What is the Greater Condemnation? (Matthew 23:14)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Matthew 23:14, NKJV)

What is the “greater condemnation” Jesus spoke of? It must be something because it’s mentioned in three gospels – this one and Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. But what is it? (Before you read on, why not try to answer this question for yourself?)

Is Jesus saying there are degrees of judgment and that the Pharisees and hypocrites are going to get punished more than others? You might think so if you read his words in other translations:

  • “You will be punished more severely.” (NIV)
  • “You will receive the heavier sentence.” (AMP)
  • “Ye shall receive the greater damnation.” (KJV)

The traditional view of damnation is eternal torment in the Lake of Fire. Since Pharisees and hypocrites are fixing for a greater damnation, does that mean the Lake of Fire has a particularly hot end and these poor souls will suffer in it for eternity plus an extra 20 years? That’s ridiculous.

So what is the greater condemnation?

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18)

Condemnation, or judgment, is not something that only happens at Judgment Day. Condemnation is what you have now when you refuse to enjoy God’s love and grace. In Christ, there is no condemnation. Outside of Christ, there is plenty.

We weren’t designed to live alone. Choose the path of self-reliance and yours will be a limited and inferior life (see Jer. 17:5-6). This has nothing to do with divine punishment and everything to do with sowing and reaping. Sow to the flesh and you reap corruption (Gal. 6:8). We simply do not have it within ourselves to live the abundant life we were made for. Left to our own devices, even our best efforts will lead to dissatisfaction, discontentment, and destruction.

Bet on yourself and you cannot win; bet on Jesus and you cannot lose

Jesus said the one who refuses to believe has made up his mind. He has made his final judgment (krino) and it is a negative one (krima) with bad consequences. From this we can identify two kinds of unbeliever:

  1. Ignorant unbeliever – hasn’t heard the gospel and doesn’t know God loves her
  2. Hard-hearted unbeliever – has heard the gospel and knows about God, but has rejected him

Reflecting on his early life as a blasphemer and violent man, the apostle Paul said, “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). Paul, who was formerly known as Saul, thought of himself as a God-fearing man. But when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, he realized he didn’t really know anything about God. He was the first kind of unbeliever – the ignorant kind.

In contrast, the Pharisees who scorned Jesus were the second kind. They met the Son of God in person and heard him proclaim the good news of the kingdom, yet they rejected him. They mocked him, they hated him, and they tried to kill him. These guys weren’t agnostics. They were murderers and abusive men (Matt. 23:34). They were the original nose-punching preachers. Not only did they refuse to enter the kingdom of heaven, but they hindered others from entering as well (Matt. 23:13).

Every unbeliever is either like Saul (ignorant and unaware of God’s goodness) or like the Pharisees (hard-hearted and violently opposed to it). But here’s the thing: we all start out like Saul.

Saul was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance. God doesn’t show mercy only to some people but to all people, because every one of us is ignorant until we hear the good news. “The grace of God that brings salvation (i.e., Jesus) has appeared to all men” (Tit 2:11).

God loves the Pharisee and the hypocrite as much as he loves Saul. But they don’t love him back. His grace is for everyone, but not everyone receives it. Although God does not discriminate, we do. We judge ourselves by our response to Jesus.

Two kinds of condemnation

Since there are two kinds of unbeliever there are two kinds of condemnation – a lesser and a greater. This condemnation does not come from God but from our unbelieving hearts (1 John 3:20) and the law (2 Cor. 3:9).

What is the lesser condemnation? It is the condemnation or self-imposed judgment that is overturned by grace. Think of Saul, living wretchedly under the law, trying to do his best for the Lord. On the road to Damascus he encountered God’s grace and was set free from condemning religion. He became proof of Jesus’ words that, “Whoever believes in me is not condemned.”

What is the greater condemnation? It is the condemnation that resists grace and denies the Lord. Think of the self-righteous Pharisees who hated Jesus and plotted to kill him. They received the heavenly rain, but produced thorns and thistles. They insulted the Spirit of grace and trampled the Son of God underfoot. They pushed the word of God away and judged themselves unworthy of life (Acts 13:46).

