Killing the Prophets

(Matthew 23:29-39)

The greatest hypocrisy Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes over concerned killing the prophets. They said that had they lived in the days of their fathers they would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. However Jesus condemns them out of their own mouths.

He shows that they witness against themselves. In their statements they have shown their guilt for they witness that they are the sons of murderous fathers. Their fathers killed the prophets and righteous men sent by God to aid his people. And they would do the same and worse. Already they had consented to the death of John the Baptist. They were about to condemn Jesus and have him put to death. And they would also stone Stephen and put to death James the brother of John when the apostles commenced their ministry.

Indeed they were not only just like their fathers, but they were worse. As Jesus said, all the righteous blood shed would come upon his generation. It was their generation that would put the Christ to the stake and to this day they have been condemned.

They opposed the Lord and the prophets of God down through the generations because they wanted the power to themselves. They sought to rule and control the people for their own gain and benefit. They misused the power they had, which was given to teach the people the ways of God. Instead they used and abused the people and it would be required of them. This was the message he showed to them in various parables. It was stated in the parable of the vineyard let out to tenants (Matthew 21:33-41). It was also the essence of the parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22:1-10. And yet still the Pharisees could not or would see the evil in their hearts and turn for repentance.

This persecution of God’s people by those who claim to be his but are not is still occurring. Many have been thrown out of churches, excommunicated and shut out because they chose to follow God rather than the false doctrines of religious teachers. Many have suffered when they need not have because they failed to recognise these falsehoods for what they were.

A church or religious leader has tremendous power. They have power over people’s lives and people listen to them for guidance, advice and teaching. If this power goes to their heads it is a dangerous situation, both for the teacher and the flock of God. That is why the Lord says through James, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.” (James 3:1-2) Above all else they must find the truth themselves and then communicate it to those in their care. They cannot afford for error in the ministry and so must take the greater pains to validate what they are teaching. Their teachings must align with the truth of the words of God. It must be scripture based and it must lead to life and freedom in Jesus Christ.

And yet many preachers continue to teach bondage as did the scribes and Pharisees. Bondage to the law, bondage under sin, condemnation and a ministry based upon works. These are not the teachings of Christ or the New Covenant. They are teachings developed by men for their own devices and to achieve their own ends. The aim of ministry should be growth. Not necessarily the growth of the church in terms of great numbers, but rather the growth of the individual to maturity in Jesus Christ. Ministry should bring us all to that place described in Ephesians 4:11-14.

11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.

If the ministry of any minister is not leading to this end, they are not teaching the truth of the New Covenant. Thus it is essential that we all learn the scripture, learn the truth and seek the Lord to guide us into all truth so that we may be able to stand. As a simple test of ministry and teachings, Jesus came to give us freedom, not to bring us into bondage. If the ministry being fed to you is bringing you into bondage in any way, you must question it and resist it. We are not captives in Christ but free men. Let no one put you back into slavery under false teaching.

Straining Out a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel

(Matthew 23:23-24)

Jesus calls the Pharisees to account for their hypocrisy using the analogy of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. What is interesting in this teaching is what he is referring to, for he is speaking of the comparison between tithing in the minutest amounts, in relation to justice, mercy and faith.

The Jews would have been aware of the significance of gnats and camels. Under the Law of Moses there were clean and unclean foods. Virtually all insects were considered unclean and should not be eaten with only a few exceptions, such as locusts. As for meats, only animals that had hooves that were parted and chewed the cud could be eaten. A camel chews the cud but it does not have hooves and so it was not a clean meat.

If a gnat fell into someone’s drink they would normally flick it out and continue drinking. If a larger insect, say a fly or bee fell in; they would usually throw out the drink and make another. If a camel fell in it would crush the cup and the person drinking it as they weigh up to 700kg or 1,500 lbs, and stand about two metres tall (six to seven feet). The Jews would have considered it disgusting to even think about the idea of swallowing a camel because of their food laws.

Now when Jesus used this analogy he was making a comparison. He was saying that the Pharisees were tithing the smallest amounts of produce, herbs such as mint, dill and cumin, but were neglecting the things that were really important under the law, justice, mercy and faith. The tithing was a show of works of law. The comparison was that tithing was so miniscule, so unimportant in comparison to the other matters that it was like a gnat compared to a camel. God is not looking for us to do works of law such as they were doing. He is not interested in such high degrees of legalism that a person should tithe the herbs they might grow on their window shelf. God wants man to be just and merciful and faithful to him. He wants man to treat others with respect and dignity; to do unto others as they would do unto themselves.

