Matthew Chapter 23: Deeds of the Pharisees

Jan 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Matthew, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Matthew Chapter 23: Deeds of the Pharisees

Matt. 23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

Although the circumstance of verses 1-39 occurred at the same time that Jesus was in the Temple area refuting the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 22:41), it was different in that Jesus was doing the teaching, and it was aggressive and condemnatory teaching. Previously, Jesus healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, etc., but here he was really lashing out at the hypocrisy of those who were the representatives of God: the religious leaders. This circumstance shows that there will be a time and place for the feet members to do likewise. It occurred back there—and will occur again in the future—just prior to apprehension and imprisonment.

Matt. 23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:

Matt. 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Matt. 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Jesus was more or less addressing those who had a hearing ear: “the multitude” and “his disciples” (verse 1). To them, he pointed out the shortcomings of the religious leaders. Notice, however, that he did not render outright condemnation of everything but condemned their performance. Likewise in antitype, the performance of Christian duties will be under attack. To worship God, to honor and love Him, to go to church, etc., are all commendable. We could say we admire the reverential attitude of Catholics but then point out that all the fancy robes and titles are not Scriptural. To be called “Father” is contrary to Scripture. We could say that the very title of the priest, “Father,” is completely antagonistic to the instruction given in the Bible, and the word “Pope” comes from the Latin papa, which means “Father of fathers.” Moreover, Jesus used the title “Rabbi,” so Catholics and Jews are both wrong, and Protestant churches err in having “Reverends.” The feet members will address these issues, to some extent at least, when opportunities of peace and quiet are afforded. Notice that Jesus’ discourse, covering 38 verses, was long, so conditions were conducive to listening to him.

Q: Will verses 2 and 3 have a parallel with the feet members? We are not taking orders from the present clergy.

A: Back there the Jews were obligated to keep the Law because Jesus had not yet died (and in fact, in the final analysis, Jesus magnified the Law). Today, however, the clergy have church canons or laws that are of men, not of the Scriptures. Therefore, we could not say that the practices the clergy advocate today are correct. Nevertheless, they could be commended in some respects. For example, “While such and such a thing is admirable, it is much more admirable to stick closer to the Scriptures. Titles are unscriptural. The highest title Paul used was ‘apostle.’ Not only were there only 12 apostles, but usually they were just called by their first names: Paul, Peter, John, etc.—and not St. Peter, St. Paul, Holy Father, or Very Reverend. Even Jesus himself said, ‘Why callest thou me good? there is none good but God’—his Father.

Matt. 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

Matt. 23:6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

It was not wrong for the Pharisees to have phylacteries (little rolled-up Scriptures that were worn on the arm) or fringe on the corners of their garments (see Deut. 6:8 and Num. 15:38), but it was wrong to do these things to get the love and respect of men. (The principle is the same with money. Money is not evil, but the love of money is.) Someone had to sit in the chief seat, but the danger was the desire to be there for the honor of men.

The high priest had bells and pomegranates on the hem of his garment. The underpriests had simple worked garments of linen and no special ornamentation. As time went on, the clerical element not only began to wear different colored garments but also multiplied the offices of the church. The Scriptures mention only deacon, elder, and brother—and not “bishop” in the sense of archbishop. The thought of archbishop was dangerous because it meant a bishop over bishops. Then cardinals and popes were added.

A phylactery was supposed to be a Scripture rolled up and tied with a tassel and then worn on the arm as a symbol—all done with simplicity. However, the phylacteries became works of art with embellishments that attracted attention and were intended to mark the individual as better and more religious than his fellows.

Matt. 23:7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

Matt. 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

Matt. 23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

Matt. 23:10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

The titles “Teacher” (Rabbi), “Master,” and “Father” can be used but not in a religious sense.

Q: How should the Christian address the leader of a Jewish synagogue, a minister, and a priest?

A: “Your honor” would be a proper term of address. “Brother” could be used if the party was Christian and had consecrated his life. We should not call any man “Reverend” or “Rabbi” in person, but these titles are permissible to use for identification purposes such as in newspaper-fashion quoting.

Q: At the end of the age, when the feet members are in an auditorium or in a public situation and not dealing on a one-to-one basis, how could they get a minister’s attention directly and immediately without using an unscriptural title?

