Matthew 23 Explained: Modern Scribes & Pharisees (Long Read)

I knew a church where there was an annual party, a celebration, pat on the back to the pastor, that usually netted him $7,000-$10,000 in money or gifts from the congregants, disguised as a preaching conference. In fact, there were teams who went around asking for the money.

An anniversary service celebrating the longevity and success of the church. In it, preachers are deified, given kingly treatment, eat the best foods while what remains is served to the little people on the last day of the event, they sit in the upper rooms and are elevated on platforms, treated to special events, etc.

It never dawned on me how relevant and mirror like this was to Matthew 23. I myself felt as if I had been treated to a great honor just to sit near one of the ‘preachers’. We called them ‘giants’ among men. Worthy of double honor. Closer to God than the rest of us. The avatars of Righteousness. But how true is/was that?

In studying Matthew 23 together, we will discover how this is one of the greatest lies of pharisaical evangelical Christianity today, yet so effective. The Lie is that a Pastor is elevated above the laity, or that the pastor is greater than the laity, or that a different set of rules and obligations apply to the pastor.

When that type of spiritual leader is able to convince some that he is the only voice of God in the church, then the laity is dependant upon him for salvation. Thus, you will be forced to believe everything he says, and obey.

I want to point something out about the church I have mentioned. One of the main missions of the New Testament Church Christ created was to create disciples, and that those disciples would, in turn, become evangelists to the Gospel in some capacity. In the church I speak of, they have recently celebrated 41 years of success, but have turned out not a single missionary, evangelist, or ordained a single preacher to go preach this Gospel. To them, forcing you to stay in their building is paramount to all else.

In a Matthew 23 church, the leader is practically deified. If you have a dream or felt called of God to preach, be a missionary, donate to a charity, or do anything, the leader will say, If that was from God, God will give me the same feeling. Until then, it was just you.

In a Matthew 23 church, the leader owns your faith. Your capacity to work for God is his. He decided when God can use you, and in what capacity. There is now therefore no more calling, but a decision by a man and that decision is entirely based on how you show your unwavering loyalty to that man and his doctrines.

Do you know who else behaved in this manner? The easiest comparison is medieval monarchs. Monarchs of old divided out lands, slaves, titles and monies based on the loyalty displayed. And by the same hand, when loyalty was questioned, that monarch would rip back those blessings and deprive those of their titles, lands, and monies.

This is the modern Pharisee in a Pastors position. So let’s examine Matthew 23 together and see what it displays to use as a revelation to modern evangelical leaders who fancy themselves as the Pope over the Protestant church.

Matthew 23

The Gospel of Jesus Christ found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all exist and behave consistently with the times of the Old Testament. Scripture teaches us that until Jesus was glorified, the New Testament did not begin. So even while Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are listed in the New Testament sections of our Bible, only the last chapters of those books really exist in the New Testament.

It is not until Matthew 27 that we see Judas (the son of perdition) hang himself, then the crucifixion, and subsequently the resurrection and start of the New Testament in Matthew 28. The importance here is that Jesus is still talking to Old Testament Jews in Matthew 23, and surprising, there are Pharisees in the dispensation of Grace acting just like those Pharisees.

Backdrop

It is important to realize that Jesus is in Jerusalem, and probably still at the temple. Since Matthew 21, Jesus has been taking questions from the Scribes and Pharisees after He whipped the money changers for making merchandise out of God’s people.

Title

Most Bible translations begin Matthew 23 with the title, “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees.” We read this as a warning chapter. We are supposed to read this, be warned and diligently seek to learn from the Word, gain wisdom, application, understanding, and then avoid the behavior being portrayed.

v1-2

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:

What was Moses’ Seat? If we look at the history of Moses, his position of authority and purpose, we understand that he was both a type and shadow of Christ and a law-giver. He was judge and jury. Those who came against Mosses were struck down. He handed down the commandments and authored the Law.