But the Pharisees wanted to be seen by men. They wanted the glory of man and so they carried out works of the law to the most ridiculous lengths. They were under the law and so it was right that they should tithe. Tithing was required under the Jewish law. But not at the expense of what the law really represented, which was the nature of God. The law was meant to teach man right from wrong so they would learn to be just, merciful and faithful. By failing to follow these truths of the law, they may as well have swallowed a camel for they have missed the point of the law.

However under the New Covenant we have been freed from the Old Covenant laws through Jesus Christ. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant, and in fact it is quite damaging to the New Covenant. Space does not permit me to go into this in depth here, but if you are interested in an in-depth study of tithing and the problems it causes to the New Covenant Christian, I recommend my free eBook on this matter, which you can find here.

In the Old Covenant Jesus was showing that in the total scheme of things, although tithing was important, it was not nearly as important as those things he called the weightier matter of the law. The Pharisees though had this twisted and were putting the greater emphasis on tithing. They were wrong.

Today we see a great many churches with a heavy emphasis on tithing. They are wrong too. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant and in fact it prevents a church from finding the truth. Tithing is a bondage, but the truth of the New Covenant is about freedom, not bondage. By accepting just one law, the law of the tithe, a person has bound themselves to all of the laws. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:3 that, “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law” James also wrote that, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) So accepting any one of the Old Covenant laws such as the law of the tithe causes a person to be bound to the whole law. And if they are under the law they caught up again in the bondage that Jesus has set them free from when he died.

We must learn the wisdom of the law but not be bound under it. We must learn about truth, justice, mercy and faith but without being caught under the law. We can achieve this only when we accept the gift Jesus gave us when he died on Calvary. His gift was to set us free from sin and to release us from the bondage of the law.

Woe to You Blind Guides

(Matthew 23:16-22)

Jesus condemns the priests, Pharisees and scribes for being blind guides saying, “Woe to you blind guides.” He calls them this because their focus is wrong. The things they consider important are not what God considers important.

Jesus said elsewhere, “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14) Again he was speaking of the Pharisees and it is clear that anyone who follows a blind man will stumble. If you cannot see where you are going you need guidance by someone who does see clearly. Think about a time when you have got up in the middle of the night and moved about the house without turning on a light. You bump into things, perhaps stub your toe or fall over. But these problems go away when you turn on the light.

In a spiritual sense it is the same. If you seek the light of knowledge that comes from the Lord you will see clearly to navigate the waters of life. But these blind guides, the Pharisees, were teaching wrongly. They focussed on the wrong things. When they said that a person is not bound by their oath if they swear by the temple, but only if they swear by the gold of the temple, they were quite wrong. The temple makes the gold sacred, not the other way around. Take the gold out of the temple and it is just gold. But the temple remained the house of God.

Furthermore, such teaching leads to loopholes in the law. They offer what is called “wriggle room” by lawyers today, which is anathema to God. They allow the people an “out” so they can renege on their vows, and in God’s sight this is wrong and comes from evil. In fact Jesus taught that a person should not even make oaths but let their yes be yes and their no be no. (Matthew 5:37, James 5:12) What he wants is that we should be a people who keep our word. He wants us to be trustworthy in what we say with no shades of grey or “wriggle room.”

But these Pharisees showed their lack of knowledge through what they were teaching. They were blind to the truth. As Jesus showed, because the temple is holy, so too is everything in it. Likewise, as the altar is holy, then so too is everything on it. There are no ifs, buts or maybes in God’s sight, but that is exactly what the Pharisees were preaching and were rightly condemned for it.

Is it any different today? Do teachers and preachers focus on the priorities of God or of men? Fortunately many teachers and preachers do focus on the right things, the things of God. But there are “Pharisees” still around today. When the preachers of today are focussed on the things of man, when they focus on money, works and power for themselves they are clearly blind. When they consider themselves as greater than others they show their blindness. As an example of the kind of church in this category look at what the Lord said to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-18.

“15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!
16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.
17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.”

