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Matthew 23:1. To the multitudes, and to his disciples. Luke (Luke 20:45): ‘then in the audience of all the people, he said to his disciples.’ His disciples were probably close about Him, the people gathering about them; Matthew 23:8-12 appear to be addressed especially to His disciples.
This discourse (peculiar to Matthew) was delivered on Tuesday preceding the crucifixion, although similar sayings (found in Luke 11:13) were uttered on a previous occasion. The intercourse with the Pharisees had been used by our Lord as a means of warning them. The warning had been unheeded; the intercourse had ceased; the crisis of their meditated crime was approaching. Our Lord therefore turns ‘to the multitudes and to his disciples’ (Matthew 23:1), and without passion or personal bitterness denounces these His enemies. Those who find this discourse too severe forget that God has revealed Himself in Christ as Holy Love. This awful severity proves Christ’s divine mission and character no less than His tender invitations to the sinner to come to Him. Indeed, it is a part of His mercy, since it warns His sheep against the coming of the wolf, guards us against the Pharisaism of our own hearts, which is so quick to rise against Him who redeemed us. Only One who knew Himself to be free from sin and clothed with Divine authority and power should or could utter such a discourse. The Sadducees are not mentioned; they were not earnest enough to oppose Him with bitterness. Moreover the Pharisees were still the leaders of the people and while Christ lived, His greatest foes.
The discourse begins with a description of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:2-7), which defines and respects their official position, but reproves their inconsistency, disclosing their true motive, namely, the praise of men. Then follows a practical application, enjoining an opposite course of conduct, calling for humility over against the pride which is the root of Pharisaism (Matthew 23:8-12). The more particular and terrible reproof follows (Matthew 23:13-36), containing seven (or with the doubtful Matthew 23:14, eight) woes against them as ‘hypocrites’ (the inevitable result of pride): for hindering men from entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 23:13); [for using religion as a cloak for covetousness (Matthew 23:14);] for proselyting zeal which ruined the proselytes (Matthew 23:15); for misguiding the people by their casuistry (Matthew 23:16-22); for sacrificing the great matters of religion to minor points of legalism (Matthew 23:23-24); for external purity joined with spiritual impurity (Matthew 23:25-26); for external appearance of sanctity joined with spiritual deadness and iniquity (Matthew 23:27-28); for exalting themselves above their persecuting fathers, in word and act, when they were themselves persecutors, even now preparing to fill up the measure of Jewish iniquity and unconsciously to bear its fearful penalty (Matthew 23:29; Matthew 23:36). Last of all comes a tender lamentation over Jerusalem, predicting its future desolation, yet breathing a hope for the distant future (Matthew 23:37-39). This was Christ’s last public discourse. The ‘multitudes’ saw Him next, when ‘He came forth wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe’ (John 19:5).
Matthew 23:2. The scribes and the Pharisees. Joined together, because the scribes were mostly Pharisees. Study of the Scriptures would be of comparatively little interest to the indifferent Sadducees. Theologians, from the nature of their pursuits, are in more danger of becoming Pharisees than Sadducees.
Sit in Moses’ seat, as judges and expounders of the law. As a lawgiver Moses spoke in the name of God; as judge and administrator he had successors, with authority to explain what he meant, but not to legislate. Under Roman rule, the function of the Sanhedrin, composed mainly of Pharisees, was limited to this.
Matthew 23:3. All things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe. Their official position and authority are respected, because the law was still an element in their teaching. The office did not sanctify the officer. Men’s official utterances are often vastly superior to their lives. The verse has a special application to the Jew’s, still under the Mosaic law, but a wider one in the Christian dispensation. There is always a tendency to Pharisaism in public, especially hierarchical teachers. The extremes of slavish subjection and of revolution, in both church and state, are here forbidden.
