Woe to Israel and its Leaders!

In Matthew 23, the former tax collector recorded Jesus’ condemnation of Israel’s religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees. In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus uses the interjection, “Woe!” According to Frieberg’s lexicon, it is a particle “expressing extreme displeasure and calling for retributive pain on someone or something.” Eight times in this chapter Jesus pronounces a “woe” upon the scribes and Pharisees because of their sins. Perhaps, the last woe recorded in the chapter (vs.29) indicates their greatest sin. Like their fathers in previous generations, who killed the prophets and the righteous, they possess this same murderous attitude. Jesus told them in verse 34, “I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city.”
The judgment for which Jesus called in his “Woes!” came not only upon the religious leaders of Israel, but the whole nation because if its unbelief (vs. 37; cp. Luke 19:41-44). Included in that judgment, the temple itself would be destroyed as Jesus made clear in Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:2 and Luke 21:6. Jesus forecasted the temple’s destruction in verse 38, “See! Your house is left to you desolate.” As God had previously used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish Israel, this time it would be the Romans in A.D. 70.
As application for our lives, we must avoid the sins of the scribes and Pharisees which precipitated these eight woes of Jesus. Paul warned similarly, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience” (Col 3:5-6).