Jesus’ offering himself as the Jews’ Messiah at Jerusalem was rejected by the authorities there (cf. Luke 11:15-16), which consisted of both Pharisees and lawyers. The lawyers were rabbis (scribes) or experts in the law and could belong to either the sect of the Pharisees or that of the Sadducees. Normally, the two sects got along for purposes of governing the people, but they did have a mutual dislike for each other. The lawyer who spoke out in defense of the Pharisees (Luke 11:45), may, indeed, have been a Pharisee, but Jesus responded by pronouncing three woes upon the whole group of lawyers (Luke 11:46-52). So, this would have united both the Pharisees and the Sadducees against a common enemy.
Jesus’ first judgment against the lawyers was due to the fact that they, through their interpretations of the Law, laid heavy burdens upon the people. Luke seems to use a play on words here, which may or may not reflect what Jesus had said in the Aramaic. It is: “…you burden (phortizo – G5412) men with burdens (phortion – G5413)… and touch not the burdens (phortion – G5413)…” Such a thing would call attention to the tedious interpretations the lawyers gave to the Scriptures to the hurt of the people who believed their interpretations. Yet, these same lawyers showed absolutely no compassion for the plight of their brethren. Jesus used a medical term for touch (prospsauo – G4379) used only here in the New Testament (Luke 11:46). It has to do with touching a sore part of the body with compassion, or gently touching a person in order to find a pulse. It concerns showing compassion for someone, which the lawyers, who seemed to be obsessed with making more and more regulations, were not apt to do.
The second judgment Jesus pronounced against the lawyers concerned their building up or decorating the tombs of the prophets (Luke 11:47). Their doing so couldn’t have been to honor the prophets, but, rather they honored their forefathers, the false prophets, who killed the prophets of God or had them killed (Luke 11:47-49). This is seen in the fact that the authorities in the first century AD, also, rejected the word of God, as it was preached by the prophets sent to them, namely, John the Baptist and Jesus, the Son of God. Had they really wished to honor the prophets, the lawyers would have believed the prophets’ message, which pointed to Jesus, the Messiah. He is the Prophet that Moses said should come, and whom they would need to believe (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19). Yet, they didn’t believe Jesus, thus, proving they were the sons of their fathers who killed the prophets of God. In building up the graves of the prophets, the lawyers were saying, in effect, “The only good prophet is a dead prophet!”
The consequence of rejecting Jesus as the promised Messiah called for judgment upon the nation, which came in 70 AD, 40 years after Jesus confronted the Pharisees and the lawyers at this very Passover in 30 AD (cf. Luke 9:51; Luke 19:44).
The third woe Jesus pronounced upon the lawyers had to do with the lawyers taking away the key to knowledge (Luke 11:52), and, in doing so, they refused to enter the Kingdom of God, because they rejected Jesus, their Messiah. Not only so, but their burdensome and false interpretations of the Scriptures, which made the word of God of no effect, also made the ministry of Jesus to the people of no effect, because the people believed the lawyers! Because the people trusted in the lawyers’ false doctrine, the word of God of no effect upon them, so the whole nation had to be judged in 70 AD.
During the days of Ezra, it was the Levites who gave the sense of Law, as it was expounded by the teachers (cf. Nehemiah 8:7-9). However, during the time of Jesus, the rabbis (scribes or lawyers) had become the interpreters of Moses. During the Jews’ exile in Babylon certain men arose who taught Moses received an oral teaching that he handed down to Joshua, who also handed it down to Israel’s judges. They, in turn, handed it down to the prophets, and the prophets to the rabbis. Nevertheless, there is no explicit reference to this oral law (the traditions of the elders) in the written word of God. It is ludicrous that such a law could be handed down orally for about 1400 years without error. This is shown in the fact that this same oral law had to be written down a few centuries after Christ in order to preserve its ever increasing doctrines. Nevertheless, what was written later does reflect the ideas and attitudes of the first century in which Jesus taught.
The problem was that Jesus taught these traditions made the Law of God void, if they were believed and practiced (Mark 7:5-12). So in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, the Prophet that Moses said would come and in whom all Israel was required to believe, judgment must befall both these lawyers and the nation who placed their trust in their leaders (Deuteronomy 18:18-19; cf. 28:64).
Luke 11:53-54 attests to Jesus’ official rejection as Messiah by the Jerusalem authorities. I like to think they were given 40 years to repent, but I am not certain repentance was possible, once the rejection occurred (cf. John 12:37-43), which Luke claims took place during the Passover season (30 AD) one year before Jesus was crucified. It seems to me that from this time forward the Pharisees and the rabbis began setting traps for Jesus in order to entangle him in his words. They hounded him with questions, seeking to find fault. They bore a grudge against him for what he had said here, so they wouldn’t be satisfied, until they were able to get rid of him.