They are blind but believed they had it all. By contrast the Lord says they are blind. They cannot see that they have gone astray and are chasing the things of the world rather than the things of God. They are seeking wealth, power and riches, but have ignored the truth. So the Lord counsels them to seek the truth and the righteousness that comes from God.

For us we need to look out for those who would take us into captivity with false teaching. We must be aware of what we are listening to and seek the light of the knowledge of truth. Place your focus on the things of God and not the things of men so that the Lord will not say to us, “Woe to you blind guides,” as he said to those Pharisees.

You Shut the Kingdom of Heaven Against Men

(Matthew 23:13-15)
 
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Verse 13) What does he mean by this saying? How do you shut the kingdom of heaven? To understand this we need to look at a few other scriptures.
 
The analogy of a door is used in many places throughout the bible. Jesus said of himself, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:9) It is through Jesus that we gain entry into the kingdom of heaven. After Jesus had died we see that he took his place seated at the right hand of the Father. (Colossians 3:1) Jesus has direct access to the Father in the kingdom of heaven for he acts as a high priest on our behalf. (Hebrews 8:1-3) Prior to Jesus only the high priests and they only once each year had access to the Father when they entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people.

The role of the priests was to administer the law and the Old Covenant. They were to teach the people the law and to ensure the proper running of the nation of Israel in mater of worship. However they did not do this as they were supposed to do. They used their role as priests for the purpose of gaining power, position and authority over the people. They became rather than a source of knowledge, help and learning for the people, an overbearing bureaucracy that were pompous, proud and arrogant. They bound the people up in regulations and ordinances, many of which were not in the Law of Moses and sometimes contrary to the law, thus gaining Jesus’ condemnation of their actions as hypocrisy. They set themselves up as being the only access to God and one of the greatest punishments they served up to people who did not follow their ways was to cast them out of the synagogues.
 
We saw an interesting occurrence when Jesus was put to death. “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51) This indicates that the access to the Father is now open to all mankind, not just the priesthood. This access is attainable through Jesus Christ. It is through him that we now have access to the Father and there is no other intermediary between man and God but Jesus Christ.

However the priests of the Old Covenant temple did not realise that the age of the Old Covenant had ended and the New Covenant had begun with the death of Jesus. They were not prepared to give up their power and control. So they sewed up the torn curtain and continued on their way. It is an excellent allegory of how they shut the kingdom of heaven against men. They did not enter because they rejected the messiah. They also could not enter under the Old Covenant for they did not follow the law but were hypocrites. Thus any person who chose to follow in their ways was twice a child of hell as they were. By this method they closed the kingdom of heaven against men for the closed the door of knowledge.

We are fortunate today that we can enter the kingdom of heaven by accepting Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Through him we can come to that open door to God’s Kingdom. When we allow man to stand between ourself and Jesus Christ, then we allow them to close the door just as the priests and Pharisees closed the door to the kingdom in Jesus’ day. No man stands between you and God. No man can intervene between you and God. Every person has individual and unique access to God through Jesus Christ and this was achieved when Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification.

The Greatest Among You Shall be the Least

(Matthew 23:5-12)

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the scribes extended to their desire to be considered as persons of importance. As Jesus showed in this section, they desired and looked for the adulation and praise of men rather than the praise of God. They took their roles to be positions of power so they could lord it over the people. However as Jesus taught, the greatest among you shall be the least.

There are many of the so-called leaders of the church today who still look at working in the ministry as an opportunity for power. They still seek the praise of men and are doing the same things the Pharisees did. In this section of scripture we see Jesus upbraid them for a number of things. They sought the best seats in the synagogues. Is this any different to the elders, pastors and leaders of the church having special seats assigned on the platform of the churches? They sought places of honour at feasts and salutations in the market place. Is this any different to those in the ministry who seek these same things today? They loved being called rabbi or teacher. Is this any different to those today that insist on being called father or pastor, using this as a title rather than a function?

No. These forms of hypocrisy that Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes to account for are still occurring in the church today. Jesus said that his people are not to do these things. Those in the service of the gospel and the Lord are called to serve. Just as Jesus said that he came to serve and not to be served, so too his people and especially the ministers of the gospel are called to serve.

The role of the ministers of the gospel is not to be at the head of the church. That is Jesus’ place. Indeed any man who sets himself up or is set up as the head of a church is taking the place of Jesus. This is even worse than hypocrisy for if a person takes the place of Jesus in the church, it is no longer a Christian church. This becomes an anti-Christ structure since they have replaced Christ.