While Jews claim Abraham as their patriarch or father, they obeyed and lived the Law of Moses. Thus, Jesus said the Scribes and Pharisees have assumed the authority of Moses and exercise that over the people.

The F.B. Meyer commentary rightly illustrates the deep meaning of what Christ is about to portray about Pharisees, and that is their incessant narcissist character that demands respect for their office, titles, and position of authority, though their authority is self-assumed and not God-given.

These words were addressed to the disciples and the crowds that had gathered around. The Jewish religious leaders divorced morality and religion, and insisted that men should respect their office, whatever might be their personal character. The craving for this has been the temptation and bane of Christ’s ministers in every age.

By way of example, my old cult church leaders will to this day say things like ‘You need to obey me, even if you think I am wrong. And don’t question me, that is a spirit of rebellion.’

Now, these are men who have been sued for defamation of character and settled the lawsuit. They were found guilty of child labor law violations and were fined by BOLI. Their character is reproached, yet, they demand respect for their office and position without question.

v3-4

All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 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. 

Verse 3 is a candidate for an Out of Context article. It is often misunderstood, misquoted and misused. This is the platform for a Pharisee(pastor) saying, ‘See, Jesus said whatever I tell you to do, you just do it.’

Yet, Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees, so how could He one sentence later then condone them? We must have missed His meaning. Thus, I turn to Adam Clarke’ commentary;

All therefore whatsoever – That is, all those things which they read out of the law and prophets, and all things which they teach consistently with them. This must be our Lord’s meaning: he could not have desired them to do every thing, without restriction, which the Jewish doctors taught; because himself warns his disciples against their false teaching, and testifies that they had made the word of God of none effect by their traditions. See Mat_15:6, etc. Besides, as our Lord speaks here in the past tense – whatsoever they Have commanded, ὁσα ειπωσιν, he may refer to the teaching of a former period, when they taught the way of God in truth, or were much less corrupted than they were now.

It is of interest to me that in Acts 15 the church elders, debating legalism and the demands of the Law of Moses and how it applied to the Gentile church, came to the conclusion, in accordance to the Holy Ghost, to not lay heavy burdens upon the people. Thus, leaders who lay out demand after demand, rule after rule, in legalism, is a Pharisee.

Act 15:28  For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
Act 15:29  That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

v5-7

But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 

Admittedly, this is where using another version of the Bible provides some benefit. I mean, phylacteries? Yet, the heart or spirit of these two verses is clear.

Pharisees do what they do for power, authority, position, and recognition. This is why a Pastor would throw an annual party to highlight his own self-proclaimed success, and get paid $7.000-$10,000 just for throwing the party.

Phylacteries were small pieces of parchment on which was written some portion of the law of Moses. These were tied to the forehead or arm and served the purpose of keeping law ever before them.

Yet, here, they were a proclamation of self-righteousness. A Look at how holy I am show. Pharisees want to be offered and put up in the best rooms, elevated above others, given the best foods and the prominent seats where they can be seen of all men. More importantly, they demand titles.

In my old cult church, it was taught by board members that you do not ever call the pastor by name, or even by ‘brother’. You called each other brother or sister, but when addressing your pastor, you always said, ‘Pastor so and so’, or ‘Reverence so and so’. If you said, ‘Hey John…’ some high rank or an ultra-loyal saint would literally say, ‘That’s Pastor to you.’

v8-10

But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 

Jesus focuses back on the disciples in the audience and says but not so are you to do. We are not to demand respect and to require ourselves to be called by titles that infer authority that can only be God-given.

My old church leaders say of me now, ‘He thinks he is his own preacher‘. In other words, I stopped calling them master and that hurts their ego. A narcissist demands attention, and a dictator requires obedience in that attention.

They will quote the scripture I Corinthians 4:15 incorrectly, saying, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers:” as if to assume this means, if you ‘got saved‘ in their church, that gives them[the pastor, Pharisee] parental authority over you.

