Shutting the Kingdom

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13)

Our Lord Jesus pronounced eight “woes” in Matthew 23 on the religious leaders of His day. This one condemns them for refusing the liberty that Christ was bringing with the new covenant.

The first “formal” message that Jesus preached was taken from the great prophecy in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).

Later, the apostle Paul noted that “before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed” (Galatians 3:23). These self-righteous leaders were so enamored with their positions and prestige that they refused to rejoice in the “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Galatians 5:1) and kept the prison doors of legalistic self-righteousness shut fast—even against those who were responding to the good news of the Kingdom!

It is interesting to note that Jesus condemned both groups (Pharisees and Sadducees) for the same problem. Yet they were much different in their positions. The Pharisees would be analogous to the legalists of our day and the Sadducees to the liberals. Both camps claimed belief in “inspiration” and both camps prided themselves on their knowledge of Scripture.

Their common error was distorting the truth of God with interpretations that clouded the message—thereby shutting up the doors out of unbelief that led into the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). May God keep us from such confusion. HMM III

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