Jesus said call no man on earth your father, not meaning our biological father, but meaning our spiritual father. We have only one spiritual Father and that is God. Likewise we should call no man teacher or master on earth. We have only one teacher and master and that is Jesus Christ.

What Jesus is saying is that we are a co-equal brotherhood in Christ. None is greater than any other or less than any other. We are all equal. Thus we should not use names or titles of exaltation or salutation with one another. As Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” One of the most important qualities we can all develop in our walk with Christ is an attitude of humility.

If we would wish to be exalted by the Lord and by God, then seek to be humble. Seek humility and you will be exalted by the Lord. Those who exalt themselves show themselves as being proud and arrogant. A proud person does not listen. An arrogant person does not learn for they believe they know better and are better than others. This was one of the main problems with the Pharisees. They were proud and arrogant and believed they had it all. They would not listen, they did not learn and so they missed out. Even worse, they opposed Jesus who could have taught them and they tried to prevent him teaching and preaching to the people, as they also did with the disciples.

We must take heed of these lessons in Matthew 23 and learn the mistakes of the Pharisees and scribes so we do not repeat their mistakes. We must be humble and sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. Then we will move forward and grow into mature Christians. Then we will be able to learn what is pleasing to God and do what is good in his sight. So be aware of these things and also be aware of any who are not practicing these things in accordance with the words of the Lord. Learn from the mistakes of the Pharisees so you do not repeat them.

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites

(Matthew 23:1-4)

The twenty-third chapter of Matthew is an indictment on the scribes and Pharisees. Many times throughout this chapter he says to them, Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” If there is anything the Lord hated more than anything else it was hypocrisy. Men are no different either. Nobody likes a hypocrite and one of the worst names a person can be called is to be called a hypocrite.

This chapter of the bible more than any other shows up the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. It is unfortunate that today we still see many of these hypocritical attributes in the modern church. There is much to learn and much to be gained by a study of this chapter.

In these first few verses Jesus tells his disciples to listen to the words of the Pharisees and scribes when they preach the law. He recognised that they were the keepers of the law and were responsible for teaching it. They had the experience and practice to do so. But Jesus also warned them that although the scribes and Pharisees had this charge, they themselves did not keep the law. Thus they were hypocrites and thus the Lord said to the disciples to listen to their words, but not to do what they did. They did not practice what they preached.

One of the great problems Jesus saw with these men was that they made life difficult for the people. They bound the people up in laws, statutes and ordinances but did not give the people relief or a way of escape. As he said, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” (Verse 4)

They used the Law of Moses as a means of control and power. They used it to lord it over the people. But the law was given to Moses not as a burden, but to teach the people right from wrong. No man could keep the law, but through the law all men could learn the wisdom of God. All men could look into the law and understand that by keeping the law of God, man could live a better life. And God was compassionate to mankind for even within the law he made allowances for the fact that man would make mistakes. Yes there were punishments for breaking certain laws, but there were also offerings and sacrifices that could be given to atone for sins. God was not so intolerable that he did not allow for the frailty and humanity of men.

But the Pharisees did not teach the law in this way. They used it to gain advantage and influence over the people. They were overbearing and burdened the people, and as Jesus showed, would not lift a finger to lighten the burden. They were legalistic in the most negative sense of the word, and this brought only bondage and suffering. Compassion would have provided release, but these men chose to rule with an iron fist so they could retain control over the people.

We see a classic case of their legalism in the story of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. They said to him that under law she was to be put to death, but sought what he would do to test him. Jesus showed compassion by saying, “Let him who is without sin be the first to cast a stone,” and one by one they all left from the eldest to the youngest. Jesus did not condemn the woman but showed her compassion. But there was a condition. She was to go and sin no more.

The Pharisees could have equally shown compassion to the woman, but they did not. Their immediate response was to stone her, and they were within their right to do so, but Jesus showed that through love and compassion there is a better way. We do not know the details of the case and whether this woman had been entrapped or whatever. Still the Lord gave her the benefit of the doubt on the proviso she did not continue to sin. I am sure if she were caught again the verdict would have been much different.

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees still remains in the church today. There are still those who would stone those caught in sin rather than offer compassion and release that comes through Jesus Christ. We are fortunate that Christ has provided a way to be free from sin and the law. And we will see as we go through the rest of this chapter some instances where the hypocrisy of the Pharisees remains in the church today.

