Matthew 23:2 "Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:"
Scribes and Pharisees - See the notes at Matthew 3:7.
Moses' seat - Moses was the great legislator of the Jews. By him the Law was given. The office of explaining that Law among the Jews devolved on the scribes and Pharisees. In the synagogues they sat while expounding the Law, and rose when they read it. By "sitting in the seat of Moses" we are to understand authority to teach the Law; or, as he taught the nation by giving the Law, so they taught it by explaining it.
Matthew 23:3 "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not."
All, therefore, whatsoever ... - That is, all that they teach that is consistent with the Law of Moses - all the commands of Moses which they read to you and properly explain. The word "all" could not be taken without such a restriction, for Christ himself accuses them of teaching many things contrary to that law, and of making it void by their traditions, (Matthew 15:1-6).
They say, and do not - The interpretation which they give to the law is in the main correct, but their lives do not correspond with their teaching. It is not the duty of people to imitate their teachers unless their lives are pure; they are to obey the law of God, and not to frame their lives by the example of evil people.
Matthew 23:4 "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."
They bind heavy burdens ... - This phrase is derived from the custom of loading animals. The load or burden is bound up and then laid on the beast. So the Pharisees appointed weighty burdens, or grievous and heavy precepts, and insisted that the people should obey them, though they lent no assistance. The "heavy burdens" refer not here to the traditions and foolish customs of the Pharisees, for Jesus would not command the people to observe them; but they clearly mean the ceremonies and rights appointed by Moses, which Peter says neither "they nor their fathers were able to bear," (Acts 15:10). Those rites were numerous, expensive, requiring much time, much property, and laborious. The Pharisees were rigid in requiring that all the people should pay the taxes, give of their property, comply with every part of the law with the utmost rigor, yet they indulged themselves, and bore as little of the expense and trouble as possible; so that, where they could avoid it, they would not lend the least aid to the people in the toils and expense of their religious rites.
With one of their fingers - In the least degree. They will not render the least aid.
Matthew 23:5 "But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,"
Their phylacteries - The word "phylactery" comes from a word signifying to keep, preserve, or guard. The name was given because phylacteries were worn as amulets or charms, and were supposed to defend or preserve those who wore them from evil. They were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which were written certain portions of the Old Testament. The practice of using phylacteries was founded on a literal interpretation of that passage where God commands the Hebrews to have the law as a sign on their foreheads, and as frontlets between their eyes, (Exodus 13:16); compare Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21. One kind of phylactery was called a "frontlet," and was composed of four pieces of parchment, on the first of which was written Exodus 12:2-10; on the second, Exodus 13:11-21; on the third, Deuteronomy 6:4-9; and on the fourth, Deuteronomy 11:18-21. These pieces of parchment, thus inscribed, they enclosed in a piece of tough skin, making a square, on one side of which is placed the Hebrew letter shin (שׁ sh) and bound them round their foreheads with a thong or ribbon when they went to the synagogue. Some wore them evening and morning; others only at the morning prayer.
As the token upon the hand was required, as well as the frontlets between the eyes (Exodus 13:16), the Jews made two rolls of parchment, written in square letters, with an ink made on purpose, and with much care. They were rolled up to a point, and enclosed in a sort of case of black calf-skin. They were put upon a square bit of the same leather, whence hung a thong of the same, of about a finger in breadth, and about 2 feet long. These rolls were placed at the bending of the left arm, and after one end of the thong had been made into a little knot in the form of the Hebrew letter yod (י y), it was wound about the arm in a spiral line, which ended at the top of the middle finger. The Pharisees enlarged them, or made them wider than other people, either that they might make the letters larger or write more on them, to show, as they supposed, that they had special reverence for the law.
Enlarge the borders of their garments - This refers to the loose threads which were attached to the borders of the outer garment as a fringe. This fringe was commanded in order to distinguish them from ether nations, and that they might remember to keep the commandments of God, (Numbers 15:38-40; Deuteronomy 22:12). The Pharisees made them broader than other people wore them, to show that they had special respect for the law.
