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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 23

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy ScripturesEverett's Study Notes

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Verses 1-12

The Criminal Offence: False Humility Jesus begins denouncing the Jewish leaders by revealing their criminal offense, contrasting their false humility with true humility. Jesus concludes this explanation with the statement, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant, and whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12) In this statement, He reveals the secret of promotion in the Kingdom of God. The Pharisees had obtained their positions of leadership through corruption and deceit. They then covered their faces with false humility in order to hide their motives. This is the world’s system of promotion. The Kingdom of God works differently: for it is those who truly walk in humility with a servant’s heart that are given promotions, offices and anointings by the Lord. Man may create his own religious system of promotion, but only the promotions that God gives really counts.

Matthew 23:2 Comments - Moses’ seat is the seat of judgment, leadership and instruction in interpreting of the Word of God. The seat of Moses is referred to in the book of Exodus.

Exodus 18:13, “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people : and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.”

Exodus 18:24-26, “So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.”

Matthew 23:12 Comments - In the context of this passage, Jesus is rebuking the practice of the scribes and Pharisees who heap to themselves titles and honors. In my years as a missionary to Africa, I have found that titles are very important to people. They use titles such as “Honorable, Bishop, Apostle, Doctor” and any other title to recognize their achievements. Unfortunately, these titles hide the corruption that it in many hearts, especially by those who insist on being called by their titles. It is the prideful heart that Jesus is rebuking in this passage, and not the titles themselves.

Scripture Reference - Note:

1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:”

Verses 1-39

Preparing for the King’s Departure and Second Coming Matthew 19:1 to Matthew 25:46 records the fifth major division of the Gospel of Matthew. The narrative material in this division (Matthew 19:1 to Matthew 23:39) emphasizes the need to serve the Lord after His departure while awaiting His expected Second Coming. [507] For example, the Parables of the Wicked Vinedressers and the Wedding Feast, which are found in this passage, teach on working in the kingdom while waiting for the return of the Master. We must await His Second Coming by doing the Father’s will. Jesus also teaches on key issues that affect our lives most dramatically regarding our readiness for His Second Coming, such as marriage and riches. The cares of this world that most hinder our sanctification are marriage (Matthew 19:1-12) and the pursuit of this world’s goods (Matthew 19:16 to Matthew 20:16). Those who do not heed His calling will perish if no fruit is shown. Jesus carries this theme of readiness and Christian service into His discourse with the Parables of the Virgins and the Parable of the Talents. Five virgins remained ready for the bridegroom. Two of the three servants were faithful with their master’s goods, but one foolish virgin and the man who kept his one talent were cast into outer darkness. A key verse for this narrative material is Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This narrative passage ends with Jesus giving a final woe to the scribes and Pharisees as well as to the city of Jerusalem.

[507] Benjamin Bacon identifies the theme of the fifth narrative-discourse section of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 19:1 to 25:46) as apocalyptic. He believes this theme follows a natural progression from the previous theme of Matthew’s fourth narrative-discourse, saying, “It was inevitable that Mt's fourth Book should lead up to a great Discourse on the Consummation as the climax of his Gospel.” See Benjamin W. Bacon, Studies in Matthew (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1930), 412-413.

The discourse that follows (Matthew 24:1 to Matthew 25:46) teaches on the Second Coming of Jesus. Thus, He prepares His disciples for His departure and Second Coming. Much of this material can be found in the book of Revelation, which also deals with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Note that both narrative and discourse material contain warnings against being caught up with the cares of this world and exhortations to readiness for His Second Coming and to Christian service while waiting for His Return.

As with all of the narrative material, Matthew includes one Old Testament Scripture that is introduced with “that it might be fulfilled.” In Matthew 21:4-5 we find a quote from Zechariah 9:9 which sets the underlying theme of this division of Matthew on eschatology, which is the coming of the King.

Matthew 21:4-5, “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”

Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”

Glorification: Deuteronomy Versus Fifth Discourse Which Establishes a Future Hope In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives the children the prophetic vision of their future hope for those who obey the Law and of future judgment for those who are disobedient. In like manner, the fifth discourse on Eschatology gives the prophecy of the future hope of the Church and judgment upon sinners.