Marriage in the Resurrection

(Matthew 22:23-33)

The Sadducees were testing Jesus again after he had silenced the Herodians. The Sadducees believed there is no resurrection, but showed their malice towards Jesus by questioning him over a matter to do with resurrection, marriage in the resurrection.

They concocted a situation of a man who had a wife and the man died leaving no children. Under the Law of Moses the man’s brother was to take the wife and raise up children for his dead brother. However the second brother died. The woman was then married to a third brother who also died. She was married in total to seven brothers all of whom died leaving no children and finally the woman herself died. Their question to Jesus was, “In the resurrection, to which of the seven will she be wife?” (Verse 28)

The mere fact that they would ask such a question shows their malice. They did not believe in the resurrection anyway, so why would they accept a response from someone who did? This was purely a question designed to put Jesus to the test. But Jesus could simply answer the question, for unlike the Sadducees, He knew how the resurrection worked and he knew how these things would occur in the kingdom of heaven.

He began his response quite clearly and put them in their place. “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Verse 29) This is a warning to all of us to be sure that we learn and know the scriptures so that we are not likewise pushed away. They were wrong because they failed to realise from the scriptures that marriage is of this life only. A man and a woman are married only while they live on this earth. Marriage does not extend beyond the grave; it is for this life only. We see that marriage is binding on a husband and a wife while they are alive, but if either one of them dies the living party is freed from the bond and laws of marriage. They are then free to remarry anyone they may choose.

If the Sadducees had known the scripture they would have realised the foolishness of their argument. For if marriage extended beyond the grave and into the resurrection, then the woman and the last six of the seven brothers would have been guilty of committing adultery. But marriage is of this life only and so there was no sin in what they did. At death every married person is freed from his or her vows, so there is no marriage carried forward into the resurrection. They are all free like the angels in heaven as Jesus stated.

Will there be marriage in the kingdom of God when He returns to the earth to rule and reign forever? Perhaps there will, but what form it may take is unknown. Scripture suggests there will be children in the new kingdom, so one would expect there may be some kind of union of a man and woman, but how or what that may be has not been shown to us. I should add here that this is pure conjecture on my part and I do not offer it as doctrine. I will wait to see what the Lord has in store.

As for the issue with the Sadducees though, Jesus then goes on to upbraid them about their lack of belief in the resurrection of the dead. He quotes the words of God saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Verse 32) Now when he says “I am” he is not talking in the past tense. He did not say, “I was the God of Abraham, etc.” speaking of these three forefathers of Israel as being dead, but he speaks of them as being still alive. Then Jesus adds, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” (Verse 32)

These three men were alive then and are still alive today. Jesus and God do not see what we know as death to be the true death. What we know as death is the separation of the spirit from the body. The body decays and rots away, but the spirit is still alive and living. This is why Jesus said God is God of the living and not the dead.

A further aspect is that those who choose to do evil and to reject Jesus Christ could also be considered as dead, even while they live on the earth. Their lot is to be destroyed after the final judgement, so they are good as dead even while they live. Their God is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the god of this world, who is Satan. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

While we live we need to focus our priorities and attention on finding the truth. Learn the things of Jesus so that you can be counted amongst the living and find your place in the resurrection of the just.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

(Matthew 22:15-22)

There are some interesting aspects to this teaching about paying taxes to Caesar. The Herodians sought to entangle Jesus in his talk. They sought to have him say it was wrong to pay taxes to Caesar so that they could accuse him of defying the ruling authorities. But Jesus was aware of their malice, and in his response he gave us some wonderful insights about money.

The Bible says, “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.” (1 Timothy 6:10) Paul was speaking here not about the people of the world, but the church and the people of God. He makes the point that the love of money has caused some to wander away from the faith, thus his concern is about the church.

One of the biggest issues in the modern church is about money. It causes much angst between both those in leadership and the people attending church. There is a great deal of false doctrine and misuse of scripture used to justify what is essentially “fleecing the flock.” In this teaching about paying taxes to Caesar we Jesus put money into its correct perspective.

