“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
For I tell you,
This phrase in the Greek is an emphatic appeal to Jesus’ authority and ties verse 20 with verse 19.
unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was outward, ritualistic, and not from the heart. It was an external righteousness, a scrupulous legalism. They had profile and image in the eyes of the people but they did not have reality.
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ listeners cannot enter the Millennial kingdom with outward righteousness.
God accepts only imputed righteousness from Christ rather than personal self-righteousness.
External righteousness is not enough in Jesus’ eyes, for it is selective righteousness and superficial righteousness. Human righteousness can never match God’s righteousness.
God’s righteousness is “imputed” righteousness; that is, God puts this righteousness to our account because of Christ’s death for our sins. God puts the standard of His righteousness to our account.
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Ro 3:21-26
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Co 5:21