Six Woes

Luke 11: 37-54

DIG: Where does Jesus go to dinner? What surprises the Pharisee? How does the Lord turn the tables on His host? What is the basic point in verses 39-41? In your own words, what is the meaning of the first three woes in verses 42-44? Given their view of tombs and the dead, what is the significance of the unmarked graves to the Pharisees in verse 44? What is the point of these criticisms? In your own words, what is the meaning of the last three woes in verses 46-52? In the sixth woe what does Yeshua mean by the key of knowledge? What is the main point of these accusations directed at the experts in the Torah? How does this dinner with a Pharisee compare with a previous one? What was the difference between the two?

REFLECT: Typically, Messiah is thought of as “meek and mild.” What is the significance of this passage’s presentation of Yeshua for you? Of the first three woes directed at the Pharisees, which one could the Lord be directing at you? Why? Of the last three woes directed at the experts in the Torah, which one might you be guilty of? Why? Is there any way you would like your life to change in light of what you have read here? Why or why not? What specifically would you like to see happen this week? Do you have someone who can tell you something very difficult that you need to hear?

When Christ had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited Him to eat with him. Once again (see Ef – Jesus Anointed by a Woman Who Led a Sinful Life) we see a Pharisee inviting Yeshua to eat with him for the purpose of entrapping Him. So Messiah went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was amazed when he noticed that Jesus did not follow the Oral Law (see Ei – The Oral Law) first wash before the meal (Luke 11:37-38).

Then Yeshua condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They were overly concerned with external appearances. While keeping a kosher kitchen, they were quite careful. You clean the outside of the cup and dish. The word kosher itself implies cleanliness, both ritually and literally. This was so important that there is an entire tractate dedicated to utensils and dietary laws (Tractate Kelim). They kept a kosher kitchen, but unkosher actions had crept inside their lives. But inside they were full of greed and wickedness. The obvious violations of the spirit of the Torah lead Christ to call the Pharisees foolish! They should have been just as concerned with cleansing the inside as well as the outside. Did not the One who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you – be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:39-41). One indication that they were clean on the inside would be their willingness to give materially to the poor. This didn’t mean that their giving would atone for their sins, but that it would demonstrate a proper relationship with the Torah and to ADONAI.

Jesus then addressed Himself particularly to the Pharisees of the group by castigating them at first with three general woes. This initial grouping was concerned with the lesser demands of the Torah and not the greater demands that we see in the last grouping of three woes. For example, nothing was supposed to be eaten unless it was first tithed.

1. Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of even the smallest income from your herb gardens, thinking that by such an observance they were fulfilling the Torah. But Christ said: You deliberately neglect justice because you are indifferent to the poor and pass them by. Messiah revealed that the Torah demanded love for ADONAI and justice toward the poor. When the Pharisees concentrated on the Oral Law they did not recognize the LORD’s right to them and all they possessed (see the practice of declaring their possessions Corban in Fs – Why Do Your Disciples Break the Tradition of the Elders). Consequently, you also neglect the love for God. This made them hypocrites (Luke 12:1). You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone (Luke 11:42). Yeshua did not condemn the tithe, but approved of it; however, the sin of the Pharisees was in neglecting the weightier matters of the inward state of the heart.1024

2. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important semi-circular seats facing the congregation in the synagogues. Even at meals they observed how they were seated in the order of “worthiness” at the table (Mattityahu 23:6). And filled with pride, they wanted to be honored by men and even liked to be saluted in the marketplaces as a sign of a respectful greeting (Luke 11:43). This was in sharp contrast to the character of Moshe, whom they professed to respect, and who was characterized by ADONAI as being more humble than anyone on earth (Numbers 12:3).1025

