It was only a matter of time before something Jesus said would lead to this point. Indeed, he has been driving toward it his entire life. It was for this purpose that he came into the world. He had to die. But not just any kind of death; Jesus had to die a vicarious death, that is, he died in our place. So in Luke 11.37ff, we find Jesus now pressing the envelope, saying things that are bound to upset some people, doing things that offend people. It is driving to v.53-54 of Luke 11: “the scribes and the Pharisees began…plotting against Him.” Jesus has resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem (9.51, click here for commentary), and it is in this text that we find the beginning of the end of the life of Jesus. What was it that triggered the improper response of the Pharisees and the scribes?
The Schooling about True Cleansing
This account picks up where we last left Jesus: he has just finished speaking the things in 11.29-36 (click here for commentary). No sooner does he finish speaking, than a Pharisee asks him to eat (literally, eat lunch) with him. Jesus accepts, goes into the man’s house, and reclines (that is, like on a sofa). But something is not right – the Pharisee notes and is surprised that Jesus has not “washed” (lit. “baptized) before the meal. The NASB says Jesus had not “ceremonially washed,” perhaps helping capture the idea a little better. Leon Morris says this was a custom that is described in detail in the Misnah (Yadaim 1.11f). Another commentator says that the outward cleansing of the body was to the Jew an expression of washing away the outward filth that came with contact with the Gentile in the market place. Jesus points out the error of this: God made both the outside and the inside of a man. How could a man clean the outside without consideration of what is on the inside? Surely the inside demanded cleaning too. The outside filth may be gone, but the inward filth is still present, sloshing around within a man. Jesus says their inside is full of “robbery and wickedness.” Therefore, they are fools for their behavior. Rather, they are to be full of love, giving away what is “within,” that is what is your attitude when engaging in charity? It should not be compulsory nor begrudgingly; rather it should flow from a cleansed inside.
The Sorrow for the Pharisees
In verse 42, Jesus begins his announcement of woes (six altogether) upon the Pharisees and the Lawyers. Jesus begins with the Pharisees. “Woe” means “how dreadful” or “terrible.” It is an expression of regret and means that someone or something has been found lacking or wanting. Both the Pharisees and the lawyers are guilty of being found lacking in the justice department. The Pharisees tithe but they overlook the weightier matters of the law (cf. Matt 23.23): justice and the love of God. Jesus does not say the tithing is bad; in fact, he affirms that it should be done in addition to the showing love and justice. Jesus continues with the second woe: they are found lacking because they love the preeminency. They love attention, being tops, the most important. They are found wanting because of their love for the respect of men rather than being right with God. Third, they are found wanting because they are “concealed” or indistinct or unseen tombs which men walk over. What’s so bad about this? Well, if someone walked over a grave, they were deemed ceremonially unclean. If you happened to walk over an unmarked grave (i.e. concealed), you unknowingly became unclean. And so the people who followed the teachings of the Pharisees became themselves morally unclean, and that unbeknownst to them. They are absolutely blind guides contaminating an entire nation of people!
The Sorrow for the Lawyers
About this time, a lawyer (who may very well have been a Pharisee) speaks up and says that the teaching of Jesus is insulting (lit. outrageous or an affront) to “us” (lawyers or scribes). These were the experts of the law. How could Jesus say they missed the mark also? Well, in the first place, they tie heavy burdens on the people which they would not touch with their little finger. So heavy is the burden of the trivial commands upon the people that they are crushed under the load. And yet the scribes do nothing to help by either removing the burden or helping to shoulder the load. Talk about not lifitng a finger to help. Also, they may build tombs (lit. monuments) for the prophets, but it is their fathers who supply the bodies for those tombs. Their building simply showed they were in agreement with the killers of the prophets. They approve of this activity (the deeds of their fathers). Here is the scary thing: in accordance with the wisdom of God, God sent them prophets in order to hold them accountable for the blood of all prophets for all time.
Is Jesus quoting from the OT when he speaks of the wisdom of God? Scholars say no. Nowhere in the OT does this phrase come up. Nor is in any non-canonical (non-biblical) books either. I would lean toward the understanding that Jesus, being God in the flesh, is making a statement inspired by the Holy Spirit concerning the purposes of God in eternity. And since the Jews persecute the prophets (those sent to dictate the will and word of God), thereby rejecting them (and God), God will require the blood of all prophets from Abel to Zechariah (or from A-Z). This is the order of the martyrs in the Hebrew scriptures (Gen 4.8 a nd 2 Chron 24.21f). Why is Abel named a prophet? Not sure. Perhaps it has to do with his sacrifice and the message it carries (see Heb 11.4 about how Abel speaks still though dead and 12.24 and how Abel’s sacrifice speaks a word, albeit Jesus’s sacrifice speaks a better word). These men, even the very generation they live in, will he held accountable for the blood of the prophets in accordance with the wisdom of God.
Third, woe to the scribes for shielding the Scripture’s knowledge from the eyes of the people and from themselves. The knowledge of God is contained in Scripture and the meaning of Scripture was distorted by the scribes so badly that the people could not understand and even the scribes could not understand. They are found wanting for they block their own entrance and the entrance of others. How disappointing that God’s people could not understand God’s message because of the terribly teaching of the “experts.”
You can’t say the things Jesus said without making a few people mad. Well, mad may not be the best word; furious, angry, hostile. And so the Pharisees and the scribes are watching Jesus. They will be watching to catch something in his words that they might twist (even as they twisted the Scriptures) and use against him so that he might be killed. Hey, they had done it before. What’s one more prophet in the body count.