“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the One who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the One who sits on it.” (Matthew 23:16-22)

As indicated by “Woe to you, blind guides!" Jesus is criticizing the Jewish priests with regard to their teachings and guidance (or lack thereof) to others relating to the Supreme Being. Let's break down the meaning of Jesus' statement:

"You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’"

What is Jesus speaking of? The word "bound" is derived from the Greek ὀφείλω (opheilō), which means to be in debt or owe something in return.

And the phrase "swear by" is translated from ὀμνύωto (omnyō), which means to 'promise, with an oath' according to Thayer's lexicon. So Jesus is talking about creating obligations by means of pledging ones allegiance.

When a person makes an oath or pledges their allegiance to something, they are creating a subtle debt. Let's say a person comes to us and says they pledge to us that they will fix our car if it breaks down. When our car breaks down, who will we call? We'll call the person who made that pledge. Why? Because they made us a pledge. They created an obligation with their pledge.

In modern society we typically do not "swear by the temple." But we will often swear on Jesus' name or swear on the Supreme Being's Name. Today this has become a blind figure of speech, but the origins of these statements relate to making a pledge on the name of Jesus or the Name of the Supreme Being.

Today we also hear people swear "on my mother's grave" as they commit themselves to a statement. This is the kind of statement Jesus' is referring to, except during ancient times, people would not "swear on my mother's grave" - they would "swear on the the temple" - which is to "swear by the temple."

Certainly we also know from Jesus' statement that people would also "swear by the gold in the temple" - as they make a promise or commitment.

So Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are teaching that there is no obligation if one swears by the temple, but there is one if someone swears by the gold in the temple.

The point Jesus is making is to "swear by the temple" should indicate the pledging of oneself to the worship of God. This is because Jesus sees the temple as the house meant to worship the Supreme Being. Jesus takes the temple seriously, which is why he became angry when he saw the temple grounds in Jerusalem being used as a marketplace, saying:
"It is written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'" (Matt. 21:13)
The first part of Jesus' statement is being quoted from Isaiah:
"And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to Him, to love the Name of the LORD, and to be His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:6-7)
Jesus takes this statement by the Supreme Being - spoken through Isaiah - seriously. He sees the temple as the place where the Supreme Being is worshipped. The place where offerings are made to the Supreme Being.

With regard to the "gold" - is Jesus speaking literally about gold? Nope. The Greek word translated to "gold" is χρυσός (chrysos), which means "precious things made of gold, golden ornaments." In other words, Jesus is speaking of gold itself, he is speaking of those ornaments made of gold - in other words, the materialistic elements of the temple.

Thus Jesus is condemning the notion that the swearing by the temple has little meaning, whereby swearing by the materialistic aspects of the temple - which include its sectarian qualities - is condoned by these ecclesiastical Jewish teachers. This is confirmed when Jesus says:

"You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?"

Jesus is speaking of the personal nature of the Supreme Being. The fact that it is presence of the Supreme Being that makes His temple and the gold within it sacred. This is confirmed by Jesus' statement:

"And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the One who dwells in it."

Jesus is speaking of the Supreme Being's personal nature. To ignore this while a person considers the trappings of the temple is to offend God.

We might compare this to a person who becomes a customer of a big company's products. They are interested in the prices and the products' qualities, but they aren't very interested in the person who started the company. They only care for the products the company makes.

In the same way, most of us could care less about the personal nature of the Supreme Being. We are too busy trying to enjoy the world He created. This is Jesus' point regarding these ecclesiastical Jewish teachers: They are most concerned about the trappings of their positions in the temple - and not focused upon having a personal relationship with the Supreme Being, which is the purpose of the temple - to approach God and make offerings to Him. Jesus confirms this when he says:

"You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it."

Jesus is speaking of a "gift." What is a "gift"? It is an offering, made to a person. Why does a person give someone a gift? To express their care for the other person. To express their love. The ancient teachings of the scriptures referred to offerings as a facility by which to please Him:

"Bring the grain offering made of these things to the LORD; present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar. He shall take out the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD." (Lev. 2:8-9)

The focus of an offering is to please the Supreme Being. Just as a person offers a gift to their boyfriend or girlfriend to please them, an offering of a gift to the Supreme Being is supposed to please Him.

By Jesus' statements we understand that he also taught the importance of making offerings. He also instructed elsewhere:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (Matt. 5:23-24)
and
“See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matt. 8:4)
"The gift Moses commanded" refers to making an offering to the Supreme Being. Reaching out to Him with a gift of a little fruit or grain, or a flower or water. A humble offering made with sincerity. This was an integral part of Moses' teachings, as evidenced in the Old Testament.

The Supreme Being owns everything. He doesn't need our stuff. But He appreciates offerings made with humility and sincerity. And since the Supreme Being's presence is not limited to the temple, we can make an offering from anywhere. We can pick a flower or fruit and make an offering - in the name of His loving representative Jesus - from where we stand - which will help bring us closer to the Supreme Being.

