Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? Matthew 23:33
Some of the harshest words in the Scriptures come from the red letters of Jesus in the 23rd chapter of the gospel of Matthew. These gems of insult were reserved for the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees. He calls them, among other things: blind guides, fools, brood of snakes, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, murderers of the prophets, and children of hell. No wonder the religious rulers wanted to kill Jesus. He didn’t mince any words with these people, and these scathing criticisms were proclaimed within the hearing of the people who looked up to them. That’s one of the reasons He was so cruel and public in His denunciation of these religious leaders — He wanted to break their control over the people. He wanted to set the people free from religious bondage. You “crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (23:4), and “you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (2:13).
Jesus had no condemnation for sinners, only for those we would call today, the clergy. Jesus has no toleration for hypocrisy. With Jesus, you are either poor in spirit and blessed, or proud in spirit and cursed. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between.
We need to keep this in mind especially in our attitude toward and treatment of those outside the fold. We have a tendency to do quite the opposite. We reserve judgment for sinners while admiring saints. We are impressed with those who lead with a flair — who write books and sell videos and hold seminars, and utilize all manner of promotion to boost their image and brand while we reserve all manner of judgment on sinners and evil doers. Should be the other way around. Of course, we don’t have the right to judge today’s Pharisees, but we do well to remember that Jesus will, and so be careful with our allegiances.
Our attitude toward the lost should be more like what Jesus expressed at the end of this chapter when he looked out over the city and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (23:37).