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Matthew Chapter Twenty-three


Matthew 23

Chapter 23 clearly shews how far the disciples are viewed in connection with the nation, inasmuch as they were Jews, although the Lord judges the leaders, who beguiled the people and dishonoured God by their hypocrisy. He speaks to the multitude and to His disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." Being thus expositors of the law, they were to be obeyed in all that they said according to that law, although their own conduct was but hypocrisy. That which is important here is the position of the disciples; it is in fact the same as that of Jesus. They are in connection with all that is of God in the nation, that is to say, with the nation as the recognised people of God-consequently, with the law as possessing authority from God. At the same time the Lord judges, and the disciples also were practically to judge, the walk of the nation, as publicly represented by their leaders. While still forming part of the nation, they were carefully to avoid the walk of the scribes and Pharisees. After having reproached these pastors of the nation with their hypocrisy, the Lord points out the way in which they themselves condemned the deeds of their fathers-by building the sepulchres of the prophets whom they had slain. They were, then, the children of those who slew them, and God would put them to the test by sending them also prophets and wise men and scribes, and they would fill up the measure of their iniquity by putting these to death and persecuting them-condemned thus out of their own mouths-in order that all the righteous blood which had been shed, from Abel's to that of the prophet Zechariah, should come upon this generation. Frightful amount of guilt, accumulated from the beginning of the enmity which sinful man, when placed under responsibility, has ever shewn to the testimony of God; and which increased daily, because the conscience became more hardened each time that it resisted this testimony! The truth was so much the more manifest from its witnesses having suffered. It was a rock, exposed to view, to be avoided in the people's path. But they persisted in their evil course, and every step in advance, every similar act, was the proof of a still increasing obduracy. The patience of God, while graciously dealing in testimony, had not been unobservant of their ways, and under this patience all had accumulated. All would be heaped upon the head of this reprobate generation.

Remark here the character given to the apostles and christian prophets. They are scribes, wise men, prophets, sent to the Jews-to the ever rebellious nation. This very clearly brings out the aspect in which this chapter regards them. Even the apostles are "wise men," "scribes," sent to the Jews as such.

But the nation-Jerusalem, God's beloved city-is guilty and is judged. Christ, as we have seen, since the cure of the blind man near Jericho, presents Himself as Jehovah the King of Israel. How often would He have gathered the children of Jerusalem, but they would not! And now their house should be desolate, until (their hearts being converted) they should use the language of Psalm 118, and, in desire, hail His arrival who came in the name of Jehovah, looking for deliverance at His hands, and praying to Him for it-in a word, until they should cry Hosanna to Him that should come. They would see Jesus no more until, humbled in heart, they should pronounce Him blessed whom they were expecting, and whom they now rejected-in short, until they were prepared in heart. Peace should follow, desire precede, His appearing.

The last three verses exhibit clearly enough the position of the Jews, or of Jerusalem, as the centre of the system before God. Long since, and many times, would Jesus, Jehovah the Saviour, have gathered the children of Jerusalem together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but they would not. Their house should remain forsaken and desolate, but not for ever. After having killed the prophets, and stoned the messengers sent unto them, they had crucified their Messiah, and rejected and slain those whom He had sent to proclaim grace unto them even after His rejection. Therefore should they see Him no more until they had repented, and the desire to see Him was produced in their hearts, so that they should be prepared to bless Him, and would bless Him in their hearts, and confess their readiness to do so. The Messiah, who was about to leave them, should be seen of them no more until repentance had turned their hearts unto Him whom they were now rejecting. Then they should see Him. The Messiah, coming in the name of Jehovah, shall be manifested to His people Israel. It is Jehovah their Saviour who should appear, and the Israel who had rejected Him should see Him as such. The people should thus return into the enjoyment of their relationship with God.

Such is the moral and prophetic picture of Israel. The disciples, as Jews, were viewed as part of the nation, though as a remnant spiritually detached from it, and witnessing in it.

── John DarbySynopsis of Matthew


Matthew 23

Chapter Contents

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

Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

(Read Matthew 23:1-12)

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; 13:11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 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.

Commentary on Matthew 23:13-33

(Read Matthew 23:13-33)

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.

Commentary on Matthew 23:34-39

(Read Matthew 23:34-39)

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 HenryConcise Commentary on Matthew


Matthew 23

Verse 2

[2] Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:

The scribes sit in the chair of Moses — That is, read and expound the law of Moses, and are their appointed teachers.

Verse 3

[3] All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

All things therefore — Which they read out of the law, and enforce therefrom.

Verse 4

[4] For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Luke 11:46.

