Matthew Chapter 23  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Matthew 23
Mat 23:1(top)
Mat 23:2(top)
Mat 23:3(top)
Mat 23:4(top)
Mat 23:5

“phylacteries.” A phylactery is a little leather box that contains scripture. The very religious male Jews (today, the ultra-orthodox Jews) tie one on their arm and another on their forehead, especially when they are praying or in the morning service, although in ancient times some very religious men apparently wore them all day. The Pharisees and experts in the Law at the time of Christ loved to be recognized by the people, called “Rabbi,” and thought of as being very godly, so they did things that caught people’s attention, such as make their phylacteries large so they were especially noticeable.

The origin of phylacteries is debated, and just when people started wearing them is unknown, but apparently, it predates the time of Christ. Justification for wearing the phylacteries came from verses such as Deuteronomy 6:8, which says to tie the commandments to your hand (or arm) and put them on your forehead (Exod. 13:9, 16; Deut. 6:8; 11:18 are the verses generally used to support the wearing of phylacteries). However, God never meant for people to literally tie Scripture to themselves. For one thing, the nature of daily life in ancient Israel would not accommodate it, and also, God’s command was for every Israelite, men and women, but in ancient times, and still today, only the men wear phylacteries.

When God said to bind the commandments to the head and hand, He was emphasizing that the Word of God should be near our thoughts (head) and in what we do (hands). The pure nature of God’s command to keep His Word as the center or our thoughts and actions was perverted by religious superstition, as we can see by the very word “phylactery,” which comes from the Greek word phulassō (#5442 φυλάσσω) which means to guard, to keep watch, to protect you from a person or thing, to keep safe. “The only instance of the name ‘phylacteries’ in ancient times occurs once in the Greek New Testament (Matthew 23:5) whence it has passed into the languages of Europe. ‘Phylacteries’ derives from the Greek phulaktērion - φυλακτήριον, ‘defences,’ and in late Greek, ‘amulets’ or ‘charms.’ …The choice of this particular Greek equivalent to render the Heb. Tefillin bears witness to the ancient functional interpretation of the said device as a kind of an amulet.”a

So the very thing that God said to assure that people would keep His Word occasionally became an object of superstition, complete with all the rules and regulations about exactly how to tie it on, when and where to wear it, etc. Many Jews would insist the phylactery was only worn in obedience to God and so people would keep God’s commands in mind, but there is evidence that the Jews did indeed consider the phylacteries to be protective in nature, if only to secure God’s blessings. “…the early Rabbinic sources furnish more or less explicit examples of the apotropaic qualities of tefillin [“apotropaic” means having the power to ward off evil]. For instance, Bamidbar R. 12:3 presents tefillin as capable of defeating “a thousand demons” emerging on “the left side,” rabbis Yohanan and Nahman used their sets [of phylacteries] to repel the fiends inhabiting privies in BT Berakhot 23a-b, whereas Elisha the Winged, who was scrupulous in performing this mitzvah, was miraculously saved from the Roman persecution in BT Shabbat 49a. Also, tefillin are believed to possess life-lengthening qualities, as suggested in BT Menahot 36b, 44a-b and in BT Shabbat 13a-b and they are often listed in one breath among various items which are considered amuletic in nature, as is the case in M Kelim 23:1, M Eruvin 10:1 or BT Eruvin 96b-97a.b

“lengthen the tassels on their clothes.” The Law of Moses commanded that all Jews wear tassels that had a blue cord be worn on the outside of their outer garment (Num. 15:37-40). God commanded the tassels be worn after a man broke the Sabbath and gathered sticks on the Sabbath and was stoned for it (Num. 15:32-36). The tassels were to remind people of all the commandments of God. The tassel was only to have a cord of blue that could be seen; it was not commanded that the entire tassel be blue.

