Matthew 23 – The Disease and Its Cure


After successfully defending His ministry three times, Jesus now turns to the crowds and His disciples to teach them.  It must be understood that the religious leaders have not suddenly disappeared.  They are there to hear these scathing judgments from Jesus.  However, Jesus doesn’t refer to them personally.  He is shepherding His people.  The scribes and pharisees do not belong among that number as Jesus points out in seven distinct woes, or judgments, against them.  The main theme in the first 13 verses is what Jesus identifies as the disease and its cure.  The disease is pride.  The cure is humility.  We live in an age of televangelism and celebrity preachers.  The words of Christ could not be more piercing to us than it was in the first century.  There are many who wish to be teachers.  It is pride that motivates them according to Jesus.  Only those who serve others can truly be called teacher.  Those who love and follow Jesus will never elevate themselves above their master.



The first two woes that Jesus speaks refer to the zealous efforts of the scribes and pharisees.  They travel far to speak and replicate themselves.  Yet, it is a fool’s errand that they are involved in.  They have passion, but no devotion.  They long to do, but they have no true wisdom or knowledge to base their efforts upon.  They are simply replicating their own system and not the true gospel of God.  Jesus calls them sons of hell.  They work hard, but they fail to do anything that is truly of value.  They work their own methods rather than the plan of God.  We must see ourselves in the mirror of this specific judgment of Christ.  Are we working hard?  Is it replicating our version of Christianity, or the true gospel of Jesus Christ?  The purpose of evangelism is to spread the gospel and not some man-made system of religion.



The remaining five woes refer to the blindness and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of Israel.  The term blind is mentioned five times by Jesus, and the term hypocrite is mentioned seven times in this particular text.  This is significant as the term hypocrite is only mentioned 18 times in the entire New Testament.  The point Jesus is making as He pronounces judgment on Israel’s leadership is clear and profound.  They don’t know where they are going and they are playing a role and not showing who they truly are.  All the good they do they only do for the wrong reasons… to be seen and elevated in the community.  Again, we need to see ourselves in the mirror.  It is so easy to build straw men and blame them for everything.  We should see ourselves in the face of the scribes and pharisees.   What is old is new.  Nothing new is done under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  The difference between us and the religious leaders of the first century is that we can repent.  The scribes and pharisees double down on their unbelief in Jesus.  They are as hard-hearted as their fathers were.  We can see the error of their ways in our own lives and run to Jesus for forgiveness.



It is so important to meditate on the way chapter 23 ends.  Jesus has just preached His most angry and scathing sermon recorded for us to read.  Afterward, He is not pleased, nor is He cheering at the judgment pronounced upon the wicked.  Rather, He weeps.  God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11).  The judgment of God is true and just.  Yet, He still weeps over those who choose their own way.  This perfectly reveals the heart of God in the midst of His wrath against sin.


Study Questions

  1. Why is pride so destructive to faith in Jesus?
  2. How is humility the cure to our pride and arrogance?
  3. Where do you see yourselves most clearly through the lens of the scribes and pharisees?  How can this be remedied?