Intense is the only word that I can come up with to describe Matthew 23. Jesus holds nothing back in his instruction to the people and in his rebuke of the Pharisees.
Jesus instructs his hearers to be on their guard against the false teachers of the scribes and Pharisees. This is a radical instruction given that these two groups comprised the religious leaders of the day. They were the ones to whom the people went for guidance, instruction, and counsel. The scribes were the interpretive experts on the Torah itself, and the Pharisees were experts on theological issues that the Torah raised.
The people were to reject the teachings of these religious leaders because both the scribes and the Pharisees did not practice what they preached. “They tie up heavy burdens, had to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to them with their finger” (23:4). Belief drives behavior, and behavior has to match belief. Be on your guard against false teachers. Make sure their actions validate their message.
Beginning in verse 13, Jesus turns his attention directly to the scribes and Pharisees. He condemns them because they have “drawn the people away from the kingdom of heaven instead of leading them it.”* The seven woes are:
Examine yourself before the Lord. Make sure that you are not a whitewashed tomb. Clean from the inside out. Jesus calls us to develop a hatred of sin and to live a life of righteousness.
*ESV Study Bible