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Matthew Chapter 23

Memory verses for this week:  Luke 4:4  And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. 

Introduction: In last week’s lesson, we studied about the parable of the marriage feast and then examined Christ’s response to the Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees.


I.  The Marks of a Pharisee

Mat 23:1  Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

Mat 23:2  Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:

Jesus instructs his disciples and the multitude about the Scribes and Pharisees.   They sit in Moses’ seat and are in a position where they can be heard and should have been a positive influence in the lives of the Jews.

Mat 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.

Mat 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.

What they bid, they were instructed to do.  However, he warns them to NOT follow after their works.   They spoke well, but they did not do the things they told others to do.   It comes over very negative when we talk a good talk but don’t walk the walk.  It is easy to warn others to do right, and then turn and not do it yourself.  Jesus tells them that they would bind heavy burdens upon others, but would not move a finger to bear even one of those burdens.

Matthew Henry didn’t mince many words when he explained the errors of the Pharisees.

We find not Christ, in all his preaching, so severe upon any sort of people as upon these scribes and Pharisees; for the truth is, nothing is more directly opposite to the spirit of the gospel than the temper and practice of that generation of men, who were made up of pride, worldliness, and tyranny, under a cloak and pretence of religion; yet these were the idols and darlings of the people, who thought, if but two men went to heaven, one would be a Pharisee. Now Christ directs his discourse here to the multitude, and to his disciples (v. 1) to rectify their mistakes concerning these scribes and Pharisees, by painting them out in their true colours, and so to take off the prejudice which some of the multitude had conceived against Christ and his doctrine, because it was opposed by those men of their church, that called themselves the people’s guides. Note, It is good to know the true characters of men, that we may not be imposed upon by great and mighty names, titles, and pretensions to power. People must be told of the wolves (Acts 20:29, 30), the dogs (Phil. 3:2), the deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13), that they may know here to stand upon their guard. And not only the mixed multitude, but even the disciples, need these cautions; for good men are apt to have their eyes dazzled with worldly pomp.


Mat 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,

Mat 23:6  And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

Mat 23:7  And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

The Pharisees did things so that others could see them.   Being seen of men and having a good name among men is what so many desire in this life.  We rather should choose to please the Lord and not be near as concerned about what ‘others’ think of us.  As the bible so clearly puts it, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  (Rom 8:31)   The Pharisees would wear scriptures on their arm or forehead to be seen of men.  They loved all the important seats and chief positions, and they wanted others to call them “Rabbi, Rabbi”. (father)

Mat 23:8  But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

Mat 23:9  And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

Mat 23:10  Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

Mat 23:11  But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Mat 23:12  And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Jesus instructs his disciples concerning the position and attitude that they should have.   God is the Heavenly Father, and He only deserves the title of ‘Father’ or “Rabbi”.  All of us are brethren, and men should not so be reverenced in this life.  I think of a leading religious group that even today calls their leaders ‘fathers’.   This is wrong according to verse 9.   What will exalt man in God’s eyes is when we truly sacrifice and help others.  It says that the greatest among you shall be your servant.   Many want to be in a place of honor, but few want to serve.   God’s desire is for us to learn humility and learn to be true servants to others.   To abase ourselves requires taking up our cross each day and putting the old man to death and walking in the new man.

II.  Jesus Denounces Woe Upon the Pharisees

Mat 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.

Mat 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.

Pay attention particularly to these upcoming verses.   The Lord uses the term woe eight times in this section and calls scribes and Pharisees hypocrites seven times. He accuses them of blocking the way to heaven by their false leadership.

There is woe coming to those who become a stumblingblock.   If we don’t teach and preach the truth, and come to God His way, we neither enter there, nor lead others to God.    We can fool men, but God knows all about us.   The church has an awesome responsibility to tell others about Christ. 

Psa 1:1  Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Woe is coming to the deceiver… those who devour widow’s houses and make a long prayer to be seen of men.

Rom 16:17  Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

Rom 16:18  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.


Eph 4:14  That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

Eph 4:15  But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:


2 Th 2:3  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;


Mat 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.

Woe to the one who is a proselytor for evil.    To encourage others to do wrong is one of the worst things we could ever do.

Titus 1:10  For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:

Titus 1:11  Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.

Titus 1:12  One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

Titus 1:13  This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;

Titus 1:14  Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

Titus 1:15  Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.

Titus 1:16  They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.