But Jesus Christ said you only have one Father (total authority) who is in heaven. And that His disciples, and pastors, should never be called Rabbi, Father, or Master.

v11-12

But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. 

This is a doozy for the modern day Pharisee. If understood correctly, the Scripture here declares that the ‘greatest’ should be the laities servant. And those who demand the best seats, the best food, the upper rooms, the titles, position, power, and authority, will be abased, or in layman’s terms, cut down to size.

v13

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 #1. Pharisees end up turning people away from Christ. They bar the door to those who need to know the knowledge of Christ, but for the stubbornness, commandments of men and false doctrine, or perversion of the Gospel, those souls will not know Christ.

Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:19 that he was being given the keys to heaven and hell. This knowledge and the simplicity of the Gospel unlocks the door to heaven. But shutting up the kingdom is the key to the doorway of hell.

v14

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. 

Woe #2. Pharisees are promised ‘greater damnation’, expressing a varying level to the punishments of hell based on their deeds. A) They devour the widow’s house, and b) they make long boisterous prayers as if that made the prayers more righteous, yet their pretense was for show.

My mother was a victim of this devouring. The definition of ‘devour’ is to eat down, or to consume. They demanded money and salaries from the windows. My mother before she passes collected almost $800/month in social securities and the Pharisee of our church demanded she tithe on that money. She could barely pay her rent with that money. Contrast this to the Word’s definition of True Religion:

Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world. – James 1:27, AMP

Furthermore, the Pharisee of my old church demanded you pray, at the church, daily. At home didn’t work, you had to sign their book at the church, log in and do your time. Furthermore, they would shout from a microphone that if you prayed silently, it didn’t work. You had to be up, walking, speaking in tongues, etc. In fact, they would often say, ‘If no one can hear you pray, you aren’t praying.

Again, I want to visit the word to prove this is a Pharisee talking.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:5-6, KJV

v15

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 #3. The Pharisee will invest all his time into getting that one convert, traversing great spaces and expending much energy, and all that he/she did was to make a mini-me, a Pharisee clone, that Jesus said will be a two-fold, or twice as much a child of hell than the Pharisee.

Why? Because that convert, or proselyte, will go on to gain converts of their own, and continue propagating the lies and deceit that he was born in to.

In my exit letter to the pastor of my old church, who has confessed recently to ‘not having the time for people like me to read it’ the letter I sent, I said the following;

It has taken a long time to wrestle with the reality that I was in, and sinfully promoting an abusive, controlling and non-Christ focused church, though Christ is mentioned as reason for obedience to a man.

I didn’t make my exit until I came to the realization that promoting and winning people to the system I was in, would be creating two-fold children of hell. And the woe’s applied to the Pharisees could very well be applied to be. That is a sobering thought!

v16-22

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! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. 

Woe #4. Before Jesus called them hypocrite, now the Lord changes the title of the Pharisee to blind guides. This represents the influence the Pharisee has on others. He is guiding others into the same Pharisaical damnation that was promised in greater proportions in Matthew 23:14.

But what does all this oath, and swearing on the altar, and gold, and temples mean? I must lean on the most succinct of commentaries again to provide the most clarifying answer;

The covetous man, says one, still gives preference to the object of his lust; gold has still the first place in his heart. A man is to be suspected when he recommends those good works most from which he receives most advantage.

Adam Clarke’s commentary is an enlightening book and provides the most succinct and pointed understanding of the Word in cases like this. A man should be suspect when he recommends (demands) good works most (with much enthusiasm) that gives him the most benefit. Gold. Money. Income. Filthy Lucre

v23-24

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 blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 

Woe #5 It is no surprise after Woe #4 that the Lord goes to Tithing, and it is still of no surprise, that this is so incomprehensibly used to defend the use of Woe #4…The irony shouldn’t be lost.

The Pharisee will demand salaries of widows, swear oaths on the altar which requires the flock to give monies, and then, unrighteously pay his tithes of the fruits of his fields, but ignore the more important virtues of Godliness.

