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encouragement theology

Woe to the Hypocrites!

Thoughts from Matthew 23…

It happened again this year. And last year. And many times in the past.

It breaks my heart when I hear about it — yet another Christian leader has fallen. There are great men and women who have dedicated their lives to teaching God’s Word. Some have gained massive audiences, and are known worldwide as they teach about Jesus Christ. 

It is especially hurtful when one falls. An international preacher, whose secret sins were exposed, shortly after his death. A college president, who encouraged thousands of students for the Lord, all the while hiding his own secretly wanton lifestyle. I grieve for the victims that these men have left in their wake, and am horrified that they could so easily destroy others in the name of Jesus Christ!a

I also grieve for the gospel, and how these failures caused men to curse and ridicule God’s name. There are also many others who are damaged by these failures. These are the men and women who have given their lives to Jesus Christ, who work with honesty and integrity, and yet have lost some of their credibility after these public scandals.

But when I look at God’s word, I find that Jesus Himself addressed such scandals. He debated the religious leaders of His day and was well acquainted with both the honest teachers and the hypocrites. His words in Matthew are as important now as they were then.

First, He addressed the people. When you hear God’s Word, it is the message, not the messenger that is important. We are responsible to obey the word that is preached to us, even when the preacher does not obey it himself! We follow the authority of God’s Word, not the personality of the preacher!

Next, He addressed the religious leaders. The scribes and Pharisees were loved and respected by the people, but Jesus Christ called them hypocrites! Seven times He addressed them, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

They block the way of life for those who are seeking it!

They corrupt their own followers!

They are dishonest blind guides!

They pride themselves in keeping the law, but they have neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness! 

They look clean and pure on the outside but are inwardly filthy!

They act like they are the path to God, but they are dead on the inside!

They think they are better than their wicked ancestors, while they plot the same atrocities!

This was the warning for the hypocrites, who acted religious and spiritual on the outside, but were nothing but corrupt and wicked leaders. Seven times The Lord denounces them. Seven times He warns them. Seven times He grieves for them!

And then the final warning is for all of us. The people of Jerusalem had the opportunity to repent, but they chose rather to reject Jesus Christ. They were happy to shout when He rode into the city on a donkey, but quickly left once He truly challenged them. They ignored Him, disregarded Him, and openly attacked Him!

As much as I like to hear about Jesus defeating the bad guys, these warnings hit too close to home for me. How many times have I been the hypocrite? How many times have I acted just like the wicked Pharisees? How many times have I disregarded or ignored Jesus Christ? 

Matthew 23 reminds me of God’s holiness. He is absolutely perfect, and we are all failures in His presence. When we are left to our own devices, we end up just as bad as the scribes and Pharisees of the first century. We all need to repent — to turn around — and to turn to Him!

Before it is too late!

Previous post: What is the Greatest Commandment?


Scripture

Matthew 23
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”


The Authority of the Scribes and Pharisees

Obey them when they teach God’s Word, but don’t follow their example

Matthew‬ ‭23:1-3‬
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”‭‭

The entire chapter of Matthew 23 is a series of warnings by Jesus Christ. First, He addressed the crowds regarding the scribes and the Pharisees, then He directly addressed the scribes and the Pharisees themselves, and finally He concluded with the residents of Jerusalem.b

The Pharisees “sit on Moses’ seat”. They carry Moses’ authority by virtue of their role as teachers of God’s law, even if they are not deserving of that position.c But since they are teachers of the law, the people need to obey what they say. Obey their words, but don’t follow their behavior because they don’t follow their own instructions. Jesus will elaborate further about their hypocrisy throughout the rest of the chapter.

They burden others with laws that they don’t keep

Matthew 23:4
“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

Don’t follow the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees because they do not practice what they preach. They assign an impossible task of keeping all the law yet they do not do it themselves. They find ways to sidestep the law instead of keeping it. 

