Let us continue our walk through the Gospel According to Matthew. Last week we worked through Matthew 22.
Last week’s look at Matthew 22 ended after the silencing of the Sadduccees. Jesus then stumped the Pharisees with a question on who the Christ is and we learn with the closing statement from the writer that from that time forward none would seek to trip Jesus up in His words. If you remember from the past couple of weeks that we’ve been reading these encounters in light of the demonstrated parable of Jesus cursing the fruitless fig tree and it withering up and dying. The religious leaders, the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees are the fruitless fig trees being cursed for their lack of fruit. What follows in today’s reading, is the final declarations of curses or woes to the scribes and Pharisees.
Matthew 23: 1-36 (ESV) | Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant.12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Seven woe’s to the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy… but it was more than that. As we see at the beginning, they sit on Moses’ seat. They were given the highest authority under the Law. Remember what James tells us in the first verse of chapter 3, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” And being the ones charged with overseeing Israel, they were lost in unbelief, not able to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and actually waging war against Him.
Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV) | Lament over Jerusalem
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Here we see Jesus crying out over Jerusalem… not just over His last 3 years or so of ministry; rather, for centuries before the Word became flesh and walked among us. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ lamenting over Jerusalem and her unwillingness to submit to Him. The closing comment is interesting, because it is what the crowds were singing back in Chapter 21, but now they were not singing it. So the triumphal entry, while it was itself a fulfillment of prophecy pointing to the Messiah is here pointed out as a foreshadowing of the next time we will see Christ… the next and final time, Praise be to God.
Now at this point, some tend to use this chapter to support a notion that Jerusalem is permanently doomed until the Judgement, when Christ Returns. I think the Apostle Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans regarding this thought bears some reading.
Romans 11:25-36 (ESV) | The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation
25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience,31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Paul’s writing is… well, as Peter put it, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:14-17 ESV)”. But what we can understand, is that the hardening of Israel is both partial and for our (Gentile) benefit… but Israel is still part of God’s eternal plan.
Until Next Week
Next week we’ll be working through chapter 24. We’ve worked through this chapter once before when we were working through our eschatology. We’ll work through it once more and I think it is wonderful timing given the recent rash of doomsday prognostications engaging in fear-mongering for selfish gain (4 blood moons, Mystery of the Shemitah, and now the Super-Shemitah). I look forward to continuing our trek through the Gospel According to Matthew. Until then, continue walking in faith and growing in knowledge of Christ through the reading of His Word.
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) | Doxology
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,