THE WHITED SEPULCHRE
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within 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.” Matthew 23:27-28 (KJV)
The verses quoted are the words of Jesus to an unbelieving, hard-hearted, rebellious group of religious leaders known to Jesus as “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites”. The words quoted are the seventh of eight “Woes” which Jesus himself voices against them. The scribes, the Pharisees, the hypocrites were the ones who were always condemning others. They basically had no good word to say about anyone, except themselves, and I would imagine if one of them violated their normal routine they would also be condemned.
The “Whited” is speaking of a whitewash which was often used for temporary covering. It was temporary only because it washed away in the rain. It only gave the appearance of being something it wasn’t. They purposely whitewashed the sepulchres to have them clearly marked, so as not to touch them and thus, defile themselves making themselves cermonially unclean.
Jesus likens them to these “Whited sepulchres”. The way they paraded themselves around as being the epitome of holiness and righteousness, and before God they have the stench of hell, the putridness of dead men’s decaying flesh and bones. This reminds me of the “Untempered mortar” of Ezekiel’s prophecy, “Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered morter: Say unto them which daub it with untempered morter, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it. Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it? Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my fury; and there shall be an overflowing shower in mine anger, and great hailstones in my fury to consume it. So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered morter, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the LORD. Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered morter, and will say unto you, The wall is no more, neither they that daubed it; To wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 13:10-16 (KJV). Just as the false prophets of Ezekiel’s day were suring up the hopes of their people with promises, but not dealing with their sin, so too were the religious leaders of Jesus’s day offering a false hope in perfection, and the keeping of manmade ordinances, which they themselves were not practicing. The untempered mortar of which Ezekiel speaks is like a white wash substance to fill the cracks in the wall, but with no holding ability, to only be washed away with the rains.
Jesus speaks at the beginning of this discourse saying, “Whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (23:3). Jesus does not say a word about not obeying, but saying do what they teach and say. Just don’t practice their hypocrisy of saying and not doing.
Legalism is rules that are always made for someone else. It has no practical application for the one proclaiming it, or they have provided for themselves ways to bypass and get around it. They had made for themselves “Loopholes” to get around these rules of tradition, and in some cases of written law. Jesus condemns the actions of the hypocrites who boasted of their own good deeds, and by their own acts made it impossible for anyone else to actually believe.
Legalism is the denying of the power of God alone to save and adding to it the works of law, tradition, ritual, or sacraments. It has absolutely nothing to do with the call of the pastor, preacher, teacher, and God’s Word calling God’s people to live holy, righteous, temperate, lives of labor for the glory of the Lord. One is not a whited sepulchre when they too are walking in the Word of God, and following the practices of holiness, etc..
-by Tim A. Blankenship