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When the Bible in Matthew 5:20 says; "For I say unto you that unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven", it means there could be two versions of righteousness. 1) The self perceived and self styled righteousness 2) Righteousness that we receive by way of letting Christ into our lives. Now, which version do the Pharisees and the scribes ascribe to so that Jesus said ours has to exceed theirs, and which version do we ascribe to which Jesus said has to exceed theirs? The Pharisees ascribed to the version of the self perceived and self styled righteousness. But also note that it is not called righteousness because it is, it is called so because it appears to be so. It is intended for the observers and it is not rooted in the heart. It is only to get praise from men. Jesus gives us many parables of such righteousness. In Matt 23:27, Jesus tells the Scribes and the Pharisees that they are like whitewashed tombs which appear clean on the outside but are full of bones and all uncleanliness in them. He actually calls them hypocrites. Meaning, this version of righteousness is only for hypocritical purposes. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus gives us another parable of this version of righteousness. When the Pharisee went to the temple to pray, he only boasted of how he can fast and give a tithe of all of his income. He was actually challenging God if at all He had any case against him. On the other hand though, the tax collector couldn't even look toward Heaven. For he knew he was already a sinner. He only came to God to seek for help. Jesus said it is the tax collector who left justified not the Pharisee. The Pharisee was convinced that he could be righteous by himself. The tax collector on the other hand knew that he couldn't by himself. The Pharisee therefore is a good example of a person who perceive themselves righteous, and the tax collector is a good example of a person who needs help from God so they can be righteous. It is very important for us to pray, to fast, to read the Bible, but it is not the reason we are counted righteous. Righteousness is exclusively of God and can be accessed by those who come to God through Christ His Son. For Jesus' is the only acceptable sacrifice before God and it is only of Him that we can be counted righteous. We could thus say; righteousness or unrighteousness is the state of your/my heart. The only shaper of an acceptable heart by God the FATHER is Jesus. No human therefore should ask what wrong they have done if they are asked to repent (Luke 13:1-5) Righteousness can therefore only be possible if we let Christ into our lives. It is only Jesus, the only one to have put on flesh and to have overcome it. Jesus is the Son of God and only His blood is the blood of God. Only Jesus came from Heaven. Only Jesus successfully overcame the world and the cross. Jesus was never moved by how much people wanted Him to appear insulted. For He had only one mission; to recreate the precious lost relationship between man and God. Had Jesus only been righteous by His own style and perception, He would have failed somewhere and given in to one of the wiles of the devil. Self styled and self perceived righteousness can easily collapse just like a pack of cards. But Jesus is far over and above all such. Jesus is therefore not to acquire righteousness, for He is righteous. Thus to say; righteousness is of Him. In all this, we should be able to learn that to be righteous is not only to be seen and perceived to be one, but we must be transformed from inside out, not from outside inside, for it can't simply be (Mat 15:18), (Lu 6:45). For the Pharisees and the Scribes, it was about to be seen to be righteous. But when Jesus came, He wants us by Him to rise above this. All we do must truly be from deep inside our hearts. It should not only be for the observers. We can only be counted righteous by God. God is the rewarder.
The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was legalistic. Philippians 3:3-6, 'For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, 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.' So, by strictly observing the Law, the Scribes and Pharisees had some form of righteousness. Now Jesus is saying, our righteousness must exceed this level. This is the barest minimum. So what is beyond this level? There's obedience - yes, OBEDIENCE - based on FAITH. That's what He's saying. Romans 1:5, 'Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the OBEDIENCE that comes from faith for his name’s sake.' Romans 16:25-26, 'Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the OBEDIENCE that comes from faith' I know the current hype to run away from the Law of God, but Peter warns us, 2 Peter 3:17, 'Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.' People who don't OBEY are referred to as 'LAWLESS' in the bible. Jesus did not preach lawlessness. That is the lot of the devil. The antichrist is also known as 'the man of lawlessness.' 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 'Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.' Bless you all.
What does it mean that our righteousness needs to "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees"? The scribes and pharisees ascribed to the "oral law" which is an addition to the law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. They claim that this oral law was also give to Moses at that time, although a lot of the "oral law" contradicts the law given to Moses which he physically recorded. Jesus made enemies of this group by telling them the truth that by their adding the so-called "oral law" they were in fact adding the law given by God to Moses. Which of an by itself put them in a position of breaking the law. Deuteronomy 4:2 You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahovah your God which I command you. The pharisees both added to and diminished the law give to Moses at Mount Sinai and as a result Jesus said the were following the traditions of men rather the obeying the law give by God to Moses that they were supposed to obey. To-day in modern Judaism the words spoken by various Rabbi's are considered to be in fact equal to the law given by God to Moses. They have perverted that which they were given and Jesus called them on that fact. He did so as the Messiah they would not recognize because if they had recognized him as such they would have had to give up their positions of authority and stop deceiving their people. Thus they planned to have him killed! This is always the result of people who are confronted with the truth that convicts them to the core of their being. They will either accept the truth or persecute and deny what has convicted their hearts and minds. If Satan or his minister who appear to be righteous cannot deceive you then he/they will persecute or try to destroy you. If we are doing the works of Jesus as we should, i.e. preach the gospel message about the soon coming kingdom and be willing to lay down our lives for our brethren we will be persecuted. Matthew 5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Galatians 4:29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. John 15:20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. Luke 6:47-48 Whosoever comes to me, and hears my sayings, and does them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. Psalms 89:26 He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. In doing these things we will exceed the "righteousness" of the Pharisees. If we follow the creed of Jesus given in Mark 12:28-32 which is to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves we will have exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees one hundred fold!
