The religious leaders during the time of Jesus were dangerous people.
Not everyone saw them that way, but Jesus was unmistakably clear about them. They provided the primary example of all that heaven rejects.
Jesus called them blind guides, blind fools, blind men, hypocrites, blind Pharisee, gnat-straining, camel-swallowing; whitewashed tombs. He called them snakes and a brood of vipers (see: Matthew 23).
Could he be any clearer?
Jesus said that these leaders “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (23:13). He rebuked them saying, “You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. ….You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (23:14-15).
Jesus told stories that exposed them as individuals who were “confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9-14). He repeatedly renounced their self-justifying arrogance and use of religion for man-pleasing and honor-seeking purposes.
“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). They loved titles and seats of honor, and appearing righteous before men. The praise of man was more important to them than praise from God (see: John 12:42-43).
The religious leader was a man who drew attention to himself. He did good things for self-justification. He prostituted what was sacred to promote himself. He used condescending comparisons for self-justification. He looked down on others with the haughty eyes God detests (Proverbs 6:16-17).
Jesus warned his followers about the insidious danger of these leaders by telling them, “don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:3-4). “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
Heaven is shut to these religious leaders. They shut themselves out of it.
- “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 53:16-17).
- “Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Joel 2:13).
- “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
- “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).
- “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-30).