Matthew 23 Questions and Answers
1. Read Matthew 23:1-12. What were Jesus' biggest issues with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees?
- They didn't practice what they preached - they were hypocrites
- They crushed people with unbearable religious demands and never lifted a finger to ease the burden.
- They did things to be seen and to impress people - trying to draw attention to themselves. eg. Made their phylacteries wide (Exodus 13:9, 16) & the tassels on their garments long (Numbers 15:37-41). Phylacteries were like little leather boxes, one strapped on the wrist and one on the forehead. Inside the box is a parchment roll with 4 passages of Scripture written on it (Exodus 13:1-10; 13:11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21)
- Exodus 13:1-10 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal." 3 Then Moses said to the people, "Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. 4 Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. 5 When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites-the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey-you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6 For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. 8 On that day tell your son, 'I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.' 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.
- Exodus 13:11-16 11 "After the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons. 14 "In days to come, when your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' say to him, 'With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.' 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand."
- Deut 6:4-9 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
- Deut 11:13-21 13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today-to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul- 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. 16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the LORD's anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you. 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
- They were very prideful and wanted to be looked up to - they love the place of honor at banquets, the most important seats in the synagogues, to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by others (they were full of themselves)
2. What was Jesus' warning to the people about the teachers of the law and the Pharisees?
- You can do what they tell you (the great principles from the Law which Moses received from God) but don't do what they do, for they don't practice what they preach.
3. What correction & instruction did Jesus give the teachers of the law and the Pharisees?
- Don't let people call you Rabbi for there is only 1 Master/Teacher (Jesus) - need to see each other as equals.
- Don't let the people call anyone father for there is only 1 Father and He is in heaven (God).
- Don't let the people call anyone teacher/instructor for there is only 1 teacher/instructor, the Christ/Messiah
- The greatest among you must be a servant.
- Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
4. Seeing that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees loved to be looked up to and considered great and be given highest respect, how do you think they would have taken these instructions from Jesus?
5. Do you know of any people groups or religious groups that use Rabbi, father or teacher to indicate respect for someone's position? Is it ok to call our pastor, "pastor"?
- In Japan all leaders or people who are considered to have a teaching role are called "Teacher". Is that OK?
- The Catholics use "father", Jews use "Rabbi".
- What should we do instead of calling leaders these titles? Maybe call each other brothers and sisters.
- Call our pastor by their first name.
6. Read Matthew 23:13-32. Jesus gives 7 woes on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. What is a woe?
- The Greek word is hard to translate for it includes wrath and also great sorrow or distress, misery, heartache, disaster, suffering, hardship.
- It includes a righteous anger coming from a heart of love broken by the stubborn blindness of people. There is an atmosphere of heart-rending tragedy.
7. What are some names Jesus calls the teachers of the law and the Pharisees?
- Hypocrites (vs. 13, 15, 23, 25,27, 29 )
- Blind guides (vs. 16, 24)
- Blind fools (vs. 17)
- Blind men (vs. 19, 25)
- Snakes, brood of vipers (vs. 33)
8. What were the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees doing to receive the first woe? What does it mean?
- They shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. They themselves do not enter, nor will they let those enter who are trying to.
- To Jesus, to enter the Kingdom was to do God's will, which was to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. But to the Pharisees doing God's will was to observe thousands of petty rules and regulations. So when people tried to find entry into the Kingdom the Pharisees presented them with rules and regulations which was as good as shutting the door in their faces. The gravest danger is when a teacher or preacher substitutes his own ideas for the truth of God. When he does that he is not a guide, but a barrier to the Kingdom, for being misled himself, he misleads others.
9. Do we bring people to Christ or a set of rules to follow? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to convict individuals or do we take the role of the Holy Spirit and give them a set of commandments to follow?
10. Why does Jesus give the second woe? What does it mean?
- They were traveling all over the place to win a single convert, and when they succeeded they made that person twice as much a child of hell as they were.
- Because of the Jews separatism, their isolation and their contempt for other nations, they were mocked and treated with hostility. Yet there was an attraction to the Jews - their idea of one God, their ethical purity, and standards of morality. The god-fearers were those who accepted the concept of one God and accepted the Jewish moral law but did not take part in the ceremonial law & did not become circumcised. These would be found listening and worshipping in every synagogue. The aim of the Pharisees was to turn these god-fearers into a full convert - and these often became the most fanatical devotee to the Jewish law. The sin of the Pharisees was that they were not really seeking to lead men to God, but to Pharisaism.
11. Are we guilty like the Pharisees, being more concerned about bringing people to church or making them Mennonites than bringing them to Jesus Christ? Do we ever think that our church has a monopoly on God or of His truth or that our church is the only way to God's Kingdom?
12. What does the third woe deal with? What does it mean?
- In Pharisaism, if you swear by one thing, it means nothing, but if you swear by something else you are bound by that oath.
- They had developed a fine art of evasion and deception. To the Jew an oath was absolutely binding so long as it was a binding oath. If an oath used the name of God then it must be kept no matter what the cost. Any other oath might be legitimately broken. If God's name was included then He became a partner in the transaction and to break that oath would not only break faith with the person but also insult God.
13. Have you ever found yourself trying to get around some responsibility or promise that you made?
- A truly righteous and openly honest person will never make a promise with the deliberate intention of evading it or provide himself with a series of escape routes which he may use if he finds his promise hard to keep. God hears every word we speak and sees every intention of our heart.
- Wouldn't initiating a divorce fall into this category?
14. What reason does Jesus give for the fourth woe? What does it meaning?
- They give a tenth (a tithe) of their spices -mint, dill and cumin but neglect the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy & faithfulness. They should be doing both. Doing justice and mercy often involves a great sacrifice.
