This is the start of the last public sermon by Jesus on earth and is also the last words that Jesus spoke in the temple. Jesus knew that His time on earth was short. Soon He would no longer be with the people in Jerusalem. Jesus makes sure that the Scribes and Pharisees knew exactly where they stood with Jesus. This passage contains possibly the harshest words that Jesus ever spoke on earth to any group of people.
We may ask ourselves if this is the same loving Jesus that we so often hear talked about in churches. Jesus loved in the ultimate way, yes He died for our sins, but also His actions on earth were always loving, even in this case. We can learn from this that it is loving to tell people the truth. Jesus denounced the Scribes and Pharisees boldly and faithfully. They were not doing what had been required of them and Jesus is about to tell them straight. He calls them blind guides, fools, and whitewashed tombs. In no way did Jesus hold back from these hypocrites.
Matthew 23:1-2 – Characteristics of A False Spiritual Leader.
Modern translations show this verse to be “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves on Moses' seat.” That is that they had obtained that position for themselves. They had taken the authority for themselves. We should be wary of people who are striving for a title for themselves. Spiritual authority is given by God and God alone. False spirituality always lacks the true authority that God gives.
The interesting thing is that Jesus says that the people are to do what the Pharisees teach (in line with the law) but not follow what they do. They were still the teachers of the law. It is not a crucial point if they had taken the position for themselves of been given it by God. Perhaps it was both. The people had the leaders they deserved. So, the leaders in Jesus days had a false authority. Teaching their own ideas as if they were God's law.
As well as authority what other things does Jesus show that the Scribes and Pharisees lack in verses 1-7? What can this teach us?
Matthew 23:1-2 Authority
Matthew 23:3 Integrity – They teach others to do the right thing but don't do it themselves.
Matthew 23:4 Sympathy – they pile extra rules and laws on to people/converts.
Matthew 23:5-7 Humility – They seat themselves in the important seats etc.
NB. Matthew 23:5 - “phylacteries”
Passages of Scripture enclosed in a small case, bound upon arm or forehead, (Deu_6:8).
These 4 characteristics are an example of true leadership. A leader will have authority given by God. They will have integrity; they will practice what they preach. They will have sympathy; they will not make things harder for people than it already is. A leader must not add things on to the Word of God (or take things away). A leader should also be humble and consider themselves in their true position as a servant of God.
Matthew 23:8-12 – Characteristics of True Spiritual Leadership
In these verses Jesus addresses what makes a true leader and He makes 2 observations about a true spiritual leader.
1 He avoids elevated titles
2 He accepts lowly tasks.
Humility is the key to true spiritual leadership. Jesus explains that we are are equal (:8). We are 'all brothers' and God alone is the teacher.
This short section of scripture can teach us much about the people who are calling themselves spiritual leaders today. So many people try and exalt themselves above others. They call themselves 'apostles' and 'prophets'. These people are full of pride and are not how Jesus said a leader must be.
Jesus spoke boldly against the leaders and addressed their unbiblical ways. We must not shy away from confronting error but we must address it the way Jesus did. The measuring rod is the Bible and not our own opinions. Jesus was about to leave the earth and these 'brood of vipers' were going to continue to be the 'false shepherds' of God's people. Jesus was not allowing them a free run with the people. Let us not let the false shepherds of today lead us or the other sheep astray. If we measure peoples teaching and behaviour against the Bible then we will know who the false and true teachers are.
Hank Hanegraaff - Christianity In Crisis 21st Century – (ISBN 9780849900068). www.equip.org.
Chuck Smith - Charisma vs Charismania - (ISBN 0890813531)
Jacob Prasch – The Final Words of Jesus & Satan's Lies Today (ISBN 1901546063) www.moriel.org
Jon Courson Application Commentary (New Testament) - (ISBN 0785251553)
J C Ryle – Expository thoughts on Matthew - (ISBN 0851514839)