SUMMARY.--The Scribes and Pharisees in Moses' Seat.
The Burdens They Imposed.
Their Eagerness for the Praise of Men.
The Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees.
Straining Out the Gnat and Swallowing the Camel.
Building the Tombs of the Murdered Prophets.
The Lamentation Over Jerusalem.
1. Jesus spake to the multitudes and to his disciples. This
discourse, delivered in the courts of the temple on the Tuesday before
the Lord was crucified, has never been surpassed in indignant rebuke,
withering denunciation, and tearful sorrow over the coming fate of
sinner who would not be saved. It contains Christ's last words to the
Jewish nation. The contest had been growing fiercer, the opposition of
his enemies was more bitter, their plots against his life were working,
their utter perverseness was fully manifested, the time for tender
appeal has passed by, and the Lord turns upon the "whited sepulchers,"
the "generation of vipers,"
the hypocritical pretenders, in a philippic that we believe has never
been equaled. But even in the midst of it, like a rift of blue sky in
the fearful storm-cloud, his love and pity shine forth with wonderful
beauty in the pathetic exclamation of
Only a part of the discourse is found in
some similar sayings occur in
and a reference to its occurs in
2. The scribes and the Pharisees. Associated because almost all
the scribes were of the sect of Pharisees. The scribes, the Jewish
scholars, the theologians and lawyers, would naturally be of the
Sit in the Moses' seat. Are the expounders of the law of
3. Whatsoever they bid you, that observe and do. While in Moses'
seat, presenting the law of Moses. He has elsewhere taught that the
traditions they added were to be rejected
(Matt. chap. 15).
Do not after their works. Do not follow their examples. The law
of Moses was still in force, for the Christian dispensation was not
ushered in until Christ died, and hence was still to be obeyed, but the
wicked example of its teachers was to be rejected.
4. They bind heavy burdens. By the traditions they had added to
the laws. The law itself was a heavy yoke
but the traditions so strenuously insisted on added to this yoke. See
5. To be seen of men. Instead of touching the burdens with their
little finger, by an effort to keep the law in its spirit, their whole
object was to appear holy before men.
Make broad their phylacteries. A band was drawn over the
forehead, or around the arm, and to this was attached a small calfskin
box, in which were placed passages of Scripture. For this they quoted
The passages worn so ostentatiously were
12:2-10; 13:11-21; Deut. 6:4-9; 11:18-21.
To make them "broad" was to enlarge the case containing the Scripture,
so as to make it more conspicuous.
Enlarge the borders. The fringes worn as enjoined in
to remind them "of doing all the commandments." To enlarge these would
make them more conspicuous.
6. Love the uppermost rooms at feasts. Rather, "seats." The
highest seats at a feast were the places of honor.
Chief seats in the synagogues. The places where the elders sat
with their faces to the congregation. They loved the pre-eminence.
7. And salutations in the markets. Being greeted by titles of
honor in the public resorts.
To be called Rabbi. A term which meant the same as Doctor of
Divinity now. There were three degrees, Rab, Rabbi, and Rabboni. The
last is the greatest, and means, literally, "My great teacher."
8. Be ye not called Rabbi. This prohibits all similar religious
titles now. It certainly forbids such as the corresponding title of
For one is your teacher. Christ is the common teacher of all,
and all others are disciples on the same level. The spirit of this
command forbids all ecclesiastical titles of honor.
9, 10. Call no man father. Another honorary title. The scribes
delighted to be called Abba, father. So the priests of the
Roman Catholic Church. So do all who welcome such honorary titles as
Rev., Right Rev., Lord Bishop, etc. These are all forbidden. No
apostle was ever so called.
Master. Also an honorary title. All such are to be avoided
in the church.
11. He that is greatest. Instead of seeking chief seats at
feasts or in the synagogues, and titles that will exalt him above
others, let him seek to become the servant of all. Compare
12. Whosoever shall exalt himself, etc. A universal rule in the
kingdom of God. Humility is an essential element of progress in it.
13. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees. Eight woes are given.
They have been contrasted with the nine Beatitudes of
Hypocrites. Literally, an actor.
Shut the kingdom of heaven. By false teaching that prevents men
from accepting Christ. Both their example and false teaching shut the
14. Devour widows' houses. Devour their property under holy
15. Ye compass sea and land. Spare no effort.
To make a proselyte. Induce Gentiles to become circumcised and
to keep the Jewish religion. This is the sense in which "proselyte" was
then always used.
Twofold more a child of hell. Usually the proselytes of such
teachers went to even more foolish sectarian extremes than their
16, 17. Ye blind guides. Blind, because they closed their eyes,
yet professing to be leaders.
By the temple. A common oath among the Jews.
By the gold of the temple. In their foolish distinctions they
regarded this as a binding oath. If the gold had any sacredness it was
because the temple, God's house, made it so.
18-20. The altar. That of the temple, the only altar known in
The gift. The offering placed on the altar.
21, 22. By the temple. Oaths that did they not call binding,
Jesus traces to God himself. Compare
The meaning is that all oaths are by God. There are no
23. Ye pay tithe of mint, anise and cummin. Insignificant garden
herbs. The Jews were bidden to pay tithes of the fruits of the field
and of trees
The Pharisees were scrupulous in paying tithes of garden herbs that
were almost valueless, but neglected much more important duties.
24. Ye strain at a gnat. "Strain out a gnat," as in the
Revision. A forcible image of those who are very conscientious over
small, and careless of great, matters.