Matthew 23:4. Yea they bind, etc. They so presented the correct law as to make its precepts heavy burdens, like loads, packs on beasts of burden (comp. Acts 15:16). The reference is not simply to the traditions they added, but also to the mode of presenting the law itself, as demanding a servile obedience in minute details irrespective of the spirit of the commandment. Imposing such burdens, they did not in the least lighten them by spiritual precept or example. Lange: ‘A fourfold rebuke: 1 . they make religion a burden; 2 . an intolerable burden; 3 . they lay it upon the shoulders of others; 4 . they leave it untouched themselves, i.e., they have no idea of fulfilling these precepts in spirit and in truth.’
Matthew 23:5. But all their works. Their extensive routine of duty was not really religious, but performed with this motive: to be seen of men. Self-righteousness rests on pride, and, inevitably becoming exhibitional, betrays its origin.
For they make broad their phylacteries. Small slips of parchment, on which passages from the law were written, usually worn at time of prayer on the left arm and the forehead. (The custom was derived from a literal understanding of Exodus 13:16, and the passages inscribed were four in number: Exodus 12:2-10; Exodus 13:11-21; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:18-21.) The name, from the Greek word meaning to ‘guard,’ was probably suggested by the command of Exodus 13:10, where this word occurs. Afterwards the idea of a charm or amulet guarding from danger naturally came in. Making them broad probably refers to the case in which the parchment was kept. The latter was of a prescribed size, as indeed nearly everything connected with their use had been made a matter of Rabbinical rule. As our Lord does not condemn the practice itself, but only its abuse, it has been inferred that He Himself used phylacteries; but this cannot be proven. It is said that the Pharisees wore them constantly, but the common people only at prayers. The accompanying cut shows how they were worn as frontlets. When used on the left arm, the leather thong was made into a little knot of peculiar shape (like the Hebrew letter Yod) near the bend of the arm, and then wound in a spiral line round the arm and to the end of the middle finger. The minute regulations in regard to phylacteries form a curious confirmation of the belittling tendency of formalism. Similar external badges of professed religious feeling have been used in all ages, from the same motives and with the same tendency.
Enlarge the borders of their garments. ‘Of their garments’ is not found in the correct text, but is necessarily understood. In Numbers 15:38, the Israelites were bidden to wear fringes about their outer garment, fastened to it with a blue ribbon, to distinguish them from other nations, and to remind them of their duty to obey the law. The usage may have existed before that passage attached a symbolical meaning to it. The fringe may have been the ordinary mode of preventing the edge of the robe from unravelling, and the blue ribbon was useful in strengthening the border. The Pharisees, as sticklers for the rigid observance of the law, made these fringes larger than others. All these external badges had proper symbolical meanings. Lange: ‘Blue was the symbolical color of heaven, the color of God, of His covenant, and of faithfulness to that covenant. The tassels themselves signified flowers, or birds; probably pomegranates, and these crimson, and not blue, as the ribbons were. Thus they were remembrancers that fidelity to the covenant should flourish; or they were tokens that the flower of life was love, and that love must spring from faithfulness to the covenant.’ But the Pharisees, however significant their ritualism, murdered Him to whom it pointed. It is a short step from religious pageantry to religious pride. Canstein: ‘Pharisaic folly; elegant Bibles and books of prayer, and no devotion in the heart.’
Matthew 23:6. The chief place at feasts. The place on the middle couch at the upper table (which joined the other two) was considered most honorable.
Chief seats in the synagogues. The places nearest the reading desk, where the elders sat. Being in such places (at feasts, in synagogues or elsewhere) is not rebuked, but loving to be there. Pharisaism may now show itself in taking the lowest place, if this is done in a slavish obedience to the letter of the gospel, or from a desire to be invited to go up higher.
Matthew 23:7. The salutations in the market places. The places of public resort, where their importance would be recognized. Salutations of courtesy and kindness in public places are certainly not forbidden. In these days Pharisaical pride may desire some other form of public recognition.