The Supreme Being is practically forgotten within these sectarian churches. While they focus upon Jesus as if he were God, they completely ignore the very Person Jesus was trying to teach his students to come to know and love. This is why Jesus stated:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:21-23)
This indicates that Jesus is not interested in people pledging his name - he is interested in his followers coming to know, love and serve ("does the will") the Supreme Being - whom Jesus is distinguishing from himself.

This Supreme Person Jesus is referring to is also spoken of specifically in the verse above:

"And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the One who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the One who sits on it.”

When Jesus refers to the temple he is not referring to a building. He is referring to a place where the Supreme Being is worshiped. It is a personal thing to Jesus.

And who is Jesus referring to as the "One" who "dwells in" the temple and "sits on" God's throne? Certainly, Jesus is referring to the Supreme Being.

By worshiping the things of this world, including our reputation, possessions, money, fame, power and position - we become beholden to those things. By desiring the things of the world, we become "bound by" the demands of the physical world.

This desire for material things comes from a place of self-centeredness and misidentification, because we are intending to make ourselves happy, and we are incorrectly identifying ourselves with these temporary physical bodies.

Jesus is telling them that while they are focused upon the trappings of their positions - their temples, their salaries, their titles, their authority and their prestige - they were forgetting the Supreme Being. And by becoming focused upon the material trappings of their positions with the temple, they had become enslaved by - and blinded by - the desires for those material trappings.

And due to the ignorance created by this enslavement, they were not able to teach the Truth, let alone recognize Jesus as he was: God's representative.

Those Jewish priests also became "bound" to those political councils that authorized them. They were bound to the responsibilities of their political positions.

It is important to note that the temple Jesus is referring to here is not a building, just as the altar being discussed is not some physical materials. The Temple houses the Altar, and the Altar is the representation of God. It is a place where God is worshiped. It is thus inseparable from God.

Although God can be prayed to anywhere, and reached from where ever we are, an authorized Temple and Altar - one that has been approved by God and anointed by a representative of God - is a place where those who want to re-establish their relationship with God can put their heads to the ground and submit to Him, and offer gifts to Him.

These activities - offering homage and offering gifts - are the stuff of relationships. Why? Because by offering the Supreme Being gifts, we are able to re-establish our loving relationship with Him.

This is a universal law of relationships. If we like someone we barely know, and want to come to know them better and get closer to them. What do we do? We find some way of getting in front of them, where we can offer them some kind words, and offer them a gift. This is what people do, because this is the stuff of relationships.

Yes, we can also have a relationship with the Supreme Being. God is not a monolith or a vague cloud or booming voice. God is a person. He is the Supreme Person, and we can each have a personal relationship with Him.

Certainly, anyone can have a building built and put a symbol on it. This does not make the building a real Temple or Church. What makes it a real Temple is when a loving servant of God humbly requests God's presence to accept His loving servant's worship. On behalf of His loving servant, God will indeed come into that place, and there in that Place, others can connect with God in the spirit of the relationship between God and His loving servant.

A building constructed with lots of stained-glass windows, large hallways, golden symbols, and a big congregation area is not a real Temple if it is constructed for any other purpose other than to glorify God. If it is built to support the organizational objectives of a religious sect then the building will just be another building - not a Temple of God. It might be a pretty building, and that’s about it.

So what motivates God to authorize a location to become a Temple? What motivates Him to become present and accessible within a Temple?

Love.

God is drawn to His humble loving servants. He is attracted by those who out of love, desire to serve and please Him. Whenever such a person humbly asks the Supreme Being to be present within a location that was prepared for Him with reverence, God will come and be present. Why? Out of love. It is because of His loving relationship with His loving servant.

This is why the places where Moses, Abraham and other loving servants of God established as temples were so special to Jesus, as he states here.

In fact, where ever such a loving servant of God has exercised His relationship with God is a Holy Place. Why? Because God was present at that Place.

Buildings erected by those only interested in gaining respect, followers and authority - especially among those collecting salaries for their teaching positions - are not able to create such a Holy Place. Jesus has explained this previously:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-18)
Ironically and sadly, some of the bad fruits of offensiveness that Jesus pointed out concerning these ecclesiastical Jewish temple officials is also taking place today in the name of Jesus. How can we distinguish between a "wolf" and someone who represents the Supreme Being?

--God's representative is never a paid professional position.

--God's representative doesn’t otherwise personally profit from their teachings.

--God's representative does not seek to gain followers.

--The representative of God is chosen by God, and is never appointed by a council of people. The teacher must be a student of another bonafide teacher and representative of God, who was also a student of a representative of God, and so on. Jesus illustrated this as he became a student of John the Baptist, and then took on his own students and told them to go out and pass on his teachings.

--The bonafide representative of God teaches the same teachings their teacher (God's representative) taught. God's representative does not make things up or speculate on the Truth.

--The teachings of God's representative are always consistent with scripture, as applied to the current time and circumstance.

--God's representative never teaches that they are God or that we are all God. God's representative is a humble loving servant of God, and God's representative asks each of us to also become God’s humble loving servants.

--God's representative practices those teachings, providing an example for those teachings.

We might think God's representative as difficult to find. If we become serious about re-developing our relationship with God, God will direct us to His representative.

And what does God's representative teach?
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-40 and Deut. 6:5)



 (For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus  - translated from the original Greek texts.)