Matthew 23

Listen to Matthew 23
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.
3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.
4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels.
6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues.
7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’
8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.
9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father.
10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah.
11 The greatest among you must be a servant.
12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.
15 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!
16 “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’
17 Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?
18 And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding.
19 How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
20 When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it.
21 And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it.
22 And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.
23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
24 Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!
25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!
26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.
28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed.
30 Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’
31 “But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.
32 Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started.
33 Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?
34 “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city.
35 As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar.
36 I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.
38 And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.
39 For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the !’ ”

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.

Footnotes 11

  • [a]. Greek and the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses.
  • [b]. Greek They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
  • [c]. Rabbi, from Aramaic, means “master” or “teacher.”
  • [d]. Greek brothers.
  • [e]. Some manuscripts add verse 14, What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, you will be severely punished. Compare Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 .
  • [f]. Greek of Gehenna; also in 23:33 .
  • [g]. Greek tithe the mint, the dill, and the cumin.
  • [h]. See Lev 11:4, 23, where gnats and camels are both forbidden as food.
  • [i]. Some manuscripts do not include and the dish.
  • [j]. Some manuscripts do not include and desolate.
  • [k]. Ps 118:26 .

Matthew 23 Commentaries