In His third “woe” the Lord addresses them with “blind leaders”. Their blindness is apparent from their own theory that they have developed about oaths. They argue that swearing by the temple has no binding power, whereas it does when swearing at the gold of the temple.
The Lord calls them “fools and blind men”. By His explanation He does not mean to indicate the correct form of oaths, but to indicate the folly of their reasoning. They only look at the appearance. They see the gold and that means a lot to them, no matter which house it is in. It may as well be an idol temple. They don’t think at all about what the temple speaks of and what happens there and what value that a sincere service has for God in it. They only see the shimmer of the gold. This makes them blind to the fact that gold derives its meaning from the fact that the temple is decorated with it. For God, gold is not the most important thing, but the temple, His dwelling place.
The Lord mentions another example, the altar, with which He refers to the service itself. The previous example, the temple, concerns the place where the service happens. Just like the temple, the altar also means nothing to them. They only look at the offer.
Again the Lord calls them “blind men”. Also with regard to the altar He asks the question what is greater. Through His questioning He shows that they make the wrong distinction. Here too they only look at the offer and not at the altar. For them it doesn’t matter what kind of altar it is. It may well be an idolatrous altar. As long as there is an impressive offer on it. Then at least you have something to swear by.
In reverse order, the Lord explains what the altar and the temple mean. Swearing by the altar means swearing both by the altar and by everything on it. Altar and offer are inseparable. That is what the leaders do in their folly and blindness.
This is also important in relation to the work of the Lord Jesus. We see that altar and offer are inseparable in Him and His sacrifice. What He offered to God was so very pleasant to God because He offered it. The Lord Jesus is both the Altar and the Offer.
The same applies to oaths at the temple as to oaths at the altar. Oaths by the temple are oaths both by the temple and – not: by the gold, but – by Him Who lives in it.
The Lord adds another aspect to this, in which He goes from speaking about the earth to speaking about heaven. They also swear by heaven. Here again, it is not the outward appearance that matters, but the inward. The throne of God in in heaven, they have to consider that carefully. And God sits on that throne, they also have to consider that well. If they were aware of all this, they would be revising their teaching about oaths.