Matthew 23:6 "And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,"
The uppermost rooms at feasts - The word "rooms," here, by no means expresses the meaning of the original. It would be correctly rendered the uppermost "places or couches" at feasts. To understand this, it is necessary to remark that the custom among the Jews was not to eat sitting, as we do, but reclining on couches. The table was made by "three" tables, raised like ours and placed so as to form a square, with a clear space in the midst, and one end quite open. Around these tables were placed cushions capable of containing three or more persons. On these the guests reclined, leaning on their left side, with their feet extended from the table, and so lying that the head of one naturally reclined on the bosom of another. To recline near to one in this manner denoted intimacy, and was what was meant by lying "in the bosom" of another, (John 13:23; Luke 16:22-23). As the feet were extended "from" the table, and as they reclined instead of sitting, it was easy to approach the feet behind, and even unperceived. Thus, in Luke 7:37-38, while Jesus reclined in this manner, a woman that had been a sinner came to his feet "behind him," and washed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. She stood on the outside of the couches. So our Saviour washed the feet of his disciples as they reclined on a couch in this manner, (John 13:4-12). Whenever we read in the New Testament of "sitting" at meals, it always means reclining in this manner, and never sitting as we do. The chief seat, or the "uppermost" one, was the middle couch at the upper end of the table. This the Pharisees loved, as a post of honor or distinction.
Chief seats in the synagogues - The seats usually occupied by the elders of the synagogue, near the pulpit. The meaning is, they love a place of distinction. See the notes at Matthew 4:23.
Matthew 23:7 "And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi."
Greetings in the markets - Markets were places where multitudes of people were assembled together. They were pleased with special attention in public places, and desired that all should show them particular respect.
Greetings - Salutations. See the notes at Luke 10:4.
To be called Rabbi, Rabbi - This word literally signifies great. It was a title given to eminent teachers of the law among the Jews; a title of honor and dignity, denoting authority and ability to teach. They were gratified with such titles, and wished it given to themselves as denoting superiority. Every time it was given to them it implied their superiority to the persons who used it, and they were fond, therefore, of hearing it often applied to them. There were three titles in use among the Jews - Rab, Rabbi, and Rabban - denoting different degrees of learning and ability, as literary degrees do among us.
Matthew 23:8 "But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren."
Be not ye ... - Jesus forbade his disciples to seek such titles of distinction. The reason which he gave was that he was himself their Master and Teacher, They were on a level; they were to be equal in authority; they were brethren; and they should neither covet nor receive a title which implied either an elevation of one above another, or which appeared to infringe on the absolute right of the Saviour to be their only Teacher and Master. The direction here is an express command to his disciples not to receive such a title of distinction. They were not to covet it; they were not to seek it; they were not to do anything that implied a wish or a willingness that it should be appended to their names. Everything which would tend to make a distinction among them or destroy their parity - everything which would lead the world to suppose that there were ranks and grades among them as ministers, they were to avoid. It is to be observed that the command is that they were not to receive the title - "Be not ye called Rabbi." The Saviour did not forbid them giving the title to others when it was customary or not regarded as improper (compare Acts 26:25), but they were not to receive it. It was to be unknown among them. This title corresponds with the title "Doctor of Divinity" as applied to ministers of the gospel; and, so far as I can see, the spirit of the Saviour's command is violated by the reception of such a title, as really as it would have been by their being called "Rabbi." It makes a distinction among ministers. It tends to engender pride and a sense of superiority in those who obtain it, and envy and a sense of inferiority in those who do not; and the whole spirit and tendency of it is contrary to the "simplicity that is in Christ."
Matthew 23:9 "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven."
And call no man your Father ... - This does not, of course, forbid us to apply the term to our real father. Religion requires all proper honor to be shown to Him, (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 15:4; Ephesians 6:1-3). But the word "father" also denotes "authority, eminence, superiority, a right to command, and a claim to particular respect." In this sense it is used here. In this sense it belongs eminently to God, and it is not right to give it to people. Christian brethren are equal. Only God has supreme authority. He only has a right to give laws; to declare doctrines that shall bind the conscience; to punish disobedience. The Jewish teachers affected that title because they seem to have supposed that a teacher formed the man, or gave him real life, and sought, therefore, to be called father. Christ taught them that the source of all life and truth was God, and they ought not to seek or receive a title which properly belongs to him.
Matthew 23:10 "Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ."
Neither be ye called masters - That is, leaders, guides, for this is the literal meaning of the word. It refers to those who go before others; who claim, therefore, the right to direct and control others. This was also a title conferred on Jewish teachers.