The next narrative passage (Matthew 19:1 to Matthew 23:39) emphasizes the need to serve the Lord after His departure while awaiting His expected return. For example, the parables of the Wicked Vinedressers and the Wedding Feast teach on working in the kingdom while waiting for the return of the Master. This passage ends with Jesus giving a final woe to the scribes and Pharisees as well as to the city of Jerusalem. The discourse that follows (Matthew 24:1 to Matthew 25:46) teaches on His Second Coming. Thus, Jesus prepares His disciples for His departure. This reminds us of the purpose of the book of Deuteronomy, which was to prepare the children of Israel for the Promised Land. Both this passage in Matthew and the book of Deuteronomy give promises of blessings to those who obey the Lord and both give severe warnings of divine judgments to those who do not serve the Lord.

The one Old Testament prophecy found in this division in Matthew’s Gospel is Matthew 21:4-5, which quotes Zechariah 9:9 and simply prophesies of the coming of the Messiah and supports the theme of this division of Matthew on eschatology.

Matthew 21:4-5, “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”

Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

A. Narrative: Jesus Prepares to Depart Matthew 19:1 to Matthew 23:39

B. Fifth Discourse: The King’s Second Coming Matthew 24:1 to Matthew 25:46

Verses 13-36

Seven Woes as Evidence to the Crime In Matthew 23:13-36 Jesus gives a lengthy rebuke against the Pharisees pronouncing seven woes upon them. These seven woes serve as solid evidence as to the crime of false humility among the Jewish leaders.

The Comparative Study of the Use of Woes in the Old Testament Alfred Plummer notes that the closest comparable text to the seven woes of Matthew 23:13-36 is found in Isaiah 5:8-25 in which the prophet issues seven woes upon the the men of Judah and Jerusalem. [532] The Greek word οὐαὶ is used both in Matthew and the LXX.

[532] Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew, 316.

The Greek word οὐαὶ is used sixty-seven times in sixty-three verses in the LXX, with the most uses found in Isaiah and Jeremiah. This word is used forty-six times in thirty-five verses in the Greek New Testament, with the majority of uses found in Matthew and Luke.

Matthew 23:14 Textual Criticism Matthew 23:14 is dropped from many modern English versions as well as the UBS 4 . R. T. France says, “Its absence from all the earliest MSS and some of the earliest versions convinces most critics that it was not part of Matthew’s scheme, with its distinctive group of seven woes.” [533] Some scholars suggest this text came from Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47.

[533] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, in New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 865.

Mark 12:40, “Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.”

Luke 20:47, “Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.”

The consequences of dropping Matthew 23:14 from the Gospel reduces the woes from eight to seven, a number much more consistent with the numerical arrangements that are characteristic of Matthew.

Matthew 23:19 Comments - It was the heart of the giver that allowed the sacrifice to be acceptable to God, and not the gift itself. Note the story of Cain and Abel.

Matthew 23:24 Comments Jesus’ comments in Matthew 23:24 refers to the custom of the Jews of filtering their wine and drinks so as to strain out any bugs that may have fallen in, which were considered unclean to eat. Leviticus 11:41 forbade them to eat “creeping things.” John Gill quotes an old Jewish saying, “ One that eats a flea, or a gnat; they say is ( מןמר ) ‘an apostate’.” He quotes other ancient Jewish references showing how they strained their wine before drinking it. This custom arose because t here was a small fly that was found in wine cellars, on account of which they strained the wine. [534]

[534] John Gill, Matthew, in John Gill’s Expositor, in e-Sword, v. 7.7.7 [CD-ROM] (Franklin, Tennessee: e-Sword, 2000-2005), comments on Matthew 23:24.

Jesus was accusing these scribes and Pharisees of taking great pains to avoid offence in the smallest matters of the Law and Jewish customs, yet they took no pains to avoid the great sins, such as hypocrisy, covetousness and pride. Albert Barnes says the Arabians have a similar proverb, “ He eats an elephant, and is suffocated with a gnat.” He is troubled with little things, but pays no attention to great matters. [535]

[535] Albert Barnes, The Gospel According to Matthew, in Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1997), in P.C. Study Bible, v. 3.1 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc., 1993-2000), comments on Matthew 23:24.