When asked if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not Jesus asks to see the coin for the tax. He then asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The Herodians answered, “Caesar’s.” Jesus then replies, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Verses 19-22)

In this statement Jesus shows that money is the invention of the government. It is not a thing of God but is of man’s invention. Jesus does not command the people to take the things of men and give them to God, but rather to give God what is of God. We are to give God praise, worship, obedience, prayer and thanksgiving. These are the things of God. We are to do the will of God, which is to believe and have faith in Jesus Christ. We are to learn the things that are pleasing to God so that we can do the will of God.

God is not interested in money and God does not want your money. God wants you. He does not command us to give money to the church. There are many who will disagree and say, “What about tithing?” To them I say, tithing is firstly not about giving money and secondly is not a part of the New Covenant or the New Testament church. Tithing in the church today is one of the misuses of scripture designed to “fleece the flock.” Tithing is an exaction. It is not a gift but is like a tax that was taught under the Old Covenant for the express purpose of the upkeep of the priesthood. Tithing was given as a perpetual due to the Levites. Any person who is not descended from Levi is not entitled to take the tithe, and this includes the modern ministers of the Christian churches. They have wrongfully applied the teachings of tithing for their own gain.

There is even a more sinister side to tithing in the Christian church, which causes the annulment of Christianity. Those modern churches that preach and take tithes in effect are setting up a false version of the Old Covenant practice. They set themselves up as descendants of Levi, which they are not, and take the tithe wrongfully as it was promised only to Levi. In effect they are stealing what belongs to Levi, and applying the teachings of tithing wrongfully to increase their gain. What is more, they have set up a false version of the temple worship, which was about teaching the law of God. Yet Jesus came to set us free from the law of sin and death and so these modern, tithe taking preachers are rejecting Jesus teaching by taking up the teachings of the Old Covenant.

Is it any wonder that some of the churches of today are in such a mess spiritually! There is a great deal that can be said about tithing in the modern church and I have written quite a lot on this subject over the years. Some may think that I am anti-tithing, but that is not true. However, I am anti the misuse of scripture to justify a false teaching in the Christian church. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant and not part of the Christian church, as you will see in other posts concerning this matter.

Suffice to say that money is not of God, which is what Jesus was showing in this section of Matthew 22. Certainly it can be given as a gift, and even in the Old Covenant temple, gifts of money were often given to the treasury, but it was not and is not a bible-based requirement. Do not let any man, preacher or not, say that you must give money to the church. There is no scriptural basis for such a teaching.

Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

(Matthew 16:5-12)

We see here that Jesus has just left the Pharisees and is warning his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees. The disciples did not immediately understand this saying and were confused. They questioned amongst themselves saying, “We did not bring any bread.”

Jesus said to them did they not recall the times he fed the four thousand and fed the five thousand and how much bread was left over? It was only then they understood he was not talking about bread but by saying beware the leaven of the Pharisees he was telling them to beware the teachings of the Pharisees.

Let’s consider leaven for a moment. Leaven is yeast. A lump of leaven could also be a piece of dough that has had yeast added and is mixed in with a batch of dough. The purpose of leaven or yeast in bread making is threefold. Firstly, it causes the bread to rise. Yeast is a living substance with bacteria that give off carbon dioxide, which is the gas generated to cause the dough to rise. Secondly, it improves the taste and texture of the bread. Anyone who has had damper, which is an unleavened form of bread, will know that it is rougher in texture and tastes more floury or doughy than leavened bread. And finally it spreads and expands when put into flour. It gradually goes right through the bread and leavens it all.

Consider these aspects of leaven as they apply to the teachings of the Pharisees. First leaven causes bread to rise. In essence it puffs the bread up. The Pharisees were puffed up with pride and full of hypocrisy. They believed they had the knowledge of the kingdom and were the keepers of the kingdom of God, but they were wrong. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:14, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Paul also wrote of the puffery of knowledge saying, “We know that “all of us possess knowledge.” “Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1) So the first warning Jesus was giving about the teachings of the Pharisees was that it leads to false pride and arrogance.

Now let us look at leaven in relation to the improvement of taste and texture. Often the false teachings that are offered are wrapped in a cloak of deceit. They sound good but they are destructive. Many New Age teachings are like this. As Paul wrote, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23) He also spoke of these false teachers and their leaven-like teachings that would lead people astray. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) People will look for teachings that justify themselves rather than lead to the glory of God. They will seek things that they like to hear and look for people teaching this false doctrine.

