Matthew 12:33-37

The Pharisees – representatives of the people – blind, occultic, depraved pseudo-shepherds scattering the sheep; merciless; condemned without reprieve for attributing the work of the Spirit of God to Beelzeboul, the worst of all the demons.


In these five verses we’ve come to a very harsh verbal condemnation of the Jewish leadership by Jesus.  In coming chapters we’ll see even more strident denunciations of them.

And the further we go the more unhappy I’ve become with the amount of work – and the depth of the work – that’s been done with regard to them.

While we must remind ourselves to fear God, and to take heed for ourselves lest we fall, according to Paul in Romans eleven, I think we need to do more to grasp the terrible antithesis which is going on here.  And the word which Jesus uses most in order to set them apart for judgment is hupocrites, the Greek word from which comes our English word “hypocrite.”

Now, since Jesus is the only one who uses this noun in the New Testament; and since He uses it often to describe Israel’s leadership; and since, when He uses it, it seems to be the “umbrella” pejorative term which best describes them, I want to spend some time with you this morning on the Biblical concept of hypocrisy – even though the word doesn’t appear in this text.

But let me say this – that even though it doesn’t appear here, the framework of this text rests on the antithesis between God’s Anointed King Who has come to claim His Kingdom, and the apostate nation of Jews – whose leadership is aptly described as “hypocrites” by Christ Himself.

The word “hupocrites” has a long history in the classical languages, and its meaning came to be centered around acting.  The one who could perfectly portray a part in a play was a “hupocrites.”  The word didn’t have an ethical meaning at all.

But in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the meaning of the word took a turn.  It came to mean one who apostasized from God and His holy Law.  In other words, if one turned from the fear of God, he became a “hypocrite”!  It is deception to turn from the fear of God – it was a matter of a divided heart!  So fear of God and obedience to His Law were the opposite of “hupocrites.”  Pretending to be something one wasn’t didn’t seem to be a part of the concept, because the Old Testament Hebrew word always has reference to the wicked man who has alienated himself from God by his lawlessness.  So the Greek translators of the Old Testament saw “hupocrites” as the ungodly man, and the ungodly man as the hypocrite.

You see, in the great historians and writers of this time, the hypocrite was the one who, in his ungodliness, concealed the truth!  In other words, in his lawlessness there was no truth or virtue evident!  So when truth or virtue were added to a man’s life he had to expose the hypocrisy – or the lawlessness!  In other words, lawlessness and apostasy is deception.  It covers the truth.  Lawlessness and apostasy is hypocrisy!  Evil is hypocrisy.  It is opposition to the truth of God, and it is a lie and a deception!

When we come to the New Testament that same meaning is carried forward – it is a regular expression for wicked and godless people.  But, now, we see a further concept added in many cases, and it’s described by the word “dissembling.”  Dissembling simply means “to feign” or “to have pretense.”  In other words the man who is wicked and godless – the hypocrite – attempts to cover it up!  Truth is covered up in wickedness – now the wickedness, and deception is covered up.

Now, sometimes the opposite of a word can be investigated and be of help in our understanding.  And many times – in the English as well as in Greek – the opposite of a word is expressed by putting an “A” in front of it.  Like, for example, the word “political.”  We all know what being political is.  And when you put an “A” in front of it – apolitical – it negates the definition, or creates the opposite definition.  An apolitical person is not a political person.

And the same thing is true for this word “hupocrites.”  The Greeks say “anhupocritos” to express the opposite of hypocrite.  It’s only used six times in Scripture, three of which are used to qualify “agape” love, because love comes from an open and genuine heart that has no ulterior motives.  It (love) doesn’t cover up anything or put on a show, or an act, or play a deceptive part!

The other instances where “anhupocritos” is used is with reference to faith, and qualifies faith!  And faith grows from the union of the Christian in the body of Christ, and, rooted by the Spirit, it finds its expression in a transparent life!  “Anhupocritos means, in this case, transparent and open!  Faithful!

So hypocrisy, as the opposite, means wickedness with a dissembling agenda!  Pretense!  Faithlessness with a flair for covering it up!  Self-deluding blindness!  There is objective self-contradiction in the hypocrite!  He’s wicked; and he attempts to cover up, to some degree, his wickedness.  His basic nature is evil, but he wants to cover up the evil!  He does wicked things, especially in secret, but he forms a pretense about it.  That’s self-contradictory, you see?

Let’s look at some examples:  In the first one we have Luke chapter twelve, verses fifty-four through fifty-six.  Jesus calls the leadership of Israel hypocrites because, even though they can discern the signs of rain they can’t discern “the times” – the times being, of course, all that was going on around them with respect to the advancing of the Kingdom, as God revealed the signs in the prophets.  The contradiction between their discernment of the weather and their absent discernment of Christ’s Kingdom caused Christ to label them as “hypocrites!”

One chapter over in Luke chapter thirteen, Jesus sees a contradiction in the Pharisees’ allowance for watering cattle on the Sabbath, but not allowing the woman to be healed on the Sabbath, and He calls them hypocrites.