Verse 5

[5] But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

Their phylacteries — The Jews, understanding those words literally, It shall he as a token upon thy hand, and as frontlets between thine eyes, Exodus 13:16. And thou shalt bind these words for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes, Deuteronomy 6:8; used to wear little scrolls of paper or parchment, bound on their wrist and foreheads, on which several texts of Scripture were writ. These they supposed, as a kind of charm, would preserve them from danger. And hence they seem to have been called phylacteries, or preservatives.

The fringes of their garments — Which God had enjoined them to wear, to remind them of doing all the commandments, Numbers 15:38. These, as well as their phylacteries, the Pharisees affected to wear broader and larger than other men. Mark 12:38. 8,9,10. The Jewish rabbis were also called father and master, by their several disciples, whom they required, 1. To believe implicitly what they affirmed, without asking any farther reason; 2. To obey implicitly what they enjoined, without seeking farther authority. Our Lord, therefore, by forbidding us either to give or receive the title of rabbi, master, or father, forbids us either to receive any such reverence, or to pay any such to any but God.

Verse 9

[9] And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.


Verse 10

[10] Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.


Verse 11

[11] But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Matthew 20:26.

Verse 12

[12] And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that shall humble himself shall he exalted — It is observable that no one sentence of our Lord's is so often repeated as this: it occurs, with scarce any variation, at least ten times in the evangelists. Luke 14:11; 18:14.

Verse 13

[13] But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Wo to you — Our Lord pronounced eight blessings upon the mount: he pronounces eight woes here; not as imprecations, but solemn, compassionate declarations of the misery, which these stubborn sinners were bringing upon themselves.

Ye go not in — For ye are not poor in spirit; and ye hinder those that would be so.

Verse 14

[14] Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47.

Verse 16

[16] Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

Wo to you, ye blind guides — Before he had styled them hypocrites, from their personal character: now he gives them another title, respecting their influence upon others. Both these appellations are severely put together in the 23d and Matthew 23:23,25. 25th verses; and this severity rises to the height in the 33d verse.

The gold of the temple — The treasure kept there.

He is bound — To keep his oath.

Verse 20

[20] Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.

He that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon — Not only by the gift, but by the holy fire, and the sacrifice; and above all, by that God to whom they belong; inasmuch as every oath by a creature is an implicit appeal to God.

Verse 23

[23] Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Judgment — That is, justice: Faith - The word here means fidelity.

Verse 24

[24] Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

Ye blind guides, who teach others to do as you do yourselves, to strain out a gnat - From the liquor they are going to drink! and swallow a camel - It is strange, that glaring false print, strain at a gnat, which quite alters the sense, should run through all the editions of our English Bibles.

Verse 25

[25] Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Full of rapine and intemperance — The censure is double (taking intemperance in the vulgar sense.) These miserable men procured unjustly what they used intemperately. No wonder tables so furnished prove a snare, as many find by sad experience. Thus luxury punishes fraud while it feeds disease with the fruits of injustice. But intemperance in the full sense takes in not only all kinds of outward intemperance, particularly in eating and drinking, but all intemperate or immoderate desires, whether of honour, gain, or sensual pleasure.

Verse 26

[26] Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Ye build the tombs of the prophets — And that is all, for ye neither observe their sayings, nor imitate their actions.

Verse 30

[30] And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

We would not have been partakers — So ye make fair professions, as did your fathers. 31.

Wherefore ye testify against yourselves — By your smooth words as well as devilish actions: that ye are the genuine sons of them who killed the prophets of their own times, while they professed the utmost veneration for those of past ages. From the 3d to the 30th verse Matthew 23:3-30 is exposed every thing that commonly passes in the world for religion, whereby the pretenders to it keep both themselves and others from entering into the kingdom of God; from attaining, or even seeking after those tempers, in which alone true Christianity consists. As, 1. Punctuality in attending on public and private prayer, verse 4-14. Matthew 23:4-14 2. Zeal to make proselytes to our opinion or communion, though they have less of the spirit of religion than before, verse 15. Matthew 23:15 3. A superstitious reverence for consecrated places or things, without any for Him to whom they are consecrated, verse 16-22. Matthew 23:16-22 4. A scrupulous exactness in little observances, though with the neglect of justice, mercy, and faith, verse 23, 24. Matthew 23:23,24 5. A nice cautiousness to cleanse the outward behaviour, but without any regard to inward purity, verse 25, 26. Matthew 23:25,26 6. A specious face of virtue and piety, covering the deepest hypocrisy and villany, verse 27, 28. Matthew 23:27,28 7. A professed veneration for all good men, except those among whom they live.

