Matthew 23 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Matthew 23)

Verse 2

[2] Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:

The scribes sit in the chair of Moses — That is, read and expound the law of Moses, and are their appointed teachers.

Verse 3

[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.

All things therefore — Which they read out of the law, and enforce therefrom.

Verse 4

[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.

Luke 11:46.

Verse 5

[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,

Their phylacteries — The Jews, understanding those words literally, It shall he as a token upon thy hand, and as frontlets between thine eyes, Exodus 13:16. And thou shalt bind these words for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes, Deuteronomy 6:8; used to wear little scrolls of paper or parchment, bound on their wrist and foreheads, on which several texts of Scripture were writ. These they supposed, as a kind of charm, would preserve them from danger. And hence they seem to have been called phylacteries, or preservatives.

The fringes of their garments — Which God had enjoined them to wear, to remind them of doing all the commandments, Numbers 15:38. These, as well as their phylacteries, the Pharisees affected to wear broader and larger than other men. Mark 12:38. 8,9,10. The Jewish rabbis were also called father and master, by their several disciples, whom they required, 1. To believe implicitly what they affirmed, without asking any farther reason; 2. To obey implicitly what they enjoined, without seeking farther authority. Our Lord, therefore, by forbidding us either to give or receive the title of rabbi, master, or father, forbids us either to receive any such reverence, or to pay any such to any but God.

Verse 9

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

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Verse 10

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

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Verse 11

[11] But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Matthew 20:26.

Verse 12

[12] And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that shall humble himself shall he exalted — It is observable that no one sentence of our Lord's is so often repeated as this: it occurs, with scarce any variation, at least ten times in the evangelists. Luke 14:11; 18:14.

Verse 13

[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.

Wo to you — Our Lord pronounced eight blessings upon the mount: he pronounces eight woes here; not as imprecations, but solemn, compassionate declarations of the misery, which these stubborn sinners were bringing upon themselves.

Ye go not in — For ye are not poor in spirit; and ye hinder those that would be so.

Verse 14

[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.

Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47.

Verse 16

[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!

Wo to you, ye blind guides — Before he had styled them hypocrites, from their personal character: now he gives them another title, respecting their influence upon others. Both these appellations are severely put together in the 23d and Matthew 23:23,25. 25th verses; and this severity rises to the height in the 33d verse.

The gold of the temple — The treasure kept there.

He is bound — To keep his oath.

Verse 20

[20] Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.

He that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon — Not only by the gift, but by the holy fire, and the sacrifice; and above all, by that God to whom they belong; inasmuch as every oath by a creature is an implicit appeal to God.

Verse 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.

Judgment — That is, justice: Faith - The word here means fidelity.

Verse 24

[24] Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

Ye blind guides, who teach others to do as you do yourselves, to strain out a gnat - From the liquor they are going to drink! and swallow a camel - It is strange, that glaring false print, strain at a gnat, which quite alters the sense, should run through all the editions of our English Bibles.

Verse 25

[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.

Full of rapine and intemperance — The censure is double (taking intemperance in the vulgar sense.) These miserable men procured unjustly what they used intemperately. No wonder tables so furnished prove a snare, as many find by sad experience. Thus luxury punishes fraud while it feeds disease with the fruits of injustice. But intemperance in the full sense takes in not only all kinds of outward intemperance, particularly in eating and drinking, but all intemperate or immoderate desires, whether of honour, gain, or sensual pleasure.

Verse 26

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

Ye build the tombs of the prophets — And that is all, for ye neither observe their sayings, nor imitate their actions.

Verse 30

[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.

We would not have been partakers — So ye make fair professions, as did your fathers. 31.

Wherefore ye testify against yourselves — By your smooth words as well as devilish actions: that ye are the genuine sons of them who killed the prophets of their own times, while they professed the utmost veneration for those of past ages. From the 3d to the 30th verse Matthew 23:3-30 is exposed every thing that commonly passes in the world for religion, whereby the pretenders to it keep both themselves and others from entering into the kingdom of God; from attaining, or even seeking after those tempers, in which alone true Christianity consists. As, 1. Punctuality in attending on public and private prayer, verse 4-14. Matthew 23:4-14 2. Zeal to make proselytes to our opinion or communion, though they have less of the spirit of religion than before, verse 15. Matthew 23:15 3. A superstitious reverence for consecrated places or things, without any for Him to whom they are consecrated, verse 16-22. Matthew 23:16-22 4. A scrupulous exactness in little observances, though with the neglect of justice, mercy, and faith, verse 23, 24. Matthew 23:23,24 5. A nice cautiousness to cleanse the outward behaviour, but without any regard to inward purity, verse 25, 26. Matthew 23:25,26 6. A specious face of virtue and piety, covering the deepest hypocrisy and villany, verse 27, 28. Matthew 23:27,28 7. A professed veneration for all good men, except those among whom they live.

Verse 32

[32] Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Fill ye up — A word of permission, not of command: as if he had said, I contend with you no longer: I leave you to yourselves: you have conquered: now ye may follow the devices of your own hearts.

The measure of your fathers — Wickedness: ye may now be as wicked as they.

Verse 33

[33] Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Ye serpents — Our Lord having now lost all hope of reclaiming these, speaks so as to affright others from the like sins.

Verse 34

[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:

Wherefore — That it may appear you are the true children of those murderers, and have a right to have their iniquities visited on you: Behold, I send - Is not this speaking as one having authority? Prophets - Men with supernatural credentials: Wise men - Such as have both natural abilities and experience; and scribes - Men of learning: but all will not avail. Luke 11:49.

Verse 35

[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.

That upon you may come — The consequence of which will be, that upon you will come the vengeance of all the righteous blood shed on the earth - Zechariah the son of Barachiah - Termed Jehoiada, 2 Chronicles 24:20, where the story is related: Ye slew - Ye make that murder also of your fathers your own, by imitating it: Between the temple - That is, the inner temple, and the altar - Which stood in the outer court. Our Lord seems to refer to this instance, rather than any other, because he was the last of the prophets on record that were slain by the Jews for reproving their wickedness: and because God's requiring this blood as well as that of Abel, is particularly taken notice of in Scripture.

Verse 37

[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!

Luke 13:34.

Verse 38

[38] Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

Behold your house — The temple, which is now your house, not God's: Is left unto you - Our Lord spake this as he was going out of it for the last time: Desolate - Forsaken of God and his Christ, and sentenced to utter destruction.

Verse 39

[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.

Ye — Jews in general; men of Jerusalem in particular: shall not see me from this time - Which includes the short space till his death, till, after a long interval of desolation and misery, ye say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord - Ye receive me with joyful and thankful hearts. This also shall be accomplished in its season.