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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 23

The Bible Study New TestamentBible Study NT

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Verse 1


Then Jesus spoke to the crowds. Probably in the Court of the Gentiles in the temple. This is the official close of his public ministry, just as the Sermon on the Mount was the beginning. This is more than a scolding. It is a “tongue-lashing” rebuke of the anti-God actions of the teachers of the Law and Pharisees [who are called “the Jews” in some verses].

Verse 2


The authorized Interpreters. They were the only religious teachers the people had. They did teach the Law of Moses, but added in their own traditions (Matthew 15:1-9).

Verse 3


So you must obey. They were to obey the teachers of the Law when they did teach the Law. [The Law of Moses ended at the Cross. Galatians 3:10-14; Ephesians 2:14-16.] Do not . . . Imitate. Their examples teach a lie.

Verse 4


They fix up heavy loads. The Law was itself a heavy load which no one could carry (Acts 15:10). But they added traditions to it to make it even heavier (Matthew 22:36). See Matthew 23:2.

Verse 5


Just so people will see them. They wanted to make everyone think they were holy. They made containers of calf skin, put verses of Scripture written on parchment in these, and then fastened them on their foreheads and arms to show they were always thinking about God’s word. [The verses were Exodus 12:2-10; Exodus 13:11-21; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:18-21.] The hems of their cloaks. All Jews were to wear fringes on their cloaks to remind them to obey God in all things (see Numbers 15:38-39). They were making them extra long to impress people with their piety.

Verse 6


They love the best places. Where everyone would be sure to see them. They wanted the glory.

Verse 7


They love to be greeted with respect, With flattering talk. What Jesus is speaking of here, and in the next few verses, are the “religious titles” which they loved to hear, and which showed they were “boss” [one who domineers] over the faith of others.

Verse 8


You must not be called ‘Teacher.’ [Rabbi in the Hebrew language.] About the same as Doctor of Divinity. Jesus rebukes all who use religion as a means of gaining glory for themselves. This sin of “showing off’ [ostentation] was the root of the Pharisees’ other sins. The teachers of the Law did not allow their students to call them by name. They could only be spoken to as “Teacher.” Alford (Greek Testament) gives this warning: “To understand and follow such commands [as Christ gives in these verses. RDI] in the slavery of the letter, is to fall into the very Pharisaism against which our Lord is uttering the caution.” All brothers of one another. All in Christ stand equal to each other [even though they may have different duties]. Have only one Teacher. CHRIST [through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-2)].

Verses 9-10


And you must not call anyone here on earth ‘Father.’ That is, “Father” as a religious title. The teachers of the Law loved to be called Abba which means “Father,” in the sense in which God alone is Father. Leader. Another religious title, used in the sense in which only Jesus is the Leader of his church, [Any word can be misused in the same way.]

Verse 11


The greatest one among you. The true measure of greatness is not what others do for you, but what you do to help others.

Verse 12


Whoever makes himself great. This is a universal rule of God. The one who is so very proud of himself is humbled. The one who is kind, gentle, and loving, will be honored by God himself. See the parable in Luke 18:9-14.

Verse 13


How terrible for you! He makes eight statements of impeachment against the Jewish leaders. You lock the door. They did this by teaching lies which prevent people from believing in Christ. See Luke 11:52.

Verse 14


You take advantage of widows. We see Jesus allowing women to help him financially out of their great love (Luke 8:2-3). But these teachers of the Law and Pharisees were using religion as a fraud to cheat widows of their property. Their “show” of loving God made their sin all the worse.

Verse 15


To win one convert. These Jewish leaders wanted to convert everyone to Judaism and make them Jews [proselytes], because they expected that God would then send the Messiah to set up a political kingdom and make them rulers over the world. You make him twice as deserving. They made fanatics out of their converts.

Verse 16


Blind guides. They deliberately shut their eyes to God’s truth, yet made people follow them. If a man swears. Takes a vow. In their silly thinking, they could take a vow by the temple, and not have to keep it; but if they took a vow by the gold of the temple, they were bound by it.