2 Tim 3:1  This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2 Tim 3:2  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

2 Tim 3:3  Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

2 Tim 3:4  Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

2 Tim 3:5  Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.


Mat 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!

Mat 23:17  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?

Mat 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.

Mat 23:19  Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?

Mat 23:20  Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.

Mat 23:21  And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.

Mat 23:22  And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

There is a great woe for placing material things before God.   If something comes between us and our service to the Lord, that effectively is an idol.  Absolutely nothing should stand between us serving our Lord and Master.

Mat 6:19  Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

Mat 6:20  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

Mat 6:21  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Mat 6:22  The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

Mat 6:23  But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

Mat 6:24  No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.


1 John 2:15  Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

1 John 2:16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

1 John 2:17  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.


Mat 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.

Mat 23:24  Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

Mat 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.

Mat 23:26  Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Woe to those who place outward works above the inward spiritual things of God.  God wants the heart pure and clean, not the outward man only.   We need to clean the inside up (and that requires repentance and faith in Jesus Christ), and the outside will shine from the inside out.

J. Vernon McGee had  this to say on these verses.

This fifth woe pictures the Pharisees with their emphasis on the externals. This is a picture of the average church today that is so busy making the outside of the cup and platter clean. They go through all the ceremonies. They want to have the best equipment. They talk so nice and piously on the outside, but inside they do not deal with sin. In most cases, they do not even like the word sin. But all of the external ceremonies cannot clean up their inner corruption. The Pharisees substituted ritual for reality, formality for faith, and liturgy for God.

Don’t misunderstand Him. He is not saying that the outside should not be clean. But you give a wrong impression when the inside is dirty and the outside is not. The place to start is on the inside.  [i]


Mat 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.

Mat 23:28  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Mat 23:29  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

Mat 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.

To be compared to a grave is pretty sad.  You look good on the outside, but inside you are full of dead men’s bones.    We need to get ourselves lined up and cleaned up by looking to Christ for strength to face each day.

This is a continuation of J. Vernon McGee’s comments.

To me this is the most frightening figure of speech which our Lord used. As I said previously, the cup and platter (saucer), clean on the outside and dirty on the inside, picture the average church in our day. But I am afraid that this simile of the tomb pictures the average church-goer—beautiful on the outside, but on the inside they are dead in trespasses and sins. They have a form of godliness, but they deny the power of it to make them new creations in Christ. My friend, until that happens to you, your church membership is null and void; it is nothing but hypocrisy. When I read that over half the population of the United States are church members, I wonder why in public places I see ninety-nine percent of the crowd drinking cocktails, using profanity, and telling dirty stories. We have a whole lot of marble tombs walking around, spiritual zombies, dead in trespasses and sins.

Oh, how He is denouncing religious leaders! And they should be denounced above everyone else. My friend, if you have a Bible-teaching church in your community and a preacher who believes the Book and is trying to teach it, for God’s sake stand with him in these days. He needs you, and you need him. Oh, how we need men who believe the Word of God—and live it!    [ii]


Mat 23:31  Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.

Mat 23:32  Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Mat 23:33  Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Mat 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:

Mat 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.

Mat 23:36  Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

The woe of damnation upon them for their rejection of God’s men and God’s word.  Not many care about defending God’s word today, and standing up for the truth for which it projects and embodies.  The word of God doesn’t just contain truth, but it is total truth.

Rev 21:7  He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

Rev 21:8  But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.


John 1:11  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.


III.  Jesus Laments over Jerusalem 

Mat 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!

The inhabitants of Jerusalem were guilty of stoning the very men that God had sent unto them with a message from Him.   In this message, Christ gives an invitation for them to come unto Him for salvation and deliverance.   He has such a desire to gather them as a Hen gathers her chicks under her wings.   Having grown up in the country on a farm, this has significance to me.   I’ve seen mother hens spread those wings and make a clucking noise as rain began to pour, and those little chicks would run under her wings.  Sometimes 20 or 30 from one hen.   I’ve also seen them protect them from cats and dogs.  Oh how Jesus wanted the lost Jews to turn to Him that he might protect them.  But they refused and would not come to Him.

Mat 23:38  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

Mat 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.

Jesus leaves their  house desolate as God blinds their eyes to the truth.  He came first to the Jews, and they would not.   But all those that do come, they will be blessed.



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Prov 4:18  But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.


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[i]J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.

[ii]J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.