Rabbi, literally, ‘my master.’ The three degrees in the titles given to teachers were: ‘Rab,’ master, doctor; ‘Rabbi,’ my master; ‘Rabboni,’ my great master.
Matthew 23:8. But be not ye called Rabbi. But this prohibition includes all the manifestations of religious pride spoken of, since it prohibits the pride itself.
For one is your Master, or, ‘Teacher.’ The word ‘Christ’ is to be omitted here. Because One is our Teacher, all are our brethren; hence the prohibition ‘against loving, and in any religious matter, using such titles, signifying dominion over the faith of others’ (Alford). A literal and particular application of the precept should be made with caution. Such applications may spring from the very pride here forbidden. So long as teachers are necessary in the Church, titles are necessary; but none which imply the right to lord it over the faith of others. Not the title, but the spirit which claims authority in teaching, is forbidden. In any case our addressing others by the usual title is not forbidden; pride taking the form of want of courtesy cannot find shelter here.
Matthew 23:9. Your father upon earth. A natural father is not meant. Nor are titles of respect to the aged forbidden. Stephen (Acts 7:2) began his defence: ‘Brethren and fathers,’ and Paul too calls himself the spiritual father of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:15), speaks of Timothy as his son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2; comp. Titus 1:4; 1 Peter 5:13). It rather forbids honoring any one as an absolute spiritual authority, because this opposes the authority of our Father in heaven. Compare the Papal usage in all its forms of priesthood from the one Father ( Papa) claiming infallibility, to the parish priest, or ‘Father,’ claiming infallibility derived from that source.
Matthew 23:10. Leaders. Higher than ‘Rabbi,’ leaders of sects, etc.
For one is your leader, even the Christ. Hence the disciples were and ought to be called Christians, not by any human name (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:12). As Matthew 23:9-10 refer distinctly to the Father and the Son, some have referred Matthew 23:8 to the Holy Ghost; in order to find here a hint of the Trinity. A possible, but improbable, interpretation.
Matthew 23:11. The greater among you shall be your servant (or ‘minister,’ as the word is translated in chap. Matthew 20:26). Not, ‘shall be called.’ The Pope, whose usual title is a violation of Matthew 23:9, is called: ‘Servant of servants.’ ‘The greater among you,’ implies a difference among Christians, but not that one is the ‘greatest.’ The greater have always been those who ministered.
Matthew 23:12. And whosoever shall exalt himself, etc. A universal rule of God’s dealings, including both worlds in its scope. Here it points to the speedy humiliation of the Pharisees. The possession of humility is the first requisite in entering the kingdom of heaven (chap. Matthew 18:3-4) and the absence of it made the Pharisees the murderers of the King.
Matthew 23:13. Woe unto you. This repeated formula is followed in each case by a reason, derived from evil character and conduct. Sin results in ‘woe.’
Because ye shut up the kingdom of heaven, here represented as a wedding hall, or palace, with open doors.
Against men; in their face. This was especially done by so perverting the Scriptures as to prevent others from recognizing Christ, the ‘Way,’ the ‘Door.’ Their sin was two-fold: not entering themselves; and by both example and false teaching, keeping back the people who even now were disposed to enter. This is the chief sin of Pharisaism: by outward ceremonies and false self-righteous teaching, obscuring the simple gospel of Christ, thus shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. The other verses set forth various manifestations of their wicked example and precept.
Matthew 23:14. This verse, though misplaced, is a part of the word of God (Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47).
Ye devour widows’ houses, i.e., seize upon the property of the unprotected, here represented by a particular class.
Even while, the force of ‘and’ is best represented thus.
For a pretence ye make long prayer. The guilt was thus aggravated and the greater damnation, or ‘condemnation,’ is threatened. There are many ways of swindling the defenceless, but to do it with pretended piety, is worst of all. Priestly Pharisaism very early showed itself in securing legacies, so that the widows were left destitute, nor has this form of sin altogether ceased.
