Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they pretended to be servants of God, but were actually agents of Satan. Jesus used the word hypocrites eight times in Matthew 23 to describe their behavior. He said, “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13). When Jesus said, “ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” he was basically saying that the scribes and Pharisees were closing the door to salvation. Because of them, no one was getting saved. Jesus went on to say, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). In other words, the scribes and Pharisees were winning souls for the devil and his kingdom rather than for God.
The Greek word Jesus used that is translated hypocrite, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace´) refers to a stage player, “an actor under an assumed character” (G5973). The word hypokrites is derived from the word hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin´-om-ahee) which means to decide (speak or act) under a false part (G5971). You could say that a hypocrite is a false believer, someone that calls himself a Christian, but is actually not saved. One of the characteristics of the scribes and Pharisees was that their behavior appeared to be consistent with the Mosaic Law. They seemed to be doing everything the law said they were supposed to. Jesus said of these men, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye ar full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27-28). The implication being that the scribes and Pharisees were intentionally deceiving people into thinking they were model citizens.
On a previous occasion, the scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman to Jesus that they said was “taken in adultery” (John 8:3). John’s account of this incident suggests that the woman’s accusers had caught her in the act (John 8:4). After hearing their accusation, John said, “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lift up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:6-7). The problem with the situation Jesus was dealing with was that only the woman was brought to him for judgment. According to the reference note on John 8:3, “The incident was staged to trap Jesus (v.6), and provision had been made for the man to escape. The woman’s accusers must have been especially eager to humiliate her, since they could have kept her in private custody while they spoke to Jesus.” The scribes and Pharisees apparently thought Jesus would be willing to condemn the woman based only on their testimony.
When Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” he knew these men were guilty of breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments. His strategy was to get them to see that they were no better than the woman they were asking him to punish. John said, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst” (John 8:9). No one knows for sure what Jesus wrote on the ground, but I’ve heard it suggested that Jesus wrote the Ten Commandments or perhaps, the specific commandments that each of the scribes and Pharisees had broken. Of course, they were all guilty of some crime and may have even committed adultery themselves. Therefore, Jesus’ strategy was effective in exposing their hypocrisy and getting them to realize that they also deserved to be stoned.