Again Jesus declares the Pharisee to be a guide of the blind. His hypocrisy is bare for all to see, but somehow, the blinded followers see it not. These Pharisees, they make mountains out of molehills (commandments of men) which is small (the gnat) compared to the really important matters (the camel), judgment, mercy, and faith.

v25-28

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. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 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. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 

Woe #6 Hypocritical Pharisees will make a big deal out of outward Holiness, the cleanness of the edges or outside parts of the dish, or the saint, ignoring the importance of the heart, and inward parts.

For example, my old Church was a Holiness church, meaning they had very strict dress codes. Women were not to tan, color their hair in any way, not to cut their hair, wear any kinds of makeup, jewelry, etc, etc. Men were not to have facial hair, tan, wear short sleeve shirts, shorts, wear any kind of jewelry, tattoos, etc.

They mistake the forced dress standard as cleansing, blinded to the reality that if the heart, or inwards parts are clean, and righteous before God, the outward parts will conform to the inward.

Scripture declares “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”, Luke 6:45. In other words, what is in the heart will come out and be seen by all men. If you cleanse the outside, but the inside is still dirty, the mouth will still spew that out. Outward cleanliness means nothing until first the inner parts are made clean.

Teaching otherwise is blinding the flock of God, and it is hypocritical and marks them as Pharisee’s.

v29-30

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 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. 

Woe #7 to the Pharisees – deifying, venerating, and placing on a pedestal other Pharisees, by virtue of building their own future legacy. Create an aura of veneration for others, so that ultimately, they themselves would be venerated.

In this, we see that the Pharisee’s were wasting time, money and resources to beautify the tombs of previous men, prophets who had gone before themselves. That same level of veneration they did and would expect for themselves, which again highlighted their hypocrisy.

Furthermore, the epitome of their error is in the words the Lord Jesus Christ uses to describe these people.

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

Veneration was not to be applied to the Church of the Living God. When Jesus was asked the question, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom?’ in Matthew 18, He told his disciples that unless they ceased to think in those terms, they would never see the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus told them, to become like children, who did not concern themselves with pride and who had no shame. Their faith was limitless and their demands for respect, title and authority were not yet come to them. Being as little children means we can truly have faith in the living God, with a simple joy that has no demands in return.

v37-39

The Lament for Jerusalem

Knowing the end has come, both in the bodily form of Christ and shortly thereafter, the Temple of Jerusalem, Christ lamented over the Israelites. How much, as a caring mother, or father, did Christ want to put his arms of protection over the people, yet they rejected him.

Their temple and home would be made desolate by war. Their lives would be splintered and disperse across the lands. The life they had known, would be no more.

Yet, Christ said, the would see him again! When the time comes, that the Israelites turn to Christ and call Him their Messiah, saying Blessed is he that comes in the name of Jehovah [Jesus], He would return to them.

Conclusion

This is a great promise on the heels of the woes to the Pharisees. That God would again offer redemption to a people that killed his bodily form displays to us His unending grace that is now applied to the Gentile church.

Matthew 23 was a warning to all that would set themselves up in positions of authority and displays the end thereof. Kingdoms will fall, be they of man in civil governments or Pharisaical systems. We must avoid these seven woes at all costs! And if we create two-fold children of hell in the attempt to create out own kingdoms, a greater punishment will yet wait for us in the hells of despair.

Yet, through all of that, calling on the Name of the Lord is STILL the pathway to redemption and salvation! Calling the name of God, blessed is the key to removing ourselves from positions of authority and reanointing Christ with His authority.

May we all walk in the Light of His Glorious Gospel, in the Simplicity of Christ and not in the corruptness of Man and the lust of man’s heart!

God bless you,

 

One thought on “Matthew 23 Explained: Modern Scribes & Pharisees (Long Read)

  1. Pingback: Sacrificing the Word for the Experience – Rightly Dividing The Word of Truth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s