Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28 TNIV)
This indictment against the Scribes and Pharisees is almost identical as the one that came before it. On the surface, it even looks like He is saying the same thing. In a way, Jesus is, but He is taking it a step further.
He begins in a similar vein as the passage before by saying,
You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.
These men look good on the outside, but they are a disaster on the inside. In this case, they are full of rot. But, in saying so, He is making a striking condemnation. He is calling these men “unclean.”
The Pharisees and teachers of the law prided themselves in their strict, literal adherence to the Law. They never worked on the Sabbath and followed all the ritual washings. They were physically clean and right before God. But Jesus calls them “unclean,” which means that what they did was unacceptable before God. They were, in essence, wasting their time following the Law.
But why were these men unclean? Why did Jesus say that they were full of “the bones of the dead and everything unclean?”
you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
They did one thing and said the other. They lived lives in opposition to the ways of the very God that they claimed to worship. As a result, their “righteousness” was tainted at best.
This is why this comment by Jesus to His listeners at His sermon on the mountain probably pissed a lot of people off.
Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 TNIV)
Jesus told common people that they had to live better than the Pharisees. And, when you read the remarks that follow, He also tells them that this is possible.
This is one of the biggest problems with legalism. It looks wonderful on the outside. At first glance, everything looks like it is perfect and together. But the consequences are eternally devastating. When all is said and done, will God accept that which detests Him?