REFERRING to Jesus’ actions the previous day, the chief priests and older men of the people ask him: “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” The Master Teacher confounds them by his answer, and he relates three vivid illustrations—two of them about a vineyard and one about a marriage feast—that expose just how wicked his opposers are. Angered by what they hear, the religious leaders want to seize him. But they fear the crowds, who consider Jesus to be a prophet. —Matthew 21:23–22:46.
Since the scribes and the Pharisees profess to teach God’s Law, Jesus now urges his listeners: “All the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform.” (Matthew 23:1-3) What a powerful public denunciation! But Jesus is not through with them. This is his last day at the temple, and he boldly issues a series of exposés—one after another like rolling thunder.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Jesus declares six times. They are such because, as he explains, they shut up the Kingdom of the heavens before men, not permitting those on their way in to go in. These hypocrites traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte, only to make him a subject for eternal annihilation. In effect, they cleanse “the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of plunder and immoderateness” in that their inner rottenness and putrefaction are hidden behind an outward display of piety. —Matthew 23:13-15, 23-31.
“Serpents, offspring of vipers,” he says, “how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” Yes, Jesus is telling them that for pursuing their wicked course, they will suffer everlasting destruction. (Matthew 23:16-22, 33)
Jesus now leaves the temple. In the fading afternoon sun, he and his apostles climb the Mount of Olives. While sitting there, Jesus gives the prophecy about the destruction of the temple and the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things. The significance of these prophetic words reaches down to our time. —Matthew 24:1-14; 26:1, 2.
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