Neither of these commands forbids us to give proper titles of civil office to men, or to render them the honor belonging to their station, (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17). They prohibit the disciples of Jesus from seeking or receiving mere empty titles, producing distinctions among themselves, implying authority to control the opinions and conduct of others, and claiming that others should acknowledge them to be superior to them.
Matthew 23:11-12 "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."
See the notes at Matthew 20:26.
He that shall humble himself ... - God will exalt or honor him that is humble, and that seeks a lowly place among people. That is true religion, and God will reward it.
Matthew 23:13 "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in."
Woe unto you - You are guilty, and punishment will come upon you. Jesus proceeds to state wherein they were guilty. This most eloquent, most appalling, and most terrible of all discourses ever delivered to mortals was pronounced in the temple, in the presence of multitudes. Never was there more faithful dealing, more terrible reproof, more profound knowledge of the workings of hypocrisy, or more skill in detecting the concealments of sin. This was the last of the Saviour's public discourses; and it is a most impressive summary of all that he had ever said, or that he had to say, of a wicked and hypocritical generation.
Scribes and Pharisees - See the notes at Matthew 3:7.
Hypocrites - Note, Matthew 6:2.
Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven - Note, Matthew 3:2. They shut it up by teaching false doctrines respecting the Messiah; by binding the people to an observance of their traditions; by opposing Jesus, and attempting to convince the people that he was an impostor, thus preventing many from becoming his followers. Many were ready to embrace him as the Messiah, and were about entering into the kingdom of heaven - that is, the church - but they prevented it. Luke says (Luke 11:52) they had taken away the key of knowledge, and thus prevented their entering in - that is, they had taken away the right interpretation of the ancient prophecies respecting the Messiah, and thus had done all that they could to prevent the people from receiving Jesus as their Redeemer.
Matthew 23:14 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation."
Devour widows' houses - The word "houses" is used here to denote "property" or possessions of any kind. You take away or get possession of the property of widows by improper arts and pretences. This was done in two ways:
1. They claimed a very exact knowledge of the law and a perfect observance of it. They pretended to extraordinary justice toward the poor, friendship for the distressed, and willingness to aid those who were in embarrassed circumstances. They thus induced "widows" and poor people to commit the management of their property to them as guardians and executors, and then took advantage of them and defrauded them.
2. They put on the appearance of great sanctity, and induced many conscientious but credulous women to give them much, under pretence of devoting it to religious purposes.
Long prayer - Their prayers are said to have been often three hours in length. One rule among them, says Lightfoot, was to meditate an hour, then pray an hour, and then meditate another hour - all of which was included in their "long prayers or devotions."
Damnation - Condemnation. The word here probably refers to future punishment. It does not always, however. It means, frequently, no more than "condemnation," or the divine disapprobation of a certain course of conduct, as in 1 Corinthians 11:29; "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh "damnation" to himself;" that is, he that eateth and drinketh in an unworthy manner disorderly, not with reverence - is guilty, and his conduct will be disapproved or condemned by God referring solely to the impropriety of the manner of partaking of the Lord's supper, and not at all to the worthiness or unworthiness of the person. See the notes at that place. Compare Romans 14:23.
For a pretence - For appearance or show; in order that they might the better defraud poor people. They would not be condemned for "making" long prayers, but because they did it with an evil design. Public prayers should, however, be short, and always to the point. A man praying in a Sunday school should pray for the school, and, usually, not for everything else.
Matthew 23:15 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves."
Ye compass sea and land - You take every means, spare no pains, to gain proselytes.
Proselyte - One that comes over from a foreign nation, religion, or sect to us - a convert. Among the Jews there were two kinds of proselytes:
1. "Proselytes of righteousness," or those who wholly and fully embraced the Jewish religion, who were baptized, who were circumcised, and who conformed to all the rites of the Mosaic institutions.
2. "Proselytes of the gate," or those who approved of the Jewish religion, renounced the pagan superstitions, and conformed to some of the rites of the Jews, but were not circumcised or baptized.
Twofold more the child of hell - That is, twice as bad. To be a child of hell was a Hebrew phrase, signifying to be deserving of hell, to be awfully wicked. Compare the notes at Matthew 1:1. The Jewish writers themselves say that the proselytes were "scabs of Israel," and "hindered the coming of the Messiah" by their great wickedness. The Pharisees gained them either to swell their own numbers, or to make gain by extorting their money under various pretences; and when they had accomplished that, they took no pains to instruct them or to restrain them. They had renounced their superstition which had before somewhat restrained them, but the Pharisees had given them no religion in its place to restrain them, and they were consequently left to the full indulgence of their vices.