- They were blind guides willing to carefully strain their juice with a muslin gauze so they wouldn't accidently swallow a gnat that was unclean but were quite happy to swallow a camel that was unclean.
- In Deuteronomy 114:22 and Leviticus 27:30 it is laid out that every man must give for the support of the Levites one-tenth of his produce for God. It was universally accepted that tithes of the main crops must be given but the Pharisees were meticulous even about small amounts of herbs found in the kitchen garden. Yet these same men were guilty of injustice, not showing mercy and evading keeping promises and being unfaithful. Eg. Buying a widow's property so she had money to live but not giving her the full value - then turning around and selling it for double the price but not sharing the profit with her.
- It is easy to observe all the outward actions of religion and yet be completely irreligious.
- The humorous picture of straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel must have gotten a chuckle. But it is a picture of a person who has completely lost his sense of priorities or proportion.
15. Do we think Jesus would give the same woe to us? Do we do all the right things on the outside - go to church, give our offering, have the right attitude in prayer, do lots of good works, serve on several committees at church, etc. but are bad-tempered, over spend or are stingy with the money that comes in, lazy or not diligent, leave kids at home alone constantly making them feel lonely, etc.?
16. What does the fifth woe deals with? What would Jesus have meant with this woe?
- Cleaning the outside of the cup and dish ceremonially but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. This is not talking about a dirty dish but ceremonially not clean which would keep them from entering the Temple or synagogue and therefore from worshipping God. A Jew became unclean when they touched a dead animal or body or if they came in contact with a Gentile or if a woman had a haemorrhage or had her menstrual cycle.
- They should first clean the inside of the cup and dish and then the outside also will be clean. For the Jew it didn't matter if what was inside the cup was obtained by cheating or extortion or theft, as long as the dish itself was ceremonially clean.
17. Could this kind of thing happen today in our church? Are we giving God a reason to be sad with us because people within the church look good on the outside but are greedy, not honest, proud or power hungry on the inside?
18. Why is the sixth woe given? What did it mean?
- The Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs, which looked beautiful on the outside but on the inside were full of dead man's bones and everything unclean. Tombs were usually along the roadside, and as people crowded along the road to the Passover feast it would have been disastrous if someone would touch a tomb for then they would automatically be unclean and couldn't take part in the Passover Feast. So just before the Passover the Jews would whitewash all the roadside tombs so no one would accidently touch a tomb. These whitewashed tombs would almost be lovely with the sun shining on them but inside they were full of dead man's bones.
- Jesus said that was exactly what the Pharisees were doing - their outward actions were the actions of an intensely religious man but their heart was foul and unclean with sin. On the outside the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law appeared to the people to be righteous but on the inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
19. Do we ever portray to be something different on the outside than we are on the inside?
- People may smile but stab another person behind their back
- People may look reverent but are really looking down on someone with contempt.
- A person may look humble but inwardly are full of pride - hoping people will see them as being pious.
- If a good man knows he is good, then his goodness is gone - no matter how people see him from the outside.
20. What is the seventh woe that is given? Why? What was the history behind this woe?
- They build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. They say that if they had lived in the days of the prophets they wouldn't have taken part in the shedding of their blood. But since they admit that they are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets Jesus tells them to go ahead and complete what their ancestors started.
- Jesus says they will not escape being condemned to hell. He is going to send them prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. Some they will kill by crucifixion, some they will flog with whips in their synagogues, chasing them from city to city. As a result they will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time - from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zachariah, son of Berekiah whom they killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. This judgment will fall on that very generation.
- Jesus' charge is that the history of Israel is the history of the murder of the men of God. Abel was the first one murdered and Zachariah (2 Chronicles 24:20-22) was the last one listed in the Hebrew Bible.
- What is so sad is that the nation which God chose and loved had turned their hands against him.
21. Can you think of a time when your ancestors did something to hurt another group of people or other people, and we as descendants need to go back and make it right?
- Eg. Nehemiah's "we" prayers. Also Isaiah and Jeremiah confessed the sins of their ancestors.
- We can pray that if there is anything we can do to make amends for the past, to please show us.
22. In summary, what are the differences between a false teacher or spiritual leader and a genuine spiritual leader?
- From this chapter we can see that a false teacher or a false spiritual leader lacks true authority (sits in Moses' seat), integrity (hypocritical), and sympathy (puts burdens on others but won't help). They lacked spirituality and humility
- Everything was for the outside, not the heart. All of their religion was for show and for fleshly gratification and ego satisfaction.
- In contrast, a genuine spiritual leader has true authority which comes from Scripture, which he always interprets properly. He has integrity. Look at his life to see if he lives and love what he calls other people to live and love. Thirdly, he is sympathetic with his greatest heart's desire to feed not to fleece people. He is not building his own empire but carrying those who are wounded. He is concerned with the heart of his flock not the outside, not the show. He has the heart of a servant who seeks to be humble and lets God lift him up.
Will this help you to distinguish between a false spiritual leader and a genuine one?
23. Read Matthew 23:37-39. What will happen to Jerusalem? What is Jesus' response to what He knows will happen in the future to Jerusalem?
- Jerusalem will be abandoned and desolate. They will never see Jesus again until they bless the one (Jesus) who comes in the name of the Lord (God).
- Jesus grieves over Jerusalem. He would love to have gathered them together as a hen protects her chicks under her wings, but they wouldn't let Him.
24. What can we learn about God, Jesus, man & consequences of rejecting Christ from this passage?
- God is so patient - He could have rejected Israel when she kept killing the prophets and stoning the messengers of God, but He didn't.
- Jesus speaks like a lover, appealing to the people of Israel with love.
- People looked at Christ and what He did and who He was but rejected Him.
- Only 40 years would pass before Jerusalem would be a heap of ruins. It is a fact of history that the nation which rejects God is doomed to disaster.