1.  Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,
2.  saying: “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.

What the Lord means here is that they had taken the position of royalty in Israel.  Moses was in actual fact a king, as he was absolutely in charge of the people and answered to no one but God Himself.  This was the position the Pharisees had chosen to take for themselves, and so they had taken to themselves Moses’ authority.  Very similar to more modern organizations like the Catholic Church, who took for themselves the place of authority second only to God’s.

3.  “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

It would appear that Christ is being somewhat sarcastic here in telling the multitudes and His disciples to do what the Pharisees say and not what they do.  Actually many of the things that the Pharisees did were unnecessary, and Jesus Himself wouldn’t do them, so this command cannot be taken literally.

4.  “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

If they would not bear them, then why should the men under them have to bear them?  This only proves that Christ is speaking tongue-in-cheek in the previous verses.

5.  “But all their works they do to be seen by men.  They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments

The phylacteries were a result of taking the Lord’s command literally in Exodus 13:9 and Deuteronomy 6:8 to “bind them” (the LORD’s words) “as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”  Thus, to literally keep this command, the Pharisees would literally write out the words contained in these passages and put them in a little box which they would attach to their foreheads for all men to see.  The borders of their garments is a reference to the “fringes” all Israelites were supposed to make on the borders of their garments according to Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12.  Orthodox Jews today will still knit a single blue thread into the cuff of their pants in order to obey this command.  The problem with the Pharisees was not that they were obeying these commands, but rather was they were carrying them to extremes and making their obedience so obvious to men that it became a boastful thing and was more meant to make them look good than it was to please and obey God.

6.  “They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,
7.  “greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’

The Pharisees’ religion was to them a great source of honor.  They loved the privileges and praise they got, but they did not truly love God.  Thus, their keeping of His commandments was for entirely the wrong reasons.  There are many religious leaders who have the same attitude and love the same kinds of things today.  Perhaps you can think of some of them.

8.  “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.

Although the modern Greek texts read “Teacher” (didaskalos,) the Received text and majority of ancient manuscripts had the Greek “kathegetes,” which means “Leader, Guide, or Director.”  The disciples were not to call any man their Leader but Christ Himself.  Moreover, they were all brethren, and thus were not to seek the place of one lording it over the others.  Few modern church leaders have been anxious to follow any such command!  But it may have only had reference to the disciples at that time, for men often seek guides today to help them learn the truths of God’s Word, and indeed we can hardly fault them for doing so, for they do it out of a desire to seek the truth.  Yet the disciples had no such need, having Christ right there to teach them.

9.  “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

Again, churches today, particularly the Catholic Church, totally ignore this command, preferring to demand men call their priests “Father.”  I cannot believe that we do anything wrong when we call the man who married our mother and helped to raise us “father” in our day.  Yet I think that we would do well to consider whether any other man on earth deserves such a title, particularly for religious reasons.

10.  “And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

This is more or less a repetition of what was said in verse 8.  The disciples were to consider only Christ as their leader and guide.  As long as He was on earth, to call any other man by this title would have been belittling the One Who truly was their Leader, Guide, and Director.

11.  “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Those who seek such high and mighty titles for themselves prove that they do not have the true spirit of service that God desires in all His leaders.

12.  “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

We should be careful both in the titles that we take upon ourselves and the titles that we ascribe to our religious leaders.  It is better for us to take a humbler place and be exalted by God in the future than to take an exalted place now and have to be humbled in the future.  Many today like to search the Scriptures for impressive titles to call themselves.  It would be better if we accepted no title but that of sinners saved by grace.  Even such common titles as “saints,” “reverend,” and even “the Body of Christ” are not really necessary for us to use.  If any of these titles should apply to us then let God call us them, but why should we be the ones exalting ourselves?

13.  “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

Now the Lord really starts to lay into these hypocritical and wicked men.  This list of woes is the culmination of all His teaching in opposition to them.  I would not be in these men’s shoes for the world when they at last face this same Jesus Christ in judgment!

First, He speaks of their opposition to access to the Kingdom of Heaven.  These men opposed the Kingdom of God that Christ was preaching and tried to get other men to join with them in their opposition.  Thus, they both refused access for themselves and tried to keep other men from receiving access either.  Let us never be guilty of such a terrible crime as to lead a soul astray from the truth that could save him!