Matthew 23:16 "Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!"
Whosoever shall swear ... - See the notes at Matthew 5:33-37.
The temple - See the notes at Matthew 21:12.
It is nothing - It amounts to nothing - it is not binding.
The gold of the temple - Either the golden vessels in the temple - the candlestick, etc.; or the gold with which the doors and other parts of the temple were covered; or the gold in the treasury. This, it seems, they considered far more sacred than any other part of the temple, but it is not known why.
He is a debtor - He is bound to keep his oath. He is guilty if he violates it.
Matthew 23:17 "Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?"
The temple that sanctifieth the gold - To sanctify is to make holy. The gold had no holiness but what it derived from the temple. If in any other place, it would be no more holy than any other gold. It was foolish, then, to suppose that that was more holy than the temple, from which it received all the sanctity which it possessed.
Matthew 23:18 "And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty."
The altar - The altar of burnt-offerings, in the court of the priests. See the notes at Matthew 21:12. It was made of brass, about 30 feet in length and breadth, and 15 feet in height, (2 Chronicles 4:1). On this altar were offered all the beasts and bloody oblations of the temple.
The gift that is upon it - The gift or offering made to God, so called because it was devoted or "given" to him. The gift upon this altar was always beasts and birds.
Matthew 23:19 "Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?"
The altar that sanctifieth the gift - The altar, dedicated to God, gave all the value or holiness to the offering, and must therefore be the greatest or of the most importance. If, therefore, either bound to the fulfillment of an oath, it must be the altar.
Matthew 23:21 "And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein."
Him that dwelleth therein - That is, God. The temple was his house, his dwelling. In the first, or Solomon's temple, he dwelt between the cherubims in the most holy place. He manifested himself there by a visible symbol, in the form of a cloud resting on the mercy-seat, (1 Kings 8:10, 1 Kings 8:13; Psalm 80:1).
Matthew 23:22 "And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon."
The throne of God - Heaven is his throne, (Matthew 5:34). It is so called as being the place where he sits in glory. Jesus says, here, that all who swear at all do, in fact, swear by God, or the oath is good for nothing. To swear by an altar, a gift, or a temple is of no force unless it be meant to appeal to God himself. The essential thing in an oath is calling God to witness our sincerity. If a real oath is taken, therefore, God is appealed to. If not it is foolish and wicked to swear by anything else.
Matthew 23:23 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
Ye pay tithe - A tenth part. The law required the Jews to devote a tenth part of all their property to the support of the Levites, (Numbers 18:20-24). Another tenth part they paid for the service of the sanctuary, commonly in cattle or grain, but where they lived far from the place of worship they changed it to money, (Deuteronomy 14:22-24). Besides these, there was to be every third year a tenth part given to the poor, to be eaten at their own dwellings (Deuteronomy 14:28-29); so that nearly one-third of the property of the Jews was devoted to religious services by law. This was besides the voluntary offerings which they made. How much more mild and gentle are the laws of Christianity under which we live!
Mint - A garden herb, in the original so called from its agreeable flavor. It was used to sprinkle the floors of their houses and synagogues to produce a pleasant fragrance.
Anise - Known commonly among us as "dill." It has a fine aromatic smell, and is used by confectioners and perfumers.
Cummin - A plant of the same genus, like "fennel," and used for similar purposes. These were all herbs of little value. The law of Moses said that they should pay tithes of the "fruits of the earth," (Deuteronomy 14:22). It said nothing, however, about herbs. It was a question whether these should be tithed. The Pharisees maintained, in their extraordinary strictness, that they ought. Our Saviour says that they were precise in doing small matters which the law had not expressly commanded, while they omitted the greater things which it had enjoined.
Judgment - Justice to others, as magistrates, neighbors, citizens. Giving to all their just dues.
Mercy - Compassion and kindness to the poor and miserable.
Faith - Piety toward God; confidence in him. Faith in God here means that we are to give to him what is his due; as mercy and justice mean to do to people, in all circumstances, what is right toward them.
These ought ye to have done - Attention to even the smallest points of the law of God is proper, but it should not interfere with the "higher" and more important parts of that law.
