“You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside ...” (Matthew 23:27-28)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

What are 'whitewashed tombs'?

A 'whitewashed tomb' is a tomb where the tombstone has been cleaned but there is still a decomposing body underneath it.

Jesus' metaphor here is very similar to his metaphor regarding cleaning the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside.

In the same way, the exterior may appear clean and pure, but the inside is rotten. Jesus is saying they are like whitewashed tombs because while they wore the robes, and acted to appear to others to be pious and religious, they were not interested in being God's servant or teaching others how to develop their relationship with God.

Their interest was their own authority and what they could gain from their institutional positions. This made them like the rotting bodies inside tombs.

Jesus is referring to the consciousness of the inner self as contrasting with one's external appearance and activities. The word "inside" comes from the Greek word ἔσωθεν (esōthen), which means "from within" and "your soul" according to the lexicon.

Jesus is referring to the soul - the person within this temporary physical body.

The phrase "full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" refers to their consciousness. Jesus is speaking of a consciousness of being self-centered and full of greed.

Why were they 'full of hypocrisy and wickedness'?

Pretending to be religious with robes and tassels is hypocritical if the person wearing them has not put those principles to practice. This was true in Jesus' time as well as it is true today.

Today we find that some who wear the robes and tassels and claim to follow Jesus are actually following the example of the Pharisees in that they honor the robes and titles more than serving God.

As a result, they have institutionalized the teachings of Jesus. While focusing on the interests of their organization and their positions within it, and the various rituals related to utilizing Jesus' murder for their salvation, they have missed the essence of Jesus' life and teachings: To love and serve the Supreme Being, and love others.

We can see this tendency among humankind among so many different sectarian institutions around the world. So many institutional teachers have focused their energies upon the politics and groupthink that prevails in that organization as they seek their positions of authority: All the while ignoring the core tenets of those who provide the namesake to their organizations.

These institutions may have been formed early on to carry on the teachings of their particular teacher, so there may be no fault there. And these may have involved some sincere students of those teachings. But as time has gone by, many have sought to utilize these organizations to gain their own prestige and power - just as the temple priests and Pharisees referred to by Jesus.

Were they abusing their authority?

This is precisely what Jesus is accusing these institutional teachers of: They were abusing their authority by using the teachings of the prophets for their own purposes of prestige and authority.

Those who do this offend those teachers they pretend to represent. And once they begin to teach, they pass on this offensiveness to others. This breeds successive generations of those who not only misunderstand the teachings of the teacher(s) but offend them by using them to seek their own personal power and authority.

This has taken place among many institutions that claim to follow Jesus. Instead of focusing on Jesus' instructions to do God's will and learn to love God, they focus their teachings upon praying to Jesus for money and material things, and "bathing in the blood of Jesus" in order to be cleansed of sins.

Were these the teachings of Jesus? He gave so many lectures and sermons. Why did he never instruct those around him to pray to him for money or to get a great job? Why did he never tell his students that they can wait until he is crucified, and just be saved by staring at the cross and pledging their allegiance to him?

Jesus describes this issue clearly:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will come to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' ” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Jesus is saying that regardless of what we proclaim to others or do in the name of Jesus - unless we are serving God - Jesus will still say: ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Jesus will send us away because our focus has remained upon ourselves and our own interests. We aren't interested in what pleases God. We are focused on ourselves, and how to impress others with our religiosity.

Jesus' teachings told us to instead focus our hearts and lives upon God. This is why Jesus' primary teaching was:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)