They cultivate the praise of others

Matthew 23:5-7
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”

The scribes and the Pharisees do their work to be seen by others. Jesus had spent a large portion of the Sermon on the Mount teaching about hypocrites, warning the disciples not to do good works in order to be seen by others (see here). Yet this is exactly what the scribes and the Pharisees are doing — they do all of their good works so that they will get the praise and adoration of the public. They desperately crave the respect of the people!

He then lists the ways that they show their hypocrisy:

  • They make their phylacteries broad.Deuteronomy 11:18 says, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (see also Exodus 13:9 and Deuteronomy 6:8). At some point before Christ, the pious Jews decided that they could best honor this command by literally tying small books of the law on their foreheads. These books, or phylacteries, served as visible symbols of their piety, as well as good luck charms. The Pharisees then went a step further, fixing large books of the law to their foreheads, so that everyone would notice their level of spiritual devotion.d
  • Their fringes long.” The law also said that they should wear tassels on the end of their coats (Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). It was common for every Jewish teacher to have a coat with tassels for this very reason, and the sick woman grabbed the tassel on Jesus’ coat to be healed in Matthew 9 (see here). But the Pharisees took this a step further by making sure that their tassels were extra large, so that they would be well noticed by people for their piety.
  • They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues.” The scribes and the Pharisees were focused on their own personal glory. When invited to dinner, it was common to rank guest seating at the table, with the best seats near the host. The Pharisees would try to ensure for themselves that they got the best seat in the house (Note: Even the disciples were guilty of vying for the best seats among themselves. See the study on John 13 here).
  • And being called rabbi by others.” They craved titles of spiritual authority and would insist upon these titles for themselves. Whether or not they deserved it.

Make sure that you are different!

Matthew 23:8-10
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.”

Jesus then teaches the people to avoid the titles of “rabbi”, “father”, or “instructor”. The emphasis here is not that these labels themselves are wrong — we use them every day in both natural and spiritual relationships — but that we are not to seek out with the goal to obtain these labels. Teach, lead, and guide others in order to serve the Lord, not to gain recognition.e

Matthew 23:11-12
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is the Lord’s summary of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. They did everything to achieve these labels of leadership, and the limelight of being known as a spiritual authority figure. They wanted to be seen as the greatest ones. But Jesus teaches that the greatest is the one who will serve. If you exalt yourself, then God will humble you. But if you humble yourself, then the Lord will exalt you. 

Jesus had repeated this same message about humility and service in Matthew 20, especially Matthew 20:25-28. See the post here for an extended study on Christ’s call to humility.

The Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees

They block the kingdom of Heaven from seekers

Matthew 23:13
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees for blocking the way of life to those who are seeking it. 

They are guilty of shutting people out from the kingdom of heaven. Not only is it bad enough that they themselves do not enter, but they refuse entry to others. The imagery is interesting here, that they are guilty of shutting the door in peoples faces.f

They corrupt their own followers

Matthew 23:15
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for corrupting their own followers.

He denounces the scribes and Pharisees for going to the ends of the earth to get a single proselyte, and then making him even worse than themselves! Even more a child of hell! The one thing worse than the scribes and Pharisees are their followers. They receive all of their indoctrination without any spiritual value.

There was a movement among the Jews to allow outsiders to enter their beliefs, provided that they adhered to the same customs and laws. They were called “proselytes of righteousness” when they converted completely to the Jewish beliefs and lifestyle.11 But the Lord is saying that these foreign proselytes are even worse than the native Jews! They may be following the Jewish laws, but they have no room for the Messiah.

They are dishonest blind guides

Matthew 23:16-22
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemns the scribes and the Pharisees for their dishonesty. 

They claimed that they kept their vows and their oaths, yet they tried to find loopholes to hide their dishonesty. The most common tactic was to mask their oath with an important object or place, but excuse themselves if they did not use God’s name in their oath.

This passage about vows and honesty is covered in more detail in the study on Matthew 5:33-37 here.