Verse 17


Blind fools! The temple makes the gold holy, so the temple is more important. They are looking at it backwards!

Verses 18-20


You also teach. The altar and the gift are all one—that is, equal in being holy.

Verses 21-22

21–22. And when a man swears. Taking a vow by the temple is equal to taking a vow by God himself. Heaven is equal to God himself. This means that all vows are by God and all equally binding. But see what Jesus said in Matthew 5:33-37.

Verse 23


You give to God one tenth. They were very careful to tithe even herbs in their gardens. But you neglect to obey. The really important things they left undone. They did not do the important things such as justice, mercy, and honesty, but were fanatics about the little things [which were also important (Leviticus 27:30)].

Verse 24


You strain a fly out of your drink. Satire. Jesus had a sense of humor. Can you imagine them straining out the fly, and then swallowing the camel! This illustrates Matthew 23:23.

Verses 25-26


You clean the outside. They had a ritual for washing the outside of cups and plates, and they would not eat or drink from anything that had not been prepared in this way. Clean what is inside the cup first. Jesus says they must make their heart pure first, then the ritual purity will take care of itself. This applies to all who put ritual purity ahead of personal purity [or doctrinal purity ahead of personal purity]. 1 Peter 1:15-16

Verses 27-28

27–28. You are like whitewashed tombs. Just before the time of Passover, all the tombs and graves were whitewashed—so no one would be made ritually unclean by touching one of them (Numbers 19:16), and to make them beautiful. From where they stood in the temple, they could see the whitewashed tombs on the western side of Olivet. Look fine—full of dead men’s bones. Strong words which say these leaders are pious frauds [sanctimonious], who look fine on the outside, but are full of sins inside. Compare Luke 11:44.

Verse 29


You make fine tombs for the prophets. They honored these men by building monuments to them, rather than by doing what they said to do. Even Herod the Great (an inhuman monster) rebuilt the tomb of David.

Verse 30


And you say. But they were in fact doing the very same things which their ancestors did!

Verse 31


So you actually admit! He is saying: “You have proved yourselves to be the same kind of people as your ancestors who murdered the prophets.” From where they stood, they could see the whitewashed tombs of the prophets on Olivet, including the tomb of Zechariah (Matthew 23:35).

Verse 32


Go on, then. As if he says: “Complete what your ancestors started—murder the Holy One.” [This can also be symbolic: “Your ancestors murdered the prophets, and you bury them by teaching lies.”]

Verse 33


How do you expect to escape? The Bible speaks to warn, as well as to invite.

Verse 34


And so I tell you. Read Luke 11:49-51. I will send. Even after the Cross, God sent the apostles and evangelists [preachers of the Good News] to offer them a chance to repent. But the Jewish leaders did just what Jesus said they would do.

Verses 35-36


As a result. The best explanation is the parable in Luke 20:9-16. These people not only approved the sins of their ancestors, but they would murder the Son of God. As a result the combined guilt of all the ages of time would fall upon this group of people. Notice, it is the people who are living right then. [But those who believed in Christ escaped this. Not one Christian Jew was killed in the siege of Jerusalem.]

Verse 37


Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The Jewish leaders were concentrated in Jerusalem. This makes it symbolic of the whole Nation. How many times. The city had been warned many times by the prophets. Jesus had visited it at least six or seven times, and taught in its streets for months. Even after the Cross, Jesus told his apostles: “the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45-49).

Verse 38


Now your home will be completely forsaken. This is a double prophecy. It says that when Jesus leaves the temple, God will also desert it and will no longer accept its worship. It also says that God will remove his protection and allow the city to be totally crushed (Zechariah 11:6).

Verse 39


Until you say. Both a “curse” of doom, and a promise of hope! “Unbelief is a veil which closes their minds to Truth and Eternal Life. But that veil will vanish when they tum to Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:14-18). The hope of the Jews can only come true in Jesus Christ. [The Christian Jew is a FULFILLED Jew.]

Bibliographical Information
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Matthew 23". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ice/matthew-23.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
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