Matthew 23:24 "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel."
Which strain at a gnat ... - This is a proverb. There is, however, a mistranslation or misprint here, which makes the verse unmeaning. "To strain" at a "gnat" conveys no sense. It should have been to strain out a gnat; and so it is printed in some of the earlier versions, and so it was undoubtedly rendered by the translators. The common reading is a "misprint," and should be corrected. The Greek means to "strain" out by a cloth or sieve.
A gnat - The gnat has its origin in the water; not in great rivers, but in pools and marshes In the stagnant waters they appear in the form of small "grubs" or "larvae." These larvae retain their form about three weeks, after which they turn to chrysalids, and after three or four days they pass to the form of gnats. They are then distinguished by their well-known sharp sting. It is probable that the Saviour here refers to the insect as it exists in its "grub" or "larva" form, before it appears in the form of a gnat. Water is then its element, and those who were nice in their drink would take pains to strain it out. Hence, the proverb. See Calmet's Dict., art. "Gnat." It is used here to denote a very small matter, as a camel is to denote a large object. "You Jews take great pains to avoid offence in very small matters, superstitiously observing the smallest points of the law, like a man carefully straining out the animalculae from what he drinks, while you are at no pains to avoid great sins - hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, and lust - like a man who should swallow a camel." 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.
Matthew 23:25 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess."
The cup and the platter - The drinking-cup and the dish containing food. The Pharisees were diligent in observing all the washings and obligations required by their traditions. See the notes at Mark 7:4.
Full of extortion and excess - The outside appeared well; the inside was filled with the fruit of extortion, oppression, and wickedness. The meaning is, that though they took much pains to appear well, yet they obtained a living by extortion and crime. Their cups, neat as they appeared outward, were filled, not with the fruits of honest industry, but with that which had been extorted from the poor by wicked arts. Instead of "excess," many manuscripts and editions of the Greek Testament read "wickedness."
Matthew 23:26 "Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also."
Cleanse first that which is within the cup and the platter - Let them be filled with the fruits of honest industry, and then the outside and the inside will be really "clean." By this allusion to the cup and platter he taught them that it was necessary to cleanse the heart first, that the external conduct might be really pure and holy.
Matthew 23:27 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."
Like unto whited sepulchres - For the construction of sepulchres, see the notes at Matthew 8:28. Those tombs were annually whitewashed to prevent the people from accidentally coming in contact with them as they went up to Jerusalem. This custom is still continued. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. i. p. 148) says, "I have been in places where this is repeated very often. The graves are kept clean and white as snow, a very striking emblem of those painted hypocrites, the Pharisees, beautiful without, but full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness within." The law considered those persons unclean who had touched anything belonging to the dead, (Numbers 19:16). Sepulchres were therefore often whitewashed, that they might be distinctly seen. Thus "whited," they appeared beautiful; but within they contained the bones and corrupting bodies of the dead. So the Pharisees. Their outward conduct appeared well, but their hearts were full of hypocrisy, envy, pride, lust, and malice - suitably represented by the corruption within a whited tomb.
Matthew 23:29 "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,"
Ye build the tombs of the prophets - That is, you build sepulchres or tombs ever the prophets that have been slain. This they did professedly from veneration and respect for their character. This is often done at the East at the present day, and indeed elsewhere. Among the Muslims it is a common way of showing respect for any distinguished man to build a tomb for him. By doing this, they profess respect for his character and veneration for his memory. So the Pharisees, by building tombs in this manner, professedly approved of the character and conduct of the prophets, and disapproved of the conduct of their fathers in killing them.
And garnish ... - That is, adorn or ornament. This was done by rebuilding them with more taste, decorating them, and keeping them neat and clean. The original word means, also, to show any proper honor to the memory of the dead, as by speaking well of them, praying near them, or rearing synagogues near them in honor of their memory.
Matthew 23:30 "And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets."
And say ... - This they professed to say by rebuilding their tombs. They also, probably, publicly expressed their disapprobation of the conduct of their fathers. All this, in building and ornamenting tombs, was a profession of extraordinary piety. Our Lord showed them it was mere pretence.
Matthew 23:31 "Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets."
