I was reflecting on Matthew 23:23-28 .

And came across Jesus comparing the Pharisees with several objects: filthy cups, whitewashed tombs.

What is the point Jesus is trying to make here?

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Why did Jesus use parables to teach?
    – depperm
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 20:05
  • 1
    @depperm - Was Jesus using a parable here? Or simply using everyday objects to illustrate a point? Parables were mainly about the Kingdom of God and used as a teaching device. Here Jesus is condemning the Pharisees, not trying to teach.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 17:14
  • @Lesley a parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, this example seems to cover this, the teaching happens in v26
    – depperm
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 23:24

3 Answers 3


The point is that outward appearances of righteousness do not fool God. The Pharisees, who were sticklers for the Law, their traditions and rituals for purification, added to the Word of God by imposing additional rules and regulations. This resulted in placing a heavy burden on the people. Jesus condemned their teachings as being merely human rules (Mark 7:7).

On the outside, the Pharisees presented themselves as pious, holy and pleasing to God. The illustration of a whitewashed tomb shows how the external appearance may have been pleasing to the eye but the reality was disgusting to a holy and righteous God.

At first glance, the appearance of the Pharisees projected an image of spiritual holiness and cleanliness, but a closer look exposed their sinful, proud and self-righteous attitudes. Hence the similarity with a cup and plate that might be externally clean and pleasing to the eye, but held disgusting and unclean contents.

In the Gospels, the Pharisees are often presented as hypocritical and proud opponents of Jesus. The Lord stated it bluntly: “They do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:3). As a general rule, the Pharisees were self-righteousness and smug in their delusion that they were pleasing to God because they kept the Law—or parts of it, at least. As Jesus pointed out to them, however scrupulous they were in following the finer points of ritualism, they failed to measure up to God’s standard of holiness: “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (verse 23).

The apostle Paul was trained as a Pharisee, and his credentials in that group were sterling (Acts 26:5). Paul called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:5–6). But Paul found that his performance of the Law could not produce true righteousness. After he placed his trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross, he desired to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (verse 9). No one, not even the strictest Pharisee, is justified by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:11). Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/Pharisees.html

God looks for mercy, not sacrifice, and is pleased by a contrite heart, opposing a proud heart. God knows what’s going on in the inside, our motives and secret thoughts. Jesus could see the Pharisees for what they really were, outwardly religious but spiritually dead on the inside.


It is pretty much talking about how one can have one side clean and the other unclean. Saying the outside dignity and righteous appearance of the Pharisees give the sense of true righteousness but in fact they are dirty.


These are metaphors about hypocrisy: looking good/OK/attractive on the surface, which hides an ugly, perhaps deadly reality on the inside.

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