Prior to Jesus denouncing the Pharisees for their misguided ideology and theology, He clearly declared to the multitude that the Pharisees had totally missed the mark relative to the meaning of righteousness.
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
Jesus later admonished His disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees.
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Luke 12:1b
Then Jesus gave very specific examples of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and summarily denounced them.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.” Matthew 23:14
The Pharisees took advantage of widows by telling them they would serve God better by giving their inheritance from their husbands to the temple service.
“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!” Matthew 23:16-17
The gold was tangible and measurable while no man could be held accountable for the temple and therefore the oath was not binding. This tactic of the Pharisees provided the opportunity to make oaths or promises that they had no intention of honoring.
Jesus had admonished His followers not to make oaths at all.
“But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:34-37
Jesus then denounced the Pharisees for misguided priorities.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:23-24
The Pharisees focused on the visible and minor aspects of the law. They did well to do those things, but they should not have avoided the major less visible spirit of the law.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish…”
The Pharisees were again concerned with what was visible so as to be considered religious. Their real motives and thoughts were hidden. They were pretentious.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly…Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28
Then Jesus really condemned the Pharisees for being as lawless as those who killed the prophets sent to Israel before them.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets’.” Matthew 23:29-30
“Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” Matthew 23:31
But perhaps the greatest condemnation of the Pharisees was that their message was preventing others from learning the truth.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Matthew 23:13
Note: A must read for all who love their children and grandchildren. ‘The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent’. Erwin W. Lutzer