At the time of Jesus, the religious leaders made a show of how “religious” they were by making the tassels with the blue cord especially long in order to be sure that everyone would notice them. This outward show was not only unnecessary, it was hypocritical because while the tassel with the blue strand was supposed to remind people to keep the Law, the religious leaders broke the law by their traditions (Matt. 15:1-9; 23:16-34 Mark 7:1-13). Today, modern Jews have tassels on their prayer shawls, and each tassel has a blue strand in it.

Wikipedia, “Tefillin,” accessed Aug. 1, 2016.
Wikipedia, “Tefillin,” accessed Aug. 1, 2016.
Mat 23:6

“like.” The Greek is phileō (#5368 φιλέω). See commentary on John 21:15.

Mat 23:7(top)
Mat 23:8(top)
Mat 23:9(top)
Mat 23:10(top)
Mat 23:11(top)
Mat 23:12(top)
Mat 23:13

“how terrible.” The Greek word is ouai (#3759 οὐαί; pronounced ooh-'eye). For an explanation of the meaning of “how terrible,” see commentary on Matthew 11:21. In this context, ouai is an expression of warning of the grief and disaster that is coming to the experts in the Law and Pharisees if they do not repent and change their ways.

Mat 23:14

Matthew 23:14 is omitted in the earliest and best Greek manuscripts of the Western, Alexandrian, and Caesarean text families. Furthermore, when it is included in some Greek manuscripts, different manuscripts have it in different places, which is a clear indication it was added as a harmonization taken from Mark 12:40 or Luke 20:47. If a verse is original, and gets deleted from the manuscripts for some reason, it is always deleted from the same place. However, if a verse is added, sometimes different scribes add it in different places, and that is the case here. Thus, the evidence in the Greek manuscripts supports that Matthew 23:14 is not original in Matthew, so we put the verse in double brackets to show it is almost certainly not original.

Mat 23:15

“How terrible.” See commentary on Matthew 23:13.

“Gehenna.” See commentary on Matthew 5:22.

[For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”]

Mat 23:16

“How terrible.” See commentary on Matthew 23:13.

“it is nothing.” The practices regarding oaths reveals the blindness and dishonesty of the religious leaders. Of course, they had a “reason” for their view that an oath made by the gold of the sanctuary or the gift on the altar was binding, but an oath made by the sanctuary or altar itself was not binding. It seems that they reasoned that the binding nature of the oath was determined by the value of what the person swore by, and because neither the Temple nor altar was for sale, an oath by those things was not binding.a Of course, the priests could use this to their advantage, because they could very sincerely swear an oath by the Temple to someone who did not know their customs, knowing full well that they were deceiving the person, and just shrug off their oath if it was not convenient to keep it, saying that “it is nothing,” that is, it is not binding. They were so blind and self-righteous that they did not think God would judge such behavior. No wonder Jesus called them “fools,” and “blind,” and said “woe” to them, referring to great distress and disaster.

R. L. Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, 49-50.
Mat 23:17(top)
Mat 23:18(top)
Mat 23:19(top)
Mat 23:20(top)
Mat 23:21

“and by the one who dwells in it.” That is the One God; He lives in the Temple in the Holy of Holies.

Mat 23:22(top)
Mat 23:23

“how terrible.” The Greek word is ouai (#3759 οὐαί; pronounced ooh-'eye). For an explanation of the meaning of “how terrible,” see commentary on Matthew 11:21. In this context, ouai is an expression of warning of the grief and disaster that is coming to the experts in the Law and Pharisees if they do not repent and change their ways.

“faithfulness.” “Faithfulness” is a much better translation of the Greek word pistis (#4102 πίστις), in this context than “trust.” Faithfulness to God and the covenant Israel made with God was one of the most important things in the Law. God was a “faithful” God (Deut. 7:9; 32:4), and God’s people were to be faithful to Him (Ps. 31:23; 101:6; Isa. 1:21, 26). Indeed, faithfulness is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). But the religious leaders at the time of Christ were not being faithful to God or to the Law and covenant, and Jesus pointed that out to them in clear language.

