What is the climax of the book of Matthew? It is, of course, the crucifixion. However, that’s from our perspective. If we were living during the time of Christ, walking around with the apostles, we would most assuredly think the climax of Jesus’ story was the triumphal entry in Matthew 21. After all, the prophesied Messiah is heralded into Jerusalem, lauded with praise, seemingly coming to take his rightful place on David’s throne (2 Sam 7, see also 22:42).
Sure, Matthew records the fact that Jesus repeatedly warns of his own suffering and death; but, after all, is he not the stone prophesied in Daniel 2:45 that crushed the statue representing the great world powers? Is he not coming to establish a new world order with Jerusalem at the center, the kingdom which will never be destroyed (Dan 2:44)?
Obviously, being on this side of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, not to mention the writings of the New Testament, we have greater clarity. While Jesus will do all of the things mentioned above, he just didn’t do it in his first coming. Thus, it is important to understand that if you were a first century Jew reading the gospels, and especially Matthew’s Gospel, everything that happens after the triumphal entry defies expectation
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people thought he might go to the palace, instead he went to the temple—and cleaned it out. The cleansing of the temple started the religious leaders challenging Jesus’ authority through a series of questions (21:23–22:46). After each question, “they were rebuffed by Jesus’ answers based on the Word of God. In the process, the inadequacy of their questions and responses was clearly seen. [As we step into chapter 23] Jesus turned to the crowd and His disciples to censure the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law with a series of “woes” upon them. They are stinging and revealing. The rejection of Jesus was now full-blown, yet He continued to express compassion for Jerusalem (23:37).” (Yarbrough, The Books of the Book)
Chapter 23 can be broken down into three clear sections:
(1)Warnings against the Behavior of the Jewish Leaders (23:1–12)
(2)Woes Decrying the Hypocrisy of the Jewish Leaders (23:13–36)
(3)Lament for the Coming Destruction of the Temple (23:37–39) (NAC)
One of my favorite quotes comes from the Duke, John Wayne, he said, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” That’s true wisdom. Life is going to be hard enough on its own, we don’t need to add to our grief through our own stupidity. Something that is supremely stupid, as we see in verses 1–12 is self-exaltation. Any glory you take is glory not given to God.
Verses 13–36 depict a series of eight “woes.” Each one is a harsh criticism of the religious leadership. It is also helpful to know that each “woe” corresponds to the beatitudes that open the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.
The beatitudes reflect the heart of God, the actions of the religious leaders in “keeping the law,” does not. This sweeping condemnation, however, grieves Jesus’ heart as he laments for Jerusalem’s coming destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D (37–39).
So how do we apply this? Simply put, live consistently with righteousness you have been given, for which Christ died. If Jesus had judged the world at the triumphal entry, no one would have been saved because he had not yet paid for sin. That was the great misunderstanding. However, on this side of salvation, we should take care to keep a right perspective of humility rather than self- promotion, and of God’s heart toward people rather than our own prejudice.
This warning served to give one more chance for the religious leaders to repent. Instead, they rejected Jesus. As you read this passage, realize that all of us are guilty of almost every charge, yet that guilt was paid for by Christ.
By: Tyler Short — Connections Associate