Matthew 23:15. Ye compass sea and land, i.e., spare no effort, to make one proselyte. Among the Jews there were two kinds of proselytes. 1 . Those who embraced the Jewish religion, conforming to all its requirements, ‘proselytes of righteousness.’ 2 . Those who approved of it, accepting some of its rites, without being circumcised, ‘proselytes of the gate.’ The former class is probably referred to here. Shutting the kingdom of heaven in the faces of their own people (Matthew 23:13), the Pharisees yet sought proselytes among the heathen. Real missionary effort was contrary to the spirit of the Pharisees, indicating too high an estimate of the Gentiles. Judaism was designed to diffuse certain religious ideas throughout the world, not to convert the world to Judaism. A proselyte of righteousness was really ‘neither a sincere heathen nor a sincere Jew.’ The law could only proselyte, it could not convert
Two-fold more a son of hell than yourselves. ‘Proselytes’ generally become more extreme than their teachers. In this case they would become Pharisees, rather than Jews, lacking even the remnant of good in their teachers. The usual result of sectarian zeal; for men are more easily perverted than converted; perverts are more violently zealous than converts; able to receive only the external forms, they attach to these the greater importance.
Matthew 23:16. Ye blind guides. Wilfully blind, self-deluded (‘fools and blind,’ Matthew 23:17), they persisted in leading others astray. The method here spoken of is that of arbitrary distinctions in regard to oaths, perverting religion and morality.
Who say. Thus they taught.
By the temple. A common oath, comp. chap. Matthew 5:34-37, where kindred oaths are referred to, and all swearing forbidden.
It is nothing, i.e., not binding; like the ‘mental reservation’ allowed and taught by the Jesuits.
By the gold of the temple. Either the gold which adorned it, or the gold in its treasury.
He is a debtor. This they regarded as a binding oath. Whatever their reason may have been, the Pharisees thus put the gold above the temple. A sign of covetousness, and of a tendency to exalt church ornaments above the house of God itself.
Matthew 23:17. Fools and blind. The distinction was foolish and false, revealing the character of those making it.
The temple that hath sanctified the gold. Any sanctity in the gold came from the temple, and the sanctity of the temple came from God. No inanimate thing can witness an oath. Hence Matthew 23:20-22 declare that every oath is an oath by God. Pharisees reversed the order of the hallowed things. Their casuistry is rebuked, but neither of the oaths is sanctioned.
Matthew 23:18. The altar; in the temple, the only authorized one.
The gift. The offering placed upon it. The order of hallowed things is again reversed (Matthew 23:19). Since all are holy, our Lord declares that no oath can distinguish between them (Matthew 23:20).
Matthew 23:19. Ye blind. The briefer reading is better supported.
Matthew 23:21. By the temple. This oath, which they did not consider binding (Matthew 23:16), is now traced back to God Himself.
That dwelleth therein. God came into the temple of Solomon with visible glory (1 Kings 8:11-12); nothing is affirmed or denied in regard to the second temple. The Pharisees professed to teach on matters pertaining to God, and forgot the meaning of these very things.
Matthew 23:22. By heaven, the great temple of God, hallowed by the presence of God enthroned there. The sum of the whole is: Every oath is by God; hence make no distinctions between oaths; ‘swear not at all’ (chap. Matthew 5:34). These verses really refer, not only to swearing, but to truthfulness, in word and act; they forbid those false distinctions used to palliate the crime of lying.
Matthew 23:23. For ye tithe the mint, and the dill and the cummin . In Leviticus 27:30, the Israelites were bidden to pay a tithe (tenth part) of the fruits of the field and of the trees, as an offering to the Lord. Other demands were made (Numbers 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 14:22-28), exacting in all nearly one third of the income of each Jew. It was doubtful whether the tithe of produce applied to the smallest garden herbs, yet the Pharisees, in their over-scrupulousness paid tithe of ‘these herbs of small value.’ (‘The cummin’ resembles fennel.)