A: “Your honor” is evasive and yet respectful. In writing about a minister or a leader of a Jewish synagogue, the Pastor used “Reverend” or “Rabbi.” As an illustration, “Rev. William Howard Smith” would be meaningful in print, whereas “William Howard Smith” would not. “Be not ye called … neither be ye called” is the main emphasis in verses 7-10. Christians should not allow themselves to be called either “Father” or “Master,” and the leaders of Jewish synagogues should not let others call them “Rabbi.” From this standpoint, there is a little more leniency with regard to others; that is, if others refer to certain ones with these titles, we may at times be forced to give some cognizance of the titles, but that does not mean we approve of them. Another factor to consider is the degree of deference attached to the title. Of course we would not kneel or render obeisance to any of the clergy—even under psychological pressure.

Titles used for the sake of identity are one thing; deference to another human being along religious lines is another thing.

Comment: The prohibition is strong in regard to the title “Father.” “Call no man your father upon the earth.” That command was not given with “Rabbi” and “Master.”

There is not the same responsibility on the Jew as on the Christian, for the Jew is not reading the New Testament, nor does he claim to be guided by it. However, the principle behind Jesus’ lesson was that the teachers accepted emoluments and honors from those they instructed, whereas they should have pointed to God—to His Law and teaching. A teacher’s duty is to direct others to the real teacher: God.

It would not be proper for anyone in the Bible Student movement to call himself “Pastor” today. Even with Bro. Russell, the title of “Pastor” has created an atmosphere over many years where brethren may indeed be Russellites. If the Bible said one thing and Pastor Russell said another, some would consider the Pastor’s view right. This should not be the case, for he was not an apostle. There is a happy medium of recognizing a person as unique in his knowledge and capability but not considering him an authority in the sense of a “thus saith the LORD.” It is all right to point out what Bro. Russell said on a certain Scripture, but we should not consider his comments the end of all arguments. The apostles were simply called by their first names. On several occasions, Paul did have to say he was an apostle because he was not recognized as having any more authority than any other prominent elder. Since Paul was given a specific message by Christ himself, that situation could not be tolerated. To have been silent and have allowed others not to recognize his apostleship would have vitiated not only Paul’s authority but also the fact that there are only 12 apostles.

Matt. 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Matt. 23:12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

“Whosoever shall exalt himself.” What others say is another matter. If the public recognized someone and addressed him as “Pastor ,” we would not be responsible for their words. That would not be exalting ourselves, which is the main thrust here: “Be not ye called.” The account does say, “Call no man father,” so the other side of the issue is also considered, but the bulk of the teaching is, “Do not exalt yourself.” Paul was put in certain circumstances where it would appear that he contradicted this principle, but he did not. It was necessary that he tell about his learning and trials to show that he was more of a true Christian than were his critics.

Matt. 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Verses 13-33 were very condemnatory to the scribes and Pharisees. “Hypocrites!” “Blind guides!” ”Ye fools and blind!” “Ye generation of vipers!” Jesus especially pointed out the hypocrisy. Notice that the first three verses begin with “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees”! Thus there are occasions where stern talk and reprimands are in order. A hymn speaks about desiring to be humble and more Christ-like. The beautiful hymn represents the usual demeanor of the true Christian—but not when laws and principles are violated. In the latter case, there is an obligation to speak up. In other words, there is a time for thunder.

Seven times in this chapter, Jesus said “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” and an eighth time he said, “Woe unto you, ye blind guides.” All eight statements were made on the same occasion. These stinging accusations were not said in a meek and gentle voice.

The scribes and Pharisees “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men”; they neither went in themselves nor suffered others who were entering to go into the Kingdom of heaven. In other words, they did not accept Jesus, and they resisted his ministry. Not only were their hearts hardened, but they forbid others to listen to him as well.

Even prior to Jesus’ First Advent, back in Israel’s history, the scribes and Pharisees considered themselves a separate class that was higher or more elite than the common people. If the nation of Israel had been faithful, any of the Israelites, not just the scribes and Pharisees, could have been the kings and priests of the next age. Instead the nation rejected Jesus, and only isolated individuals responded.

In our day, this denunciation would apply to those who have closed the door to the high calling. Down through the age, there was the one heavenly hope, which was proper, but when 1914 came and went, some made the cutoff date 1914. Then the date was changed by some to 1916 and by others to 1918 depending on the group. The teachers of this error will be held accountable, more so than those being taught. Those who embrace this belief today without a history of the Bible Student movement do not know any better, but the older teaching element, who were sitting in the seat of authority, knew the history and thus will incur a strong retribution.

In the strictest sense, the Kingdom of heaven is the Little Flock. Therefore, on the broader level, the condemnation of verse 13 applies to any of the clergy who forbid their congregations to hear present truth, for not hearing could keep them out of the high calling. The principle is the same as the scribes’ and Pharisees’ discouraging or forbidding an interest in Christ.

