Matthew 23:1-39

Matthew 23:1-39

Matthew 23:1 – The seat of Moses referred to both a literal seat where the most honored Rabbi sat. It was called the seat of Moses because not only did Moses know the Law but was able to interpret the Law and render judgment. This was the role of the chief Rabbi in every community with a Synagogue. The Synagogue system began in Babylon and was a necessary means of gathering together for prayer and worship. It was in the Synagogues that the people brought their questions and their problems.

Our modern churches are modeled after the synagogues. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD at it was the Synagogues that allowed the Jewish people to remain cohesive as they scattered to the nations. When Nehemiah and Ezra returned from the captivity in Babylon priests and scribes came as well. The scribes were men who not only knew the Scriptures but were skilled in the discipline of transcription. They also were able to interpret the Scriptures enabling the unlearned to understand the Word of God. (Nehemiah 8:8).

The chair of Moses also had a spiritual significance. The word chair from the Greek word Kathedra, which is where our word Cathedral comes from. In the Middle Ages the Cathedral was the place where the papal representative was located. When the Pope makes a declaration that carries the full weight of his office he is said to be speaking ex cathedra.

In much the same way the seat of Moses was a claim of speaking with the authority of God on matters of the Law. Notice Jesus says that they placed themselves in that position, not God. Jesus was a threat to this position that they had appropriated for themselves. He continually defied their traditional way of rendering decisions concerning God’s Law and ways.

Matthew 23:3 – Yeshua actually told them to do what they say, but not to imitate their actions. Why would this be? I think the answer is found in (Deuteronomy 4:5-7).  Israel’s obedience to the Law was a testimony to the God who gave it. Yeshua’s warning was meant to under-gird a truth that He had already spoken in (Matthew 5:17). This means that Yeshua came to give the law its full meaning. (Romans 3:20-21).

(Romans 3:31) Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (1 Timothy 1:9). We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers. The actions of the Pharisees were outward adherence to the Law without the heart’s transformation. (Matthew 23:23).

Matthew  23:4 – Yeshua further indicts the Pharisees and scribes were good at laying burdens on people with their interpretations of the Law but in most cases were unwilling to help their followers with those burdens. Yeshua came to remove our burdens, in fact Scripture declares that God would bear our burdens (Psalm 68:19) Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

(Isaiah 9:2-4), (Galatians 6:2). Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Messiah. Contrary to the Lord’s will that we bear one another’s burdens the Pharisees were adding burdens upon their followers. But the Jewish leaders didn’t have a monopoly on this type of behavior (1 Timothy 4:1-3)

Matthew 23:5 – The Pharisees and Scribes were further indicted by the Messiah for their habit of doing their works to be noticed. Rather than be concerned with what God sees and looking for their reward from Him, they sought the respect and approval of men, and as Yeshua said they received their reward from them in full (Matthew 6:5).

Phylacteries for those of us who may not know, are small leather boxes containing a piece of parchment or vellum inscribed with four texts from the Torah – Exodus 13:2-10;11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9;11:13-21. They were worn on the arm and placed upon the forehead.

While many may argue that these Scriptures were to be taken figuratively, there is nothing in Yeshua remarks that condemns the practice per se. What is condemned is the broading of the straps that they might appear to be more spiritual. (Deuteronomy 28:10).

It was believed that the nations would see this calling in part by the donning of tephillim. The word tephilah is Hebrew for prayer and so most have assumed that the word tephillim comes from the root “philel”. There is another root “philah” which means “to separate or set apart” and some rabbinical scholars believe that this is source for the word tephillim.

The tassels on the garments were known as “tzit-tzit” and comes from the Torah as well: (Numbers 15:38-40).  According to Jewish tradition, the fringes or “tzit-tzit” consisted of eight threads and five knots in each tassel, suggesting the number thirteen. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for tassels,“tzit-tzit”, is 600. In this way they were reminded of the 613 laws of the Hebrew legal code. This passage is the origin of the Jewish tallit (Hebrew) or prayer shawl. The lengthening of these tassels was again done in the time of Yeshua to draw attention and appear to make their wearers more “spiritual”.

Matthew 23:6-10 – The false shepherds of Israel were quick to go after the places of honor in the synagogues, to make aliyahs in the Torah services. A true leader is a servant – (Matthew 20:25-28).  True greatness is not ruling over others but serving them. This is why Yeshua said to His disciples not to call themselves “Rabbi”, or “Father”. All of us are brethren, and our function is to serve the Lord together. Scripture does say that we can love and esteem godly teachers (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Spiritual leaders are to have a servant attitude and not expect to be honored.

As someone has so rightly put it, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Today the Messianic movement in many cases uses the term “Rabbi” for it’s pastors, they rationalize it by suggesting that the Jewish community is more comfortable with this term rather than Reverend or Pastor. The Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations use the term “Father” in one form or another. The fact is that Yeshua wanted us all to be brothers.

