“You shut off the Kingdom of Heaven from people.” (Matthew 23:12)
The harshest words Jesus spoke here on earth were not directed to the immoral or to heretics, but were for the religious hypocrites He condemned in Matthew 23. He pronounced a series of “woes” or curses against them in this chapter, and in verse 12 we find the first: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the Kingdom of Heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” These men were doubly cursed, Jesus indicated: not only were THEY going to hell; but they were causing others to go there as well.
Jesus had previously said in Matthew 18 that it was better that a millstone to be hung around your neck, and to be drowned in the sea, than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. But these men DID put stumbling blocks in other peoples’ way, which wouuld keep them from heaven. Therefore their punishment would be very great. Jesus’ “Woe” should not be taken lightly.
We should all ask ourselves the question: is there any way in which I myself am like these men, and am keeping people from the Kingdom of God? Is there anything in my lifestyle; the words I speak; my attitudes; which would keep someone from coming to the Lord? We shouldn’t live merely to please ourselves; we impact many others by what we say and do. And one of our prime considerations before we say or do anything should be how it might impact anyone’s potential salvation.
In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, Jesus said that there is a special blessing for the “peacemaker” — the one who brings man and God together. Here in Matthew 23 we find the opposite. The religious hypocrite keeps others AWAY from God by his contradictory lifestyle, and will incur the wrath of God for it. Make certain that you are not causing anyone to turn away from the Kingdom by your own words or lifestyle.