The Pharisees were hypocrites and the Lord spared nothing in giving them a scathing rebuke in this chapter. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he’s not; someone who pretends to be virtuous and pious. The Lord saw through their outward show and cut them to their heart when he exposed them. Here’s what he disclosed about their hypocrisy.
1. Their religious hypocrisy kept their followers out of the kingdom of heaven.
God had given Israel the law with its ordinances and statutes and testimonies and precepts. The Jews were to follow what God said. The promise for their obedience was a peaceful reign with their Messiah, in their own land, forever. The Pharisees pretended to be authorities on the law and heirs to this kingdom. To the contrary, their tradition went against the law and caused them to completely miss their Messiah and hence the kingdom (Mk 7). Their knowledge of the law should have directed them to accept Jesus Christ (Gal 3:24). Instead, these hypocrites killed him.
Since the Pharisees were the recognized religious leaders, their followers went right along with them when they cried for the Lord to be crucified (Matt 27:20-23). Consequently, not only did the Pharisees miss the kingdom of heaven but so did their followers who were entering in.
In cults, mainline denominations, Roman Catholicism, Islam, etc., the unsaved leaders in these religions have convinced their followers that their religions can save them. The poor fools who believe these hypocrites don’t find out until they are dead that these religions are wrong.
2. Their religious hypocrisy was used to steal widows’ property.
Religious systems need money and big religious systems need a lot of money. So, the best way to get it is to promise great things to people with lots of money. That way they’ll give it. Indulgences to get people out of purgatory were a great invention in the Catholic Church. No telling how many billions of dollars the church has raked in on that scheme.
The hypocritical Pharisees were very greedy for money. The Lord said that they were covetous (Lk 16:14). And once money became the main concern (1 Tim 6:10), the Pharisees were willing to do anything to get their hands on it. Widows were the most gullible targets and you can just picture these money hungry thieves drooling over their prey as they buttered up poor widows to get their assets or to be named in the will.
The hypocrisy of most religious broadcasters who preach incessantly on living by faith is too funny for words. Half of their airtime is spent begging for money since they know absolutely nothing about living by faith themselves. They want your money.
3. Their religious hypocrisy was displayed by long prayers.
Have you ever thought how long it takes to say the rosary and yet how little is accomplished when you are through (Matt 6:7-8)? Imagine being a Muslim and having to recite prayers five times a day. Or picture yourself as an Orthodox Jew reading prayers out of a book facing a wall. To what benefit is all of this piety. It avails nothing. God isn’t listening (Job 35:13).
The Pharisees taught that their lengthy ritualistic praying earned them favor with God. However, when Jesus rebuked them in Jn 8, he told them plainly that God wasn’t impressed. He called them children of the devil instead of children of Abraham and of God. Why such a reproof? Because they weren’t praying to God. They were praying for a pretense; they were pretending so that they could deceive their followers, particularly the ones with money.
4. Their religious hypocrisy damned them and their proselytes (new converts).
Because of their hypocrisy, the Pharisees were condemned to receive the “greater damnation.” That’s because the Pharisees knew they were lying to their followers. [Note: evidently, there are three degrees of punishment in eternity: hell (Job 26:6); greater damnation (here); and the lowest hell (Deut 32:22)].
And yet, the Pharisees weren’t content to keep their lying religion to themselves and their immediate followers. They wanted to control more people so they could get more money. So they spread out over sea and land.
The proselytes become two-fold more the children of hell than the Pharisees. Why? The answer is simple. The Pharisees know they are lying but the proselytes don’t (1 Ki 13:18). The proselytes are so convinced by the Pharisees’ religion that they will keep their religion even though a preacher comes along later and shows them the truth and points out their lies. The odds of a convert getting saved after being messed up by a religion are far worse than if he had had no religion at all.
The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, spread its religion throughout the world by the means of verse 15. Mission fields that are predominately Catholic (like Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, etc) are very hard fields, indeed. Most of the folks in those countries wind up in hell and very few get saved.
In the last century, the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been among the first missionaries to enter any country that had been formerly closed. Within ten years of their arrival, the work of Bible-believing missionaries is much harder because the field has been trampled by these cults. They are the cause of many who will wind up in hell certain that they were right and that Jesus was wrong. Charismatics with their signs and wonders and prosperity preaching are condemning countless souls worldwide, as well.