Chapter XVI


132. Beware of the Pharisees
        Woe to the Pharisees
133. The true test of giving
134. Discourse on future events
        The destruction of Jerusalem
        Signs of the times
        You will be persecuted
        The abomination of desolation
135. False messiahs
        The Day of the Son of Man I
        Signs in the heavens
        Parable of the fig tree
        The Day of the Son of Man II
        Watch therefore
136. The watchful owner
        Parable of the steward
        Parable of the ten virgins
        Parable of the talents
        Parable of the sheep and the goats










Next day, Mark reports a series of sayings condemning the scribes and Pharisees, copied by Matthew with an echo in Luke; and Matthew amplifies it with other criticisms, some of which are found in Luke in document P; and the remaining ones are assumed to come from document M since they are found in Matthew only. Jesus speaks, but all three gospels differ as to whom:
(Matt 23:2-3)
        The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat; all things therefore which they tell you to do, these you may do and observe; but don't do after their works; for they tell you one thing, and do not do it themselves.
(Matt.23:4;Luke 11:46)
        Yea, they bind heavy burdens, too grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not lift one finger to do them.
(Mark 12:38-39;Luke:20:46,11:43;Matt.23:5-7a)
        Beware of the scribes, which love to walk in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplace, and chief places in the synagogues, and chief seats at feasts,
and to be called of men, Rabbi;
(Mark 12:40;Luke 20:47)
they which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers, these shall receive greater condemnation.
      But do not let yourselves be called Rabbi; for one is your teacher, and all of you are as brethren. And call no man your father on earth; for one is your father, even God. And do not be called Master; for one is your master, even the divine spirit.

Matthew repeats the sayings about the greatest is the one who serves, and that the one who exalts himself shall be humbled and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted. Then he inserts some more paragraphs from both document P and document M:
(Matt.23:13;Luke 11:52)
        Woe to you scribes! for you took away the key of knowledge, you did not go in yourselves, and them that sought to enter you hindered.
        Woe unto you, you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! for you scour land and sea to make one convert, and when you find one, you make them even more hypocritical than yourselves!
        Woe unto you, you blind guides, who say, If a man swears by the temple, it does not count; but if he swears by the gold which is in the temple, he is bound by that oath. You fools who are blind, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifies the gold?
        Or again: If a man swears by the altar in the temple, it does not count; but if he swears by the gift that lies upon the altar, he is bound. That is stupid; for which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift special?
        So you should say that if a person swears by the altar, he swears by all the things that are upon it as well; and if he swears by the temple, he also swears by all the things that are in it. And if you swear by the heaven, you are swearing even by the throne of God.
(Matt.23:23;Luke 11:42)
        Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and all manner of sweet-smelling herbs, for the pleasing effect they create; but you have left undone the weightier things of the law: justice and mercy and faith in God. But these you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.
        You blind guides, who strain at gnats, and swallow the camel, which even a donkey knows not to do.

The reference to justice and mercy and faith is a direct quotation from the prophet Micah, who wrote: What does God require of you, O man, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
(Matt.25-36;Luke 11:39-44,47-51)
        Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you wash the outside of your cups and pots, but within they are grimy with all your extortion and excess. You blind ones, first you should wash the inside of your utensils, and then it matters, and the outside may be washed as well.
        Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like sepulchres, painted white on the outside, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and decay and putrefaction. You are like that; you put forth great shows of righteousness before men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and harmfulness.
        Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build monuments to the prophets, and decorate with wreaths the tombs of the righteous, and boast, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have joined in their acts of despising and rejecting them.
        But you are still the sons of them that killed the prophets; and you are no better than your fathers, unless you can strive to prevent the coming days of disaster from making this place like Gehinnom!
        And it is written that God has said, I will send unto them prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them they will kill and persecute; and the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the beginning of the world, shall be upon all succeeding generations; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zachariah, whom your fathers killed between the holy of holies and the altar; I say that it shall soon happen to this generation.

Despite all this, we should remember that the Pharisees were actually a saving force in the history of the Jews. By their insistence on the observance of the historical traditions they prevented the assimilation of the Jews into the Hellenistic and Roman culture, whereas the deported citizens of Israel had been assimilated into Assyrian society and disappeared. But for the Judeans who were defeated and deported by the Babylonians the story was different; they have survived as a people, but the Babylonians have disappeared completely. And the best among the Pharisees taught and practiced ethical and moral teachings many of which are the same as those which Jesus taught.

