Matthew 23

Jesus Judges the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law

1 Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples.
2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat," he said.
3 "So you must obey them. Do everything they tell you. But don't do what they do. They don't practice what they preach.
4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on other people's shoulders. But they themselves aren't willing to lift a finger to move them
5 "Everything they do is done for others to see. On their foreheads and arms they wear little boxes that hold Scripture verses. They make the boxes very wide. And they make the tassels on their coats very long.
6 "They love to sit down in the place of honor at dinners. They also love to have the most important seats in the synagogues.
7 They love to be greeted in the market places. They love it when people call them 'Rabbi.'
8 "But you shouldn't be called 'Rabbi.' You have only one Master, and you are all brothers.
9 Do not call anyone on earth 'father.' You have one Father, and he is in heaven.
10 You shouldn't be called 'teacher.' You have one Teacher, and he is the Christ.
11 The most important person among you will be your servant.
12 Anyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up.
13 "How terrible it will be for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter. And you will not let those enter who are trying to.
15 "How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You travel everywhere to win one person to your faith. Then you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
16 "How terrible for you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone takes an oath in the name of the temple, it means nothing. But anyone who takes an oath in the name of the gold of the temple must keep the oath.'
17 You are blind and foolish! Which is more important? Is it the gold? Or is it the temple that makes the gold holy?
18 "You also say, 'If anyone takes an oath in the name of the altar, it means nothing. But anyone who takes an oath in the name of the gift on it must keep the oath.'
19 You blind men! Which is more important? Is it the gift? Or is it the altar that makes the gift holy
20 "So anyone who takes an oath in the name of the altar takes an oath in the name of it and of everything on it.
21 And anyone who takes an oath in the name of the temple takes an oath in the name of it and of the One who lives in it
22 And anyone who takes an oath in the name of heaven takes an oath in the name of God's throne and of the One who sits on it.
23 "How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You give God a tenth of your spices, like mint, dill and cummin. But you have not practiced the more important things of the law, like fairness, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the last things without failing to do the first.
24 You blind guides! You remove the smallest insect from your food. But you swallow a whole camel!
25 "How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You clean the outside of the cup and dish. But on the inside you are full of greed. You only want to satisfy yourselves.
26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish. Then the outside will also be clean.
27 "How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You are like tombs that are painted white. They look beautiful on the outside. But on the inside they are full of the bones of the dead. They are also full of other things that are not pure and clean.
28 It is the same with you. On the outside you seem to be doing what is right. But on the inside you are full of what is wrong. You pretend to be what you are not.
29 "How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You build tombs for the prophets. You decorate the graves of the godly.
30 And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of those who lived before us, we wouldn't have done what they did. We wouldn't have helped to kill the prophets.'
31 So you give witness against yourselves. You admit that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets.
32 So finish the sins that those who lived before you started!
33 "You nest of poisonous snakes! How will you escape from being sentenced to hell?
34 So I am sending you prophets, wise men, and teachers. You will kill some of them. You will nail some to a cross. Others you will whip in your synagogues. You will chase them from town to town.
35 "So you will pay for all the godly people's blood spilled on earth. I mean from the blood of godly Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berekiah. Zechariah was the one you murdered between the temple and the altar.
36 What I'm about to tell you is true. All this will happen to those who are now living
37 "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and throw stones in order to kill those who are sent to you. Many times I have wanted to gather your people together. I have wanted to be like a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. But you would not let me!
38 Look, your house is left empty
39 I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.' "(Psalm 118:26)

Matthew 23 Commentary

Chapter 23

Jesus reproves the scribes and Pharisees. (1-12) Crimes of the Pharisees. (13-33) The guilt of Jerusalem. (34-39)

Verses 1-12 The scribes and Pharisees explained the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in religion. We can only judge according to outward appearance; but God searches the heart. They made phylacteries. These were scrolls of paper or parchment, wherein were written four paragraphs of the law, to be worn on their foreheads and left arms, ( Exodus 13:2-10 , Exodus 13:11-16 , Deuteronomy 6:4-9 , Deuteronomy 11:13-21 ) . They made these phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more zealous for the law than others. God appointed the Jews to make fringes upon their garments, ( Numbers 15:38 ) , to remind them of their being a peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than common, as if they were thereby more religious than others. Pride was the darling, reigning sin of the Pharisees, the sin that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful. How much is all this against the spirit of Christianity! The consistent disciple of Christ is pained by being put into chief places. But who that looks around on the visible church, would think this was the spirit required? It is plain that some measure of this antichristian spirit prevails in every religious society, and in every one of our hearts.

Verses 13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.

Verses 34-39 Our Lord declares the miseries the inhabitants of Jerusalem were about to bring upon themselves, but he does not notice the sufferings he was to undergo. A hen gathering her chickens under her wings, is an apt emblem of the Saviour's tender love to those who trust in him, and his faithful care of them. He calls sinners to take refuge under his tender protection, keeps them safe, and nourishes them to eternal life. The present dispersion and unbelief of the Jews, and their future conversion to Christ, were here foretold. Jerusalem and her children had a large share of guilt, and their punishment has been signal. But ere long, deserved vengeance will fall on every church which is Christian in name only. In the mean time the Saviour stands ready to receive all who come to him. There is nothing between sinners and eternal happiness, but their proud and unbelieving unwillingness.

Matthew 23 Commentaries