An ignorant unbeliever may yet receive grace, but a hard-hearted unbeliever cannot receive it. Why not? Because grace has already been offered and rejected. It has been tasted and spat out. The condemnation of the Pharisee and the hypocrite is greater because it is resistant to grace. Having heard the gospel and spurned it they are without hope, because there is no other gospel.

Ultimately, everyone responds to Jesus. Some respond like Saul and join the party; others respond like the Pharisees and remain outside in the darkness of their stubborn unbelief.

The condemnation of the ignorant is lesser because it is temporary. It is the predawn haze of a passing night. When the sun rises, poof!, it’s gone.

But the condemnation of the hard-hearted is like concrete. It’s as hard as the soil of their unbelieving hearts. The condemnation of the hypocrite and pretender is greater, not because there are degrees to God’s judgment or because he hates them. He doesn’t! Their condemnation is greater because their stubborn minds are not easily changed.

sam-i-amGreen eggs and grace

Let’s say I offer you a plate of green eggs and ham, and you have never tried green eggs and ham. Do you like green eggs and ham? You cannot know until you have tried them. So you may try them. But if you have tried them and disliked them – hated them in fact – then you will never try them again.

It’s the same with Jesus. The Bread of Heaven is infinitely better than green eggs and ham and it is difficult for me to understand how anyone could reject him, yet some do. The Pharisees did and so did Judas. Jesus spent years with these guys. He gave them countless opportunities to receive from him yet they never did.

What does this mean for you?

Some who are confused about grace have turned the words of Jesus into cattle-prods. They say, “Beware the greater condemnation that falls on those who fail to perform.” I hope you can see now that the greater condemnation does not apply to those who are in Christ. Nor does it apply to those who have never heard of him.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn but to save. The greater condemnation is not a Big Stick he uses to whack those who fail to deliver results. The greater condemnation is the self-inflicted judgment some bring on themselves by hardening their hearts to his love and grace.

Green_eggs

33 Comments on What is the Greater Condemnation? (Matthew 23:14)

  1. Grace to you // June 12, 2014 at 12:17 am // Reply

    Paul, Well spoken. From what I see from these Hard-Heartened Hearts, The lord uses us to break thru. As Jesus would say, Do good to those who use you, Forgive. When we walk in the forgiveness that we have been given, it actually breaks down walls of the Hard-hearted. I’ve actually seen this work. The first thing that comes to their mind is Why are you forgiving me? it gives the spirit the chance to break thru. Thanks, Paul

  2. Hi Paul
    Have you written anything on why some find grace appealing while others are offended by it?
    Specifically is God entirely responsible ie divine election or is there some understanding that offers a more just ,if I may say that knowing that God is juster than just, alternative?
    Thanks man.
    Grace & peace.

  3. thank you, as usual,it is timely for me, sometimes people throw the green eggs and ham at you. I am I am. hehe. and it takes a minute to recover, and gather your thoughts.

  4. gatordeano // June 12, 2014 at 2:40 am // Reply

    I think there might be a 3rd category of unbeliever although you might be including them in the ignorant camp. Those who have heard some distortion of the Gospel and have rejected that. The problem is they might be pushing back against the distortions without distinction and end up rejecting Christ. I would put many modern atheists and many who have left the Faith who I’ve met online in that category.

  5. Great post! I cross-checked with my Greek tools and came to the same conclusions.

    Literally, in Greek this verse says:
    — You will select (Strong’s #2983: lambano – take, claim, procure, choose, select, receive)
    — a more earnest (Strong’s #4056: perissoteros – more abundant, to a greater degree, more earnest)
    — decision (Strong’s #2917: krima, that simply means a decision, from Strong’s #2919: krino – to distinguish, decide. From the latter, you get dia-krino (Strong’s #1252: diakrino – through-judge – discriminate, doubt), and kri-ma – decide-effect, or decision. The word condemnation, or kata-kri-ma (Strong’s #2631: katakrima – against-decision, adverse decision, or condemnation) doesn’t even appear in this passage).

    So, to sum this up, what this passage says is that Pharisees make a more earnest decision (to stay in the condition they are in), as evidenced by their actions. Again, God is not mentioned as an active agent in this context at all. It’s talking about Pharisees making their own decision.

