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32: Woes on the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:1-39)
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32: Woes on the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:1-39)

I.       The Basics

A.     Setting

We are now coming to the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Having silenced the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees, the Lord launched a series of rebukes against them with the most severe condemnations. This was to be expected because it was the religious elite who had been the strongest opposition to the message of the kingdom. The Lord’s rebukes also served as sobering warning to the disciples and multitudes against the deception of false piety.

B.     Key Verse

            “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (23:28).

            “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!” (23:37).

C.     Did You Know…?

1.       “Phylacteries” (v.5) were small leather or parchment boxes containing a piece of vellum inscribed with four texts from the law (Exod 13:2-10, 11-16; Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21). They were worn on the arm or tied to the forehead according to Exodus 13:9,16; Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18 (though originally these passages were probably metaphorical). 6/474

2.       Rabbi: (v. 7), the transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “my master” or “my teacher”…By Talmudic times a rabbi’s status was immense: his disciple had to obey him without question, never walk beside or in front of him, never greet him first, and so forth…. 6/474

3.       Proselyte (23:15): Pharisees and teachers of the law would travel extensively to make one “proselyte”—a word used in the NT only here and in Acts 2:10; 6:5; 13:43 and one that at this time probably refers to those who have been circumcised and have pledged to submit to the full rigors of Jewish law, including the oral tradition for which the Pharisees were so zealous. 6/478-479

4.       Mint, Anise and Cummin (23:23) are common garden herbs.

5.       Strain out (23:24): The strict Pharisee would carefully strain his drinking water through a cloth to be sure he did not swallow a gnat, the smallest of unclean animals. But, figuratively, he would swallow a camel—one of the largest. 8/1474

6.       Whitewashed tombs (23:27): A person who stepped on a grave became ceremonially unclean (see Nu 19:16), so graves were whitewashed to make them easily visible, especially at night. 8/1474

7.       “From the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias” (23:35). Jesus here is including all such murders of Old Testament times by citing the first recorded in Scripture, that of Abel (Gen 4:8), and the last, that of Zacharias (2Chron. 24:20-22). (In the Hebrew canon 2 Chronicles is the last book to be listed.) 2/90-91

II.    Observation

A.     Outline




B.     Key Words/Phrases

III. Segment Analysis

A.     23:1-12

1. What does it mean that “the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat”?

2. What is an example that illustrates the point in 4?

3. What is wrong with being called “rabbi,” “father” or “teacher”?

4. According to the context, what does it mean to humble ourselves (12)?

B.     23:13-36

5a. List briefly the 7 charges that the Lord brought against the scribes and Pharisees.

5b. How do you justify the Lord’s strong charges?

6a. How have the scribes and Pharisees shut up the kingdom of heaven against men (13)?

6b. Today, are there people who teach the Bible but actually shut up the kingdom of heaven? Cite an example.

7a. What hypocrisy did the Lord expose in 16-22?

7b. In what ways do we sometimes reverse our priorities in our worship and Christian living?

8a. Why are justice, mercy, and faith “weightier,” and why were they neglected?

8b. Was Jesus doing away with the keeping of the law?

9. Why do people, including the scribes and Pharisees, “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”?

10. What did the Lord mean by “serpents and brood of vipers” (33)?

11. Why did these people kill and persecute God’s messengers?

C.     23:37-39

12. How does the analogy of the hen gathering her chicks apply to God and His people?

13. When will the people say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”?

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