Matthew 23: 16-22. “Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by Him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by Him that sitteth thereon.””
There are a couple of things going on here. First, it is clear that the Pharisees valued the golden items inside the temple more than they valued the temple itself. They were very conscious of wealth, and of course gold represented the greatest possible wealth. Therefore, to them, the gold that covered several pieces of temple furniture was of more value than the temple itself. Their focus was not on the house of God, but on the value of what it contained.
Second, the Pharisees held themselves above being required to pay any vow sworn by the temple or the altar; only the vow sworn by the gold in the temple or the gift on the altar required fulfullment.
Jesus, however, taught that all vows must be paid; that the temple was greater than part of its materials, and the altar itself was greater than a gift laid upon it.
Brick by brick, Jesus is laying the foundation upon which the accusations against Him will be built in just a few short days. He is taking apart all of the rituals and traditions held so dear by the Pharisees.