- Instructions to the Crowd and Disciples Concerning the Pharisees (23:1-12)
- Warnings to the Pharisees: The Seven Woes (23:13-33)
- 1st Woe: For Hindering Others (v.13)
- 2nd Woe: For Misdirected Zeal (v.15)
- 3rd Woe: For Manipulating Values (vv.16-22)
- 4th Woe: For Empty Ritualism (vv.23-24)
- 5th Woe: For Moral Externalism (vv.25-26)
- 6th Woe: For Religious Externalism (vv.27-28)
- 7th Woe: For Sanctimonious Treachery (vv.29-32)
- Conclusion to the Woes (v.33)
- The Scribes and Pharisees to be Tested (23:34-36)
- Lamentation Over Jerusalem (23:37-39)
Instructions to the Crowd and Disciples Concerning the Pharisees (23:1-12)
The Scribes and Pharisees: Usurping, Hypocritical, Sanctimonious (vv.1-7)
- Broad phylacteries. A phylactery was a small leather pouch containing Hebrew texts on vellum. It was worn upon the forehead and the left arm by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law, according to Deut. 6:8 (Deut. 11:18); “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” The expressions in Deuteronomy were figurative, but they took them as literal. Even so, the Lord does not rebuke the use of phylacteries, but the hypocrisy in their use. The Pharisees would make these phylacteries very broad, so as to promote the idea that they kept more of the law, or somehow were more faithful than others.
- Enlarged borders. The Israelites were to have a fringe on the border of their garments, to remind them to keep the law. On the fringe was a ribbon of blue (Num. 15:38-39). It speaks of a separated, holy, heavenly walk. The Pharisees would enlarge these borders to give an outward pretense that they had a superior moral walk, as if to say, “not only are we separate from the nations, but we are above the average Jew”.
- Prominent seats. They viewed having the highest or first place in every social or religious setting as a measure of their greatness. Contrast the definition of true greatness in vv.11-12. It isn’t wrong to have the uppermost seats, but it is wrong to seek them, and wrong to love them.
- Exalted greetings. They had adopted the spirit of the world. They had made religion into a respectable institution, and their positions as something to receive glory from men for themselves.
The Brethren: Humble, Lowly, Abased (vv.8-12)
Learn to grapple with souls. Aim at the conscience. Exalt Christ. Use a sharp knife with yourself. Say little, serve all, pass on. This is true greatness, to serve unnoticed and work unseen. Oh, the joy of having nothing and being nothing, seeing nothing but a Living Christ in Glory, and being careful for nothing but His interests down here.— “True Greatness”, J. N. Darby.
Warnings to the Pharisees: The Seven Woes (23:13-33)
Seven Woes. The number seven in scripture is a symbol of spiritual completeness. In Matthew 23 the Lord levels a set of seven “Woes” against the scribes and Pharisees. A “woe” is a warning of impending judgment. This is some of the strongest language ever used by the Lord, and it is directed against those who were perceived as the most pious and holy. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. We might wonder at how these strong rebukes could come from the same mouth that yielded such “gracious words” at other times (Luke 4:22). The answer must be in the awfulness of the sin of hypocrisy in the estimation of our Lord. Another has said, “who shall entreat for him that the great Intercessor pleads against?” Jesus would never speak a “Woe” without reason. Each of these seven Woes is accompanied by a cause.
1st Woe: For Hindering Others (v.13)
- We can hinder others by leading followers the wrong way. The scribes and Pharisees were extremely influential. Many Jews would not enter the kingdom simply because their leaders didn’t. In John 7:48 we see that the Pharisees knew exactly what they were doing; “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” In this way, the Pharisees “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men”.
- We can hinder others by rendering a poor testimony. The Pharisees had a good talk, but a poor walk. Hypocrisy is easy to spot. If we live a hypocritical lifestyle, it can turn others away from the truth.
- We can also hinder others by giving a false portrayal of salvation and Christianity. By their teaching, the Pharisees made the path of obedience to God appear to be restrictive, and complicated. According to them, it required strict attention to ceremonial washings, dietary restrictions, etc. They even went further than the law, and taught the traditions of the fathers, which could be even more restrictive. We need to be careful not to make “steps to the altar”(Exodus 20:26). Our talk and walk should never give the impression that God is accepting of sin, but let’s remember that salvation is by grace through faith alone.
2nd Woe: For Misdirected Zeal (v.15)
3rd Woe: For Manipulating Values (vv.16-22)
4th Woe: For Empty Ritualism (vv.23-24)
5th Woe: For Moral Externalism (vv.25-26)
6th Woe: For Religious Externalism (vv.27-28)
7th Woe: For Sanctimonious Treachery (vv.29-32)
Conclusion to the Woes (v.33)
The Scribes and Pharisees to be Tested (23:34-36)
- A generation of vipers (Matt. 3:7; 12:34)
- A generation like unto children sitting in the markets (Matt. 11:16)
- A wicked and adulterous generation (Matt. 12:39)
- An unbelieving and perverted generation (Matt. 17:17)
Lamentation Over Jerusalem (23:37-39)
- “So that we have remarkable historical probability of Zechariah the prophet’s being so killed, but I avow that 2 Chronicles 24, being nearly the last chapter in the Hebrew Bible, I think it exceedingly probable that it may have been the Zechariah referred to in verse 20 that the Lord refers to, “Son of Barachias” being an addition.” – Darby, J.N.. Nehemiah. Notes and Comments, Volume 2. p.212