14.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  Therefore you will receive great condemnation.

The state of widows in Israel was sad indeed.  Economic times were bad enough, but women without a husband or father to care for them had no way of supporting themselves.  Thus, a widow who was unwilling or unable to turn to prostitution to support herself would often find herself without any means of living.  These Pharisees were only too happy to loan money to such destitute widows, knowing that they would be unable to repay their debts and that they could then take even what they had left from them.  Then, when the debts finally came up unpaid, these men would repossess a widow’s house and then make a great show of praying for her needs as their own officials kicked her out!  The amazing thing is that many of those watching them do this seem to actually have swallowed such hypocrisy and believed that they truly were the philanthropists they claimed to be in their prayers.

15.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

This can be the case with religious missionaries of our days as well.  I am reminded of a religious missionary organization whose leader coined the phrase, “The ends justify the means.”  Their record of beating and torturing people into a profession of faith in their particular brand of Christianity should sound a warning in the minds of all of God’s people as to what religion can do unchecked by a true relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Of course, this organization still exists in our day, although their behavior is now somewhat better…at least, in countries like ours where they couldn’t get away with tactics such as these.  It is also true that many people who supposedly are trying to bring others to Christianity in our day end up making them much worse people after “converting” them than they were before.

The word for “Hell” here is “Gehenna.”  Gehenna was a valley in Israel that had at one time been used as a place to worship the god Molech.  Since giving up idolatry the people had turned it into a refuse dump, defiling it so that such awful religious practices could never be practiced there again.  The reputation of the place was further denigrated by the fact that a criminal who was considered particularly vile could, after his execution, be thrown unto the trash heaps of Gehenna rather than being buried.  If the fires that were constantly burning to incinerate the trash did not consume the body of a criminal thus disposed, the worms that lived in the filth of that place would devour him.  This was the ultimate disgrace for one who had died.  Jesus here indicates that these men, after their “conversion” by the Pharisees, act twice as much like those who deserve such an end as the Pharisees themselves do.

16.  “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated to perform it.’
17.  “Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?

Christ points out the utter hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ teachings.  I doubt that the Pharisees were actually saying these two things together, because then they would be obviously foolish.  They were teaching that swearing by the temple was nothing.  Always desiring money, however, they taught that anyone who swears by the money of the temple has to give to the temple!  Christ puts these two teachings together to demonstrate the Pharisees’ foolishness.  It would be a good exercise for all of us to put our teachings together to see if we have any teachings in our doctrines which are likewise ridiculous.

“Temple” here is the Greek word “naos,” and indicates not the entire campus of buildings that made up the temple and its courts, but the main building itself that contained the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.

18.  “And ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obligated to perform it.’
19.  “Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?

Similar to their teaching on the Temple and gold, the Pharisees taught the same thing about the altar and the gift.  They were so concerned with the gift, of which they themselves received a part, that they taught most severely about anyone who swore by it, but they had so little care for the altar that they taught that swearing by it meant little!  They would never themselves have taught these two things together in this way, but Christ points out the ridiculousness and contradiction of their teaching.

20.  “Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.
21.  “He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him Who dwells in it.

The Pharisees may have made a huge difference between these things, but God did not, and He reveals to us how He truly felt about such oaths.

22.  “And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him Who sits on it.

The Lord adds this at the end, showing why such oaths were so critical.  He who swears by the things of God ultimately swears by the One Who owns them.  Thus, the Pharisees’ teaching that made little of such oaths was an insult to the God men were swearing by.

23.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

These men were very conscientious about tithes.  They would actually take every little harvest of their gardens, even if it were a few sprigs of something like mint, and would take a tenth of it to sacrifice to God.  This meticulousness was not bad in itself, but God looked for other things, things of the heart, that the Pharisees were sadly lacking in.

24.  “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Again, they paid attention to little matters of the law and ignored the whole point of the law!  It was like they were straining a little gnat out of a soup or cup of drink and ignoring the fact that they were swallowing a huge, whole camel, an unclean animal that they should not have been eating.  This was what their attitude was resulting in.

25.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.
26.  “Blind Pharisees, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Imagine picking up a nice, clean-looking cup to drink out of it, and seeing that inside it was full of dirt and filth!  Would you care to drink from such a vessel?  Of course not!  Yet if the inside is clean, the outside will care for itself.  These Pharisees were dirty inside, and this dirtiness was evident in their acts of extorting money from others and constantly indulging themselves.  The common people of Israel failed to see it, but God knew exactly what these men were like in their hearts.