Grant Osborne describes the statement in Matthew 23:24 as a “Jewish hyperbole,” similar to the one used by Jesus in Matthew 19:24. Although the Greek words κω ́ νωψ (gnat) and κα ́ μηλος (camel) only vaguely resemblance as they begin with the same letter, Osborne also views this as a pun because the two Aramaic words are similar in sound. [536] In addition, the camel would have been the largest animal in the Middle East, while the gnat would have represented one of the smallest.

[536] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, in Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 851-852.

Matthew 19:24, “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 23:27 Comments - What an accurate description of these scribes and Pharisees. Moses had delivered to the children of Israel both the moral laws found in the Ten Commandments and the civil laws found in the Mosaic Law. Jesus teaches us that the Ten Commandments are laws that are obeyed from our heart, while the civil laws are outward deeds that we practice with our fellow man.

Through the centuries, we know that the scribes and Pharisees had heaped upon the Jewish people endless rules and regulations about daily activities. Although they practiced these tedious rules in front of their colleagues with great care, inwardly they were liars, thieves and murderers. Jesus likened this to a tomb that smelled of death and decay on the inside, but looked white and clear on the outside.

Approximately thirty years later (A.D. 60) Paul will call the Sanhedrin a “whited wall.”

Acts 23:3, “Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?”

Matthew 23:35 “unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias” Comments - Zacharias prophesied that the Lord would require judgment for this death. Jesus confirmed this prophecy in Matthew 23:35 when He referred to Israel’s judgment because of the blood of Zacharias and other prophets since the time of Abel.

2 Chronicles 24:20-22, “And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, The LORD look upon it, and require it .”

Matthew 23:36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

Verses 37-39

Judgment Predicted upon Jerusalem (Luke 13:34-35 ) In Matthew 23:37-39 Jesus concludes His rebuke to the Jewish leaders by predicting divine judgment upon the city of Jerusalem. This judgment is based upon the supporting evidence in the preceding passage (Matthew 23:13-36).

The Eschatological Theme in Jesus’ Lament The closing verses in the narrative section that precedes the Eschatological Discourse carries its theme when Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and His Second Coming, which is the very topic of the discourse that follows.

Matthew 23:37 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!

Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” - Comments - In many languages in the world, such as Luganda of East Africa, a word is repeated for emphasis. We see this repeated emphasis in other Scriptures also. Note:

2 Samuel 18:33, “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! ”

Matthew 23:37 Comments - Jesus laments over the holy city Jerusalem. Luke records a similar lamentation over the city by Jesus.

Luke 19:41-42, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”

Matthew 23:38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

Matthew 23:38 Comments The desolation of Israel took place in A.D. 70 when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, its people, and the Temple, scattering Israel among the nations until the last days when Israel has been reestablished as a nation in 1948 before the Second Coming of their Messiah.

Matthew 23:39 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.

Matthew 23:39 Comments While the multitudes had initially received Jesus as their Messiah and declared in Matthew 21:9, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” in fulfillment of Psalms 118:26, the Jewish leaders had rejected Him and turned the people against Him. Now that Jesus has been rejected by Israel at His first coming, they will no longer be able to see Him until His second coming, at which time prophecy will be fulfilled and Israel will finally receive Jesus as their Messiah and obtain their redemption (Romans 11:25-27).

Matthew 21:9, “And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”

Psalms 118:26, “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.”

Romans 11:25-27, “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”

After the Resurrection, the people of Israel will hear Him in a new way, through the preaching of the disciples. Jesus will send His Holy Spirit and anoint His disciples to boldly speak the words that God gives them. Israel will then be seeing Jesus in the words that His disciples are preaching. Those who receive His disciples and their words will again say, “Blessed is this disciple who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus will now speak through men, as living epistles, with His words written upon the tablets of men's hearts. We must begin to learn how to see Jesus in others.

Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Matthew 23". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/matthew-23.html. 2013.
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