Matthewby Mike Raiter
Matthew 21:18-19 records the cursing of the fig tree. What Jesus announced through a sign, He now makes explicit with His words. ″May you never bear fruit again″ (Matthew 21:19) finds its solemn echo in Jesus' closing words here: ″Look, your house is left to you desolate″ (v. 38).
Jesus begins with addressing the crowds and warning them about the Pharisees (vv. 1-12). There are three things to beware of. First, they don't practise what they preach (v. 3). Second, unlike Jesus whose yoke is easy, their many regulations have become an intolerable burden, and all the more so because their teachings lack grace and mercy (v. 4). Finally, they are motivated by pride, seeking to enhance their own status (vv. 5-7). By contrast, the mark of the Christian teacher is humility (vv. 8-12).
Jesus then addresses the religious leaders directly (vv. 13-36), using blunt, accusatory words that pronounce God's judgment upon them (″Woe to you . . .″). These seven words of condemnation (vv. 13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29) highlight the fact that these men, who were appointed to be teachers of Israel, have actually constructed barriers to salvation by mishandling Scripture, essentially by neglecting what lies at the heart of God's will: justice, mercy, and faithfulness (v. 23).
The climactic seventh woe is the final nail in the Pharisees' coffin (v. 29). For all their pretence at teaching and following God's will, they, like their ancestors, persecute and kill God's messengers. This historical opposition to God will now reach its murderous climax in the Pharisees killing Jesus.
Harsh and uncompromising as these words are, Jesus pronounces them with deep sorrow and regret (v. 37). The tender image of a hen gathering her chicks is to remind Israel that Jesus came to save, not judge (Psalm 36:7; 91:4). Tragically, like Israel of old, and like her religious teachers, they have rejected their Messiah. Israel's final desolation is certain, and they will not see their true King again until He comes in His glory (v. 39).
How thankful we should be that we are not under God's condemnation. We have gladly received His salvation. Yet, there is a warning here, too. Never presume upon this salvation. Beware the temptation to hypocrisy and self-seeking. Continue to preach and practise justice, mercy, and righteousness.
What does Jesus mean by His warnings that we not be called Rabbi, Master, Father, or Teacher (vv. 8-10)? Is He prohibiting any titles (e.g., Pastor, Reverend, or Professor)?
Jesus condemns the Pharisees for being religious teachers who neglect justice, mercy, and faithfulness (v. 23). What are some contemporary examples of how we can fall into the same trap?