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Chapter 23


Doers of the Word not Just Teachers


23:1-2Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.


Jesus addresses these next ten verses to the crowds and his disciples. He wants them to show respect to the scribes and Pharisees because they are the leaders of Israel and teachers of the law of Moses.


23:3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.


They are to obey everything they are taught by them from the word of God, but not follow their example; because they do not practice what they teach (Rom. 7:12; Gal. 3:24).


23:4 They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them.


They impose their own rules and regulations that are heavy burdens and too oppressive to be borne. They will not lift a finger to relieve anyone.


23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long.


They are nothing but show-offs. Everything they do publicly is only to attract attention to themselves. They wear extra-large phylacteries (prayer boxes containing scripture verses) on their arms and foreheads (Deut. 6:6-8). All their good deeds are done so that others can see and know them. They attach long fringes on the edges of their robes (Num. 15:38-39).


23:6 They love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues.


They love to have the seats of honour at banquets and to sit in the best seats in the meeting places.


23:7 And elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’


When they are going about the marketplace they delight to hear the people give them respectful greetings and acknowledge them as Rabbi.


23:8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.


Jesus tells his followers that they should not have anyone call them Rabbi, for there is only one teacher and that is Jesus Christ. They are brothers in Christ.


23:9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.


In a religious or priestly sense do not call any man father on earth, for there is only one Father of the soul - God in heaven.  


23:10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.


Again Jesus tells his followers not to let anyone call them teacher, for he alone is their teacher.


23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.


The person who is an elder or leader among them is to serve the others.


23:12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.


Those who put themselves above others with haughtiness shall be brought down. Whoever humbles himself in spirit and manner shall be raised to honour.


Religious Hypocrites

23:13 “But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven! For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in.


Jesus addressed his next remarks to the scribes and Pharisees who were not ignorant of the law and who taught the people its ordinances. Because of their knowledge they would suffer much sorrow. By their hypocrisies (their insincerity in pretending to have qualities or beliefs that they did not really have) they keep shutting the door into the kingdom of heaven in peoples’ faces. By opposing Christ’s teaching they will not go in themselves and will not allow others to enter in.


23:14 (NKJVTM) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.


Great sorrow awaits these teachers of the law for they cheated widows out of their homes whilst pretending to be very holy and offering long prayers to God. Because they disguise their evil behind the mask of pretended righteousness they will receive the greater condemnation.


23:15 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!


Again great sorrow awaits these people because they go to great lengths to convert one person to Judaism and having ensnared them make twice as bad as themselves. In fact Jesus says they make their converts children of hell like themselves.


23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple is bound by nothing. But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound by the oath.’


For the fourth time Jesus tells them that great sorrow awaits them, for although they are spiritually blind they still try to lead the people into spiritual truths; which they themselves cannot see (or rather do not want to see).  They tell the people that if they make an oath by the temple it is meaningless. But if they make an oath by the gold of the temple then it is binding.


23:17 Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred?


As far as spiritual things are concerned they are blind fools who think that the gold of the temple is greater than what the temple represents. It is the God of the temple who sanctifies the gold that adorns it.


23:18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing. But if anyone swears by the gift on it he is bound by the oath. ’


The Pharisees also taught that if anyone made an oath by the altar it did not signify anything. But if someone made an oath by the sacrificial gift on the altar then they are bound by their oath.


23:19 You are blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?


Are these hypocrites so blind that they cannot see which is the greater: the altar or the sacrificial gift?


23:20-21 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and the one who dwells in it.


Jesus insists that whoever makes an oath by the altar is swearing by everything that is on it, and is bound by their oath. Likewise whoever makes on oath by the temple is swearing by God, by whose dwelling place it is.


23:22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it.


Again whoever makes an oath in the name of heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by him who sits on it. Note that Jesus is addressing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees when he speaks about making oaths; he is not advocating that Christians should make an oath (James 5:12).


23:23 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others.


These hypocrites made a big show of tithing every little thing - even the herbs they grew. Yet they neglected to do the most important parts of the law, which are to do with justice, love, mercy and faithfulness. These they ought particularly to have done without neglecting any other point of the law.


23:24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel!


Jesus does not spare them at all. Again he says they are spiritually blind guides who, if they had a gnat in their water would strain it out, but they would swallow a camel! In other words, they take great care in keeping the minor parts of the law but the most important parts they neglect. This is in reference to the preceding verse.


23:25 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.


The Pharisees were most particular about washing cups, dishes, hands, feet and clothes; all the outward adorning. This was not a matter of cleanliness, but the observance of a religious ritual. Yet inside they were still unclean and full of greed, selfishness and sin (Isaiah 64:6; Rom. 3:10).


23:26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!


Particularly addressing the Pharisees who were full of self-righteousness, Jesus tells them that it is the heart they need to get clean first and then their outward life would become clean too (Jer. 4:14; Ezek. 18:31; Heb. 1:3; Heb. 10:12).


23:27-28 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.


These scribes and Pharisees were like tombs that had been whitewashed; looking beautiful on the outside but with dead corrupting bodies inside. They are like tombs on the outside in that they look very clean and righteous but in their hearts they are full of hypocrisy and sin (Eph. 2:1).


23:29-30 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’


These hypocrites built elaborately decorated tombs for the prophets and adorned the graves of the righteous. They made the boast that if they had lived in the days of these prophets whom their forefathers had murdered they would not have participated with them.


23:31-32 By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of your ancestors!


By this declaration they were condemning themselves, showing that they were the descendants of those who had killed the prophets. Jesus not only meant that they were their natural descendants, they were also their spiritual counterparts, for he knew that they were plotting to kill him and that they had rejected the message of John the Baptist (Matt. 26:4). So he tells them to go ahead and finish what their ancestors had started.


23:33 You snakes, you offspring of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?


Jesus’ final caustic words to them revealed their true nature. They were snakes and sons of vipers (snakes have poison is their mouths). They would be unable to escape the eternal punishment of suffering in hell.






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Copyright (2009-2013) Sharon Full Gospel Church, UK. Reg. Charity No. 1050642 www.sharonchurch.co.uk


This Bible study is taken from Faithbuilders: The Gospel of Matthew


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