, maybe they abused the widow’s hospitality and took advantage of their kind generosity, Mark 12:41-44.

There’s nothing more impressive in some people’s eyes than a long-winded prayer, even today this still happens where Christians treat prayer like a sermon and they remind God of what He wrote in His Word.

This was all for show, Matthew 5:5, it was about impressing the people around them, ‘look how spiritual I am, look how connected to God I am!’

Because of their hypocrisy, Jesus tells them they will be judged and punished with a harsher punishment, why? As ‘God’s spiritual leaders’, they should have known better, they were full of arrogance, and pride, and they pretended to be something they weren’t.

And if this isn’t a lesson for the churches’ spiritual leaders today, I don’t know what is. We need to be careful that opinion and tradition don’t become law, 1 Corinthians 4:6, we need to be careful how we treat the venerable among us, James 1:27, and more importantly, we should pretend to be something we’re not.

The Third Woe

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. ‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.’ Matthew 23:15-22

There’s no mistaking the point here, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were going everywhere not to win people over to God but to win people over to their traditions and interpretations of the law. They wanted to convert people to their word instead of God’s Word.

In Bible times there were two kinds of converts, there were those who were circumcised and accepted only parts of Judaism and then there were those who were converts to righteousness who became true converts, Matthew 8:5.

We must remember that there was nothing wrong with someone converting to Judaism, the problem was they were converting people to their way of thinking about what the law actually says, in other words, it was all about converting people to the traditions of the fathers, Mark 7:6-9 / Acts 26:5.

By the time Jesus came on the scene, it was no longer about God’s laws but about the traditions and this is what they were converting the Gentiles to, they converted them to a bunch of rules and regulations. No wonder Jesus rebukes them and tells them that they, ‘make coverts twice as much a child of hell as they are.’

In other words, Jesus is telling them they are children of the devil because their religion isn’t God’s religion. Their whole theology was off base and so Jesus points out just how off base they really are. He calls them ‘blind guides’ and ‘blind fools’, why?

They believed that a person’s oath was binding if he swore by the gold of the temple or gift at the altar, the problem was that they actually taught the people that if a person swore by the temple or altar, then that oath wasn’t binding, no wonder they are hypocrites.

I Can’t See The Forest For The Trees!

Someone once said, ‘I can’t see the forest for the trees’, the scribes and Pharisees were much like that when it came to the temple and its contents. The temple is much greater than the gold ornaments within it and the altar is of more significance than the sacrificial gifts laid upon it. In their theology they had this back to front, they thought that the gold was more important than the temple and the gifts were more important than the altar.

In other words, their priorities were all wrong. When we lose focus on what really matters, we end up debating amongst ourselves over matters of opinion, opinions are good and healthy, but they must never become law, and we must strive to separate the two.


Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, that’s a fact but why did Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? Whatever the reason for him coming at has to be an opinion because the Bible doesn’t tell us.

The Fourth Woe

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.’ Mathew 23:23-24

Notice that Jesus says that giving a tenth of their spices was right, the problem was these religious leaders were only emphasising on the giving because they were living off the contributions of the people. And so, in doing so, they totally neglected the more important matters of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness.

This was all about the outward appearance of religion and nothing to do with being holy within our hearts. I guess if they focused so much on their outward appearance, they wouldn’t have to deal with the conditions of their own hearts.

Jesus is basically saying that there are some aspects of the law which are more important than others, justice, mercy and faithfulness are more important in the law than tithing mint, dill and cumin. They shouldn’t have emphasised the lesser principles of the law in order to neglect the more important principles of the law.

Remember David!

Matthew 12:1-8 / 1 Samuel 21:1-6 / Leviticus 24:5-9.

By the time Jesus came on the scene if the Jews found any kind of small insect in a glass of milk or water, it would have been filtered out and here Jesus contrasts this with the picture of straining a gnat out of a glass of water with swallowing a camel.

This is probably foreign to us today because when we find any kind of insect in our drinks we would probably throw the entire contents of the glass out, but in the days when milk was expensive, we can understand why they would just remove the insect and carry on drinking.

The Fifth Woe

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.’ Matthew 23:25-26

Once again, we see that they focused a lot on their ceremonial washing of cups and dishes, Mark 7:1-9 and here Jesus points out their hypocrisy. He tells them that they were greedy because they are extorting from the people what they actually put in those containers and in doing so they became self-indulgence.