They focus on the little things, forgetting the big things

Matthew 23:23-24
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

In this denunciation, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for focusing on minor matters while neglecting justice and mercy and faithfulness.

The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves in their ability to keep even the most minute parts of the law. But in truth, they fixated on the minutiae of the law while missing the “weightier parts of the law”.g 

Jesus uses two illustrations in this passage to show their hypocrisy: the types of seeds and herbs that they tithe, and that they strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! One of the provisions that the Pharisees added to the law was that they needed to tithe, not only the first fruits, but also their garden herbs. Even the smallest seeds would be rigorously divided into portions so that a tenth would go to the Lord. This is the reference to mint and dill and cumin, as they were the smallest seeds of garden herbs. They would be normally ignored but the Pharisees prided themselves on tithing everything – even these!

There was also no process to pasteurize milk like we do today, so it was very common to have small insects and other debris floating in your morning milk. This was a matter of great concern for the Pharisees, who feared that they might consume an unclean animal, such as a gnat, while drinking. So as a result, to make sure that they were ceremonially pure, they would strain out everything they drank so that they did not accidentally swallow anything unclean. They were so careful to protect themselves from the smallest things, yet they missed the major failures. The largest unclean animal in their culture was the camel. They were diligent to avoid small items but were stumbling over the big stuff.

They are clean on the outside but filthy on the inside

Matthew 23:25-26
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees for cleaning their outside while remaining inwardly filthy.

He used the illustration of dishes on display in a home. I can picture the modern equivalent: walking into a Pharisee’s home and seeing all of his fancy china on display, with a very pure, polished exterior. But a deeper look at these fancy cups shows that inside has not even been washed! It is growing mold and still has rotting food left over from last month’s dinner!

In this section, Jesus shows the contrast with their philosophy. The Pharisees and scribes believed that you only needed to clean the outside, and what happened on the inside was of no consequence. Provided you were religious on the outside, it didn’t matter what your heart was like. But instead, Jesus says that you need to focus on the inside. First clean the inside and the outside will take care of itself. You take care of your inner heart and your outward actions will reflect who you really are.

Jesus had had an earlier confrontation with the scribes and the Pharisees regarding their purification rituals. He concluded the confrontation by saying, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15:11). It is the evil on the inside that defiles the person, not what they show up on the outside. See the detailed study of this confrontation in Matthew 15 here

They act holy on the outside but are dead on the inside

Matthew 23:27-28
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for being decorated on the outside but dead on the inside.

This is very similar to the previous denunciation, where the scribes and the Pharisees were so focused on the outside that the inside was completely neglected. But this comparison is much worse than dirty dishes — it is a decorated, whitewashed tomb!

It was a common concern for first-century Jews that they not become unclean by accidentally touching a forbidden object, such as a tomb holding a dead body. This would be especially difficult for the thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem, traveling through unknown territories in order to come to the feasts in the temple. After all the traveling, none of them wanted to show up unclean, and thus be excluded from the celebrations (see Numbers 19:16). There were no formal cemeteries in those days, so family members would be buried on the family property. Travelers could encounter these family plots if they were not careful, even to the point of touching the markers, oblivious to what was inside. Therefore, as a warning to the faithful pilgrims, the people would whitewash their tomb entrances. The travelers could remain pure and able to worship in God’s temple by following the white markers.

Jesus uses these markers as an illustration of the scribes and Pharisees. The white markers may have looked like they pointed the way to God’s purity, but they were really covering over decomposing dead bodies. Just like the markers, the scribes and the Pharisees had set themselves up as a pointer for people to keep themselves right with God. But in truth, they are doing little more than hiding their own death and decay.

They are guilty of murdering the prophets

Matthew 23:29-32
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 

In this denunciation, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for thinking they were better than their ancestors, yet still rejecting the Lord.