Matthew 23:11-12 – The reason for this is found in these verses. We live in a society that looks at humility as weakness, instead we are to work on our self-esteem Scripture looks at things differently (Proverbs 16:5), (1 Peter 5:5). The greatest believer is one who is a servant. The greatest example we have is Yeshua. Philippians 2:5-8. A growing believer has the attitude of John the Baptist (John 3:30).

Matthew 23:13 – This section begins a pronouncement of woes upon the ‘shepherds of Israel’. The greatest threat to the church is not paganism, Satanism, communism or any other ism or wasim, it is the shepherd or pastors, and at the time of Yeshua the shepherds were the pharisees, who sat in the seat of Moses. Ezekiel 34.

The first woe concerns their shutting out themselves and others from the kingdom of God. Men tends to prefer religion to the kingdom of God. Religion can and does do nice things for the heart, mind and soul but it is not the way to real life. In fact religion keeps people away from God. Yeshua declared that the Pharisees and Scribes had failed to enter the Kingdom and kept others from entering as well. Consider Romans 2:17-24.

Matthew 23:15 – The making of proselytes from among the gentiles was a big business. A proselyte was the conversion of an outsider to a religion. There were two kinds of proselytes, a God fearer, and a proselyte of righteousness. The God fearer was one who drew near to God and the Law but had not submitted to circumcision. While the proselyte of righteousness was one who submitted to circumcision.

The proselytes of righteousness were often times more zealous than the children of Abraham for the traditions and the Law. Rather than bringing them closer to God it made them twice as much a son of hell. In the New Testament the word for hell is Gehenna, which is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew phrase meaning “the Valley of Hinnom” it is used to describe the place of eternal separation from God and punishment for sin. (2 Chronicles 28:3).

The “Valley of the Son of Hinnom” is first mentioned in Scripture as the boundary between Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 15:8;18:16). In this valley was the site of Topheth, where parents offered their children as human sacrifices by making them pass through the fires dedicated to the idol Molech (2 Kings 23:10) as a part of their idolatrous worship. Jeremiah referred to this place as the “Valley of Slaughter” (Jeremiah 7:29-34;19:2-6). King Josiah ended these idolatrous abominations by making the Valley of Hinnom into a dumping ground for refuse from the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:3-5;2 Kings 23:13,14). Fires smoldered perpetually in the valley, and it became a place of desolation.

Matthew 23:16-22 – Woe to the Pharisees concerning the oaths that they make. We are to always speak the truth and the idea of oaths should not be necessary. God is Truth, and in order to abide in Him we must speak the truth and not lie. Satan on the other hand is the father of lies (John 8:44).

The oath of swearing by the temple was a means of swearing falsely, but by the gold of the temple, this was an action punishable by the Pharisaic laws. Yeshua taught otherwise in Matthew 5:34-37. It was for lying that Ananias and Saphira were struck dead Acts 5:1-11, the result was that great fear came upon the church. Yeshua said it was ridiculous to think that the gold of the Temple was more sacred than the Temple that made the gold sacred.

Matthew 23:23-24 – Yeshua rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for having the wrong priorities, majoring on the minors. Mint, dill, and cummin were garden spices that were not considered as part of the tithe as on the other harvested produce. Tithing was a form of taxation for the operation of both the Temple the priesthood, and the government. (Leviticus 27:30-33).

The tithe was the practice of dedicating to God a tenth of the increase of the produce of the ground or cattle, and was the recognition by the people that all their possessions actually belonged to the Lord. When the total was tabulated of all the tithes required by the Lord the amount came to over 20 percent of an individuals income.

Matthew 23:25-27 – Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for their outward show of piety and self denial when in reality they were thieves stealing to support their self-indulgence. Jesus described this pretense as serving food in dishes that are clean on the outside but filthy on the inside. At the time of Jesus one of the great debates between the two primary schools of Judaism was over ritual cleanness.

The school of Hillel (Gamaliel, of Acts 5 was Hillel’s grandson), and the school of Shammai were the major camps of the Scribes and the Pharisees. Hillel was an influential rabbi and Talmudic scholar who flourished just prior to the time of the ministry of Jesus.

He and his colleague Shammai presided over the two most important rabbinic schools of their time. Hillel was the more liberal of the two, and his emphases have largely determined the direction taken by Judaism since his era. The Hillelites taught that the cleaning the inside of a cup made it clean, while the Shammaites taught that both the inside and outside must be clean for it to ritually clean.

What Jesus is saying is that the issue is not the container but rather what is inside the container. Outward religion is not as important as inward righteousness, found in humility and service of others rather than self.