Left undone the weightier matters. A striking and distinctive feature of Pharisaism. Scrupulous attention to some regulation of dress, of meat and drink, of outward observance, is often joined with an utter neglect of humility, faith, and charity.
Of the law. Comp. Micah 6:8; Hosea 12:6; Isaiah 1:17.
Judgment, care for the right; and mercy, care for those who are wrong; faith, in the Old Testament, fidelity to God, and trust in God; the New Testament idea is similar but more full.
These ye ought, etc. First, the ‘weightier matters;’ then the lesser ones can be done in the right spirit. Our Lord does not decide the question of minute tithes, but teaches that if, having fulfilled the great duties, their consciences led them to this, not to leave it undone. Faithfulness in what is great, never leads to neglect of what is least. But attention first of all to what is least, leads to neglect of what is great.
Matthew 23:24. Strain out the gnat, i.e., to filter wine, so as to avoid swallowing a gnat. The common version may have been intended to express this, but more probably contains a misprint. The saying is proverbial; this straining actually took place to avoid defilement (Leviticus 11:20; Leviticus 11:23; Leviticus 11:41-42). The same custom obtains among the Buddhists.
And swallow the camel, i.e., indulge in the greatest impurities. The camel was one of the largest of the impure animals forbidden for food. (Leviticus 11:4: it did not divide the hoof.) Besides to swallow it, would be to eat blood and what was strangled. What was impossible literally, is only too possible figuratively. The reality of Pharisaic sin exceeds the figure.
Matthew 23:25. Ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish. The ‘cup’ and ‘dish’ refer to drink and meat, the enjoyment of life. They would give a formal legal purity to sinful gratification. On the Pharisaical washings of pots and cups, see Mark 7:8.
But within they are full from extortion and excess. ‘From,’ i.e., in consequence of, by means of, more fully explained, the means for their gratification came ‘from rapacity;’ the mode despite its outward legality was ‘excess.’ Men often fancy themselves religious, because they conform to some standard of outward morality; while they really gain their wealth by wrong-doing, and spend it in self-gratification.
Matthew 23:26. Thou blind Pharisee. ‘Blind,’ failing to see that the great matter should come first.
Cleanse first. Begin with inward purity.
That the outside thereof may become clean also. Outward morality is very important, but it naturally follows purity of heart. The former without the latter is not real morality.
Matthew 23:27. Whited sepulchres. On the 15 th of Adar, before the Passover, the Jews whitewashed all spots where graves were situated. This was done to prevent the passage over them, which occasioned Levitical defilement (Numbers 19:16; comp. Ezekiel 39:15, from which passage the custom is derived).
Outwardly indeed appear beautiful. Beside the ‘whitening,’ much care was bestowed upon sepulchres by the wealthy Jews.
Full of dead men’s bones, etc. Comp. the proper sanitary regulation of Mosaic law concerning dead bodies (Numbers 5:2; Numbers 6:6).
Matthew 23:28. But inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. ‘Your heart is not a temple of the living God, but a grave of pestilent corruption: not a heaven, but a hell. And your religion is but the whitewash hardly skin-deep’ (Alford). ‘Hypocrisy’ is the whitewash. ‘Iniquity,’ literally ‘lawlessness;’ their outward righteousness was put on, their hearts were really opposed to God’s law. As in the case of the sepulchres, such persons are not only impure themselves but contaminate others; the more easily from the false outward appearance.
Matthew 23:29. For ye build the sepulchres of the prophets. (Comp. Luke 11:47-48). According to the universal custom of building monuments to ancient and celebrated persons.
And garnish the tombs of the righteous, those considered especially saintly. ‘The prophets,’ the higher class, are represented as lying for a long time in unknown, perhaps dishonored, graves. The so-called ‘tombs of the prophets’ are still pointed out near the Mount of Olives on the road from Jerusalem to Bethany.
Matthew 23:30. And say. By the act of building the tombs, and also in word.