The point is clear again, the ceremonial purification of the cups and dishes were more important to them than how they acquired the contents in the first place. In other words, even though they sinfully obtained and ate the contents, they thought they could still be justified because they cleaned the cups and dishes.

The Pharisees did this kind of thing over and over again, they robbed widows and orphans, dealt deceitfully, defrauded in money-changing, and dishonoured moral precepts of the Law.

The Sixth Woe

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’ Matthew 23:27-28

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees liked to keep their tombs in order and looking good to the eye and here Jesus uses this practice to show their hypocrisy. They whitewashed graves in order to make them more easily visible and to prevent people from stepping on one of them accidentally or unknowingly.

On the outside, they appeared to be righteous because of their ‘religious’ behaviour, but inwardly their hearts were full of hypocrisy. Although they thought they thought they were alive, Jesus tells them they were very much dead, they were dead spiritually and morally.

The Seventh Woe

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.’ And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So, you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!’ Matthew 23:29-32

In the seventh and final woe, we find Jesus calling them hypocrites once again, I’m sure this must have enraged them by this time and I’m sure the plot to kill Jesus was already underway, in fact, it’s less than a week away they would eventually have their way and have Him crucified.

Here Jesus continues with the theme of tombs, they were building beautiful tombs and wonderfully decorated graves. The problem was they were doing all this as if they were showing a lot of respect for the righteous prophets of God but at the same time they were claiming to be superior to those dead prophets, this is shown because they murdered them, Matthew 21:33-41. They were at the point of no return.

‘You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 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.’ Matthew 23:33-34

Jesus calls them ‘snakes and vipers’, this is metaphorical, but don’t miss the point, snakes and vipers were the most detestable creatures which roamed the ground, some of which were full of poison. Jesus tells them they won’t escape being condemned to hell which is the place of eternal punishment.

Notice that Jesus says He’s ‘sending them prophets and sages and teachers,’ the KJV says, these are prophets, wise men and scribes, they were the ones who would be killed, crucified, flogged and chased all over the place.

We only have to turn to the Book of Acts to see this being fulfilled, we read about Stephen being stoned to death, Acts 7:54- 60. We read about the apostles being flogged and put in prison, Acts 12:4-5 / Acts 16:22-24. I’m sure when Jesus mentioned that word, ‘crucify’, they would be thinking that that’s what they plan to do to Him.

‘And so, upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.’ Matthew 23:35

Now we know all about the account of Cain murdering his brother Abel, Genesis 4:8 and we have an account of the death of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 but we have no record of the murdering of ‘Zechariah the son of Berekiah’.

Whatever and whoever Jesus is referring to here seems to indicate that they themselves, that is, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were responsible for murdering him. Just because we have no record of this event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, Matthew 26:1-4, Jesus said it did and He openly said it happened when they were around, in their lifetime and openly blamed them for it.

It’s as though Jesus started from the first murder, Abel and went straight to the last murder, Zechariah, before He Himself was to be murdered by them.

As I mentioned earlier the teachers of the law and the Pharisees outwardly showed great respect for God’s prophets who stood up for righteousness, but inwardly they were murderers. In fact, even as they were listening to Jesus they were plotting to murder Him. Remember it wasn’t the Romans who were against Jesus, it was these self-righteous leaders.

‘Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.’ Matthew 23:36

There’s no mistaking what Jesus is saying here, the whole Jewish nation was going to be held accountable, and as we know destruction came upon Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed and so the Jewish nation along with its religion, came to an end in A.D. 70, Matthew 24:1-35.


Someone once said, ‘the church is full of hypocrites, but there’s always room for one more’.

I understand what they’re trying to say here, in terms of there being no one ‘perfect’ within the Lord’s church. The problem with that phrase is that almost implies that hypocrisy is accepted within the Lord’s church, but after reading Jesus’ word here in Mathew 22, we know this clearly isn’t the case.

The Bible is full of warnings about living a double life, and we’re told over and over again that we must practice what we preach. If people are to see Jesus in us, Galatians 2:20, and our lives are to reflect His glory, 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, and our lives are to display the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23, then we have to come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no room for a hypocrite in the Lord’s church.

I’m not saying everyone should be ‘perfect’ but what I am saying is that we all should be striving to do our best, to live right for God.