Verse 32

[32] Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Fill ye up — A word of permission, not of command: as if he had said, I contend with you no longer: I leave you to yourselves: you have conquered: now ye may follow the devices of your own hearts.

The measure of your fathers — Wickedness: ye may now be as wicked as they.

Verse 33

[33] Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Ye serpents — Our Lord having now lost all hope of reclaiming these, speaks so as to affright others from the like sins.

Verse 34

[34] Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:

Wherefore — That it may appear you are the true children of those murderers, and have a right to have their iniquities visited on you: Behold, I send - Is not this speaking as one having authority? Prophets - Men with supernatural credentials: Wise men - Such as have both natural abilities and experience; and scribes - Men of learning: but all will not avail. Luke 11:49.

Verse 35

[35] That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

That upon you may come — The consequence of which will be, that upon you will come the vengeance of all the righteous blood shed on the earth - Zechariah the son of Barachiah - Termed Jehoiada, 2 Chronicles 24:20, where the story is related: Ye slew - Ye make that murder also of your fathers your own, by imitating it: Between the temple - That is, the inner temple, and the altar - Which stood in the outer court. Our Lord seems to refer to this instance, rather than any other, because he was the last of the prophets on record that were slain by the Jews for reproving their wickedness: and because God's requiring this blood as well as that of Abel, is particularly taken notice of in Scripture.

Verse 37

[37] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Luke 13:34.

Verse 38

[38] Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

Behold your house — The temple, which is now your house, not God's: Is left unto you - Our Lord spake this as he was going out of it for the last time: Desolate - Forsaken of God and his Christ, and sentenced to utter destruction.

Verse 39

[39] For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Ye — Jews in general; men of Jerusalem in particular: shall not see me from this time - Which includes the short space till his death, till, after a long interval of desolation and misery, ye say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord - Ye receive me with joyful and thankful hearts. This also shall be accomplished in its season.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Matthew


