Lessons From The Woes Of The Lawyers—Luke 11:45-54



In the last lesson, we saw that Jesus was invited to dinner by a Pharisee. Jesus completely ignored the ritual hand washing before dinner, and when Jesus saw the Pharisee’s disapproval, Jesus let him have it with three woes. We looked at these as the marks of a Pharisee:


1) Pharisees Focus On Externals (11:38-41)

2) Pharisees Major On The Minors And Forget The Majors (11:42) 

3) Pharisees Focus On What Gets Them Attention (11:43) 


But there was more than just a Pharisee (and probably other Pharisees) at this dinner. There were also lawyers present. They weren’t too happy with what Jesus said about Pharisees.


Luke 11:45 Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. 


A lawyer was an expert in the Law of Moses and all the additional laws that they had added. But wait, weren’t the Pharisees the experts in the law? What was the difference between lawyers and Pharisees? 


There was some overlap between Pharisees and lawyers. Basically, the Pharisees were a religious party, while the lawyers were professionals in the interpretation of the law. Some Pharisees were lawyers and some lawyers were Pharisees. 


Think of the Pharisees as being conservative Christians and the lawyers being Bible college and seminary professors. Naturally, conservative Christians will study the Bible personally for themselves (I hope), but professors in colleges and seminaries study the Bible as their profession. Some conservative Christians are Bible college professors and some Bible college professors are conservative Christians.


In the same way, some lawyers were Pharisees and some Pharisees were lawyers. That’s why this lawyer, after listening to Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees, says, 


Luke 11:45b Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.


The Greek word for “reproachest” (hybrizō) means to treat someone spitefully—to insult them. The lawyer basically laid down the gauntlet. Jesus lets him have it with three more woes just for the lawyers. In these woes, we learn three lessons for ourselves today.




Luke 11:46 And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. 


What are these “burdens grievous to be borne”? Jesus was referring to how the Pharisees and lawyers had taken God’s good law given to Moses and added their own requirements and interpretations to it. There are said to be (depending on how you count), 613 laws that God gave in the Old Testament. The lawyers had added something like 6,000 more laws.


For instance, God simply said to not work on the Sabbath (Exodus 16, 35). There are very few examples of what exactly that meant. Jesus would later explain that it did not mean that you couldn’t deal with necessary situations like watering your animals (Luke 13:15).


But the lawyers heaped up details of what exactly “work” meant, to point where it was ridiculous and a burden to people. 


These extra laws and traditions are recorded in the Mishnah, like we saw for hand washing in the last passage. Here’s a small excerpt that has to deal with how much a person could carry on the Sabbath:


[If] one carries out [an object] either with his right hand or with his left hand, or in his lap, or on his shoulder, he is liable [the latter] being the carrying [method] of the Kehat family. 


But if one carries [an object] on the back of his hand, or with his foot, or in his mouth, or with his elbow, or in his ear, or in his hair, or in his belt facing downwards, or between his belt and his shirt, or in the hem of his shirt, or in his shoe, or in his sandal, he is exempt because he did not carry in the way people [usually] carry.1


And then, to top it off, the lawyers didn’t do anything to help the people live up to these standards. If someone failed, they didn’t pick them up and help them to understand how to follow the law, instead they condemned them. 


And they especially didn’t help by being examples to follow. Jesus said that they “touch not the burdens” themselves. 


One way they did this was that they knew the loopholes to jump through to get past the regulations. It’s kind of like someone who knows the IRS tax regulations so well that they can get out of paying taxes because they know the loopholes.


Jesus came and saw how the people were being burdened by legalistic lawyers and said:


28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)


When we share Christianity with people, we should not share it (by our words or our example) as rules and regulations to follow. That’s not Christianity! We need to share it as the gospel—the good news—that Christ died for us. To remove the penalty of our sins for disobeying God in the first place.


People need to see that we obey biblical commands (and they should really be biblical commands), not as a way of earning favor with God but because we are grateful for the salvation that God has provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 


Give your legalistic burdens to Jesus because the Christian faith is not a law to keep, it is a gospel to be believed!


The next lesson we learn from the woes on the lawyers is to…




Turn back 600 years to Jeremiah 26. Here we find an example of how the prophets of old often met their demise.


20 And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the Lord, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath-jearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah: 21 And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt; 22 And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him into Egypt. 23 And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people. (Jeremiah 26:20–23)


Even though many of the Jewish prophets were killed by the Jews themselves, by the time of Jesus, they were all carefully honored. The 1st century Jewish book, The Lives Of The Prophets, describes the supposed…


…the burial place of each of the prophets and describes the elaborate tombs of some of them. Some prophets were persecuted and even martyred: Uriah (Jer. 26:20–23) and the Zechariah mentioned here in 11:51. Jewish tradition also attributed martyrdom to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Micah2


The Jews admired the old prophets and built memorial tombs for them. But Jesus says,


Luke 11:47 Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 

Luke 11:48 Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. 


Is it wrong to build a memorial to a dead hero? No, of course not. 


Is it wrong for a culture who killed a leader in the past to change their mind and honor him in the present? No, but the point that Jesus was making here is that they really hadn’t changed their mind. They thought that, if they honored the dead prophets of the past, it would count spiritually for them in the present.


