Matthew Chapter 23 – The Deity Of Christ

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Matthew 23 New King James Version (NKJV)

Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ,and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Jesus Laments over Jerusalem

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

Additional Video. The verse of Matthew 23:39 finds its place in the song. That verse has great significance as to the second coming of Christ to physically set foot on planet Earth in the city of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives., per Zechariah 14:1-15, Matthew 24:29-31; Matthew 25:31-46; and Revelation 19:11-20-15.

Paul Wilbur Baruch Haba Blessed Is He Who Comes

Study notes.

23:2 Moses’ seat. The expression is equivalent to a university’s “chair of philosophy.” To “sit in Moses’ seat” was to have the highest authority to instruct people in the law. The expression here may be translated, “[they] have seated themselves in Moses’ seat”—stressing the fact that this was an imaginary authority they claimed for themselves. There was a legitimate sense in which the priests and Levites had authority to decide matters of the law (Deut. 17:9), but the scribes and Pharisees had gone beyond any legitimate authority and were adding human tradition to the Word of God (15:3–9). For that Jesus condemned them (vv. 8–36).

23:3 observe and do. I.e., insofar as it accords with the Word of God. The Pharisees were prone to bind “heavy burdens” (v. 4) of extrabiblical traditions and put them on others’ shoulders. Jesus explicitly condemned that sort of legalism.

23:5 phylacteries. Leather boxes containing a parchment on which is written in 4 columns (Ex. 13:1–10, 11–16; Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–21). These are worn by men during prayer—one on the middle of the forehead and one on the left arm just above the elbow. The use of phylacteries was based on an overly literal interpretation of passages like Ex. 13:9, 10; Deut. 6:8. Evidently the Pharisees would broaden the leather straps by which the phylacteries were bound to their arms and foreheads, in order to make the phylacteries more prominent. the borders of their garments. I.e., the tassels. Jesus Himself wore them (see note on 9:20), so it was not the tassels themselves that He condemned, only the mentality that would lengthen the tassels to make it appear that one was especially spiritual.

23:8–10 Rabbi…father…teachers. Here Jesus condemns pride and pretense, not titles per se. Paul repeatedly speaks of “teachers” in the church, and even refers to himself as the Corinthians’ “father” (1 Cor. 4:15). Obviously, this does not forbid the showing of respect, either (cf. 1 Thess. 5:11, 12; 1 Tim. 5:1). Christ is merely forbidding the use of such names as spiritual titles, or in an ostentatious sense that accords undue spiritual authority to a human being, as if he were the source of truth rather than God.

23:13 nor do you allow. The Pharisees, having shunned God’s righteousness, were seeking to establish a righteousness of their own (Rom. 10:3)—and teaching others to do so as well. Their legalism and self-righteousness effectively obscured the narrow gate by which the kingdom must be entered (see notes on 7:13, 14).

23:14 This verse does not appear in the earliest available manuscripts of Matthew, but does appear in Mark. See notes on Mark 12:40.

23:15 proselyte. A Gentile convert to Judaism. See Acts 6:5. a son of hell. I.e., someone whose eternal destination is hell.

23:16 it is nothing. This was an arbitrary distinction the Pharisees had made, which gave them a sanctimonious justification for lying with impunity. If someone swore “by the temple” (or the altar, v. 18; or heaven, v. 22), his oath was not considered binding, but if he swore “by the gold of the temple,” he could not break his word without being subject to the penalties of Jewish law. Our Lord makes it clear that swearing by those things is tantamount to swearing by God Himself. See note on 5:34.

23:23 tithe of mint and anise and cummin. Garden herbs, not really the kind of farm produce that the tithe was designed to cover (Lev. 27:30). But the Pharisees fastidiously weighed out a tenth of every herb, perhaps even counting individual anise seeds. Jesus’ point, however, was not to condemn their observance of the law’s fine points. The problem was that they “neglected the weightier matters” of justice and mercy and faith—the moral principles underlying all the laws. They were satisfied with their focus on the incidentals and externals but willfully resisted the spiritual meaning of the law. He told them they should have concentrated on those larger issues “without leaving the others undone.”