Mat 23:24

“gnat ... camel.” The illustration combines the figures hyperbole (exaggeration) and hypocatastasis (comparison by implication; see commentary on Revelation 20:2). The “gnat” is the small things, while the “camel” represents the big things. The illustration was made more emotionally graphic to the Jews because the camel was an unclean animal and could not be eaten at all. For Jesus to imply that the Jews swallowed a camel would have been extremely offensive to them.

Mat 23:25(top)
Mat 23:26(top)
Mat 23:27

“How terrible.” The Greek word is ouai (#3759 οὐαί; pronounced ooh-'eye). For an explanation of the meaning of “how terrible,” see commentary on Matthew 11:21. In this context, ouai is an expression of warning of the grief and disaster that is coming to the experts in the Law and Pharisees if they do not repent and change their ways.

Mat 23:28

“lawlessness.” Although many people think of lawlessness as in early America’s Wild West when there were no laws and no effective way of enforcing laws, actually, much lawlessness occurs when there are plenty of well-defined laws but the authorities refuse to enforce them, and also when the authorities make all kinds of oppressive and demonic laws that go against the way God would rule.

[For more on lawlessness, see commentary on Matt. 24:12.]

Mat 23:29

“How terrible.” The Greek word is ouai (#3759 οὐαί; pronounced ooh-'eye). For an explanation of the meaning of “how terrible,” see commentary on Matthew 11:21. In this context, ouai is an expression of warning of the grief and disaster that is coming to the experts in the Law and Pharisees if they do not repent and change their ways.

Mat 23:30(top)
Mat 23:31(top)
Mat 23:32(top)
Mat 23:33

“You offspring of vipers!” Jesus called the religious leaders a generation of vipers (Matt. 12:34; 23:33). John did too (Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:7).

“Gehenna.” In this context, Gehenna is the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14-15).

[For more on Gehenna and how it came to represent the Lake of Fire, see commentary on Matthew 5:22. For information on annihilation in the lake of fire, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”]

Mat 23:34

“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.

Mat 23:35

“so that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on the earth.” Matthew 23:35 is similar to what Jesus said in Luke 11:50, but it was spoken at a different time and with a different primary emphasis. Matthew uses the preposition hopōs (#3704 ὅπως) instead of hina at the beginning of the verse, which puts a greater emphasis on the purpose and plan of God, whereas the hina in Luke puts more emphasis on the result than the purpose. Both purpose and result are important, and the two different Gospel records and the two different words makes that point very well.

[For more information on the conjunction hina and how Luke 11:50 puts more emphasis on result than purpose, see commentary on Luke 11:50.]

This is the second time in Jesus’ ministry that he pronounced woes on the Pharisees and said there would be a generation that would experience God’s wrath for all the bloodshed on earth. The first time was at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 11:37-52), and this second time, recorded in Matthew 23:13-36, occurred in the Temple during the week before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

God has always had a plan to rid the world of evil and bring about justice on earth, and it is a harsh reality that in order for evil to show itself there must be an opportunity for it to do so, and innocent people get hurt as a result. The situation is this: in the beginning, God created wonderful, innocent people (Adam and Eve), and gave them free will so they could serve Him from their heart and establish their relationship with Him on the basis of love, not fear. Sadly, they decided not to obey God, but followed their own desires. More sadly, the progeny of Adam and Eve, the people of earth, have in large part rejected God and there has been war, slavery, abuse, and pain on earth for millennia as a result. In any society when people serve their own interests and disobey God, other people get hurt, and that has been the situation on earth since Eden.

What God needed was a plan to rescue those people who loved Him and desired to serve Him (but fell short due to sin nature), while justly ridding the earth of selfish and evil people who have no intention of serving God, but desire to serve only themselves. The way to bring that plan to pass was to send prophets and wise, righteous people—who accepted the assignment willingly—to bring the message of salvation to the world. Of course, God knew that sending those messengers into the world put them in a dangerous position, because if no one listened to them they would be persecuted and killed (which is what happened and is still happening today), but presenting the world a message of redemption from the lips and lives of righteous people was the only way to really tell who would serve God and who would reject Him. Those who rejected Him would be “condemned to Gehenna” (Matt. 23:33), where they would burn up and be annihilated. Those who accepted Him would be granted everlasting life in the Messiah’s kingdom.