Ye be witnesses unto yourselves - The emphasis, here, lies in the words "to yourselves." It is an appeal to their conscience. It was not by their building the tombs that they were witnesses that they were the children of those who killed the prophets; but that, in spite of all this pretence of piety, under all this cloak of profession, they knew in their consciences, and were witnesses to themselves, that it was mere hypocrisy, and that they really approved the conduct of those who slew the prophets.
Children of them ... - Resembling them; approving their conduct; inheriting their feelings. See the notes at Matthew 1:1. They not only showed that they were descended from them, but that they possessed their spirit, and that, in similar circumstances, they would have done as they did.
Matthew 23:32 "Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers."
Fill ye up, then ... - This is a prediction of what they were about to do. He would have them act out their true spirit, and show what they were, and evince to all that they had the spirit of their fathers, Compare the notes at John 13:27. This was done be putting him to death, and persecuting the apostles.
The measure - The full amount, so as to make it complete. By your slaying me, fill up what is lacking of the iniquity of your fathers until the measure is full; until the national iniquity is complete; until as much has been committed as God can possibly bear, and then shall come upon you all this blood, and you shall be destroyed, (Matthew 23:34-35).
Matthew 23:33 "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
Ye serpents - This name is given to them on account of their pretending to be pious, and very much devoted to God, but being secretly evil, At the heart, with all their pretensions, they were filled with evil designs, as the serpent was, (Genesis 3:1-5).
Generation of vipers - See the notes at Matthew 12:34.
Damnation of hell - This refers, beyond all question, to future punishment. So great was their wickedness and hypocrisy, that, if they persevered in this course, it was impossible to escape the damnation that should come on the guilty. This is the sternest language that Jesus ever used to wicked people. But it by no means authorizes ministers to use such language to sinners now. Christ knew that this was true of them. He had an authority which none now have. It is not the province of ministers to denounce judgment, or to use severe names, least of all to do it on pretence of imitating Christ. He knew the hearts of people. We know them not. He had authority to declare certainly that those whom he addressed would be lost. We have no such authority. He addressed persons; we address characters.
Matthew 23:34 "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:"
I send unto you prophets ... - Jesus doubtless refers here to the apostles, and other teachers of religion. Prophets, wise men, and scribes were the names by which the teachers of religion were known among the Jews, and he therefore used the same terms when speaking of the messengers which he would send. "I send" has the force of the future, I "will" send.
Some of them ye shall kill - As in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:59) and James (Acts 12:1-2).
Crucify - Punish with death on the cross. There are no cases of this mentioned; but few historical records of this age have come down to us. The Jews had not the power of crucifying, but they had power to deliver those whom they condemned to death into the hands of the Romans to do it.
Shall scourge - See the notes at Matthew 10:17. This was done, (Acts 22:19-24; 2 Corinthians 11:24-25).
Persecute ... - See the notes at Matthew 5:10. This was fulfilled in the case of nearly all the apostles.
Matthew 23:35 "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar."
That upon you may come ... - That is, the nation is guilty. Your fathers were guilty. You have shown yourselves to be like them. You are about, by killing the Messiah and his messengers, to fill up the iniquity of the land. The patience of God is nearly exhausted, and the nation is about to be visited with signal vengeance. These national crimes deserve national judgments; and the proper judgment for all these crimes are about to come upon you in the destruction of your temple and city.
All the righteous blood - That is, all the judgments due for shedding that blood. God did not hold them guilty for what their fathers had done; but temporal judgments descend on children in consequence of the wickedness of parents, as in the case of drunken and profligate parents. A drunken father wastes the property that his children might have possessed. A gambler reduces his children to poverty and want. An imprudent and foolish parent is the occasion of leading his sons into places of poverty, ignorance, and crime, materially affecting their character and destiny. See the notes at Romans 5:12-19. So of the Jews. The appropriate effects of their fathers' crimes were coming on the nation, and they would suffer.
Upon the earth - Upon the land of "Judea." The word is often used with this limitation. See Matthew 4:8.
Righteous Abel - Slain by Cain, his brother, (Genesis 4:8).
Zacharias, son of Barachias - It is not certainly known who this was. Some have thought that it was the Zecharias whose death is recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21. He is there called the son of Jehoiada; but it is known that it was common among the Jews to have two names, as Matthew is called Levi; Lebbeus, Thaddeus; and Simon, Cephas. Others have thought that Jesus referred to Zecharias the prophet, who might have been massacred by the Jews, though no account of his death is recorded. It might have been known by tradition.
