(Mat 5:20) For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Is there a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees that one must have to enter into Heaven? What was Jesus trying to say in Matthew 5:20? let’s take a careful look at that scripture again.
First of all, what is the righteousness of the Pharisees that Jesus was talking about in that verse?
It is simply a kind of righteousness that comes through personal obedience to the Law of Moses, the Torah. It is also known as self-righteousness since it requires a personal keeping of the Ten Commandments and statutes.
Now why will Jesus say one must have a kind of righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisee to enter heaven?
First is because the Bible calls that kind of righteousness (self-righteousness) a filthy rag before God.
(Isa 64:6) But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
What Isaiah meant by that “filthy rag” in that verse is not the usual kind of rag you use in cleaning dust from your car’s windscreen or shoes. It’s far more than that.
The word “filthy rag” refers to a used menstrual rag. An older form of sanitary pad used by the ladies in Israel as at the time that portion of the Bible was written. That was what Isaiah compared the righteousness of the Pharisees to.
Again, if the righteousness of the Pharisees that comes by personal obedience to the Mosaic laws could take anyone to heaven, then we may have something to boast of since we got there by our works. We could as well beat up our chests and mock those who couldn’t “work” themselves in.
(Rom 3:27) Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
(Rom 4:2) For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Lastly, the righteousness of the Pharisees is actually disguised hypocrisy. Among people, they pretend to have no fault or weakness as humans, making themselves appear as though they never sin in order to win the praises of men.
(Mat 23:24) Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
(Mat 23:25) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
(Mat 23:26) Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
(Mat 23:27) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
(Mat 23:28) Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Claiming to be 100 percent all the time in their performance and trusting in their own abilities, they are hardly able to humble themselves to receive the grace and mercy of God for man.
So what righteousness supersedes this kind?
It is the righteousness of God in Christ that is received as a gift by faith and not works. This is the righteousness that justifies a man and qualifies him to not only reign in life but also to enter into heaven.
Through His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus obtained this kind of righteousness and freely offers it to all who would believe in Him as their Saviour from Sin and it’s penalties.
(Rom 3:20) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
(Rom 3:21) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
(Rom 3:22) Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
(Rom 3:23) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
(Rom 3:24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
(Rom 3:25) Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
(Rom 3:26) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
It is this kind of righteousness Jesus had in mind when He said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and HIS righteousness……” That is what we have been called to receive in Christ. That is the righteousness that supersedes that of the Pharisees.
That righteousness has been given to you freely in Christ.
I hope this blesses you.
Glory to God!
-Prince Gabriel Okocha