The Stench of Death

by Spiros Zodhiates

The Eight Woes Jesus Pronounced-Part 5

The Eight Woes Jesus Pronounced-Part 5

Dr. Zodhiates continues a 6-part series on the eight "woes" which Jesus pronounced in Matthew 23:13-36 upon the scribes and Pharisees of His day. These had turned the worship of God into a legalistic religion of men-and their spiritual descendents are still among us. See also Mark (12:38-40), and Luke (20:47).

The seventh woe (vv. 27, 28), is a repeat of the sixth, with the added sense of smell:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye liken yourselves to whited (whitewashed with lime) sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (a.t.).

The veneer of hypocrisy is a whitewash job. White may not be the sole color Jews painted their sepulchres, but the Lord probably chose this particular color because of its symbolic connection to holiness and righteousness. The picture here portrays putridness. The closest analogy is the fictitious "zombie": a corpse with cosmetics (see kosmeíte in the next verse), animated, perhaps beautified on the outside, but dead on the inside. Hypocrisy and iniquity are represented by "dead men's bones" and "all uncleanness." The smell of decay is added to the picture. Among other things, sin, like dead men's bones, actually stinks and Scripture implies that it is a stench in God's nostrils:

"And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation [Sept.; ereâmous; note how ancient the threat of desolation is], and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odors" (Lev. 26:31, cf. Ps. 38:5; Amos 5:21).

These verses do not actually say that sin is a stench in God's nostrils, but the fact that He turns an anosmic nose, like a "deaf ear," to the "sweet odors" of incense implies some offsetting, corrupting stench (Ps. 38:5).

Cosmetic Whitewash

The eighth woe in verse 29 effectively repeats the seventh:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and cosmeticize [kosmeíte {2885}] the sepulchres of the righteous" (a.t.).

Continuing the picture of hypocrisy, the Lord now refers to the "whitened" sepulchres as sanitized with cosmetics. Nothing has changed inside, however; the tombs are still filled with the repugnant bones of dead men.

The woe continues in verse 30:

"And you say, if (ei {1487}, the ‘if' of hypothesis) we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not [ouk {3756}, the absolute ‘not'] have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets."

It is very common for children (especially teenagers) to think they are better than their parents. Here, the Pharisees attempt to detach themselves from their spiritual and natural lineages. But the Lord will not allow it because the Pharisees are in fact continuing the murderous trends set by their natural fathers. They are persecuting Jesus and some of them are even planning His execution, just as their fathers had done to the prophets. Consequently, they have derived from their fathers not just their physical characteristics but their spiritual and moral ones as well.

Jesus immediately addressed the self-incrimination in verse 31:

"Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are (note, the ‘if' of v. 30 is gone) the children of them which killed the prophets [i.e., not just the natural, but the spiritual and moral children of murderers]" (a.t.).

"You just admitted," Jesus is saying, "that the fathers who killed the prophets are your fathers! Consequently, you are witnessing against yourselves that you are their children!"

Amazing how a slip of the tongue can so irretrievably self-indict! They had said "if"; Jesus refutes their "if" with their own testimony to the reality of the spiritual lineage.

The Lord's language in verse 32 is strong-an imperative: "Fill ye up (pleroâsate, the aorist active imperative of pleróo {4137}, to fill up, complete) the measure of your fathers!"

The aorist tense is proleptic, pointing to the event of the crucifixion. The Lord gives a similar injunction to Judas: "What you do (poieís, the present indicative of poiéo {4160}) do (poíeson, the aorist active imperative of poiéo) quickly" (a.t.; John 13:27); that is, what you are doing now, do it once for all and do it fast!

The imperative was a reaction to their arrogance: "we would not have shared with them in the blood of the prophets" (v. 30). This boast contradicts their current attitude and behavior. Because they are personal-"our fathers"-sons of murderers on their own testimony, they cannot claim that they would not have shed innocent blood. And by persecuting Christ and planning to murder Him, they were proving that they were made of the same wicked stock.

From the coming Exegetical New Testament Commentary: Matthew