23:24 strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. Some Pharisees would strain their beverages through a fine cloth to make sure they did not inadvertently swallow a gnat—the smallest of unclean animals (Lev. 11:23). The camel was the largest of all the unclean animals (Lev. 11:4).

23:25 you cleanse the outside. The Pharisees’ focus on external issues lay at the heart of their error. Who would want to drink from a cup that had been washed on the outside but was still filthy inside? Yet the Pharisees lived their lives as if external appearance were more important than internal reality. That was the very essence of their hypocrisy, and Jesus rebuked them for it repeatedly (see notes on 5:20; 16:12).

23:27 whitewashed tombs. Tombs were regularly whitewashed to make them stand out. Accidentally touching or stepping on a grave caused ceremonial uncleanness (Num. 19:16). A freshly whitewashed tomb would be brilliantly white and clean-looking—and sometimes spectacularly ornate. But the inside was full of defilement and decay. Contrast Jesus’ words here and in Luke 11:44.

23:30 we would not have been partakers. A ridiculous claim to self-righteousness when they were already plotting the murder of the Messiah (cf. John 11:47–53).

23:34 prophets, wise men, and scribes. I.e., the disciples, as well as the prophets, evangelists, and pastors who followed them (cf. Eph. 4:11).

23:35 Abel…Zechariah. The first and last OT martyrs, respectively. son of Berechiah. (Zech. 1:1). The OT does not record how he died. However, the death of another Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, is recorded in 2 Chr. 24:20, 21. He was stoned in the court of the temple, exactly as Jesus describes here. All the best manuscripts of Matthew contain the phrase “Zechariah, son of Berechiah” (though it does not appear in Luke 11:51). Some have suggested that the Zechariah in 2 Chr. 24 was actually a grandson of Jehoiada, and that his father’s name was also Berechiah. But there is no difficulty if we simply take Jesus’ words at face value and accept His infallible testimony that Zechariah the prophet was martyred between the temple and the altar, in a way very similar to how the earlier Zechariah was killed.

23:36 this generation. Historically, this was the generation that experienced the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple in A.D. 70. Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem and His removal of the blessing of God from the temple (vv. 37, 38) strongly suggest that the sacking of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was the judgment He was speaking about. See notes on 22:7; 24:2; Luke 19:43.

23:37 I wanted…but you were not willing! God is utterly sovereign and therefore fully capable of bringing to pass whatever He desires (cf. Is. 46:10)—including the salvation of whomever He chooses (Eph. 1:4, 5). Yet, He sometimes expresses a wish for that which He does not sovereignly bring to pass (cf. Gen. 6:6; Deut. 5:29; Ps. 81:13; Is. 48:18). Such expressions in no way suggest a limitation on the sovereignty of God or imply any actual change in Him (Num. 23:19). But these statements do reveal essential aspects of the divine character: He is full of compassion, sincerely good to all, desirous of good, not evil—and therefore not delighting in the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11). While affirming God’s sovereignty, one must understand His pleas for the repentance of the reprobate as well meant appeals—and His goodness toward the wicked as a genuine mercy designed to provoke them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). The emotion displayed by Christ here (and in all similar passages, such as Luke 19:41) is obviously a deep, sincere passion. All Christ’s feelings must be in perfect harmony with the divine will (cf. John 8:29)—and therefore these lamentations should not be thought of as mere exhibitions of His humanity.

23:38 Your house is left to you desolate. A few days earlier, Christ had referred to the temple as His Father’s “house” (21:13). But the blessing and glory of God were being removed from Israel (see 1 Sam. 4:21). When Christ “departed from the temple” (24:1), the glory of God went with Him. Ezekiel 11:23 described Ezekiel’s vision of the departure of the Shekinah glory in his day. The glory left the temple and stood on the Mt. of Olives (see notes on 24:3; Luke 19:29), exactly the same route Christ followed here (cf. 24:3).

23:39 you shall see Me no more. Christ’s public teaching ministry was over. He withdrew from national Israel until the time yet future when they will recognize Him as Messiah (Rom. 11:23–26). Then Christ quoted from Ps. 118:26.

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The scripture text was taken from

The translation of the text is from The New King James Version.

Scripture notes were taken from The MacArthur Study Bible notes that are contained in


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