  6. Awesome Paul! Thanks for all the insight.

  7. Beau Brandon // June 12, 2014 at 8:09 am // Reply

    Soooo good Paul. Thanks man. Helped to bring clarity and insight into much of what I’ve been thinking through regarding the condemnation that the natural world is under outside of Christ.

  8. hi Paul,

    Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

    in some translations this part “to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

    any idea why king James Version added that ?

    • I don’t know why they added this qualifier (which comes from verse 4) but I do know that it troubles some people. It shouldn’t. For me, the verse makes sense either way. Remember, condemnation is self-inflicted. If you are in Christ, there is no condemnation. Awesome! But if you are walking after the old ways of the flesh instead of the new way of the spirit – perhaps by trying to justify or sanctify yourself through your works – then you will feel condemned. Indeed, there are many Christians who are in Christ yet feel guilty and condemned for this very reason. The condemnation does not come from the Lord; “I condemn no one.” It comes from the law. The remedy is to stop running back to that old husband and walk in the new way of the Spirit. It’s to walk under grace.

    • If you take the word “condemnation” to mean “adverse decision” which is the core meaning of that word in Greek, and consider it not exclusively in a judicial context, then it will make more sense, and even that transposition in Rom 8:1 from verse 4 won’t throw you off that much.

      See, if judicial condemnation is all there is, then that completely takes the issue of condemnation out of my sphere of responsibility and control and by definition would require a judge. In this context that would be God. If so, then getting condemnation would be God passing an adverse verdict against me, which is an impossibility since I am in Christ.

      When you think condemnation to simply mean adverse decision made by whoever the context points to, things get much simpler. If I walk by the flesh, by my actions I make a choice or decision which will adversely affect me. I am immune from God’s adverse judgement since it’s been poured on Christ on my behalf; however, I am not immune from cause and effect.

      In 1 Cor 11:29, people were eating and drinking “decision (krima) on themselves”, which meant that they kept getting sick and dying as the rest of the world. Verse 32 calls those effects “condemnation”, which in that case meant “decision leading to adverse effects” to their health. Their (adverse) decision was to not consider the body of Christ which would avail healing to them. Notice no judicial context whatsoever, simply cause and effect.

      Does this help?

  9. This is a great post, which I plan to share! Thanks so much!

  10. I don,t know about you Paul ,but I had heard and tried to read the bible but thought is was a work of fiction.But years later I heard and read and believed. This was not the work of myself.A hard heart can only be softened by our God.You cannot bring yourself out of sin and unbelief No Way ! And the bible proves this

    “the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21).(John 6:65) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”. No one comes to Jesus unless the Father grants it;
    as many as were APPOINTED (acts 13 48)
    You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).
    And as for hardening your own heart well I think this verse puts a end to this,
    So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. .You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will.(Romans 9 18)

    My experience was a softening of my heart by God for belief ,my heart was not soften by myself.

  11. Since condemnation is simply unbelief, greater condemnation is greater unbelief. The scripture is simply saying he is hardening their hearts. It was given to you to believe and suffer for Christ. And all of Israel will be saved. Every last one.

  12. “Man’s most subtle idol – and therefore the idol most destructive to man and difficult to root out of his heart – is himself. Even when all of the “things” of the world which men can worship and serve in gods – fame, wisdom, wealth, love, health, power, possessions, sensual pleasures and the rest – even when all of these fail to provide the satisfaction men seek from them, and in this way prove themselves to be “false gods,” men can still feel they have their own strength, or “inner resources,” to fall back on:
    ” It matters not how strait the gate,
    ” How charged with punishment the scroll,
    ” I am the master of my fate,
    ” I am the captain of my soul.
    These lines from the 19th century poem, “Invictus” express perfectly man’s basic sin of “pride” (or “self-deification”), the basis for all of man’s disobedience to God.
    Ecclesiastes, and the NT with him, are quite sure that, as Jesus would say, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24) This means that if finally “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul,” then – logically enough – God cannot at the same time be my master and my captain. Or, to extend this logic one step further, if I should still insist that both God and “I” are my masters. Then – because no man can serve two masters – God and I would have to be one. In other words, I would have to be God! But this is just what I have always wanted!”
    God is not a liar – Ehesians 1.