“Neither do the scribes and Pharisees go in to the Kingdom of heaven” (paraphrase); that is, in antitype, many who teach about spiritual things will themselves not be of the Little Flock. This criticism applies especially to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose followers feel they know the New Testament and the Scriptures, yet the vast majority do not have the hope of the high calling. Colporteurs go out with this viewpoint, trying to instruct and undo those who have the hope of the high calling. How incongruous! At least with the younger Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is an immaturity and an ignorance, but the older ones have no excuse.

In antitype, this scathing denunciation will be part of the strong smiting message at the very end of the age. Jesus spoke similarly on one or two earlier occasions, but this time was different in that he was in the heart of enemy ground, as it were. He was speaking in the central seat of authority—in Jerusalem—where there was strong opposition from the scribes and Pharisees. He was not out in the countryside on a mountain but in the arena or lions’ den, so to speak.

Matt. 23:14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

How did the scribes and Pharisees devour widows’ houses? They took advantage of adverse conditions and grieving emotional circumstances to seize houses, lands, and money. In short, they were greedy. The scribes and Pharisees made a practice of taking advantage of the emotionally distraught condition of a woman who had lost her husband.

Moreover, the scribes and Pharisees “for a pretense made long prayer.” What hypocrisy! There are times and occasions for long public prayer, but they are rare (for example, historical occasions and moments of crisis, such as with Daniel and Solomon). If someone utters a long prayer in his “closet,” no pretense is involved, for no one is there to see or hear; hence this condemnation was in regard to public prayer. “God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). We are not to sermonize in public prayer. However, private importuning, sometimes with emotion and halting words, may be long and is perfectly acceptable.

Jesus’ condemnation of long public prayer was tied in with devouring widows’ houses. With long faces and lengthy prayers at funerals, for instance, the scribes and Pharisees could appear (and pretend) to be very concerned, where in reality they took advantage of the bereaved one. This condemnation also applies to the Mass and Mass cards—prayers over and over in return for money.

Matt. 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Jesus then made an unusual statement. The scribes and Pharisees traversed sea and land to make one proselyte and then made the proselyte twofold more the child of Gehenna than themselves. Back there a lot of proselyting was done, and today, in the antitype, that is also true. What made the convert twice as bad as the preacher? What is the implication? The fact that the preacher may be teaching wrong doctrine is bad enough, but when wrong doctrine is backed up by a bad or hypocritical example, the convert will be worse off. He will be “turned off” or soured and thus become careless in keeping his own vows. In fact, he might even go as far as turning against God—acting as if the Lord were responsible. This condemnation is enlightening to show that Second Death has a broader application than brethren often think. Thus “twofold” refers to (1) wrong doctrine and (2) a bad example. The point is that it is more difficult for the convert to take steps of retrieval because of the improper conduct on the part of the “preacher.”

Actually, the doctrine may not be all that erroneous, for Jesus had said, “Whatsoever they [the Pharisees] bid you [to] observe, that [you should] observe and do” (verse 3). This statement suggests that in some cases, the doctrine was not too bad, but the religious leaders burdened and pressed imperfect individuals who were trying to keep a perfect Law. One with a tender conscience got despondent and even desperate to the point of giving up hope of being faithful. Instead the Pharisees should have helped and encouraged the people, but, no, they just kept increasing the burdens. The conscience-stricken individual in antitype goes more and more to the priest, who increases the desperate situation instead of helping it.

Comment: Today the failure of elders to take a strong stand against gross immoral conduct (and consequently, the failure of classes to act) could result in the errant brother not repenting, and hence either he or others may become twofold the child of Gehenna. The sinning brother should be forced to face up to the sin he has fallen into. Instead, because of the lax standard, the excuse is frequently made, “His consecration was never accepted.”

Many different circumstances arise. For instance, in recent years, the Episcopal Church has been very responsible for the admission of practicing homosexuals and women into the priesthood. Those who advocated such practices and taught that they were permissible brought condemnation on such individuals who became priests. Conditions go from bad to worse with such liberal thinking. Religious leaders think they are magnanimous and broadminded, but the Bible sets forth certain limitations. Then, too, if the clergy smoke and drink, the congregation, instead of trying to cleanse themselves, become confirmed in their sins because of the bad example. The person who drinks too much does not see that refraining is his responsibility.

In the early Church, certain Asian philosophies and teachings that entered Christianity opened the sluice gates of error. Unbelievable practices were adopted.

Matt. 23:16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

Matt. 23:17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?