And, as I said earlier, if our outside may be defiled by another’s sin, let us not suppose that our inside is defiled as well.  This is a hard lesson to take to heart, but an important one for anyone who has been raped or sexually or physically abused.

27.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

28.  “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Imagine putting whitewash on a tomb!  It would indeed look pretty then on the outside, but what does it matter when what is inside is decay and death!  This was especially true for Israelites, for whom any contact with a tomb meant uncleanness and separation from God and His worship.  The Israelites would have known exactly what Christ was talking about, for whitewash was indeed put on tombs a month in advance of Passover to warn people away and to keep them from contracting uncleanness so that they could not keep that feast to God.

I have spoken to religious leaders whom I could tell while I was talking to them that spiritually they were as dead as they could possibly be.  Not only that but they would fiercely oppose anyone who worships God in truth.  Men such as this are deserving of little more than the contempt that Christ heaped upon them.

29.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,
30.  “and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31.  “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

For show, the Pharisees would decorate the tombs of the prophets and build monuments to those renowned for their righteousness.  They would self-righteously claim that they would never have slain these men had they been in charge at the time.  Yet Christ points out that by doing this they only emphasized the fact that they were the sons of those who had done these wicked deeds in the first place!  Remember, by Hebrew thought a son was one whose actions exactly represented those of his father…he would act just as his father would if he were in the same situation.  These Pharisees demonstrated that they were true sons of their fathers who had killed the prophets.

32.  “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.

The Lord sarcastically urges the Pharisees to act as the sons of their fathers and do yet more to make themselves and their fathers guilty of the innocent blood of God’s people.  They would do this indeed in a few short days when they put the Son of God Himself on a cross!

33.  “Serpents, brood of vipers!  How can you escape the condemnation of hell?

Christ concludes His tirade against the Pharisees by summing them up as serpents and a brood of vipers.  How could such men ever escape the condemnation of Gehenna?  Here, Christ refers not to that present-day Gehenna or Valley of Hinnom, but speaks of the one it foreshadows, the lake of fire (ten limnen tou puros) of Revelation, prepared for the devil and his angels, in which men such as these will be cast for the second death.

34.  “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city.

The Lord speaks prophetically of how these Pharisees will treat His people in the upcoming Acts period.

35.  “That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

Some erroneously assume that this means Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, who died in this same way (II Chronicles 24:20-21.)  Then they assume that the Scripture is in error here because it calls him the son of Berechiah!  But the son of Berechiah was the prophet Zechariah who wrote the book that bears his name (Zechariah 1:1,7) some four hundred years after Zechariah the son of Jehoiada died.  Just because we have no record of how this Zechariah died does not mean that he could not have died in the same way as the earlier priest who bore the same name!  History is often full of coincidences.  In fact, another Zechariah (the son of Baruch) died this same way some thirty-six years after Christ spoke these words (Josephus, Wars, iv.5.4.)  Why then must the Scripture be condemned as being in error?  History can, indeed, repeat itself, and we have no cause to assume that the Bible is wrong when it does.

36.  “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

These men would not be blamed for the death of Christ, as He pleaded for God to forgive them for this (Luke 23:34.)  However, the blood of all of His followers whom they killed will be remembered against them on the Day of Judgment.  Not only that, but all the blood of all the martyrs from Abel to Zechariah will be counted against them as well!  This is because God knows that, in spite of what they claimed, they would have killed all these prophets of the past just as they did those God sent to them in their present.

37.  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

The Lord has always loved that great City and the people to whom He chose to give it.  Those who hate this city or this people show that they do not have the heart of God, whatever they might claim to be, pastor or priest or Christian.

38.  “See!  Your house is left to you desolate;

He was probably referring to the temple in which He was standing and speaking these words.  Both the city and the temple would soon be destroyed and made utterly desolate.

39.  “For I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the LORD!'”

When speaking to the city of Jerusalem, Christ is obviously personifying it and is actually referring to its inhabitants.  Soon destruction would come upon Jerusalem!  But there will yet be a future day when the praises of Christ will ring from the throat of every man, woman, and child in that city, as is stated here, and then they will see their Lord once again.  What a day that will be!