Woe To The Gatekeepers: Matthew 23:13
““13) But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Matthew‬ ‭23‬:‭13‬ ‭
Jesus was standing in the temple after being tested by the scribes and Pharisees who were seeking to discredit Him. As He was speaking to the multitudes, He pronounced eight woes against the religious leaders of the Jewish people. These were His formal judgements against them. We shall take time to look at each of them in depth.
He opens verse 13 by calling them hypocrites. This word was borrowed from Greek theater. It specifically related to the mask warn by an actor to switch characters or roles during a play. Jesus was accusing them of being fraudulent religious leaders. Jesus was taking their mask away in this chapter and exposes their true nature. They were pretending to represent truth, but they were filled with lies and deception. They were misleading the people.
James warned in James 3:1 that teachers and leaders will incur stricter judgement. They are the gatekeepers of truth and if they get it wrong, God will hold them accountable. The eight woes here in Matthew 23:13-36 are emphasizing the guilt of the religious rulers and their pending damnation before God. Jesus was warning the people not to follow them.
The first woe against them is found in verse 13. They were shutting off the kingdom of heaven from men. What does this mean?
Remember how the public ministry of Jesus began? According to Matthew 4:17; He began preaching and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus came as the Messiah to announce the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the inauguration of a new system that was promised throughout the Old Testament. He fulfilled all the prophecies. He came as the Lamb of God to fulfill the Law and redeem humanity. He was ushering in a new era of salvation. The kingdom of heaven was at hand.
But, the religious leaders rejected Him! As Matthew 23:13 says, “they shut off the kingdom of heaven from man.” They not only ignored the Old Testament Scriptures; they openly fought against acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. They were intended to be the heralds of truth, but instead they actively tried to shut and lock the gate to the new dispensation of salvation through faith in the Messiah. They were fighting against God!
They did not embrace Jesus as Messiah themselves and they actively opposed and persecuted anyone who was seeing the light for themselves. The gatekeepers were desperately trying to shut and lock the Messiah out! Woe to them! This is a serious indictment against them!
This verse now makes sense. What a tragedy! Their condemnation was justified. But wait, many pastors and religious leaders are doing the same thing today. They are twisting Scripture, obscuring truth, teaching false doctrines, denying the gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, condoning and promoting ungodly living and persecuting those who stand for the truth. They have no spine or backbone as gatekeepers of truth.
Take a moment and read 2 Timothy 4:1-8. Paul pronounced this same warning against any pastor or teacher who distorts the gospel and promotes ungodly living. These modern enemies of the truth stand with the scribes and Pharisees and deserve eternal guilt and damnation. Woe to them!
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global