Again and again the emphasis of Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees was on money and greed. The Temple was God’s house, which Jesus purged when he overturned the tables of the money changers. The Temple and the institution of the priesthood represented the religion of Jehovah, but all kinds of sinful practices were introduced such as changing money from Roman “unholy” coins to Jewish money and selling animals in the Temple precincts. Jesus had such a high respect for the Temple that he was indignant over the traffic taking place within. Here he was making the point that it was more important to swear by the Temple, which represented God, than to swear by money or mammon. The emphasis the Pharisees gave was to the contrary, completely backwards. They devoured widows’ houses and greedily acquired money, respect, authority, lands, etc. The Temple, built according to God’s institution, was greater.

Matt. 23:18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.

Matt. 23:19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?

Matt. 23:20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.

Matt. 23:21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.

Matt. 23:22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

Verses 18-22 give the same principle. The scribes and Pharisees felt that money or the gift (Corban) was more important than the Temple and the altar, yet the latter were built according to God’s instructions (Mark 7:11). And it was wrong to swear by heaven, for that was God’s heaven, God’s universe.

Those who swore by the Temple swore by “him [God] that dwelleth therein.” The Temple was God’s sanctuary or meeting place with men, with the priesthood being in between the two parties.

Matthew 5:22 states that one who says to a brother, “Thou fool,” is in danger of Gehenna. However, there is no contradiction with Jesus’ words in Matthew 23, for here he was denouncing the practices of the collective priesthood, not of an individual. There were a few right-hearted Pharisees, but the vast majority were not. Jesus‘ criticism was directed against the hypocrites, not the Israelites indeed. The priesthood as an institution was of God and, therefore, good. Jesus did not criticize the Temple, the altar, or the ceremonial institution but collectively the ones who filled the office of the priesthood. Since the great majority were hypocrites, a class denunciation was in order. Jesus was not singling out one individual.

Q: How would we harmonize Matthew 5:34, “Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne,” with verses 20-22 in regard to swearing by the altar, the Temple, and heaven?

A: There are several points to consider. Sometimes one is required by law to give an oath of affirmation; this is permissible for the Christian because it is not a practice. Many people commonly, frequently, and repeatedly invoke God’s name as a practice or habit, and the invocation has no meaning. The Lord’s name or His institutions roll off their tongues glibly and with abandon. On the contrary, that which is rare, judicious, and prudent and used in moderation is much more meaningful than when one is garrulous. For example, “God bless you” should be used only when appropriate, not commonly. Some people take oaths every day. “I swear by so-and-so that I will do such and such” is also not proper, for Jesus said to let our yea be yea and our nay, nay. Our words should not have to be backed up by an affirmation, for we should mean what we say. Only on a rare occasion did God use an oath, such as to affirm the Abrahamic promise; He humbled Himself to come down to our level of thinking and to try to get through to our dull heads. However, a person who habitually does this robs the oath of its meaning. People think that cursing calls attention to and emphasizes their words—but what a terrible expense!

In summary, then, verses 13-33 are a class denunciation versus an individual condemnation in Matthew 5:22, a one-on-one confrontation. Here is an example of why two or three witnesses are needed—lest a matter be misconstrued or seem to be contradictory.

Matt. 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Verse 23 is both amusing and deplorable. A tithe was 10 percent. When herbs were donated to the Temple, the scribes and Pharisees used a knife to count out little, tiny seeds. The seeds were meticulously counted so that 10 percent could be given, yet the scribes and Pharisees ignored the “weightier matters of the law,” the principles. The letter of the Law was followed but not the principles. The counting of seeds was not wrong in itself; the imbalance of attention was the problem. More (or at least equal) attention should have been devoted to the principles of the Law: judgment, mercy, and faith. And notice that these “weightier matters” were of the Law—the New Testament was not under discussion here. Therefore, we should meditate on God’s Law in order to better understand His character and thinking on matters of mercy, for provision was made on behalf of the people, animals, strangers, etc. Justice was also shown. For example, on a sabbath, rest was to be given not only to the nation but also to animals and servants.

The next thing is faith, which is a belief in things unseen. Faith was taught in the Law in many ways. For example, the Israelites needed faith to believe the Abrahamic promise. Although the Israelites did not understand the numerous ceremonies in the Law, they had to obediently follow the procedures just because God said to—and that required faith. Animal sacrifices, meal offerings, peace offerings, trespass offerings, etc., all took faith. The right attitude would have been, “God must have had a reason for telling us to do such and such, so we will obey.”