We covered the self-contradiction in Matthew chapter seven where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for denouncing their neighbor’s speck when they have a plank in their own eye!  They’re hypocrites!

In Mark chapter seven Jesus didn’t wash before eating bread, and the Pharisees chastened Him about not following the tradition of the elders.  And Jesus quoted Isaiah to them and called them hypocrites because they were trying to assert the traditions of men over the declarations of God!

In Matthew twenty-three we have the greatest condemnatory address in Scripture, as Jesus pronounces seven woes which begin like this: 


“Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” 


He does that seven times, and He calls them blind fools, blind guides, serpents, vipers, murderers, whitewashed tombs!  Their hypocrisy consisted of the evil addressed in each of these woes, and consisted of the contradictions between what they said and what they were.  Failure to do the will of God is concealed behind the appearance of outward conduct, because the evil nature was attempted to be covered up!

There are eight or ten other notable instances that we don’t have time to get to, but there is one instance in Paul’s letters which is critical to the understanding of hypocrisy.  And it’s found in Galatians chapter two, where Paul’s confrontation with Peter is recorded.  Peter had, of course, put away Judaism – he was an apostle of Christ!  But when the Jews had come up to the Church at Antioch, Peter separated from the Gentiles to eat (ceremonially) with the Jews!  And Barnabus followed suit!  Paul said that they feared the Jews; and he faced Peter in public and accused him of hypocrisy.  The word used in the KJV English text is “dissembling.”  Peter was self-contradictory.  Peter had put away Judaism, but, here he was, by his example, teaching the new Gentile Christians to live like Jews, and acting as if he were still in Judaism!

Paul also spends some time in the letters to Timothy and Titus teaching them about the pseudoteachers.  They do not teach the truth – therefore their words are deceitful.  And for that Paul calls them hypocrites.

So, in the final analysis, this word “hypocrite” can be the underlying sin in many different cases.  In other words, there’s no single category of sins which is alluded to by the Word – for a godless denial of the truth is contradictory in itself!  And any contradiction, and any pretense, any covering up, and dissembling – is hypocrisy!

Now.  Having gone through that process, let me just say that the whole nation of Israel was hupocrites.  It had been chosen by God to receive all His benefits and to be the light of the world; but it had become Godless and lawless.  That’s its first contradiction – its first dissembling!  Then, to make matters that much worse, it contradicted itself again by considering itself Godly!  That’s its second dissembling; and, if I might be allowed to use profane, or common, language here, this is a “double whammy” of hypocrisy.

And Christ holds Israel’s leaders doubly responsible for this, because these Pharisees and Scribes and priests scattered the sheep by their self-contradiction!  They considered themselves righteous while they were depraved and merciless while they were chosen and commanded to be righteous!

Again, they elevated themselves while they were dead in their perversity while they were supposed to uphold the truth of God!

Once more – so we can get a good grip on it – they magnified themselves and their positions while they were driving the people of Israel into darkness while they were expected to be Godly shepherds!

So they contradicted the reality of the truth by disbelief and lawlessness, and considered themselves lawful believers!  “Hupocrites!”

So we see that the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Israel were not condemned for just appearing to be religious.  They were self-righteous and convinced of their own goodness, so much so that they set themselves against the Son of God and His Kingdom, and Truth, and they stood in the way so that others would not receive it!  And, in that, they scattered the sheep rather than gathering them.  As Jesus says in Matthew twenty-three: 


“But woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, because you shut the Kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.”


When we come to chapter twenty-three we’ll encounter a whole chapter on the hypocrisy of Israel’s leadership.  There is much to learn there about the nature of men – ourselves.  It seems that their exposure is our gain, because the time and place and position of these men put them in center stage for the purpose of exhibiting and demonstrating the thorough depravity, which is ours.  It’s as if Christ opens up their minds and hearts for us so that we can see hem, and understand the great diversity of sin in the hearts of men.  And the depth and power and subtlety of that sin.

And as we listen to Christ expose the depraved hearts of these men we must be driven to fear and humility before God to Christ, for it is the heart of all of us!  That same depravity belongs to all of us as a race!

And it is only in Christ that men can become “anhupocritos” – men and women and children with an unfeigned, unpretentious, open love for Christ and His Kingdom; and a pure “openness” which hides nothing!  The one who’s not a hypocrite is the one whose public life is unspotted, and whose private, or “secret” life is the same way!  He’s guileless, and he hides nothing, and he has no double mind!  He doesn’t have to put on a public face, because there’s no pretense to be made about the private face!

Just before our text this morning, Matthew records that Jesus knew what the Pharisees were thinking (verse twenty-five).  And it wasn’t so strange that they should speak to Him in such a way, when their hearts were so full of enmity and malice!  He saw that.  Their pretense was that they were just (religious) men.  But privately, in secret, they were anti-Christ!  But their words about the Spirit of God being Beelzeboul betrayed what was in their secret thoughts.