But the Pharisees had always been held back from practicing their own teachings by the "chosen people" notion, which was a narrow nationalism and sense of superiority to the peoples around them. Ezra, the scribe who returned from Babylon in about the fifth century B.C.E., insisted on everyone who was married to a non-Jew getting divorced from them and expelling them from the Jewish society. The book of Ruth, which taught that David's own great-grandmother had been a foreigner, a Moabitess, and the book of Jonah, which taught that God could forgive even the most wicked of men, symbolized by the Assyrians who destroyed Israel, were written about this time or later, to protest such narrow exclusiveness. And by the time of Jesus this narrowness had degenerated into primarily a practice of being rigidly different for the sake of being different; and it appears that where Jesus most rejected the teachings of his fellow-Jews was in his attitude towards non-Jews. He preaches to and heals all alike: a Roman, a Phoenician, a Samaritan; and he pictures a non-Jew, the Samaritan, as the world's most unforgettable example of compassion and caring. We can even conclude that it was not his breaking of the rules of the scribes and Pharisees that set them so much against him as it was his acceptance of and caring for non-Jews.


After his diatribe against the Pharisees just reported, he went over to the contribution jars which were embedded in the wall to see how much money visitors were putting in. As he stood there, he watched many well-to-do persons tossing in many coins and valuable gifts. Then there came a poor widow, who put in a tiny coin, which Mark calls "two mites, which make a farthing." It must have been almost the smallest possible coin in Hebrewdom. But Jesus called his disciples over, and said to them:
(Mark 12:41-44;Luke 21:1-4)
JESUS: Look at this, I tell you: this poor woman has contributed more than anyone else who has given; for they gave but a little out of their great wealth; but she cast in every penny she had.

So what is important is how much you give out of what you have, and not the actual amount of that gift.


As they went out of the temple, Jesus took the opportunity to give what is possibly his most important discourse in the gospels: his prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem. This discourse is often called the discourse on Events of the Future, which it is; but it is not, as most Christians believe, a description of the end of the world or the last judgment or even the coming of the kingdom of God. It shows unmistakable signs of having been edited after the death of Jesus. It begins as a response to an exclamation by one of the disciples as they came out of the temple:
(Mark 13:1-2;Luke 21:5-6;Matt.24:1-2)
DISCIPLE: Master, look at all these great stones, and all these magnificent buildings!

JESUS (shaking his head): You see all these great buildings? I tell you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down.

Remember how, when he first arrived on the hill facing Jerusalem, he wept over the city, and said, The days are coming, when your enemies shall build a bank about you, and compass you round, and dash down the walls upon you, and your children with you; and they shall not leave here one stone upon another. So this is a reprise of that lamentation, but this time he goes on in great detail about the coming events. The disciples ask him to explain further, when all of this will happen and what will be the sign that it is actually happening. Here is a presentation of this final discourse, showing the passages which can be certain in the central column and the questionable or inserted passages to one side.

(Mark 13:3-8;Luke 21:7-11;Matt.24:3-8)
        Take heed that you do not get led astray; for many shall come, claiming to be the messiah, and shall lead many to their destruction.
        But when you hear of wars, and rumours of wars, do not be troubled; for the end of Jerusalem is not yet.
        For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be earthquakes and famines in many places; this is the beginning of the disaster.

(Mark 13:9,11-13;Luke 21:12-19;Matt.10:17-22)
        I tell you again, take heed; for you shall be brought before councils, and beaten in synagogues, and you shall stand before governors and kings to bear witness of the truths I have taught you.
        And at that time, when you are asked to testify, do not be anxious beforehand what you shall say, but just speak the truth as it comes to you that moment.
        And do not be dismayed even if a brother delivers up a brother to death, or a father his own son, or children deliver up their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
        I warn you, all men may hate you, because you are speaking moral truth to them; but if you endure all things, in the end you shall be vindicated.
        They shall deliver you up to tribulation, and shall kill you;
and ye shall be hated of all the nations because of what I taught you.
        And then shall many stumble, and shall deliver up one another, and shall hate each other. And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold; but if you endure all things, in the end you shall be vindicated.

Note that Matthew has taken verses from Mark 13:11-13 and inserted them into his earlier report of Jesus sending the disciples out on a mission (Matt.10.17-22). To continue:
(Mark 13:10)
        And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
        And the gospel of the kingdom must be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations.

Mark's verse about preaching to the whole world (13:10) is almost certainly an interpolation; it is found in neither Luke nor Matthew; and Matthew's similar verse at 24:14 is contradicted in his 10th chapter, verse 23, where he says: You shall not have gone through the cities of Israel, before the day of the son of man is here. The three gospels continue with a description of the second destruction of the temple.