3. Woe to you, because you are like unmarked tombs, which people walk over without knowing it (Luke 11:44). They defile without any warning because they are not white washed. Any Jew who came into contact with a dead body or tomb (Numbers 9:6-10, 19:16) would be defiled and would have to undergo an extensive threefold cleansing ritual. There would be a period of waiting where the defilement had stopped (Numbers 19:11-14); then a period of cleansing (Leviticus 15:1-33); and finally a sacrifice would be made (see my commentary on Exodus Fe – The Burnt Offering). Isra’el had three major pilgrim festivals (Shalosh Regalim) - Passover (Pesach), Weeks (Shavu’ot), and Booths (Sukkot). During the second Temple period all the raised tombs around the Holy City of Jerusalem would be carefully whitewashed on the outside to make sure no pilgrims would accidently defile themselves by coming into contact with them and, as a result of the period of the seven day waiting period, be unable to join in the festival, including the offering of sacrifices. So here, Yeshua accused the Pharisees of defiling people spiritually because of their hypocrisy and false teaching of the Oral Law. The Pharisees feared defilement from ritual uncleanness, but Messiah pointed out that their greed, pride and wickedness defiled the entire nation.

It was at this point that Jesus was interrupted. One of the experts in the Torah broke in. Remembering in what contempt some of the learned held the ignorant bigotry of the Pharisees, we can understand that he might have listened with secret enjoyment to their rebuke . But, as he rightly remarked: Rabbi, when you say these things, you insult us also (Luke 11:45 CJB). By not merely attacking their practice, but also their principles, the whole system of the tradition of the elders (Mattityahu 15:2), which they represented, was condemned. And so the Lord assuredly meant it to be offensive.1026

Tradition has not only led Judaism down the wrong path into false doctrine, it has done the same thing with Catholicism. By the time Christ was born, the tradition of the elders, or the Oral Law, had been declared of equal authority with the Torah by the Great Sanhedrin; and in the Catholic Church, the Counsel of Trent declared tradition of equal authority with the Bible in 1545.

Protestantism and Roman Catholicism agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. However, they differ widely in regard to the place that it is to have in the life of the Church. Protestantism holds that the Bible alone is the authoritative and sufficient rule of faith and practice. But Romanism holds that the Bible must be supplemented by a great body of tradition consisting of 14 or 15 apocryphal books or portions of books equivalent to about two-thirds the volume of the New Testament, the voluminous writings of the Greek and Latin church fathers, and a huge collection of church council pronouncements and papal decrees as of equal value and authority – a veritable library in itself.

It is very evident that this difference of opinion concerning the authoritative basis of the Church is bound to have radical and far-reaching effects. The age long controversy between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism comes to a head regarding the question of authority. This is the basic difference between the two. And it is in its use of tradition that both Judaism and Catholicism find the authority for its destructive doctrines.

We should not reject all custom, but rather make careful use of it in so far as it relates to Scripture. We should, for example, treat with respect and study with care the confessions and council pronouncements of the various churches, particularly those of the ancient Church and of Reformation days. We should also give careful attention to the confessions and council decision of present day churches, scrutinizing most carefully, of course, those of the denomination to which we belong.

But no church should have the right to formulate new doctrine or to make decisions contrary to the teaching of the sixty-six books of the Bible. The history of the universal Church shows all too clearly that church leaders and church councils can and do make mistakes, some of them monumental. Consequently, their decisions should have no authority except as they are based on Scripture.

In professing to interpret the Bible in light of tradition, the Roman Church in reality places tradition above the Bible (as Judaism and Mormonism does), so that the Roman Church is governed, not by the Bible, but by the church itself that sets up the traditions and says what they mean. Theoretically, the Roman Church accepts the Bible, but in practice she does not leave her members free to follow it.

Therefore, in the final analysis, Roman Catholic tradition nullifies the Word of God. She maintains that alongside the written Word of God there is also an unwritten word, an oral tradition if you will, that was handed down generation after generation by word of mouth (is this not eerily similar to the Jewish Oral Law?). It takes precedence over the written Word and interprets it. The pope, as God’s personal representative on the earth, can legislate for things outside of the Bible as new situations arise.

