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Matthew 23

SUMMARY.--The Scribes and Pharisees in Moses' Seat. The Burdens They Imposed. Their Eagerness for the Praise of Men. Religious Titles. Religious Masters. The Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. Straining Out the Gnat and Swallowing the Camel. Whited Sepulchres. Building the Tombs of the Murdered Prophets. The Lamentation Over Jerusalem.

      21, 22. By the temple. Oaths that did they not call binding, Jesus traces to God himself. Compare Matt. 5:35 . The meaning is that all oaths are by God. There are no distinctions.

      23. Ye pay tithe of mint, anise and cummin. Insignificant garden herbs. The Jews were bidden to pay tithes of the fruits of the field and of trees ( Lev. 27:30 ). The Pharisees were scrupulous in paying tithes of garden herbs that were almost valueless, but neglected much more important duties.

      24. Ye strain at a gnat. "Strain out a gnat," as in the Revision. A forcible image of those who are very conscientious over small, and careless of great, matters.

      25, 26. Ye make clean the outside, etc. The figure is plain. Its application rebukes scrupulous care of outside forms, while neglecting to have the heart pure.

      27. For ye are like unto whited sepulchres. It is stated that on the 15th of the month of Adair, before the Passover, the Jews whitewashed all the spots where graves were situated. This was done both to beautify them and to mark the spots as to prevent any one from passing over them, which would occasion Levitical defilement. For this practice, Num. 19:16 and Ezek. 39:15 Num. 19:16 and Ezek. 39:15 were cited. This custom gave the basis for the Savior's figure. In plain view of the Savior and his hearers, as they stood in the temple court, could be seen the whitened tombs along the western slope of Olivet, some of which are still seen to this day. Beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones. A powerful figure to show forth the contrast between the sanctimonious professions of the Pharisees and their unholy lives.

      28. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous. It was only in appearance and profession.

      29, 30. Ye build the tombs of the prophets, etc. They honored the prophets and saints by building monuments to them, instead of following their teaching, or imitating their lives. Even Herod the Great, a monster of wickedness, rebuilt the tomb of David.

      31. Wherefore ye be witnesses . . . children of them which killed the prophets. They demonstrated by their hostility to Christ, by their plots and false charges, and would soon show by their murder of the Lord, that they had just the same spirit as their fathers who slew Isaiah, persecuted Jeremiah, and shed the blood of Zacharias between the altar and the temple. They were therefore their spiritual children as well as their descendants. It adds to the vividness of this denunciation that from the temple area where they were standing the crest of Olivet rose distinctly at the distance of half a mile, and upon it were clearly visible the white sepulchers of the prophets which they had rebuilded, among them the tomb of Zacharias, who is named just below as slain between "the temple and the altar."

      32. Fill ye up the measure of your fathers. The language of prophecy as well as irony and invective; as if he had said: Fill the measure of the guilt of your fathers to the brim. Crucify the Holy One and thus fill up the cup of iniquity.

      33. Ye generations of vipers, how can ye escape? etc. Brood of vipers, full of venom, deadly as serpents, treacherous as the lurking serpent. So John had called them nearly four years before ( Matt. 3:7 ).

      34. Wherefore, I send unto you prophets and wise men. In Luke 11:49 , is a passage much like this. The men sent were inspired apostles and evangelists. By giving the Jews still further opportunities after the sin of the cross, the guilt of those continued to reject the crucified Lord was aggravated. Prophets. Inspired teachers, like the apostles, Philip, Stephen, etc. Wise men. Faithful, devout and learned, but uninspired preachers. Scribes. Usually, those who copy and teach the wisdom of others, but I suppose also embracing those who wrote the New Testament Scriptures. Some of them ye shall kill and crucify. Literally fulfilled in the next few years.

      35. That upon you may come all the righteous blood. Thus would they fill the measure full and become guilty of all the righteous blood shed by the whole army of martyrs. Unto the blood of Zacharias. The reference is probably to 2 Chron. 24:20 . He was slain in the court of the house of the Lord by the people, and died exclaiming, "The Lord look upon this and require it." He was the son of Jehoiada. The Siniatic manuscript omits Barachias in this place, and the error is supposed to have crept in from the mistake of some early copyist who confused this Zacharias with Zechariah the prophet, who was the son of Barachias.

      36. Verily, I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. As the Amorites were spared until "their iniquity was full" ( Gen. 15:16 ), so the iniquity of Israel was allowed to accumulate from age to age, till in that generation it came to the full, and the collected vengeance of justice broke at once upon it. So it is often in the destruction of a nation. The French Revolution of 1793 is another example.

      37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets. The intense feeling that spoke in this utterance comes out first in the redoubling of the word Jerusalem; next in the picture of the sins of the city which he draws--a city so wicked that it was not content with rejecting the messengers of God, but even slew them. I know of nothing more touching than this apostrophe. How often would I have gathered thy children together. Not only had the city been warned again and again by the prophets, but the Lord had visited it at least six or seven times, and had for months taught in its streets. Nor did his solicitude end with the cross. His long suffering, patience and love are shown by his charge in the commission to the apostles: "To preach repentance and remission in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Ye would not. "Would not" explains the cause of the rejection of the gospel. It is not because God in Christ is not ready: he would gather them. It is not because men cannot come, but because they will not come. Christ wished the salvation of Jerusalem; his will was for them to be saved: he sought to influence their wills to make a choice of salvation, but they would not. So God still "is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" ( 2 Peter 3:9 ), but there are many "who will not come to Christ that they might have life" ( John 5:40 ). While God wills the salvation of men, he does not destroy free agency by coercing the human will, but says: "Whosoever will, let him come."

      38. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. This was the consequence of refusing to come to Christ. The temple is the house meant. God will abandon it and leave it desolate. He will no longer accept its worship.

      39. Ye shall not see me henceforth. This seems to imply that the temple shall be deserted when he leaves it. With his departure the presence of God departs. He was the Lord of the temple. Till ye shall say. These were his last words in the temple precincts, but they do not shut out all hope. Even yet when the Jews shall join in the hosannahs of those who, on the Sunday before, had sung his praises, and cry, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," they may be permitted to behold their Messiah. Many have seen in this passage a promise of the final conversion of Israel. Zech. 12:10 Romans 11:26 Romans 11:2 2 Cor. 3:15 seem to favor the same view. When Christ abandoned the temple in Jerusalem, it was only fit for the destroyer. If we should drive him out of his spiritual temple, the church, it would be left as dead as the body without the spirit.

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