And here in verse thirty-three He says: 


“Either bring forth the good tree and its good fruit, or bring forth the rotten tree with its rotten fruit; for from the fruit the tree is known.” 


Now, Jesus isn’t commanding anything to be done here.  There’s no way the Pharisees could make themselves good.  What He’s doing here is making a declarative statement which exposes the nature of men’s hearts.  The tree is good and it brings forth good fruit, or it’s bad and it brings forth bad fruit.

The trees are figurative language for men, and the fruit is figurative for what they say and do.  The man whose heart is publicly and privately on God for the glory of His Kingdom, the fruit of his mouth will issue accordingly!

Verse thirty-four says that evil fruit will issue from an evil heart!  A wicked heart is said to send forth wickedness, as a fountain casts forth her waters (Jeremiah six, verse seven).  And, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  And, as Solomon said, “A troubled fountain and a corrupt spring send forth muddy and unpleasant streams.”  (Proverbs chapter twenty-five, verse twenty-six)

So, evil words are the product of an evil heart.  As Jesus says,


“How can you, who are evil, speak good things?” 


And Jesus calls these Pharisees “offspring of vipers” – the seed of the serpent.  Only that which is poisonous can come from the mouth of a serpent, or a viper. 


“How can you pretend to be good,” He asks of the Pharisees.  “You cover up the real intent of your heart, which is wicked; but the Ethiopian can’t change the color of his skin!  Wickedness proceeds from the wicked!”


“Your heart is a storehouse of evil,” He says in verse thirty-five.  “You pretend (for the people) to be righteous and just, but it is the character of an evil man that he has a storehouse of evil in his heart.  And out of that storehouse comes forth evil things!” 

“You cannot bring forth good things, for good things proceed from a heart which has a storehouse of good things!”  And “treasures of wickedness” (Proverbs ten, verse two) “will be treasures of wrath!”


“There is no reason to wonder,” He says, “that you vomit out wicked words; for your heart is full of malice!”  “Your tongues betray you as imposters!”  “You serve yourselves with public glory, you lead the sheep into an abyss of darkness, and you accuse the Spirit of My Father as being Beelzeboul, and your words will serve to condemn you in Judgment Day, for you shall have no reprieve!”  (verse thirty-seven)


Jesus also mentions, as the KJV translators say, “idle words” (verse thirty-six).  I’ve translated it “unprofitable words.”  It would be better to say “useless” words.  The sense is that the words are void – without truth – without merit.  They spring forth from hearts wherein is no merit and no virtue.  The Pharisees ask Him questions which seem to be innocuous on the surface, but they are designed to be deceitful and full of trickery.

And Jesus uses this occasion to expose these hypocrites to the multitudes of people around Him.  He exposes their innermost thoughts and secrets and discredits them in front of the crowds, so that the people could see the real men in whom they had put their trust and public adorations!  Their religious leaders!

Now, some would say that this is too harsh a condemnation – either public or private.  And that if Jesus really said all these things, He must have done so in a very compassionate and loving manner!

But I can’t find anything whatsoever in the text which even suggests such a thing.  Jesus did say these things, and He did not do so in a compassionate tone of voice!  There are many sins which call for harsh reproofs.  But there is no sin which is more deadly before God than hypocrisy!  When hypocritical people pervert the Truth – calling good bad, and bad good – when they lead people astray for their own self-centered purposes, when they color sin to make it seem better for them when they use dissembling to hide their own depravity, then God the Son found it necessary to thunder against it in a terrible manner!

These men of Israel were not openly and single-mindedly pure in heart.  They were double-minded.  And they strove hard to appear righteous in order to receive the praise of the people.

And our purpose before God this morning is to see the nature of men’s hearts.  And to humble ourselves before God in fear.  For outside the body of Christ we have nothing to look forward to except to be just like them.  That’s our nature – save the Risen Lord!  And the lust in our hearts to be just that way is still with us!  If that’s hard to realize, just think about your private life for just a minute.  Are your thoughts and deeds and emotions and words and desires (your needs), when you’re by yourself, the same as those you would wish for your parents to know and see?  Who you are when you’re alone is really who you are.

And what comes out when you think you’ve been treated unfairly explains what’s in the storehouse.  What you do when you think your personal view of yourself has been offended, explains the nature of your heart.  And which way you turn when you’re under persecution or affliction really reveals what’s in the heart.  What do you do and say when your self-interest is at stake?

And what we think and do in secret – when it comes out, or when we get caught – we begin to speak words of justification in order to cover up the wickedness.  We’re hypocrites by nature, and we want to place the very best light on what we really are inside.  So we explain.  And we cry “unfair!”  And we blame somebody else.  And we lessen the sin somehow for ourselves.  And we openly deceive the people around us (we lie to them) so they don’t know the worst.


God commands you to be completely open:  Transparent; full of the righteousness of Christ and completely single-minded in private and in public; humbly submitting to His Word in private and in public; loving the truth and loving the Kingdom in private and in public; staying unspotted from the world in private and in public.  You are to be so transparent that your faithfulness in your own room is the same faithfulness people see in public.