The more serious a sin is, the more severely God condemns it. We see this principle in the life of Jesus. The Lord did not approve of any sin, but there were times when He was especially stern with people. Who were these people? What had they done? When Jesus used the strongest terms to denounce sin, which sins was He addressing?
How could Jesus have been more severe than when He told certain Jews that they were “fools and blind” and called them hypocrites several times in one chapter? What is more stern than asking, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” What could be worse than to be told, “Ye shall receive the greater damnation”? How could Jesus be any more plain than to say “Ye are of your father the devil”? What sin is so bad that Jesus would say these words about it? “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” How could Jesus say “it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee”? The Bible says that the people of Sodom suffer the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7). How could they be better off in the day of judgment than some of the Jews in Jesus’ time?
Jesus did not say these things to the woman in John 4 who had been married five times and was at the time living with a man. He did bring up her situation, saying, “Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband” (v.18). But he did not call her a hypocrite or a fool. He didn’t have to. She had a teachable attitude. Although she got uncomfortable when Jesus talked to her about living with a man and changed the subject, she didn’t get mad and deny it, make excuses, or blame somebody or something else. She was wrong for her adultery, but she didn’t make it worse by acting like a great and godly religious leader.
Jesus did not say these things to Martha when she got her priorities out of order and criticized her sister for listening to Jesus instead of helping her with the housework (Luke 10:38-42). He did not speak so severely to Nathanael when he at first scoffed at the idea that the Messiah was from Nazareth (John 1:45-51). He did not even speak this sternly to Peter about denying Him (Matt. 26:34; John 21:15-17). He did say to him “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23) after Peter told the Lord He was not going to die and be raised from the dead. But Peter was unintentionally being used by the devil, so Jesus never called Peter a fool or said he was sure to go to hell.
Where did Jesus use this severe language? You can read these words in Matthew 23:15-33, John 8:44, Mark 3:27-28, and Matthew 11:24. Who were these people? These were the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the Jews. What was their sin? It was the sin of religious hypocrisy. They were full of pride, greed, and envy. They had no real love for God or people, and yet they exalted themselves as great and godly spiritual leaders. They condemned others for the least violation of the law while they broke it when they pleased. If anyone knew the Old Testament, they should have. Since they studied and taught the law, their sin was more grievous because it was more deliberate. They absolutely refused to confess their sins and they denied the miracles and teaching of the Lord. No wonder Jesus said they would receive the “greater damnation.”
If any group of people should fear the judgment most, it is hypocritical preachers and religious leaders.