They would build great monuments to the prophets of old who were persecuted and killed the people. They would bemoan the fact that they were killed by their ancestors, yet vowing that they would never do the same thing themselves! But the Lord identifies them, not with the prophets whom they honor, but with their ancestors who rejected and persecuted God’s messengers. It is not only their ancestors who persecuted and killed those whom the Lord has sent, but they will be doing it themselves! They will receive the complete punishment from the Lord for their doing!

Jesus is repeating the same judgement here that He taught earlier that day (see here), when He told the parable of the wicked tenants who persecuted and killed the landowner’s servants, culminating in killing his son. Once again, the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day are just as guilty as the wicked men of the Old Testament who also rejected the Lord’s messages. 

The guilt is on all the people

Matthew 23:33-36
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

At some point in this final warning, Jesus moved away from the scribes and Pharisees and continued His words to all the listeners. His judgement is no longer only directed at the religious leaders, but upon this entire generation who will reject Him.

And His words are not nice! He called them a “brood of vipers” (see Matthew 3:7 and 12:34 for other uses of this same term. See the study on Matthew 3 here for more detail about this comparison with vipers). He warns them that their punishment will be the fires of Hell!

They are also guilty, not of past deeds but of the present and future atrocities. They will abuse and persecute his messengers! And so in consequence to that, they are guilty!

The reference from Abel to Zachariah the “A through Z” of Old Testament martyrs. The Jewish Scriptures started with Genesis and ended with Chronicles. The first murder in Jewish scriptures was Abel, who was killed by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:1-16). The final murder in Jewish scriptures was the prophet Zechariah, who was killed by king Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20-22).h

The Sorrow over Jerusalem

Matthew 23:37-39
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

There are occasions in scripture when you see the curtain thrown back and you get a glimpse of the Lord’s heart. In this instance, Jesus has finished his conflict with the religious leaders, culminating in the seven horrific denunciations against the scribes and the Pharisees. Seven times he says, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites!” They had made a mockery of God‘s law and focused only on their externals, seeking to please themselves and forgetting about the God who created them. Now they are ripe for His judgment which is about to fall. But the Lord‘s words end in grief, not anger. You can almost feel the tears from His eyes as He weeps over Jerusalem one last time. For so many years, He has yearned to gather and protect them, just like a hen would gather and protect her own chicks, free from any danger or harm that might befall them. But they would have none of it. They killed the prophets, torturing and persecuting those whom the Lord had sent. Now there is nothing left for them but desolation and judgment. The Lord‘s final warning is that they will no longer see Him until they are ready to proclaim Him as King.

When will Jerusalem be ready to claim Jesus as King? It has been almost two thousand years since The Lord said this, in A.D. 33, and yet this still has not happened! There has never been a time where the entire city of Jerusalem has been ready to receive Jesus Christ as King. Nor will it happen until he comes back to reign, at the end of this age. This is a time that is still yet to come!

Zechariah 12:8-11
On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 23:1-39, pages 260-266

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 23, The King’s Indictments

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 68, Jesus Confounds His Questioners, Luke 20:19-47

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 23:1-39, pages 67-70

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 12:38-40, pages 124-125

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 20:20-44, pages 207-208

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book V, CHAPTER IV: THE THIRD DAY IN PASSION-WEEK, THE LAST CONTROVERSIES AND DISCOURSES, THE SADDUCEES AND THE RESURRECTION, THE SCRIBE AND THE GREAT COMMANDMENT, QUESTION TO THE PHARISEES ABOUT DAVID’S SON AND LORD, FINAL WARNING TO THE PEOPLE: THE EIGHT ‘WOES’, FAREWELL (St. Matt. 22: 23-33; St. Mark 12: 18-27; St. Luke 20: 27-39; St. Matt. 22: 34-40; St. Mark 12: 28-34; St. Matt. 22: 41-46; St. Mark 12: 35-40; St. Luke 20: 40-47; St. Matt. 23.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.x.iv.html

[8] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 12, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/31-jesus-silences-his-enemies-and-the-olivet-discourse.html

[9] John MacArthur, The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 1, Matthew 23:1-4, Feb 26, 1984