Given the purposes of God and His plan to accomplish those purposes, He sent prophets into the world so that He could bring the guilt of the world on evil people. Also, however, He sent them “with the result” that His wrath could be poured out upon the earth and the earth cleansed of evil. Bill Mounce writes: “Prophets and wise men and teachers (leaders of the early church) will be sent to them, but they, like their forefathers, will persecute and kill the messengers of God. As a result, the guilt for all the innocent blood shed on earth will fall on them.”a

Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:50 are also supporting evidence for a pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Christian Church. God is righteous, and it does not seem fair of God to punish one generation of people for all the sin that happened from Adam until their generation—about 6,000 years of sin—without giving them a way to escape that punishment. After all, all that unfortunate generation did was be born at the wrong time and be the generation of the Great Tribulation. But God planned for the Christian Church and the Rapture before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and so He saw, but kept the Church Age a secret (Eph. 3:1-5).

The Rapture will end the Church Age, the Administration of Grace, and at that time everyone who believed in the Lord and got born again will be taken into heaven. That will mean that no believers will be left on earth, only unbelievers. So God planned for, but kept secret, a way to make sure that before the Great Tribulation every righteous person who believed would escape that terrible time on earth.

[For more verses in which Jesus says that his return would be soon, see commentary on Matt. 16:28. For more information about the Eden-like Messianic Kingdom that will be on earth, see Appendix 3: “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more information about why, historically, “that generation” did not experience the wrath Jesus spoke about, and why the Rapture is a righteous act of God, see commentary on Luke 11:50. For more on the Rapture, see commentary on 1 Thess. 4:17. For more information on annihilation in Gehenna, see Appendix 5: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.” For more information on suffering for doing good, see 1 Peter 2:20, 3:14, 17; 4:16, 19.]

“will come.” The verb erchomai (#2064 ἔρχομαι) is in the subjunctive mood, but that is due to the conjunction hopōs at the beginning of the verse. Therefore, the verb must be translated from the context, which is future (cp. HCSB, NET).

“Zechariah.” The “Zechariah” that Jesus speaks of is almost certainly Zechariah the priest that was unjustly murdered in 2 Chron. 24:20-22, the last book of the Hebrew Bible. (Unlike modern Christian Bibles, the last book of the Hebrew Bible, then and today, is 2 Chronicles.) Thus, Zechariah would be one of whom the religious leaders would have said, “If we had been in the days of our fathers we would not have been partners with them in the blood of the prophets” (Matt. 23:30) but actually they would have. The religious leaders could not deny that Zechariah was unjustly murdered, because it is in the Old Testament. As Zechariah was dying from being stoned to death, he said, “May Yahweh look at it and repay it” (2 Chron. 24:22), and Yahweh will repay the people of earth for their evil in the Great Tribulation, which Jesus speaks about in Matthew 24 (cp. Mark 13 and Luke 21).

Mounce, Matthew [NICBNT].
Mat 23:36(top)
Mat 23:37

“she.” The definite article is feminine and agrees with the pronoun “her” at the end of the phrase.

“keeps on killing.” The Greek word apokteinō (#615 ἀποκτείνω), kill, is a present participle. She kills and keeps on killing. The translation, “is killing” would be appropriate in some contexts, but not here. The point is that she has killed the prophets and keeps on killing them, something that was about to be fulfilled in Jesus himself in just a few days.

Mat 23:38

“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.

Mat 23:39

“Blessed is he...” The Hebrew text of Matthew is different from the standard quotation from the Old Testament. It simply reads, “Blessed is our savior.” See commentaries on Matthew 21:9 and 3:3. Since the Hebrew text did not have Yahweh, the REV followed the reading of the Greek text.


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