Chapter 23. Eight Woes to Hypocrites

Bound by What Is Trivial
Neglect What Is Really Important

I. The lord's Judgment on Religion

  1. Practice Against Preaching
  2. Hypocritical Goodness
  3. vain Glory

II. Sins of the Pharisees

  1. Block the Way
  2. Mistake the Means for the End
  3. Seek Publicity

III. Lament for Jerusalem

  1. Kill Prophets
  2. Left to Desolate
  3. Christ comes Again
── Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament
Learning From Hypocrites (23:1-39)
1. What is a hypocrite?
   a. Some are accused of hypocrisy when their walk does not measure up
      to their talk
   b. But that may be an indication of weakness, not hypocrisy per se
   c. "Hypocrite" comes from the Greek "hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace'),
      meaning an actor under an assumed character; e.g., stage-player
   d. A true hypocrite is one who pretends to be something he or she is
      not, and really has no intention of becoming
2. Jesus addressed hypocrites in His day, in particular some scribes
   and Pharisees...
   a. They were among the more religiously conservative of that time
   b. Yet some of the harshest words Jesus ever spoke were directed
      toward them
   c. In just one speech, he called them...
      1) Hypocrites (seven times) - Mt 23:13-15,23,25,27,29
      2) Fools (twice) and blind guides (five times) - Mt 23:16-17,19,
      3) Serpents, brood of vipers (once) - Mt 23:33
3. Despite such strong condemnation, one can learn from hypocrites...
   a. You can heed their teaching, when it comes from God's word - cf.
      Mt 23:1-3
      1) Don't automatically disregard the message if the messenger is
         a hypocrite
      2) Look beyond the messenger to the original source of the 
   b. You can also learn how not to act...
      1) Especially when you take note of how Jesus rebuked them
      2) Which we shall do in this lesson
[What valuable lessons can we learn from hypocrites?  The first are
lessons gleaned ...]
      1. When speaking from Moses' seat in the synagogues, they were
         speaking with authority
      2. Unfortunately, they were binding things on others they
         themselves were unwilling to observe - Mt 23:1-4
      3. This breeds disrespect for all authority, including the Word
         of God
      -- If we desire the highest regard for God's word, then practice
         what we preach!
      1. When they did their works, they did them to be seen by others
         - Mt 23:5a
      2. They loved to wear religious clothing that gave appearance of
         devotion - Mt 23:5b
      3. With time, such hypocrisy will become evident to those who
         know us
      -- If we desire God's approval, we need to do things to glorify
         God, and at times seen only by Him - Mt 5:16; 6:1-18
      1. The Pharisees loved special treatment received from others
      2. Such as the best seats and honorary titles - Mt 23:6-7
      3. Jesus expected His disciples to be different - Mt 23:8-12
         a. He forbade the use of religious titles
         b. He enjoined humility as the road to greatness
      -- If we desire to honor Christ, we will respect His teaching and
         not use religious titles or expect special treatment, but
         serve others with humility
[As Jesus continues with a diatribe against the hypocrisy of the
scribes and Pharisees, we glean several lessons...]
      1. They failed to truly show others the way to the kingdom of
         heaven, and to go in themselves - Mt 23:13
      2. Through their doctrines they had rendered the commandments of
         God of no effect - cf. Mt 15:3-6
      3. Their teaching came from hearts far removed from God - cf. Mt
      -- We need to make sure our teaching saves both ourselves and
         others - cf. 1 Ti 4:16
      1. They used religion to take advantage of widows, and impress
         others - Mt 23:14
      2. Paul warned Timothy and Titus about such teachers - 2 Ti 3:
         4-6; Ti 1:10-11
      3. Instead, we should view godliness with contentment as true
         gain - cf. 1 Ti 6:3-8
      -- It is imperative that we do things honorable in the sight of
         all - cf. 2 Co 8:21
      1. The Pharisees did not make people better, they made them
         worse! - Mt 23:15
      2. Perhaps by their emphasis on the traditions of men, rather
         than upon the word of God
         a. The Pharisees themselves may have known the word of God to
            some degree
         b. But in neglecting God's word, they starved those who
            received their teaching!
      -- We must be careful not to put ourselves or traditions between
         God's word and those we teach, but let them know "the whole
         counsel of God"! - cf. Ac 20:27
      1. The scribes and Pharisees made fine distinctions between the
         types of oaths one could swear - Mt 23:16-22
      2. We can easily do similar things today
         a. Saying some commands of God are essential to salvation,
            while others are not
         b. Teaching our "think so's" and "it seems to me" instead of
            telling people what the Bible says
      -- To safely guard against this, "let us speak where the Bible
         speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent", proclaiming
         the oracles of God - cf. 1 Pe 4:11
[As Jesus increases the level of His righteous indignation against the
hypocritical scribes and Pharisees of that day, we are able to learn
three final lessons...]
      1. They left undone the "weightier" matters of God's law - Mt 23:
         a. They stressed tithing, but neglected justice, mercy, faith
         b. Thus they would strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel
      2. We can be guilty of the same thing
         a. By stressing "lighter" matters, and leave "weightier"
            matters undone
         b. Also by stressing "weightier" matters, and leave "lighter"
            things undone
      -- Jesus said we should do both, leaving neither undone, for all
         of God's commandments are important! - cf. Mt 5:19
      1. The "blind" scribes and Pharisees focused only on the outside
         - Mt 23:25-28
         a. Concerned with keeping the traditions of ritual cleansing
         b. Willing to put up with extortion, self-indulgence,
            hypocrisy and lawlessness
      2. We can be guilty of having the wrong focus
         a. Stressing big buildings, large crowds
         b. Accepting people into the church without challenging them
            to true repentance
      -- If we are to avoid creating a church of hypocrites, then we
         need to emphasize true repentance, a conversion of the inner
         man - cf. Ro 12:2
      1. They honored the ancient men of God, but were more like their
         ancestors who murdered the prophets - Mt 23:29-31
         a. Indeed, they would do even more harm than their fathers 
            - Mt 23:32-34
         b. Upon that generation would come the judgment for the murder
            of all God's prophets (cf. the destruction of Jerusalem in
            70 A.D.) - Mt 23:35-39
      2. We honor men like Jesus and Peter, but are we willing to live
         what they preached?
         a. Are we willing to obey their commands? - cf. Mt 28:18-20;
            Mk 16:16; Ac 2:38
         b. Or are we like many back then who refused to heed their
1. What can we learn from hypocrites?  A lot!  Provided we...
   a. Take to heart Jesus' denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees!
   b. Do not imitate their abuse of authority, failure in teaching, and
      inconsistency of practice!
2. Speaking of hypocrites, some people avoid church because "there are
   too many hypocrites there."  There may be hypocrites in the church,
   but that is no reason not to follow Jesus...
   a. Did the hypocrisy of Judas Iscariot permit the rest of the
      apostles to leave Jesus?
   b. Do you allow the presence of hypocrites keep you from enjoying
      other activities (such as sports events, vacations, etc.)?
Besides...which is better, to spend a short time with hypocrites in the
church, or to spend eternity with hypocrites in hell?  Remember what
Jesus said of the hypocrites:
      "How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Mt 23:33b)
Only through the redemption God offers through His Son can any of us
escape the condemnation of hell.  Don't let the hypocrisy of some keep
you from the blessings of salvation in Christ Jesus!


--《Executable Outlines