[10] John MacArthur, The Characteristics of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 2, Matthew 23:5-12, Mar 4, 1984

[11] John MacArthur, The Condemnation of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 3, Matthew 23:13-15, Mar 18, 1984

[12] John MacArthur, The Condemnation of False Spiritual Leaders, Part 4, Matthew 23:16-33, Mar 25, 1984

[13] John MacArthur, Jesus’ Last Words to Israel, Part 1, Matthew 23:34-36, Apr 1, 1984

[14] John MacArthur, Jesus’ Last Words to Israel, Part 2, Matthew 23:37-39, Apr 8, 1984

[15] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 23:1-39, pages 1168-1170

[16] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Mark 12:38-40, page 1243

[17] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 23:1-39


Notes

[a] The following two articles report on such failures:

[b] Jesus had been confronted by several religious groups that day, so why did He single out the scribes and the Pharisees? Why not the Sadducees? We don’t have a clear answer from Scripture, but the most reasonable explanation is that the people hated the Sadducees but they revered the Pharisees. Therefore, Jesus’ intent in this chapter was to also show the people the wickedness of their beloved Pharisees. In essence, He is saying, it is “either them or me”.8

[c] The term, “sit in Moses his seat“ is a rabbinical expression that represents Moses’ authority. The rabbi would sit in the chair that was designated as the chief rabbi.

[d] “These [phylacteries] were square capsules, covered with leather, containing small scrolls of parchment, these four sections of the law: Exod. 13:1-10, 11-16; Deut. 6:4-9, 9:13-21. The Phylacteries were fastened by long leather straps to the forehead, and round the left arm, near the heart. Most superstitious reverence was attached to them, and in later times they were even used as amulets.” – Alfred Edersheim7

[e] Matthew 23:8-10 cannot be a command to always avoid these uses of “father”, “rabbi”, or “teacher”. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament show several examples of these titles used — both for natural relationships (e.g. “father”, see 2 Kings 2:12) and for spiritual authority (e.g. “teacher”, see 2 Timothy 1:11). 

We also see several examples of spiritual authority being used within the church (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). This is not an example to avoid levels of spiritual authority nor to make a statement about equality within the believers.

But the example here is of the scribes and Pharisees. They had focused their entire outlook of life and spiritual direction toward achieving these coveted phrases of “Rabbi”, “master”, “father”, and “teacher”. These are the labels of spiritual authority that the Pharisees craved. The Lord is warning us not to work for the labels of authority. Our goal is to lead and to teach, not for the labels that may be given us, but for the work of Jesus Christ. 

[f] The following phrase is added as verse 14 in many translations. However, there is also a notation that this text is not in the oldest manuscripts, and is likely not part of the original text:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

This seems to be taken from similar text in Mark 12:38-40 and Luke 20:45-47.

[g] It is interesting to note that by the statement of “weightier matters of the law” in Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus shows that there are more significant parts of the law than others. The scribes and Pharisees tried hard to keep the small matters of the law, yet they missed the bigger matters. Scripture does not give a category in the law regarding the smaller matters or the bigger matters, but in this passage, the Lord clearly calls out the bigger matters as including justice and mercy and faithfulness.

How do we determine the weightier parts of the law? These are the important points to remember:

  • First, Jesus’ specific instructions here show weightier matters of the law as justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
  • The greatest commandment is to love The Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second command is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40, see here). All other laws point to these two commandments.
  • Finally, Jesus never gave a list of laws that were OK to ignore. He commanded the scribes to show justice and mercy and faithfulness without neglecting the others. They still need to regularly tithe, but to do it with love for The Lord!

[h] There is some discussion about the prophet Zechariah mentioned here. There were two men by the name of “Zechariah” in the Old Testament, and it is difficult to determine exactly which Zechariah Jesus was referring to here. There was a priest named Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, who was killed by king Joash in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. There was also the prophet Zechariah, son of Barachiah, who wrote the book of prophecy in his name. Which Zechariah was mentioned here, and how do we resolve this difference?

