The Blindness that Jesus Didn’t Heal
Robert Wurtz II
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:33-36 ESV)
Our passage follows immediately after “seven woes” that Jesus pronounced against many of the Scribes and Pharisees. It’s a foretaste of the book of Revelation when seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, and seven thunders revealed judgment upon the kingdoms of this world. Yet the most sobering thing of all is our Lord’s question at the end of verse 33, “how will you escape being sentenced to hell?”
A cursory reading of Matthew 23 reveals two closely related groups who abused their position by exalting and enriching themselves at the expense of God’s people. The first criticism Jesus brings is that they preach, but they don’t practice what they preach. They operate as if preaching and teaching alone make a person righteous before God. It does not. To preach and not practice what is preached dishonors God and incites unbelievers to blaspheme God’s holy name (Romans 2:23-24).
Second, Jesus said that they do all their deeds to be seen of others (Matthew 23:5). They utilized their clothing for this purpose — wearing big phylacteries and long tzitzit (tassels) to appear more godly than the common people. They loved being honored at banquets, sitting in the “best seats” in the synagogue, being greeted in the marketplace, and holding honorific titles such as rabbi (teacher) or pater (father). Jesus revealed that these titles actually belonged to God the Father and Him! (Matthew 23:9-10).
Thirdly, leading up to the seven woes, Jesus reveals the secret to “greatness.” It isn’t the type of exaltation we find in the world because the world is modeled after Lucifer, who was cast out of Heaven for exalting himself (Isaiah 14:14-15). What is it? “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12) This passage is axiomatic and applies today as much as it did then.
Jesus directs the first woe at those leaders who make it difficult for others to come to Christ. Presumably, this is caused by their hypocrisy.
He directs the second woe at those who “devour widows’ houses” rather than visiting them and “pray in order to be seen praying” rather than praying in secret and keeping it to themselves. These two things aggravate their sin before God and increase their condemnation (Matthew 23:14).
Jesus pronounces the third woe, saying that when they manage to gain a convert, they make them twice the son of hell they are (Matthew 23:15). As a result, their followers end up as exaggerated versions of themselves.
He then directs the fourth woe at the scribes for being “blind guides,” who taught that swearing by the temple was non-binding, but swearing by the gold in the temple was binding. (Matthew 23:18)They were blind usurpers who had no consciousness of God’s presence or authority.
Jesus announces the fifth woe upon those who tithe mint, dill, and cumin, ignoring justice, mercy, and faithfulness. (Matthew 23:23) They view tithing as the end-all of religious worship and acceptance with God. It is not. There are greater matters of concern. He follows this point, saying they “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” Their views are irrational, and they don’t see it.
He then directs the sixth woe saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25 ESV). The world calls this behavior being “fake.” They pretend to be holy (clean), but they are motivated by covetousness (greed), which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
Jesus directs the seventh and final woe at the scribes and Pharisees who built and decorated the tombs of the prophets killed by the ancient Israelites, suggesting that they wouldn’t have participated in their killing had they lived then. This was false because they hated the great prophet John the Baptist and the greatest prophet, Jesus. It was hypocrisy and lies. They did it for a show but earned severe judgment in the process. (Matthew 23:30-32)
Jesus addressed them, “You serpents, you brood of vipers (…).” The serpents and vipers comment deals with their inward state. Despite all their religious exercise, they had the Serpent’s (Satan) spirit operating in them and didn’t even know it (John 8:44-45). Their ambitions, attitude, and hypocritical lifestyle revealed that they were the offspring of Lucifer as revealed in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.
He then asked the question, “(…) how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” Understand that Hell was prepared for Satan and his followers (Matthew 25:41). The question implies that it will be very hard for them to escape. Why? Because they were willingly blind to their condition. When Jesus exposed blindness five times in Matthew 23, it was blindness He wouldn’t heal. Why? Because they didn’t want to see the truth. They would rather get angry than repent. They created their own self-exalting religion within Judaism with their own methods of worship and adherence. They had no intention of giving all that up. Therefore, those who claimed to see were the ones genuinely blind (John 9:39).
In modern times, it’s not uncommon to find religious leaders following in the footsteps of the scribes and Pharisees. People are just as vulnerable today as they were 2000 years ago. For these modern-day “serpents and vipers,” Christianity is a means of enriching and exalting themselves. Why? Because they are motivated by the Serpent who craves the honor that belongs only to God. I can almost hear Jesus ask them, “(…) how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” The only way of escape is to humble themselves, renounce the behavior, and repent before God.