Finally the invasive nature of leaven is like these false teachings, and the most dangerous aspect of these teachings and teachers. It is Satanic for he was the author of deceit and deception, the master of the lie and the half-truth. Paul showed this insidious leaven-like aspect of false teaching like this; “Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene. Among them are Hymenae’us and Phile’tus, who have swerved from the truth by holding that the resurrection is past already. They are upsetting the faith of some.” (2 Timothy 2:16-18) The greatest problem of the leaven-like teachings is that they are insidious. They will seep into a person and like leaven will colour all that a person believes, causing them to swerve from the truth as Paul wrote.

Jesus also showed this insidious nature of the false, hypocritical teachings of the Pharisees in the following parable. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23) If we look for what is not good, the darkness, and allow it into our minds, how greatly will it darken our life? We must shun the teachings of darkness and seek the light of the Lord that comes through the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

There are many teachings that Jesus uses to warn his people of the false teachings that will come. Jesus constantly warns us about wolves in sheep clothing, false teachers, false prophets and the problems of accepting the lies from these people. Instead we must focus on the teachings of God and weigh all things up against the words in the Bible. When in doubt, seek his guidance in prayer and make no decision until you learn the right path.

Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers

(Matthew Chapter 7, Verses 15-20)

One of the greatest challenges all Christians face when trying to seek out the truth is…who do you believe. Jesus warned us in this section about being careful to spot and avoid false prophets or false teachers. If we choose to follow the wrong teachings from one of these people then we may be taking in information that is not aligned with the truth or even put ourselves in a position where we are being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people ministering lies for profit.

Many people have been hurt by false teachers and false prophets through accepting false teaching. I recall an instance where at a church one time a speaker made an altar call at the end of the service for people to come up who had been hurt in some way by the church. With the exception of just a handful of people, the whole church of several hundred people stood and went forward. Such a situation is an absolute travesty and speaks much about the extent of corruption that can exist in Christianity today through false teaching and false prophets.
But what can you do about it? Well Jesus also provided some good information in this section of scripture on how to spot these frauds and what to do.
Firstly we need to understand that they may be hard to see. He talks of wolves in sheep’s clothing, meaning that these false prophets will look as if they are good and will be well disguised and camouflaged. They will have all the appearances of being good teachers and doing what is right. But like all liars, they will not be able to hold onto their lies and evidence will begin to show up that shows them for what they truly are. In order to perpetrate a lie, a liar must tell more lies to cover the original lie. They must then continue this path and weave a web that they will eventually be caught in as inconsistencies arise. Jesus said, you will know them by their fruit. The fruit is the teachings and the things they do. Fruit does not immediately appear on a tree but must go through a process of pollination, germination and growth before it is ripe and ready for picking. So too these people will take time to show their true colours.
Next we see that Jesus shows that they will not be able to help going down this path for the evil will bear evil fruit, but good people will do good. It’s like the old saying that a leopard can’t change it’s spots. These false teachers or false prophets are exactly the same.
Finally it is important that when you come into contact with Christians you need to do two main things. Firstly, you must have an understanding of the truth in the Bible and weigh up all that they say or do against that knowledge. And secondly, you need to spend time to watch these people and see what they do over time, for Jesus says when their fruit ripens you will know them by their fruits. Over time there will be a pattern from these people. If the pattern is to help, assist, speak good things aligned with Bible truth and respecting others, then they may be true prophets teaching truth. But if their words and actions are self-serving, seeking to get gain from those around them and using people to get advantage, especially when falsely using the teachings in the Bible to get power over others, then their fruits can be considered bad.
These are the wolves Jesus is talking about. They feed their own appetites and do nothing unless it is to their own gain or advantage. They are proud and arrogant, but at the same time will disguise themselves well with cunning and deception. As individuals we need to learn from the Bible, seek the truth, and ask Jesus to give us understanding so that we can spot these false teachers when they come along. For as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, they will come. There are many people who see Christianity as a means of gain and will use it to further their own devices and designs. While there is gain through Christianity in godliness, as the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:3-6, the gain comes through contentment, not material gain. And these false prophets are not seeking contentment but rather are seeking material gain or power. This is not of God and as Jesus said, we must beware.
In due course they will be seen for what they are, and even if their disguises are very good, they will be cut down by the Lord. He will protect his church from these people, but it is important for us to likewise recognise them and take action so that we are not hindered through false teaching.