Matthew 23:27-28 – Just before Passover the tombstones in the environs of Jerusalem were whitewashed with lime so that they might be easily identified by the thousands of pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem for the Holy days. Touching a grave or walking through a graveyard would make one ritually unclean for 24 hours.

This procedure made Jerusalem look clean and impress the travelers with its outward appearance. Jesus used this as still another illustration of the Scribes and Pharisees. He is saying that though they appear to be clean on the outside they are as defiling as the graves of Jerusalem. They are filled with death. Their traditions have the appearance of what is clean but in reality contaminated people.

Matthew 23:29-33 – The seventh indictment or ‘woe’ concerned their failure to identify with the sins of their fathers. Godly men identified themselves with the sins of their fathers (Daniel 9:16;Nehemiah 9:2) The Scribes and Pharisees were noted for honoring the persecuted prophets of Israel.

They professed that had they been living at the time they would not have done what their fathers did in persecuting and killing them. The irony of this is found in what they did to Yeshua. In much the same way Christians today think that if they were alive at the time of Jesus they wouldn’t have acted the same way as Israel did.

Matthew 23:29-33 – He concludes His indictments against them by declaring that they are like serpents and a brood of vipers. The serpent is clearly identified with Satan in Scripture and serpents are his offspring. (Genesis 3:15), (John 8:44), (Revelation 12:9).

Matthew 23:34-35 – Following his incrimination of the Scribes and Pharisees for their failure to recognize the prophets sent to them, Jesus predicts that those who follow Him will be treated like the prophets of old. Some will suffer at the hands of the Romans and would be crucified, while others would suffer at the hands of His kinsmen and be killed by them.

The book of Acts is filled with many examples of persecution both from Rome and from the Jewish leadership, who felt threatened by the Apostles and Disciples. But these men were not only witnesses declaring God’s love, they also were God’s means of bringing even greater judgment on the false shepherds of Israel (Romans 2:5).

God’s wrath is upon those who a hard and impenitent heart. Two terms are used in the New Testament to describe God’s wrath. Thumos (Greek), Romans 2:8 (“wrath”) which describes the ebb and flow of man’s anger. It is more passionate but also more temporary in nature. The word that describes God’s anger is orge (Greek), which is the settled anger of God against the destructive forces of evil in the universe. (Romans 1:18).

The Scribes and Pharisees made themselves the object of God’s wrath when they became a part of the damage of evil in the very people God had set as a witness to the world. Wrath is as much a part of the character of God as is love. A God who does not exercise wrath against injustice is an immoral God. God’s wrath against the Pharisee’s and Scribes Paul knew from personal experience was against them because they suppressed the truth in unrighteousness.

His wrath is directed toward offenses against Himself (“ungodliness”) and toward offenses against others. What was especially grievious concerning their sin was that no generation in the past, nor any in the future so far has had more of God’s light than that generation. That is why they were held accountable for all the righteous blood shed upon the earth. We live in a day when we have more light available than all previous generations. Archaeology, abundant access to Bibles, Radio and TV, and fulfilled prophecy.

From the blood of Abel to Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20-21).  Since Abel’s death is recorded in Genesis, and since 2 Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus was saying, in effect, “from the first to the last murder in the Bible.”.

Matthew 23:36 – The generation that all these things shall come upon is a reference to that generation. It was in that generation that the Temple was destroyed, and the city of Jerusalem was besieged. Rome utterly crushed a Jewish revolt for independence.

The result was that Titus slaughtered thousands in the Galilee and then came to Jerusalem with 80,000 soldiers. The city was surrounded with these soldiers and the Jewish resistance was given an opportunity to surrender. They laughed mocked and attacked the garrison the response was a massacre and siege that was horrific.

Matthew 23:37-39 O Jerusalem. When Jesus considers the impact of the Pharisees upon Jerusalem, along with the attitude of the people of Jerusalem, He is moved in compassion to lament over the city. He longs to gather and lovingly shelter a confused Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s rebellion leaves her house desolate of genuine spiritual health. The Apostle Paul motivated by the same Spirit laments for his kinsmen as well. (Romans 10:1-2). Paul lament over the Jewish people who tried to substitute law‑righteousness for faith‑righteousness. The continued misguided attitude that prevented them from understanding who Jesus is. The Lord warned Israel that they would not see Him again until the end of the Great Tribulation. (Hosea 3:4-5).

A companion verse to Matthew 23:37-38 is (Luke 19:41-42).

This dovetails with Paul’s lament over the Jewish people in (Romans 11:25-27), (Zechariah 12:10).

The Lord does not delight in punishing Israel, but because of His love He must discipline. His heart is that Israel might return. He has sent prophets and His Son to call Israel back to God but their response was to persecute and kill those sent. They were unwilling to turn to God.

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