  13. Michael Jenkins // June 16, 2014 at 6:29 am // Reply

    Another amazing article, this puts everything in perspective. Love this post, amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

  14. darang7677.dl@gmail.com // June 20, 2014 at 3:11 pm // Reply

    Thank you Brother May the living God bless your ministery

  15. Heather Boothe // July 13, 2014 at 4:21 am // Reply

    Hebrews 4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen[c] away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
    I think this is an explanation of those who have heard the truth but refuse it. There just isnt anything else that can be done to convince them. Can’t redo salvation to make them believe.
    What are you thoughts? Are these verses referring to those, like the Pharisees, who heard but rejected?

    • My thoughts on this passage can be found in this post.

    • So in the case where God want (say pauls salvation )or anyone else God needs for his purposes ,and they don’t want to be saved , who wins ?Who,s will is sovereign in a battle of wills God or mans?

      • Draydon // July 15, 2014 at 7:42 am //

        Isaiah 46:10 – Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times [the things] that are not [yet] done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I WILL do all my pleasure:
        Ephesians 1:11 – In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own WILL

        Paul your argument is not with me it’s with God
        Good luck

      • If God is sovereign and everything that happens is his will, then it is his sovereign and perfect will for me to tell you that he is not sovereign. He was not willing for Adam to eat, but Adam ate. He is not willing that any perish, yet people perish. More here.

        Please limit any future comments to the post above (on Greater Condemnation).

  16. Lana Huston // July 23, 2014 at 4:08 pm // Reply

    I’m confused about judgement day. Who’s accusing, condemning, and judging who?
    Jesus does not accuse us John 5:45, Matt 7:2, John 3:17-18
    Jesus does judge: John 5:30, 1 Cor. 4:4, 1 Cor. 5:13, Romans 2:16, Romans 3:6, Acts 17:31, Acts 10:42, John 8:50, John 5:30, 2 Cor. 5:10
    When we judge ourselves we condemn ourselves: Romans 2:1-3, Acts 13:46
    Jesus does not judge: John 8:15, John 12:47-48

  17. Working on a Sunday School lesson and found this article. Just what I was looking for and I checked a number of other sights. Thank you and keep spreading the word. You jus never know when you will be a great big help.

  18. Good news for all of us. I tend to condemn myself
    .yes that’s right. I’m Learning its not GOD that’s doing it its those religious people and Satan.

  19. Rambling pharisees. WHY CAN’T YOU IDIOTS JUST READ THE BIBLE AS IT IS, YOU JUST CAN’T RESIST MANIPULATION AND REINTERPRETATION JUST LIKE THE PATHETIC THOUSAND YEARS OF ROMAN CATHOLICISM. GREATER = LARGER AMOUNT = DIFFERING FROM. Therefore it is very clear the lake of fire will have degrees, some receiving greater damnation and some receiving damnation in general. All damned but some damnation worse then what others will experience. This is the opposite justice of heavenly rewards. In heaven those who had the most works for God will be given the most rewards, so in the lake of fire, those who did the worst against God and man will receive the most punishment. IT IS THAT SIMPLE MANIPULATING RAMBLING PHARISEES.

    • For preaching the grace that ends all condemnation I have been called many names, but I’ve never been called a manipulating rambling Pharisee. That’s a new one!

  20. Dylan, try holding back on the caffeine man.

    Thank you for this prime example of “rambling”. Maybe if you mellow out a tad; we could understand your point. (Not that I am a great writer either🙂 ).

  21. Paul can you comment on james 3:2 in light of being free from sin and sanctified completely?

    • “We all stumble in many ways” (Jas 3:2). We are all holy in Christ but we are still learning how to be holy. We’re like newborn babies – fully human in every way but not yet able to walk and talk like humans. We need to learn how to walk like a human and as we do we will stumble in many ways. Doesn’t mean we’re not human, just that we’re still learning to be who we are. Eventually we get it. Same with holiness.

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