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Bible Commentaries

Brown's Commentary on the New Testament

Matthew 23

Verses 1-12

  1. 'Do As they Say', NOT as they DO!
    1. Matthew 23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
      1. The multitude ... this was during the gathering at the Passover celebration of the city ... easily, at the Temple mount, 60-100 thousand could gather. How many could "HEAR" is the question.
      2. "AND" His disciples - this teaching is for the disciples as well as the crowds ... and it's for us, too!
    2. Matthew 23:2-4 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 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. 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.
      1. Moses' seat means the position of giving and interpreting the Law
      2. Do what they (we) are told by those over us (assuming it is correctly interpreted from the Bible).
      3. Don't follow their examples ==> HYPOCRACY
      4. James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
      5. The heavy burden is LEGALISM
        1. Following the set of legal rules to be either righteous or accepted.
        2. Righteousness: Earning our way to Heaven
          1. All of our righteousness is like filthy rags
          2. In our flesh dwells no good thing
          3. If we can earn our righteousness before God, why did Jesus have to die?
        3. Accepted: Having to meet an unrealistic standard just to be accepted.
          1. William Newell in his commentary on the book of Romans, in speaking of God's grace, said "To believe, and consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret".
          2. To feel that you can not be loved without meeting a standard is to not accept God's grace for what it is: the pouring out of God's Mercy on our lives because of His love!
          3. The balance to this is, however, based upon:
            1. Godly sorrow...
              2 Corinthians 7:9-11 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, [what] clearing of yourselves, yea, [what] indignation, yea, [what] fear, yea, [what] vehement desire, yea, [what] zeal, yea, [what] revenge! In all [things] ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
            2. Running the race towards perfection...
              Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
      6. Those in leadership positions should lead by example
      7. Burden...
        Matthew 11:28-30 Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.
    3. Matthew 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
      1. Phylacteries are boxes that hold scripture and were worn on the arm or forehead.
        1. Proverbs 3:3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
        2. Proverbs 6:21 Bind them continually upon thine heart, [and] tie them about thy neck.
        3. Proverbs 7:3 Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart.
      2. The borders were tassels worn on the corners of their garments and were there to remind them of their law. Sometimes the prideful person would make his "EXTRA" big to be better noticed.
    4. ​​​​​​​Matthew 23:6-10 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, [even] Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, [even] Christ.
      1. They were consumed by the Position, power and their authority over people's lives.
      2. Rabbi is the tile used for a Jewish teacher and literally means, in the Hebrew, "my great one" or Master.
      3. This teaching is not necessarily for all ... just those who seek to exalt themselves to "be like God".
      4. Not talking about "DADs"
    5. Matthew 23:11-12 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
      1. Jesus practiced what He preached...
      2. Philippians 2:5-11 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; 11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

        James and Paul reinforced this thought:
        ​​​​​​​
      3. James 4:6-10 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse [your] hands, [ye] sinners; and purify [your] hearts, [ye] double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and [your] joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
      4. Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think [of himself] more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Verses 13-39

  1. The 8 "WOES"
    ===>>> Introduce the passion that Jesus must have felt ...
    1. WOE #1
      Matthew 23:13 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.
      1. They didn't believe Jesus is the Messiah and wouldn't allow other to believe by threats and extortion.
      2. They weren't saved, either...
    2. WOE #2
      Matthew 23:14 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.
      1. Hebrew law said that one of the scribes should be the executor of people's wills and they would ...
      2. "Devour widow's houses -- These are the guys who "trick" old ladies into giving all of their money or possessions to them "in the name of God"
      3. Like some of the televangelists or con-artists that go from door to door.
      4. The Pharisees did the same things for their own gain.
      5. "Make long prayer" - they would ramble on in prayer for hours? in order to be recognized as a Godly person.
      6. But, Jesus continued all night in prayer to God,
      7. and we are commanded to pray without ceasing too soon
      8. In our prayer closet or in a fashion that doesn't seek to glorify us!
    3. WOE #3
      Matthew 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
      1. They worked hard for the faith, but their converts were taught the same hypocracy.
      2. The converts followed after men and the wisdom of men, not after God.
      3. 1 Corinthians 3:18-21 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
    4. WOE #4
      Matthew 23:16-22 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! 17 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
      1. Swearing by "things" is of no account.
      2. James 5:12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and [your] nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
      3. "Ye Fools": Greek - mo-ros' >> dull or stupid or (morally) a blockhead
    5. WOE #5
      Matthew 23:23-24 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. 24 [Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
      1. Penny Wise and Pound foolish ...
      2. They would count out each of their seeds individually to allow them to tithe 1/10th.
      3. Jesus is saying that they are so narrowly focused on the letter of the law that they miss the intent: "judgment, mercy and faith".
      4. "You strain at a gnat" ... they'd try to spit out a gnat in their mouth because it might have been on a gentile first and thus be unclean.
      5. They are so focused on the narrow that they fail on the large -- the Camel. "Swallow" in the Greek literally means to "gulp down".
      6. The word "tithe" is for the Old Testament, the New Testament asks us to give from our hearts...
        1. 2 Corinthians 8:12-15 For if there be first a willing mind, [it is] accepted according to that a man hath, [and] not according to that he hath not. 13 For [I mean] not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: 14 But by an equality, [that] now at this time your abundance [may be a supply] for their want, that their abundance also may be [a supply] for your want: that there may be equality: 15 As it is written, He that [had gathered] much had nothing over; and he that [had gathered] little had no lack.
        2. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 But this [I say], He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, [so let him give]; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
      7. There should be NO bondage associated with giving
    6. WOE #6
      Matthew 23:25-26 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. 26 [Thou] blind Pharisee, cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
    7. WOE #7
      Matthew 23:27-28 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
      1. Not trying to win a popularity contest ...
    8. WOE #8
      Matthew 23:29-31 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 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. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
      1. "Armchair quarterbacks" - saying they wouldn't have been like their fathers...
      2. Yet, they would be the ones to crucify Him
        Matthew 23:32-33 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 [Ye] serpents, [ye] generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
      3. Viper - a poisonous snake. A picture of hypocracy...it's a sin that is poisonous to our lives.
      4. We justify ourselves that we're OK
        Matthew 23:34-36 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: 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. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
        Matthew 23:37-39 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! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 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.
Copyright Statement
Brown's Commentary on the New Testament is reproduced by permission of author. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Brown, Jim. "Commentary on Matthew 23". "Brown's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnc/matthew-23.html. 2017.