(Mark 13:14-20;Luke 21:20-24,17:31;Matt.24:15-22)
        But when you shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not, as predicted in the book of Daniel, then let those who are left in Judea flee into the mountains; and those upon the housetop should not go back into their house to get anything; nor should he that is in the field go into the house to get his cloak.
        And woe unto them that are with child in those days, and those that are giving suck! and I pray that it not be in the winter. For this will be the awfullest time that has ever happened in Judea, from the beginning of creation until now, and may it never be again.

We can note especially that Luke alters the sentence "abomination of desolation standing where it ought not" (Dan.11:31;12:11) to read, "But when you see Jerusalem compassed with armies" (Luke 21:20), which is the clearest possible reference to the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman emperor Titus in 70 C.E. which ended in its total destruction. Thus we can date Luke with certainty as having been written AFTER 70 C.E.

(Mark 13:21-23;Luke 17:23;Matt.24:23-26)
        And remember, if any man say to you, See, here is the messiah, or there he is, do not be fooled; for there shall arise false messiahs, and false prophets, and they shall claim to show false signs and wonders, so that they can lead people astray. But take warning, take heed; I have told you all these things beforehand.


All three narrators have inserted Old Testament quotations into the text at this point, trying to prove that these predictions by Jesus are a fulfillment of Biblical prophecies:
(Mark 13:24-27;Luke 21:25-28;Matt.24:29-31)
...The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall be falling, the sea will be overflowing, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. And the son of man shall be coming on the clouds of heaven with power and glory; and the angels shall gather the elect from the four winds of the heavens.

These images can all be found in the Old Testament prophets; I have shown a table with the references at the end of this chapter. But compared with the sobriety of his other statements they are just empty verbiage and blunt his prediction. The point of this discourse by Jesus was to warn them of the rise of messianic claimants in the 1st century C.E., and the final clash with the Romans who would then destroy Jerusalem.

(Mark 13:28-32;Luke 21:29-33;Matt.24:32-36)
        Now look here, and learn from the fig tree its parable: when the branch is grown and puts out its leaves, then you know that the summer is nigh; and when the fruit is purple, then you know that autumn is near; therefore, even you will know when these things are coming to pass. And truly I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, before all this shall happen.
        Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
        But of that day, or that hour, no one can say, not even the angels, but only God can say.

In other words, when the leaves are green it's summertime, and when the fruit is ripe it's autumn. The sentence in Mark about heaven and earth passing away, dutifully copied by Matthew and Luke, is probably an interpolation; it does not have a logical connection with the preceding sentence or with the following sentence.

Now Matthew inserts pieces of the description of the day of the son of man found in Document P; we have looked at this description in Chapter XIII (Luke 17:26-35;Matt.24:37-41). Then the three writers conclude their versions of the discourse with the following repetitious statements:
(Mark 13:33-37;Luke 21:34-36;Matt.24:42)
        So take heed, and watch the signs, and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man who was vacationing in another country, having left his house under the care of the servants, and he commanded the porter to watch for his coming home.
        Watch therefore, for you do not know when the events will happen, at evening, or at midnight, or at the crowing of the cock; lest when it comes it finds you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch.
(Luke 12:39-40;Matt.24:43-44)
        Just remember this: if the owner of the house had known when the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not let his home be broken into.

This image of the owner and the thief was also present in Chapter XI as one of the Parables about the Future.

I have stressed these aspects of Jesus' final discourse because of the commonly-held misconception that this is somehow a description of the Last Judgment, or even how the kingdom of God is supposed to arrive. But this discourse, coupled with his three lamentations over the fate of the city, proves that he was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and trying to warn them against it.


Matthew pads out the discourse with four parables, two probably drawn from document P, and two from document M. These are the parable of the watchful steward, the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents, and the parable of the sheep and the goats. The first of these, about the watchful steward, was also shown in Chapter XI under Parables about the Future.
(Luke 12:42-46;Matt.24:45-51)
        Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom the lord will set over his household to make sure that everyone is fed? Blessed is that servant, whom when the lord comes he finds so doing. But if that servant thinks to himself, My lord delays his coming, and then begin to beat the other servants and to feast and get drunk; the lord will return someday when he is not expected, and in an unexpected hour, and fire that servant, and send him into the darkness.


The second parable is a well-known one, but found only in Matthew:
        Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto 10 virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And 5 of them were foolish, and 5 were wise. For the foolish ones took no oil with them, but the wise ones took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
        Now because the bridegroom was late, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, The bridegroom is coming, come out and meet him. Then all the virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps; but the foolish ones said to the wise, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out. But the wise ones said, No, for there will not be enough for all of us. You'd better go out and buy some more oil. And while they were out to midnight market, the bridegroom arrived, and the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast. And the door was shut; so that when the foolish ones came back, they knocked at the door, but the bridegroom refused to let them in, saying, I do not know you.