Whom ye slew - Whom you, Jews, slew. Whom your nation killed.
Between the temple and the altar - Between the temple, properly so called, and the altar of burnt-offering in the court of the priests. See the plan of the temple. (Matthew 21:12).
Matthew 23:36 "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation."
Upon this generation - The destruction of Jerusalem took place about forty years after this was spoken. See the next chapter.
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!"
O Jerusalem ... - See the notes at Luke 19:41-42.
Would I have gathered - Would have protected and saved.
Thy children - Thy people.
Matthew 23:38 "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."
Your house - The temple. The house of worship of the Jews. The chief ornament of Jerusalem.
Desolate - About to be desolate or destroyed. To be forsaken as a place of worship, and delivered into the hands of the Romans, and destroyed. See the notes at Matt. 24.
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."
Ye shall not see me ... - The day of your mercy is gone by. I have offered you protection and salvation, and you have rejected it. You are about to crucify me, and your temple to be destroyed, and you, as a nation, to be given up to long and dreadful suffering. You will not see me as a merciful Saviour, offering you redemption any more, until you have borne these heavy judgments. They must come upon you, and be borne, until you would be glad to hail a deliverer, and say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Blessed be he that comes as the Messiah, to bring deliverance. This has not been yet accomplished, but the days will come when the Jews, long cast out and rejected, will hail Jesus as the Messiah, and receive him whom their fathers killed as the merciful Saviour, (Romans 11:25-32).
Remarks On Matthew 23
1. Proper respect should always be shown to teachers and rulers, (Matthew 23:3).
2. We are not to copy the example of wicked people, though they are our teachers or rulers, (Matthew 23:3). We are to frame our conduct by the law of God, and not by the example of people.
3. People are often very rigid in exacting of others what they fail altogether of performing themselves, (Matthew 23:4).
4. We are not to seek human honors (Matthew 23:8), nor to give flattering titles to others, nor to allow others to give them to us (Matthew 23:9). Our highest honor is in humility, and he is most exalted who is most lowly, (Matthew 23:11-12).
5. In the descriptions of the scribes and Pharisees in this chapter, we have a full-length portrait of a hypocrite.
(1) they shut up the kingdom of heaven against others, (Matthew 23:13). They made great pretensions to knowledge, but they neither entered in themselves, nor suffered others.
(2) they committed the grossest iniquity under a cloak of religion, (Matthew 23:14). They cheated widows out of their property, and made long prayers to hide their villainy.
(3) they showed great zeal in making proselytes, yet did it only for gain, and made them more wicked, (Matthew 23:15).
(4) they taught false doctrine, and they resorted to artful contrivances to destroy the force of oaths, and to shut out the Creator from their view, (Matthew 23:16-22).
(5) they were superstitious, (Matthew 23:23). Small matters they were exact in; matters of real importance they cared little about.
(6) they took great pains to appear well, while they themselves knew that it was all deceit and falsehood, (Matthew 23:25-28).
(7) they professed great veneration for the memory of the pious dead, while at the same time they were conscious that they really approved the conduct of those that killed them, (Matthew 23:29-31).
Never, perhaps, was there a combination of more wicked feelings and hypocritical actions than among them; and never was there more profound knowledge of the human heart, and more faithfulness, than in him who tore off the mask, and showed them what they were.
6. It is amazing with what power and authority our blessed Lord reproves this wicked people. It is wonderful that they ever waited for a mock trial, and did not kill him at once. But his time was not come, and they were restrained, and not buffered to act out the fury of their mad passions.
7. Jesus pities dying sinners, (Matthew 23:37). He seeks their salvation. He pleads with them to be saved. He would gather them to him, if they would come. The most hardened, even like the sinners of Jerusalem, he would save if they would come to him. But they will not. They turn from him, and tread the road to death.
8. The reason why the wicked are not saved is their own obstinacy. They choose not to be saved, and they die. If they will not come to Christ, it is right that they should die. If they do not come, they must die.
9. The sinner will be destroyed, (Matthew 23:38). The day will come when the mercy of God will be clean gone forever, and the forbearance of God exhausted, and then the sinner must perish. When once God has given him over, he must die. No man, no parent, no minister, no friend, no angel, no archangel, can then save. Salvation is lost, forever lost. Oh how amazing is the folly of the wicked, that they weary out the forbearance of God, and perish in their sins!
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