For good or bad, people tend to resemble their leaders, as they assemble around those who reflect their own priorities. When they are led in a false direction, in one sense people cannot blame their leaders, because leadership is merely a reflection of their hearts; however, when God judges a people, while not exonerating the individuals, there is a particular responsibility that He holds leaders to. When the prophet Hosea came to announce judgment on the nation of Israel, in Hosea 4:4, 9 God says, “Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest… And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” Likewise in Ezekiel 34, God announced a scathing indictment of the shepherds of Judah for feeding and clothing themselves on the fat and wool of the sheep, not strengthening the weak, healing the sick, seeking the lost or gathering the straying, and judging the people harshly (Ez 34:1-4). The scattering of His people then is both a judgment as well as a protection. Finally God promises His people: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ez 34:11-12).
In the first twelve verses of chapter 23 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus identifies 5 marks or characteristics of false leaders. As God’s people today, we too ought to use this to help us identify true and false pastors of true and false churches. We can identify the nature of a leader by: The works they do (vs. 3), the burdens they render vs. 4), their need for an audience (vs. 5), and their love of honor and titles (vs. 6-7); all of these ultimately point to their pride (vs. 11-12). This is followed by some of the most shocking and harshest words ever spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ directed toward the Pharisees (the leaders of the Jewish people). Some have stumbled over the words of this chapter in light of Jesus’ command to love your enemies. But when we consider God’s jealous love for His people, and the sway that human leaders have over them, we can understand the righteous indignation that the God-man, Jesus Christ has toward the people who are leading His people astray.