If we had been in the days of our fathers, etc. Their ‘fathers’ by natural lineage. The moral relationship they deny, but our Lord affirms it (Matthew 23:31).
Matthew 23:31. So then. ‘You acknowledge the sins of your fathers, but hypocritically deny your own, adding hypocrisy to impiety,’
Ye witness to yourselves, your own consciences condemning you, that ye are the sons (morally as well as naturally) of them that slew the prophets. Some find here an allusion to a Jewish proverb: ‘One kills him, and another digs his grave’ (comp. Luke 11:47), asserting complicity in guilt; but our Lord assumes that evil moral characteristics are hereditary; therefore those whose conduct did not oppose the false principles and crimes of their forefathers, were partakers in their guilt (Matthew 23:32; Matthew 23:35-36). Doing this in appearance only, the Pharisees showed that they had no true conception of either their own condition, or the crime of their fathers. Possibly attributing such violence to the barbarity of ancient times, they failed to see that these persecutions sprang from the same hatred of real righteousness which produced their hypocritical service. A common mistake.
Matthew 23:32. Fill ye up then. Not irony, but a terrible prediction, and a judicial consignment of them to their own ways. Every merciful means of influence had been used before this was spoken. To leave them now to show their true spirit was an act of mercy to others.
The measure of your fathers. The measure of their guilt.
Matthew 23:33. Ye serpents, ye brood of vipers, etc. Comp. the similar language of John the Baptist (chap. Matthew 3:7). That was the first, and this the last recorded address to the unchanged Pharisees. John had said: ‘who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come,’ our Lord speaks to them, as obdurate: how shall ye escape the judgment of hell, i.e., the judgment which condemns to hell, Our Lord speaks as Judge.
Matthew 23:34. Therefore behold I send unto you. Comp. Luke 11:49. ‘Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them,’ Here Christ, having already spoken as Judge, says, ‘I send.’ He is ‘the wisdom of God.’ ‘Therefore;’ because they were determined to go on in the way of their fathers, and were to be left to do so. The sending of messengers of salvation, the multiplication of privileges, hastens the doom of the hardened. A fact in history as well as a declaration of God’s word.
Prophets, and wise men, and scribes. Names applied to the Old Testament messenger’s and teachers; here applied to New Testament messengers, whom Christ as Head of the Church would send. From Luke 11:49, we infer that there is also a reference to 2 Chronicles 24:19. The Old Testament teachers had been treated in the same way, and the prediction indicates that they too had been sent by Christ. ‘Prophets’ probably refers to Apostles; ‘wise men’ to those specially endowed by the Holy Ghost, like Stephen; and ‘scribes’ to those mighty in the Scriptures such as Apollos. But there is no necessary distinction, for Paul belonged to all three classes. On the treatment of the Christian messengers, see Acts 5:40; Acts 23:19; Acts 26:11
Matthew 23:35. That upon you may come. The result would be further guilt, filling up the cup of iniquity; the end would be judgment. The inevitableness, suddenness, power, and grandeur of the judgment is intimated.
All the righteous blood, i.e., the punishment for it. Comp. Sam. Matthew 4:13; 2 Kings 21:16, and especially Revelation 18:24.
The blood of Abel the righteous. The first one slain in consequence of the strife between unrighteousness and holiness. ‘The blood of Abel’ (Genesis 4:10; Hebrews 12:24; comp. Revelation 6:10), was a symbol of avenging justice, and even the blood of Christ has a condemning office.