There are three possibilities regarding the answer:

  • One possibility is that Jesus is talking about the prophet Zechariah, who wrote the book of prophecy in his name. We know that he was the son of Barachiah and we don’t know how he died. He may have also died as a martyr in the temple, much like the similar man with the same name, hundreds of years before.
  • Another possibility is that this is talking about the Zechariah who was killed by Joash. Although we know that he was the son of Jehoiada in Scripture, given Jehoiada’s great age (he died at 130 years old), Jehoiada may have actually been Zechariah’s grandfather, and Barachiah was Zechariah’s father. Note that the term “son” can refer to either a son or a descendent (This was done to Zechariah the prophet in Ezra 6:14). This sounds the most plausible regarding his manner of death, but it requires a lot of conjecture regarding Zechariah’s lineage in order to accept this position.
  • The final explanation is that this may have been a transcription error, that Jesus was referring to Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, but the scribes who had copied scripture had incorrectly written in Barachiah’s name as Zechariah’s father. This option is even more plausible when we consider that many of the older manuscripts do not contain this phrase, “son of Barachiah”. 
Categories
encouragement theology

What is the Greatest Commandment?

Thoughts from Matthew 22…

“Hear, O Israel:
The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 
You shall love the LORD your God 
with all your heart 
and with all your soul 
and with all your might.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

During a time of great controversy, a lawyer came to Jesus Christ with this question, “What is the greatest commandment?” The Lord had just answered the leading religious thinkers of His day, silencing His critics, when the man came with this request. The Pharisees had hundreds of laws and they debated heavily regarding which laws were important to keep. How would this teacher answer this great debate? Would He weigh in on which laws were most important?

Jesus’ answer was immediate: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. But also, don’t forget the second commandment — to love your neighbor as yourself! Every other one of the laws point to these two commandments. Every other law is to instruct you to love God or love your neighbor.

The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day failed both of these commandments. They were so caught up in their rules and their power that they totally missed when God himself walked by! They showed no love for God when they refused anything other than what fit their own agendas. They showed no love for their neighbors when they refused to show forgiveness or compassion to the needy multitudes around them.

Both of these religious factions came to Jesus that day, hoping to entrap him with their difficult questions. The Pharisees put the first question to Him, whether they should pay taxes to Caesar’s Roman government. The Lord‘s answer brought them back to the greatest commandment. They showed love for their fellow man by submitting to the government and giving them their due service. They showed their love for God by likewise submitting to God and giving Him His due service.

The Sadducees approached Him with the next question, expecting to find a hole in His theology. Since they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they had created a scenario where it conflicted with the laws on marriage. Seven brothers were each married to the same widow before they each died, so who would be her husband in the resurrection?  But in this question they show their ignorance and a lack of a love for the Lord. A love for the Lord would have brought them to His Scriptures, where they would have better understood the resurrection. We will be changed, with no longer a need for marriage relationships like we currently have on earth.

The lawyer had then come to Jesus with his question regarding the greatest commandment, hoping to test Him and to push Him into controversy. If He weighed in on this religious debate, He would surely make enemies among the dissenting factions. But rather than angered, this young man was stunned by the Lord’s reply. Unlike the great religious leaders, he showed a genuine desire to understand his answers. And for that Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34).

Jesus started out His ministry teaching that He came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. As shown in the post on Matthew 5:17 here, the Ten Commandments are an expression of love. The first four are about love for God, and the final six are about love for each other.a 

Jesus then showed how we show love for God and for each other when we keep the commandments:

  • We show love when we show forgiveness toward those who offend us (Matthew 5:21-26)
  • We show love when we show purity in our thoughts and actions (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • We show love when we show faithfulness in our marriage (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • We show love when we show honesty in our word and our promises (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • We show love when we show humility and refuse to retaliate when we are hurt (Matthew 5:38-42)
  • We show love when we show kindness to our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5:43-48)

May we remember to love God and to love others!

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