But they were no different from those who had killed the prophets in the first place. They had the same sinful attitudes. They lived the same ungodly lives. So, according to what Jesus says next, they were as guilty as their fathers before them.


Luke 11:49 Therefore also said the wisdom of God [in Matthew 23:34, Jesus says the following words Himself, so He is the wisdom of God in the flesh], I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: 

Luke 11:50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 

Luke 11:51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. 


Here’s a fun fact: Abel is the first person murdered in the Bible (Genesis 4:8) And Zacharias is the last prophet killed, as described in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21. How can that be seeing that 2 Chronicles nowhere near the end of the Old Testament? Jesus is referring to the Hebrew arrangement of the books of the Old Testament, which has 2 Chronicles as the last book.


When they killed the prophets, what were they really doing? Since the prophets were sent to share the wisdom and word of God, they were killing the word of God to them! It was more than murder that they had committed. It was blatant unbelief in God.


Jesus tells them twice in these verses that “this generation” will be held accountable for “the blood of the all prophets.” How can that be? Is it fair? 


It is because their generation would kill the greatest prophet of all: Jesus Christ. You can see the beginnings of the push to execute Jesus right in this passage:


Luke 11:53 And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently [press Him hard to trip Him up], and to provoke him to speak of many things: 

Luke 11:54 Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.


Eventually, they got Him arrested and dragged through a kangaroo court trial. Pilate even gave the people one more chance to change their minds—they refused and demanded that Jesus be crucified. 


24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. 25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. (Matthew 27:24–25) 


When Jesus was crucified, they killed the Word of God; John tells us:


14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)


How do we today build memorials to the prophets and yet refuse to hear God’s word that they proclaimed?


Many people in our nation today call themselves Christians, many more, I think, than there are real Christians. They like to say that they believe the Bible, they talk about the Lord, but their lives show no real godliness. What would Jesus say to them? 


Woe to you who get outraged when the Ten Commandments is taken down from a courtroom wall, but routinely violate most of the Ten Commandments every day.


Woe to you who complain about prayer being taken out of schools but do not pray yourselves! 


The best way to honor God, His Word, and the prophets who have come before is not with a lot of talk about how you admire them. It’s not to complain about God being removed from the public square, but to ignore Him in your personal life. 


It’s to actually walk in faith and obedience to God and His Word. It’s to pick up the Bible and read it—from cover to cover. It’s to kneel down and pray to our Father in Heaven instead just talking about how great prayer is.


And we can honor the greatest of God’s prophets—Jesus Christ—by confessing our sin and receiving the free gift of salvation that He bought for us on the cross. 


Don’t just admire the Christian memorials in our land, become a true Christian by trusting in Jesus and by following Jesus. 


Honor God by truly loving His Word!


Finally, another lesson we learn from the woes Jesus pronounced on the lawyers is to…




Luke 11:52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. 


What is “the key of knowledge”? Jesus Christ is the key. The lawyers took away this key by making the Old Testament into a way of salvation by works instead of it pointing to the way of salvation in the work of Jesus Christ.


Jesus is the key to salvation, just as He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus also said:


9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)


Jesus is both the door and the key to enter that door.


How do we take away the “key” of the “knowledge” of Jesus Christ from people today? There are many ways that we do so:


  • We simply never speak about Jesus to anyone who isn’t a Christian.
  • We look at non-Christians as the enemy to be hated instead of the field to be harvested.
  • We make fun of unbelievers and what they believe (like evolution) instead of engaging them seriously about it.
  • We focus on outward rituals to be performed instead of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • We respond to trials the same way unbelievers do instead of by trusting God to be in control.
  • We emphasize something else—a particular doctrine or a moral behavior—to such a degree that we never get around to the gospel.


When we do things like this, we hide the knowledge of Jesus from people. Why would they want to become Christians if they don’t see Jesus in our lives? 


What can we do to give people the key of knowledge of the gospel today? It has to do with the words we say and the life we live.


Our society is very polarized. Hatred is common-place. People lash out with angry words or tweets against opponents. We have nothing nice to say about anyone from the opposing side. 


All that does is push people further apart. It makes it impossible for either side to listen to the ideas of the other. It hides those ideas from one another. When we as Christians fight the same way the world does, we hide the gospel from the world.


The apostle Peter offers a different way:


15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. (1 Peter 3:15–16)


According to Peter, we need to present ourselves to unbelievers in a certain, Christlike way:


1) We need to be sold out completely to God.


2) We need to be prepared and ready to give an answer, which, in part, means to answer in a way that they can understand and will have the most opportunity to respond.


3) We present ourselves with meekness and fear. I know that some of us what to say, “Yes, but…” to the idea of meekness. All I can say is, “Look at the text…it’s a command given to Christians.”


4) We keep our conscience trained and in tune with God’s word. 


5) We accept the fact that unbelievers will speak evil of us, but we don’t do what they do. They will have to answer for their actions one day and they will be ashamed. Don’t let it be that you have to be ashamed of behaving the same way as them.


Do everything you can to give them the key of the knowledge of Jesus Christ!


The woes Jesus pronounced on the lawyers remind us that we need to:


1) Give our legalistic burdens to Jesus.

2) Honor God by truly loving His word.

3) Give people the key of gospel knowledge.




1. https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Shabbat.10.3?lang=bi 


2. R. T. France, Luke, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 208–209.

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