The inappropriateness of this parable in this forecast of future events is proven in the first few words, which likens the kingdom of heaven to 10 virgins. Firstly, such a likening is out of place here; and secondly, how can the "kingdom of heaven" be like ten virgins? What does that mean? Especially, why are 5 of the virgins foolish? is that part of the illustration of the kingdom of God? Thirdly, 5 of the virgins were selfish about their oil; is that part of the illustration of the kingdom of God either? It could be that what Jesus said was, When the kingdom of God comes (not What is the kingdom like), if you are not ready, you will be left out. Very well; but Matthew apparently didn't understand that. Luke's version is much closer to such a meaning:
(Luke 12:35-38)
        Let you be dressed, and your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from the marriage feast; so that, when their master returns, they may immediately open unto him. Blessed are those servants, who shall be watching when their lord comes; and he shall sit down with them, and serve them. But if he is very late, in the second or third watch, and the servants are there to meet him, I say, blessed are those servants.


The next parable reported by Matthew at this point in the discourse is the parable of the talents, which we discussed in Chapter XIV; we will not repeat that discussion here. But we can ask, what does it teach about the coming events that justified Matthew in placing it in the Discourse on Future Events? That our talents will grow if we use them? rather commonplace. That we will be punished if we don't use our talents? Why? That we will miss the coming of the day of the son of man? That we shouldn't follow after false messiahs, as he has warned us in this discourse? None of those suggestions makes any sense.


But the next and last parable reported by Matthew which he attached to the Discourse on Future Events is perhaps the third most famous parable attributed to Jesus, after the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Talents; it is called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. If this was the only one of Jesus' parables which survived, we would surely have to think that he had taught a Last Judgment in which good people were rewarded and bad people were punished, forever. But as picturesque as it is and as appropriate to a discourse on future events as it is, it is inconsistent with all of Jesus' teachings which we have seen. In brief, the parable as told by Matthew is as follows:
        When the King of Glory comes, he will separate all people into two groups, one on his right hand, and one on his left hand. He will then say to the ones on his right hand, Since you have fed me when I was a-hungered and given me drink when I was thirsty, you are rewarded by being allowed into my kingdom, forever. And when those ones asked when they had done so to him, he replied, Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of my disciples and followers, you did it unto me.
        And then he will say to the ones on his left hand, Since you did not feed me when I was hungry or give me drink when I was thirsty, you are to be sent away into eternal punishment. And when those ones also protested, he said, Inasmuch as you did not do it for the least of my followers, you did not do it to me.

This is not a parable, and it is not from Jesus. It can't be. In the first place, it does not begin with the formula, "The kingdom of heaven is like"; it is a description of something like a Last Judgment, when the good people will be rewarded and the bad people will be punished. Jesus has never spoken of such an event. It describes someone like a judge of righteousness and presents an image of that judge dividing people into two groups, absolutely separate from each other, one group going to heaven and the other group going into oblivion. Everyone knows that people are more mixed than that, some bad and some good. This so-called parable was probably written by a much later Christian who wanted to encourage people to do acts of kindness, and not neglect them or ignore them. That may be appreciated as a worthy teaching, but not with the infliction of eternal punishment if you don't do them. As we have it here, this story cannot be from Jesus.

This was the fourth day of Jesus' visit to Jerusalem, and that visit now begins to wind itself to its tragic close.

TABLE 16-1. Document M (Matthew only)

Event or teachings
  36. Introduction to the Great Sermon
        Hortatory instruction
  37. Teachings on piety
  48b. Parables about the reign of God
  53. Healing two blind men
  77. Donation to the temple
  78. Teachings about church affairs
        Stern parable on forgiveness
  118. The householder and the laborers
  136. Parable of the ten virgins
  136. Parable of the sheep and the goats
  146. Pilate sets a guard
  148. The guards spread a rumor
  151. Disciples see Jesus in Galilee
  Chapter IV
  Chapter IV
  Chapter V
  Chapter VII
  Chapter IX
  Chapter IX
  Chapter IX
  Chapter XIV
  Chapter XVI
  Chapter XVI
  Chapter XVIII
  Chapter XVIII
  Chapter XVIII

TABLE 16-2. Old Testament references in final discourse, Signs in the Heavens

Gospel verse
  Mark 13:24-25;Luke 21:25-26;
  Mark 13:26;Luke 21:27;Matt.24:30b
  Mark 13:27;Luke 21:28;Matt.24:31
Old Testament verse
  Isa.13:9-10;Ezek.32:7-8;Joel 2:1-2,10-11,30-31;
        Joel 3:15-16;Amos 8:9;Zeph.1:14-16