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What does ‘woe’ mean and why does Jesus use it so much?

What does ‘woe’ mean and why does Jesus use it so much?


When we see the word WOE in the scripture, particularly when Jesus uses it, we know we better pay attention. Jesus has lots to say, all prefaced with WOE! Jesus is speaking to the leaders of the day. Jesus is speaking to the elites.

I am going to pay attention. Jesus is talking to me. I must learn.

This is critical in my life. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.

Whenever we see the word “woe” in the New Testament, then it is always a translation of the Greek word “ouai“. This Greek word “ouai” is used 47 times in the New Testament: 41 times in 33 verses it is translated as “woe“, and six times in three verses it is translated as “alas“.

Do religious leaders talk a good line, but don’t live it?

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Jesus has a real thing about hypocrisy. His frequent target are the religious leaders. In Matthew 23 he goes on a real rant about the frauds. He introduces 8 “woes” on them. “Woe to you!” Jesus says over and over. Even more, “Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars [Scribes and Pharisees] are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.” ~Jesus | Matthew 23:1-3 (The Message)

What does Jesus mean when He says “Woe to you”?

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Jesus is upset. Jesus is upset with the elite religious leaders of the day.

Jesus hasn’t gotten over it. I am thinking I need to pay attention to this. It is too easy to think Jesus is saying this “to them”. The word of Jesus is like a sharp sword.

It is easy to slip into the religious mode. Maybe I’ve been going to church too long. Maybe the church has been around too long. Maybe it has all gotten old and tired.

Haven’t I heard this sermon before? How many times are we going to sing that hymn?