Read Matthew 21:23 - 23:39.This entire passage began with Jesus exercising His authority and clearing the temple of the money changers in 21:12-13. The chief priests and teachers of the law were furious because not only was Jesus claiming an authority they didn't think He had nor wanted Him to have because it would have placed Jesus over them. But they lost a source of revenue. So thus begins an extensive questioning of Jesus' authority and Jesus' response to the questions.
"By what authority are you doing these things? they asked. "And who gave you this authority?" NIV
So who were the chief priests and teachers of the law? Basically, they were the ones who performed the sacrifices in the temple and taught the religious laws to the men. The problem was that they were extremely strict about the adherence of the law externally, but internally, they did not abide by it. They had gained a power over the people that fed them more than serving God. By their hypocrisy, they were misleading the people of Israel and infuriating Jesus. They stood for everything He was against. He says we are to live as servants; they wanted to be served. He says we are to worship only one God; they wanted to be the object of the people's adoration. He said to love God first; they loved self more. And as religious authority figures, they were sending the people and the image of God down the wrong path.
Therefore, when they begin questioning Jesus in an attempt to trap Him, Jesus turns the tables on them. When they are unable to answer His question, He is not obligated to answer theirs. He then proceeds to mirror for them through parables what they have become and their future. But they don't learn. They continue to try to trap Him so they can have Him arrested. But His answers always throw them off.
By the end of Chapter 22 Jesus has exhausted the Pharisees and Sadducees questions. He had no reply they could argue with. Then in Chapter 23, He starts in on teaching the people about the religious leaders' hypocrisy and listing the seven woes against them. He ends His diatribe against the hypocrites with a passionate cry of his heart to the people of Israel.
The contrast presented here between the life Christ lived and the lives of the religious leaders is stark. It causes me to pause and look at my own life -- whose example do I reflect? Am I living as a servant to my God and to others? Or do I strive for power and position? Do I force others through my expectations to live by the letter of the law and then sin in my own heart? Am I living like a whitewashed tomb? Am I creating of religion of man's making or walking the path that God has designed?
Lord, I never want to live in a palace of religiosity, but a humble house of devotion. Help me to follow the law with both my actions and my heart, and to never lead anyone astray from the Truth. Keep me pure and holy for You alone, Father.
- Do further research on the different Jewish Sects - Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots.
- Why were the religious leaders and teachers so bent on having Jesus arrested?
- Study how Jesus answered their questions. What can we learn from His example about handling opposition? What techniques did He use? How did He use both knowledge and wisdom in answering them?
- List the contrasts between Jesus' life and teachings and those of the religious leaders. Is there anything in your life that does not line up with Christ's teachings and example?