We are told this in Revelation 12:17 And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus: The commandments of God that were Jesus creed are explained clearly in Mark 12:28 ¶ And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. - Amazing statement coming from a scribe! And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. Indeed enabled by the Spirit - Breath - Love of our God Yehovah we can keep the royal law as James refers to it - the law of love, the law that is what governs the new covenant. Love fulfills the law completely for we are to worship our God in spirit and in truth or with a true spirit of His love flowing through us outwardly to all we come in contact with. As the scribe said the law of love is better than offering whole burnt offerings and sacrifice to God, greater than Temple worship. If we live according to the law of our God flowing through us we become slaves to righteousness and reflect what it means to be new creations in God's anointed one Jesus.
This is a great verse to teach on the importance of genuine, Spirit-led, God-honoring commandment keeping (viz, Torah observance), all the while avoiding the dangers of stone-cold, people-judging, legalism. A fellow Torah Teacher and good friend of mine explained the verse to me this way, “…it seems to me, that while Yeshua (Jesus) emphasized the utter necessity of heart obedience if one intended to keep the commandments, He did not in any way negate the requirement of outward performance. That is to say, one surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees not by neglecting the outward performance of the mitzvot (commandments), but by performing them as the fruit of a heart given over to the true worship of God. Another way of saying it is this: if the commandments are received as purely obligation, it would be impossible, from God’s perspective, to keep them. But if they are received rather as divine blessing and privilege, then the keeping of them is pure delight. However, only the heart borne out of faith in God is able to so receive the commandments as blessing, and it is this kind of “keeping” which Yeshua teaches His disciples… The point is simply this: “far surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” cannot exclude the performance of the commandments.” Since we know beyond doubt that mere performance of commandments will not merit eternal life, then Yeshua’s words cannot be meaning what they seem to be saying at face value. In like fashion, Yeshua challenged other 1st century people he met with the seeming offer to grant them eternal life if they would faithfully follow the commandments (Jn. 5:39, 40; Matt. 19:17). Also, it seems the apple did not fall far from the tree where Yeshua’s disciple Paul was concerned. For indeed, Paul uses similar cryptic language: Rom. 2:13 “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” What do all these verses have to do with our righteousness exceeding that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, and how is heaven attained? Simply that, our salvific righteousness is not our own. If you are in Christ then your righteousness is that which flows from him into you, by his grace, through faith, and by his blood. Period. If you have put on the righteousness of Christ then your righteousness WILL exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, and you WILL enter heaven, amen? We cannot earn a righteousness that will grant entrance to heaven, no matter how many commandments we keep, and no matter how perfectly we think we are keeping them. So Yeshua’s words are also a warning against this legalistic mindset. To be sure, it was a veiled indictment against those religious readers within earshot of his words that day. Paul’s words in Romans 10:9, 10 (as rendered from the KJV since they use the word “righteousness”) warrants our attention at this point: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We don't keep Torah to BECOME saved. We keep Torah because we ARE saved. My fellow Torah Teacher’s concluding words are fitting to end this short study: “We ought to guard ourselves from any satisfaction which derives from equalling the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. For according to Yeshua’s words, those with such righteousness will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. Only those who surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees are viewed as truly righteous. To whatever extent, then, we consider our mere meeting the obligation of the Law as sufficient righteousness, we misunderstand both the Law and Yeshua’s teaching here. Only as our love for God enables us to understand the commandments as a blessing from Him, will we be enabled to keep them as He intended.”
It means that true righteousness is by having faith and trust in God's one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ; "for there is no other way but for the sacrificial lamb of God and His precious blood that was shed on that cross of Calvary". " For in Him, through His shed blood by which He removed your sins and my sins for eternity, that we may have a home in heaven with our Lord Jesus". Praise God! --Andy--
The pharisees and scribes were considered to be the most righteous people during the times of Jesus. Jesus rebuked them sharply and exposed that they were still guilty of sin. He explained to them that unnecessary anger is equivalent to murder, and lust is equal to adultery, etc. If pharisees were the best law keepers, how can their righteousness be exceeded? It is by being imputed with the righteousness of the perfect God-man Jesus Christ. Nobody can be perfect on this side of heaven. The only way to be righteous before God is by receiving the free gift of salvation, through faith in Christ. No amount of self-righteous good works can earn you an entrance to heaven, So, to answer the question, the verse simply means that Jesus is the only way to heaven and the proud self-righteous people are lost and do not have the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is imputed through faith alone.
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