Recall that in Mat 23:25-26 Jesus likened the scribes and Pharisees to a cup or dish that had been carefully cleaned on the outside but was full of filth on the inside. What simile of their hypocrisy does He give in Mat 23:27-28? For what purpose were tombs whitewashed, and what was the significance of Jesus’ words at this time of the Passover? See Num 19:16 and note that unlike the rich or notable who might have elaborate or decorated tombs (Gen 35:19-20, 1Sa 10:2, 2Ki 23:17, Mat 23:29), the poor were commonly buried in open fields with the grave marked less prominently. To prevent travelers from accidentally becoming defiled by such graves on their journey to Jerusalem, it was the responsibility of those in charge of the roads to whiten them with lime dust a month before the Passover feast. In what similar way ought the pretense of hypocrites and false prophets likewise be a warning to true worshipers to steer clear of them? Cf. Mat 7:15, Luk 12:1, 20:46, Phil 3:2-3, 2Ti 3:5. For those who are undiscerning and do not love the truth a form of godliness can be very deceiving; on another occasion what did Jesus say the scribes and Pharisees were like to such as these? See Luk 11:44. As the decay of a physical life that has died can spread sickness and disease so as to be physically defiling, what should we understand in a similar manner about the spiritually dead? What is the “grave” danger when that source of defilement is concealed so that others are unaware of it? Is it possible that it could lead to an epidemic of spiritual sickness in the same way that those who are unaware of physical contagions may spread physical sickness? What does this teach us about the importance of being wary to avoid the spiritually dead, whether their hypocrisy and pretense are plain to see or they remain concealed in an unremarkable tomb?
Although one may decorate a tomb to appear beautiful as the scribes and Pharisees did (Mat 23:29), is it not still a tomb? And even if it is the tomb of the righteous, is it not still rotten and putrid on the inside? Indeed, what does the death and decay of the bodies of even God’s righteous saints when their soul has departed teach us about how polluted and unclean man’s sinful flesh really is? So too, even though one may adorn the outside of his person with a form of godliness as the scribes and Pharisees did also, does it change the reality that their “carton” is but a tomb and inside they are spiritually dead and full of all uncleanness? Consider too that “full of” in Mat 23:27 is the same word used in Mat 23:25, which was used in the LXX for camels “heavily loaded” (Gen 37:25), ships “laden” with gold (2Ch 9:21), and a cart “weighted down” with sheaves (Amos 2:13). Is there any part of the inside of a grave that is “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” that one would feel comfortable handling and then sitting down to dinner without washing? What does Jesus’ analogy help us to understand about how vile and repulsive God sees one’s unregenerate inner man that is spiritually dead? See Joh 11:39 and think: what is our own reaction to a dead body, especially one that is in a state of decay, or even a skull and crossbones? What words do we use to describe such things? Consider dreadful, macabre, ghastly, gruesome, etc…
With what does Jesus equate dead men’s bones and all uncleanness in Mat 23:28? In light of His comparison of these things to a putrid, rotting corpse, how shall we understand God sees hypocrisy and lawlessness in our own hearts? What is the great danger to those whom God sees as full of lawlessness? See Mat 7:23, 13:41. By what means do religious hypocrites whitewash their own and other’s sins in order to beautify an otherwise rotting corpse? See Eze 22:28. What is the great danger of such whitewashing, both to those who do so, and to those who are misled about the awfulness of sin’s end? See Eze 13:3-16. In the day of judgment when all graves are opened and the motives of each person are revealed, will it matter how clean and white and beautiful the tombs were that concealed such hidden things? See Rom 2:16, 1Co 4:5, and note.
Who only is able to impart spiritual life to one’s inner man so as to raise him up from such a loathsome state and no longer be such a stench in God’s nostrils? See Joh 11:40-44, Act 4:12, Tit 2:14. Why is that? See Rom 1:4, Heb 2:14-15, Rev 1:17-18. What does this remind us about the importance of the resurrection, and the difference between Jesus and every other religious leader throughout history? Cf. 1Co 15:17 and think: was any other religious leader raised from the dead? What does this also remind us about the claims of Christianity that make it exclusive of every other religious faith? Cf. Joh 14:6. What Christian ordinance that unites one to God in a covenant relationship also symbolizes the means by which God through Jesus breathes life into one’s inner man and raises us from the dead? See Rom 6:4-11. Hence, is the goal of our Christian life to become better and better until we attain perfection, or to become deader and deader, in order that we might be born again as an entirely new creation? See Joh 12:24, Gal 2:20, 2Co 5:17. Shall we then fear death, whether we die to our sins or die physically? Cf. Joh 11:25-26.
1. For it is the day when God shall judge, not the shows, but the secrets, of men. And it will then be small comfort to them who shall have their portion with hypocrites, to remember how creditably and plausibly they went to hell, applauded by all their neighbors. Matthew Henry↩