Jesus continues his analogies of the hypocrisy of the religious people of his day by comparing the Pharisees and scribes to whitewashed tombs. There are some today who also fit this description and we have seen the fall of some of the supposed leaders of the church where they too were like whitewashed tombs.
It would be a horrible thing for the Lord to say to you, “You are like whitewashed tombs.” He then defines what he means by this description. A whitewashed tomb looks good on the outside but within is full of dead men’s bones. If we look at some of the famous tombs and burial grounds we get a picture of this. The pyramids for all their wonder and glory were tombs. The many cemeteries that have beautiful gardens and monuments are just resting places for dead men’s bones. Arlington cemetery in Washington, which is a remarkably ordered, tidy and beautiful place, is still also just a place full of dead man’s bones. Man frequently builds these shrines to their dead, especially their heroes and great people, but to all intents and purposes they are still just places full of dead men’s bones. Inside these places they are musty, potential sources of sickness from evil bacteria and full of rotting flesh and bone. They are not really nice places to be and belie the outward appearances of these places.
Jesus compares the scribes and Pharisees to such places saying, “You are like whitewashed tombs.” He says they look good on the outside but inside are full of iniquity and hypocrisy. They dress in the robes of the clergy and have the appearance of righteous men, but they do not act and behave like people of God. A good example of what he was showing here can be seen in Mark 12:38-40. “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
These supposed men of God looked like holy men, but they used their position to take advantage of those least able to defend themselves. Instead of assisting and helping the weak, they were using them for their own gain. They would, “…devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.” They took but did not give in return.
In the church today we see some who are doing this exact same thing. They go to the homes of their flock seeking gain and advantage. They take excessive sums of money and goods from the flock for their own gain and purposes. They wear expensive clothes and jewellery, drive expensive cars and live in luxurious houses while their flock often struggle from day to day. They preach messages of prosperity, contrary to the gospel, for the riches in Christ are not about the things of this world, but the things of the Kingdom of God. The true riches that come from righteousness, faith, love, joy in the Holy Spirit and fellowship with Christ and his people. It is not about money and the wealth of this world. Those things are temporary and will pass away, but God’s love is eternal.
As Jesus described the Pharisees in this section saying they are like whitewashed tombs, so too there are whitewashed tombs among the clergy and the churches today. Not all ministers are in this mould of hypocrisy, but many are tempted down that path by the lure of the love of money. The prosperity movement in the church can be deadly for as Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11) It is the love of money and the craving for the riches of this world that have led some in the church to fall away from the purity of the gospel of Christ. As Paul said to Timothy, shun all of this. Get your own priorities right and aim at the things of God, not the things of this world.
And finally, beware of those who are like whitewashed tombs. Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits,” (Matthew 7:15-20) so watch carefully. If the ministers in your church are preaching a message of prosperity in the things of this world, beware. The true riches are permanent and come from God. As for the things of this world, the Lord does and will provide all of our needs in abundance. Our focus and aim is not wealth here and now, but entry into the kingdom of heaven.