The Council of Trent, the most authoritative of all Roman councils, and the one of greatest historical significance, in the year 1546, declared that the Word of God is contained both in the Bible and in tradition. Thus, it declared that the two are of equal authority, and it is the duty of every Roman Catholic to give them equal worship and respect. Don’t get me wrong. I believe there are believers who are truly saved within the Catholic Church; however, they are saved in spite of her tradition, and not because of it.1027

4. Woe to you, supposed experts in the Torah, because you load people down with burdens of the Oral Law that they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them (Luke 11:46). This is the yoke of pharisaic Judaism of which Christ had spoken when He invited those who were weary and burdened to come to Him (Matthew 11:28). The 365 prohibitions and the 248 commandments that the Pharisees came up with was impossible enough, but then they added about 1,500 other Oral Laws for each and every one of the 613 prohibitions and commandments of the Torah. The Pharisees provided no help to bear that burden. It was an impossible, hopeless, crushing weight.

5. Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute” (Luke 11:47-49). Their rejection of the prophets lead to the rejection of the Messiah. Everything the prophets had to say about Jesus had been said by that time. That particular generation would be required to pay for their rejection with their own blood in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple by the Roman general Titus and his army. The rejection of Yeshua and the rejection of the prophets cannot be separated. That generation could not claim to affirm the prophets without affirming Jesus Christ.

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah the high priest, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary (Second Chronicles 24:20-22). Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all (Luke 11:50-51). This generation had identified themselves with murderers and were under divine judgment. If any of them had argued that they were not identifying themselves with their fathers but were honoring those whom their fathers had wrongly put to death, they would have been asked why they did not observe all that the prophets commanded them to do. The prophets had also promised the coming of Messiah. By their rejecting Christ’s words, this generation had identified themselves with their forefathers who had murdered the prophets. They were just as guilty. Jesus will repeat this later (see Jd – Seven Woes on the Torah-teachers and Pharisees), with more woes at that time.1028

6. Woe to you supposed experts in the Torah, because you have taken away the key that leads to knowledge, or the LORD’s plan of salvation. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering. In other words, they had hidden the truth from those who depended on them for knowledge (Luke 11:52). The Oral Law did not, and does not reveal ADONAI, nor the demands that God’s holiness makes on those who walk in fellowship with Him. Rather, they obscured Ha’Shem and His demands. Christ had come to offer light, but the Pharisees and Torah-teachers had bound the people in darkness.

When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Torah began to oppose Him fiercely and to besiege Him with questions, waiting to catch Him in something He might say (Luke 11:53-54). This expression is used in Acts 23:21 of people waiting in ambush to kill Rabbi Sha’ul. The apostate Jewish leaders lost themselves emotionally trying to get Him to say something that would violate either the Torah or the Oral Law so that they could bring a legal charge against Him. It was obvious that there could be no reconciliation between the Nazarene and pharisaic Judaism.

It may surprise you that Jesus accepted the Pharisee’s invitation to eat with him. The Lord and the Pharisees always seemed to be in opposition to one another; disagreements and arguments were a regular part of their interaction. Messiah knew that the Pharisee invited Christ for the specific purpose of setting a theological trap, so he could discover some way that the Galilean Rabbi violated the Oral Law. So why would Yeshua accept such an invitation and walk into the lion’s den?

When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount He said: You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” (see Dm – You Have Heard It Said: Love Your Neighbor). Christ cared enough about that man to confront him with his sin? Do you have someone like that in your life? Someone who cares enough about you to risk their friendship? Do you know what that person is called? That person is called a friend, and Jesus was a friend to prostitutes and sinners. Those Pharisees and Torah-teachers were sinners, and there was no one else in the whole world that could confront them with their sin like the Master. This might seem tough, too tough for your taste maybe, but loving even so.

If you are the parent of a teenager you understand what I am talking about. Sometime tough equals love, and letting someone sin up a storm without any accountability is . . . what? You fill in the blank. But it isn’t love. Here, Jesus was practicing what He had been preaching. He was loving His enemy, and no doubt, praying for this hateful Pharisee who persecuted Him. In fact, the Son of Righteousness would soon be slaughtered like a lamb in the next few months.


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