Zachariah, the son of Barachiah. Probably the person of that name, whose death under such circumstances is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. Two difficulties present themselves: 1 . This person is said to be the son of ‘Jehoiada,’ not of ‘Barachiah.’ But as Jehoiada died at the age of 130 (2 Chronicles 24:15), and Zachariah was specially called to be a prophet after his death, the latter was probably a grandson of the former. Matthew, with his usual exactness, inserting the name of the father. Possibly Jehoiada was also called Barachiah. Some think the father’s name an insertion by later copyists, who supposed the reference was to Zachariah the prophet, whose father’s name was Barachiah (Zechariah 1:1). 2 . This was not the last Old Testament martyr; Urijah was murdered afterwards (Jeremiah 26:23). But the book of 2 Chron. stood last in the Hebrew Bible, and the case of Zachariah was a marked one in view of the place ‘between the sanctuary and the altar,’ and of his death-cry: ‘The Lord seeth and will avenge it.’ As regards the application to other persons, we either have no trustworthy record of their martyrdom ( e.g., Zechariah the prophet, Zacharias the father of John the Baptist), or the death took place after this discourse. Our Lord distinctly refers to what occurred in past generations.
Ye slew, i.e.., your nation. In their present conduct they were partakers of the same sin.
Between the sanctuary, i.e., the temple proper, and the altar, which stood in front of it.
Matthew 23:36. All these things shall come upon this generation. Referring to the fearful calamities to come upon the Jewish people culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem, about forty years afterwards. The punishment was a national one, to be executed in this world upon that generation, ‘as the last in a progressive series of such hypocrites and persecutors.’ National judgments are often thus delayed and suddenly executed. But the individuals of the last generation received no more than their just due, nor of the former less: since another world completes the individual punishment. The Jews were the nation chosen for the manifestation of God’s mercy, and having repeatedly rejected Him and His messengers, this generation which rejected His Son became the vessels of His wrath.
Matthew 23:37. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. A mighty emotion of compassion follows the stem language of denunciation; both are aroused by guilt: in the one case, that of the blind misleaders; in the other, that of the misled people.
That killeth the prophets. Habitually does so. The crimes against God’s messengers in every age are included.
How often would I have gathered. Our Lord speaks of His own merciful desires in the past, in the Old Testament times and in His ministry on earth. A hint that He had often visited Jerusalem, as we learn from the Gospel of John.
Thy children, thy inhabitants, and in a certain sense all the Jewish people.
As a hen. To protect from impending destruction. The impending destruction was from the ‘eagle,’ the standard of the Roman armies. Comp. Deuteronomy 32:11 (where the Lord compares His own dealings to that of an eagle); Psalms 17:8; Psalms 36:7; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 61:4; Isaiah 31:5. Malachi 4:2; and chap. Matthew 24:28. The figure of a hen was applied by the Rabbins to the Shekinah, gathering the proselytes under the shadow of its wings.
But ye would not. The matter was decided, and that by the free-will of the people themselves. As a whole the city had rejected, and would yet more cruelly reject Him; though many individuals might be saved. Here, as throughout the Scriptures, man’s freedom and responsibility are assumed, and directly combined with the fact of God’s sovereignty manifesting itself in purposes which He predicts and which must be fulfilled. To deny the former would be to despise our Lord’s tears over Jerusalem; to forget the latter would be to doubt His power to save unto the uttermost.
Matthew 23:37-39. Luke (Luke 13:34-35) inserts this lamentation at an earlier point of the history. It was probably uttered twice, if but once, on this occasion, when it was peculiarly fitting. Comp. also Luke 19:41-44, where we find another lamentation over the city on His triumphant progress towards it.
Matthew 23:38. Your house, the temple, which is no longer God’s house, but yours. Desolate, a spiritual ruin to be followed by temporal ruin. Our Lord shortly afterwards (chap. Matthew 24:1) left the temple, as a sign that this had taken place.
Matthew 23:39. Ye shall not see me henceforth. A solemn declaration of His withdrawal from His ministry among them. After this He taught only His own people.
Till ye shall say, etc. This refers to the future conversion of the Jews (comp. Romans 11:25-32.)
Blessed is he that cometh, etc. Our Lord had been thus greeted by His followers as He entered the city (chap. Matthew 21:9), but Jerusalem said: ‘Who is this.’ The heavy judgments would inevitably come, but hope still remains.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 23". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
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