We are now coming to the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Having silenced the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees, the Lord launched a series of rebukes against them with the most severe condemnations. This was to be expected because it was the religious elite who had been the strongest opposition to the message of the kingdom. The Lord’s rebukes also served as sobering warning to the disciples and multitudes against the deception of false piety.
Did You Know...?
- “Phylacteries” (v.5) were small leather or parchment boxes containing a piece of vellum inscribed with four texts from the law (Exod 13:2-10, 11-16; Deut 6:4-9, 11:13-21). They were worn on the arm or tied to the forehead according to Exodus 13:9, 16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18 (though originally these passages were probably metaphorical). [ref]
- Rabbi: (v. 7), the transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “my master” or “my teacher”…By Talmudic times a rabbi’s status was immense: his disciple had to obey him without question, never walk beside or in front of him, never greet him first, and so forth…. [ref]
- Proselyte (23:15): Pharisees and teachers of the law would travel extensively to make one “proselyte”—a word used in the NT only here and in Acts 2:10, 6:5, 13:43 and one that at this time probably refers to those who have been circumcised and have pledged to submit to the full rigors of Jewish law, including the oral tradition for which the Pharisees were so zealous. [ref]
- Mint, Anise and Cummin (23:23) are common garden herbs.
- Strain out (23:24): The strict Pharisee would carefully strain his drinking water through a cloth to be sure he did not swallow a gnat, the smallest of unclean animals. But, figuratively, he would swallow a camel—one of the largest. [ref]
- Whitewashed tombs (23:27): A person who stepped on a grave became ceremonially unclean (see Nu 19:16), so graves were whitewashed to make them easily visible, especially at night. [ref]
- “From the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias” (23:35). Jesus here is including all such murders of Old Testament times by citing the first recorded in Scripture, that of Abel (Gen 4:8), and the last, that of Zacharias (
2Chron. 24:20-22). (In the Hebrew canon 2 Chronicles is the last book to be listed.) [ref]
What does it mean that “the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat”?Hide Answer
To sit in someone’s seat means being a successor to the person. The scribes and Pharisees assumed Moses’ authority in teaching the law to the people.
What is an example that illustrates the point in 4?Hide Answer
In John 9, the Pharisees showed no concern for the man who was healed. By forbidding healing on the Sabbath, they cared only about their authority rather than those in need. They made the Sabbath a burden by adding many regulations. Although these regulations had become a great burden, the Pharisees did not care to show any compassion or mercy (see Mt 23:23).
What is wrong with being called “rabbi,” “father” or “teacher”?Hide Answer
In wanting to exalt himself, a person who accepts these titles would want to maintain an image of righteousness. Such intention quickly turns into hypocrisy. Not only so, the desire of honor and men’s praise makes a person eager for self-interest rather than obeying God. The religious leaders always opposed Jesus and God’s will because their concern was their position in society and not their position in God’s kingdom.
According to the context, what does it mean to humble ourselves (12)?Hide Answer
To be humble is not just declining the title of teacher. It has to do with our hearts. Humility means acknowledging God as the only one who is worthy of our honor (8,9). With this basic understanding and attitude, we would not expect praise and exaltation from men. We would also be willing to deny ourselves and serve others (11).
List briefly the 7 charges that the Lord brought against the scribes and Pharisees.Hide Answer
1) Shutting up the kingdom of heaven. 2) Devouring widows’ houses and for a pretense making long prayers. 3) Winning converts but making them twice as much sons of hell. 4) Nullifying the binding effect of oaths. 5) Neglecting the most important aspects of the law. 6) Appearing righteous but full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 7) Shedding the blood of righteous men.
How do you justify the Lord’s strong charges?Hide Answer
Hypocrisy is perhaps most hideous in that those who commit it do not even feel that their deeds are evil. They have become blind and their conscience dulled. Not only so, they mislead many with their appearance of piety and stop them from entering God’s kingdom. The Lord’s strong charges serve to warn us about the severe punishment that would come on anyone who lives in hypocrisy.
How have the scribes and Pharisees shut up the kingdom of heaven against men (13)?
Today, are there people who teach the Bible but actually shut up the kingdom of heaven? Cite an example.
What hypocrisy did the Lord expose in 16-22?Hide Answer
The scribes and Pharisees taught the people that if someone swears by the temple but not the gold of the temple, or by the altar but not the gift on the altar, his oath would not be binding. Such teaching provided a way for people to lie while swearing. The deceitful heart behind the act of swearing is actually a disrespect for and mockery on God.
In what ways do we sometimes reverse our priorities in our worship and Christian living?Hide Answer
Sometimes we may stress more on monetary donations or acts of service (just like the gold of the temple or the gifts on the altar) than on sincere love and obedience to God.
Why are justice, mercy, and faith “weightier,” and why were they neglected?Hide Answer
The purpose of God’s commands is so that we may have the heart and qualities of God. Superficial observance without a change of heart is meaningless. But the Pharisees and scribes neglected these more important aspects because matters such as justice, mercy, and faith, are not immediately visible to men, whereas acts such as offering could easily win them praise and respect.
Was Jesus doing away with the keeping of the law?Hide Answer
The Lord was emphasizing the spirit of the law, but he did not do away with the actions required by the law. So he said, “these you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.” “The others” refer to the actions of keeping the law. In verse 3, he also commanded the people to do what the scribes and Pharisees taught according to the Scriptures.
Why do people, including the scribes and Pharisees, “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”?Hide Answer
People often pay attention to trivial matters without addressing more important or larger issues. E.g. washing hands before eating but unclean in thoughts; debating the details of how a chapel should be renovated but neglecting harmony and love.
What did the Lord mean by “serpents and brood of vipers” (33)?Hide Answer
Their very nature was evil, cunning, and dangerous.
Why did these people kill and persecute God’s messengers?Hide Answer
The words and deeds of the righteous ones contradicted, revealed, and even condemned these evil-doers’ wickedness.
How does the analogy of the hen gathering her chicks apply to God and His people?Hide Answer
Time and again God called out to His rebellious children to return to Him. He sent them prophets, wise men, and teachers to restore their faith. But the people were hard-hearted and did not heed His call.
When will the people say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”?