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.