25, 26. Ye make clean the outside, etc. The figure is plain. Its
application rebukes scrupulous care of outside forms, while neglecting
to have the heart pure.
27. For ye are like unto whited sepulchres. It is stated that on
the 15th of the month of Adair, before the Passover, the Jews
whitewashed all the spots where graves were situated. This was done
both to beautify them and to mark the spots as to prevent any one from
passing over them, which would occasion Levitical defilement. For this
Num. 19:16 and Ezek. 39:15
were cited. This custom gave the basis for the Savior's figure. In
plain view of the Savior and his hearers, as they stood in the temple
court, could be seen the whitened tombs along the western slope of
Olivet, some of which are still seen to this day.
Beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones. A
powerful figure to show forth the contrast between the sanctimonious
professions of the Pharisees and their unholy lives.
28. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous. It was only in
appearance and profession.
29, 30. Ye build the tombs of the prophets, etc. They honored
the prophets and saints by building monuments to them, instead of
following their teaching, or imitating their lives. Even Herod the
Great, a monster of wickedness, rebuilt the tomb of David.
31. Wherefore ye be witnesses . . . children of them which killed
the prophets. They demonstrated by their hostility to Christ, by
their plots and false charges, and would soon show by their murder of
the Lord, that they had just the same spirit as their fathers who slew
Isaiah, persecuted Jeremiah, and shed the blood of Zacharias between
the altar and the temple. They were therefore their spiritual children
as well as their descendants. It adds to the vividness of this
denunciation that from the temple area where they were standing the
crest of Olivet rose distinctly at the distance of half a mile, and
upon it were clearly visible the white sepulchers of the prophets which
they had rebuilded, among them the tomb of Zacharias, who is named just
below as slain between "the temple and the altar."
32. Fill ye up the measure of your fathers. The language of
prophecy as well as irony and 
invective; as if he had said: Fill the measure of the guilt of your
fathers to the brim. Crucify the Holy One and thus fill up the cup of
33. Ye generations of vipers, how can ye escape? etc. Brood of
vipers, full of venom, deadly as serpents, treacherous as the lurking
serpent. So John had called them nearly four years before
34. Wherefore, I send unto you prophets and wise men. In
is a passage much like this. The men sent were inspired apostles and
evangelists. By giving the Jews still further opportunities after the
sin of the cross, the guilt of those continued to reject the crucified
Lord was aggravated.
Prophets. Inspired teachers, like the apostles, Philip, Stephen,
Wise men. Faithful, devout and learned, but uninspired preachers.
Scribes. Usually, those who copy and teach the wisdom of others,
but I suppose also embracing those who wrote the New Testament
Some of them ye shall kill and crucify. Literally fulfilled in
the next few years.
35. That upon you may come all the righteous blood. Thus would
they fill the measure full and become guilty of all the righteous blood
shed by the whole army of martyrs.
Unto the blood of Zacharias. The reference is probably to
2 Chron. 24:20.
He was slain in the court of the house of the Lord by the people, and
died exclaiming, "The Lord look upon this and require it."
He was the son of Jehoiada. The Siniatic manuscript omits Barachias in
this place, and the error is supposed to have crept in from the mistake
of some early copyist who confused this Zacharias with Zechariah the
prophet, who was the son of Barachias.
36. Verily, I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this
generation. As the Amorites were spared until "their iniquity was
so the iniquity of Israel was allowed to accumulate from age to age,
till in that generation it came to the full, and the collected
vengeance of justice broke at once upon it. So it is often in the
destruction of a nation. The French Revolution of 1793 is another
37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets. The
intense feeling that spoke in this utterance comes out first in the
redoubling of the word Jerusalem; next in the picture of the sins of
the city which he draws--a city so wicked that it was not content with
rejecting the messengers of God, but even slew them. I know of nothing
more touching than this apostrophe.
How often would I have gathered thy children together. Not only
had the city been warned again and again by the prophets, but the Lord
had visited it at least six or seven times, and had for months taught
in its streets. Nor did his solicitude end with the cross. His long
suffering, patience and love are shown by his charge in the commission
to the apostles: "To preach repentance and remission in his name among
all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
Ye would not. "Would not" explains the cause of the rejection of
the gospel. It is not because God in Christ is not ready: he would
gather them. It is not because men cannot come, but because they
will not come. Christ wished the salvation of Jerusalem; his will was
for them to be saved: 
he sought to influence their wills to make a choice of salvation, but
they would not. So God still "is not willing that any should
perish, but that all should come to repentance"
(2 Peter 3:9),
but there are many "who will not come to Christ that they might have
While God wills the salvation of men, he does not destroy free agency
by coercing the human will, but says: "Whosoever will, let him come."
38. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. This was the
consequence of refusing to come to Christ. The temple is the house
meant. God will abandon it and leave it desolate. He will no longer
accept its worship.
39. Ye shall not see me henceforth. This seems to imply that the
temple shall be deserted when he leaves it. With his departure the
presence of God departs. He was the Lord of the temple.
Till ye shall say. These were his last words in the temple
precincts, but they do not shut out all hope. Even yet when the Jews
shall join in the hosannahs of those who, on the Sunday before, had
sung his praises, and cry, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of
they may be permitted to behold their Messiah. Many have seen in this
passage a promise of the final conversion of Israel.
Rom.11:26; 2 Cor. 3:15
seem to favor the same view. When Christ abandoned the temple in
Jerusalem, it was only fit for the destroyer. If we should drive him
out of his spiritual temple, the church, it would be left as dead as
the body without the spirit.