Matthew 23:1-12 The Exalted Pharisees

The Pharisees were the bane of Jesus’ ministry. So, right before his crucifixion, he warned his disciples about them and preached them under a terrible conviction. In this first part of his sermon, the Lord dealt with the fact that the Pharisees had exalted themselves and he commanded his disciples not to follow their example. They were to follow what the Pharisees said but not what they did.

The disciples were not to follow the example of the Pharisees because the Pharisees had exalted their:

Authority 2-4

The scribes and Pharisees were the principal teachers of the law and they were judges (like Ezra 7:10). They were basically granted this responsibility as successors to the authority granted by the Lord to Moses, and others, to judge Israel (Num 11:16-17). This authority was described by Moses’ father-in-law when he recommended this set up to Moses before God commanded it (Ex 18:19-26).

Consequently, Jesus did not recommend subverting the Pharisees’ authority. He told the disciples to obey them (of course, they couldn’t wherever obeying them contradicted the law [Acts 4:19-20]). However, Jesus was very critical of the Pharisees because they demanded of the folks things they themselves would not do. In this, they were not like Moses at all. Moses carried the burden of the people (Num 11:11, 17) and he did not exalt his authority when he judged Israel (Num 12:3). Nehemiah was the same way (Neh 5:14-16).

God had given the law to Moses and Moses did what he was told to do (Ex 7:6; 7:20; 12:50; 16:34; 39; 40; etc). The Pharisees, on the other hand, exceeded their authority, rejected the commandment of God, and kept their own tradition, in its place (Mk 7:9). They used Moses’ seat to enforce their traditions instead of the Lord’s commands like Rome uses St Peter’s throne to overthrow scripture with tradition.

Works 5

The trouble with the Pharisees’ works is that they were all for show. They understood that men “look on the outward appearance,” (1 Sam 16:7) but they forgot that “the Lord looketh on the heart.” Therefore, they concerned themselves only with impressing men. The three primary areas where the Pharisees put on a show were in their alms, prayers and fasts (Matt 6:1-4; 5-8; 16-18). A good example of the Pharisees can be seen in Lk 18:11-12. The result of these works is the same for them as it will be for those in Matt 7:21-23.

Dress 5

Pharisees are always concerned about their clothing and these guys were no exception. They took the command of the Lord in Deut 6:6-8 and devised a way to make it a part of their religious attire. They made phylacteries (leather boxes with scriptures enclosed) and tied them to their wrists or foreheads as symbols of their spirituality. Based on the command of Num 15:38-40, they wore long robes to distinguish themselves from ordinary citizens. In their robes they were not unlike the priests of Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Social Standing 6

The Pharisees considered themselves worthy of the best rooms and seats at feasts and in the synagogue. They looked down their noses at others (Lk 7:39, 15:2, 19:7). Jesus and Solomon were against them (Lk 14:7-11; Prov 25:6-7). The Pharisees were not worthy of their own honor (Prov 27:2).

Titles 7-11

To set themselves above everybody else beneath them, the Pharisees used religious titles like Rabbi, Master and Father. We can add a few to that like Holiness and Doctor. Jesus plainly instructed his disciples that they had a common Master in Jesus Christ and that they had a common Father in God the Father. Therefore, they were not to use religious titles that elevated them above one another.

The Roman Catholic Church ascribes the title “father” to its priests. This is an Old Testament Gentile religious custom (Gen 45:8; Jud 17:10). It has no place in the church and is in direct violation of the command of Jesus Christ. The whole purpose of the title is to exalt the one who has it so that he becomes the greatest and the others have to serve him (v11).

Conclusion 12

In concluding this part of his sermon, Jesus gave his disciples a firm warning of the consequences of following the Pharisees. “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased.” This is a principal that is universally true (Prov 16:18-19). “God resisteth the proud,” (1 Pet 5:5).

He wanted them (and us) to stay humble. Then, in due time, he will exalt them (and us) [1 Pet 5:6]. The trouble comes from trying to get the honor before the honor is due. Follow the example of Jesus rather that the Pharisees (Phil 2:5-11).