Remember, too, that Jesus did not destroy the Law but magnified it. “These [things] ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.“ Many Christians do not have the proper focus. The Law is not archaic—it is God’s arrangement, and we should study it. The Law, as well as the New Testament, is important for the Christian. Because of the improper focus, many view Jesus more highly than God. They think of God as severe and without mercy and of Jesus as loving and speaking peace and liberty. Instead we should notice that Jesus manifested his love for the Father in many things he said and did, pointing out how wonderful the Father is. Thus if we love Jesus, we should love even more the One he loved and reverenced. Faith puts the higher priority on the Father. Regarding Jesus more highly than the Father is largely due to a false concept of the Old Testament.

Matt. 23:24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

What biting sarcasm! Verse 24 is based on the custom of using a sieve to strain soup or a liquid. The scribes and Pharisees removed a gnat with the sieve, so to speak, and then swallowed a camel. The balance should be proper from the Lord’s standpoint. It was not wrong to strain out a gnat, but diligent attention should also have been directed to religious matters.

An example in our day of straining at a gnat could be excessive criticism of sisters for doing things like making temporal arrangements for a Bible conference. Down through history, there were rare occasions when the Lord used a woman for a particular work because no men on the scene were suitable. In other words, the men were not taking advantage of their privileges.

Matt. 23:25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

The outside of the cup and the platter was made clean, but within was a fullness of extortion and excess. Externally, everything had to be absolutely clean, but the inside of an individual was far more important.

Matt. 23:26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

“Thou blind Pharisee [singular].” Jesus still was not addressing an individual, but he was bringing the lesson down to a practical example. It was like saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

Jesus was saying, “First, clean the inside of the cup and platter, so that the outside will be clean also.” He did not find fault with cleaning the cup and the platter but said to clean the inside first.

Matt. 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

Again, what strong language! Jesus was saying, “You are whitewashed on the outside but full of dead men’s bones on the inside.” How can any Christian think that Jesus was always so gentle? The God of love and the Jesus of love acted and spoke strongly according to the circumstances. There is a time and place for speaking softly and a time and place for speaking strongly. Today it is almost considered wrong to be a prophet. In the Old Testament, the prophets denounced improper conditions, but now we are expected to always be meek and humble. There are times when conditions should be denounced.

Matt. 23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Jesus’ words were unbelievably strong! And consider that at this time, the scribes and Pharisees were lying in wait to murder him. Before Jesus got to Jerusalem, Thomas had said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Thus Jesus and the apostles knew what he was getting into, yet when he arrived, he spoke strong condemnation. There is a time for tact and wisdom, and there is a time to throw all caution to the wind. Jesus knew this was not the time to use tact and wisdom because the hour of his death was approaching. Stratagem and evasion were no longer in order.

Matt. 23:29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

Matt. 23:30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

Matt. 23:31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.

Notice that Jesus did not accept the Pharisees’ reasoning. From a worldly standpoint, their words seemed to be a proper point: “How do you know but that we would not have murdered the prophets if we had lived back there?” However, Jesus was showing that such murder was in the bloodstream. No matter what the Pharisees said, the fact that they were the children of those who had killed the prophets meant that they had inherited the same weaknesses, which they were not resisting.

Jesus was saying, “The testimony against you Pharisees is that you are the children of the fathers. That very fact shows you would have acted similarly had you been on the scene at the time.” The antitype pertains to the Catholic Church. Papacy claims that the Inquisition would never have occurred today. People believe this statement because persecution is not occurring at the moment, but the very fact that the same erroneous doctrines and faith are held means the same persecution will occur again. Currently, the Catholic Church is in a position of weakness, but when the system gains control, will they manifest compassion for true Christians? No, they will enforce conformity and revert back to their previous habits. Thus the system is no different today. We can say confidently that the Catholic Church will do the same things in the near future in spite of all the nice language that is being used by both the church and the head of the church, the pope.

The clergy of the Catholic Church are ostensibly solicitous for the poor and the oppressed, but at the same time, they accept veneration, kisses, money, etc. The clergy are not even taking the poverty vows of some of the old monks. (The monks had a wrong concept of Christianity, but at least they denied themselves.) Today the higher clergy live sumptuously, travel extensively, accept reverence due to God, and dine luxuriously at banquets—and at the same time, they pretend to be so friendly to the poor.

Matt. 23:32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Matt. 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees “serpents” and said, “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers [your fathers’ cup]”; that is, “Whatever you would do, do it.” Revelation 22:11 reads, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” In other words, a middle or in-between condition is completely unsatisfactory. A decision must be made one way or the other.

Jesus treated Judas the same way. Knowing the heart condition of Judas, Jesus did little things to prick his conscience but then said, ”What you must do, do quickly” (John 13:27 paraphrase). Jesus was saying, “Make the decision, for indecision is no good.”

Jesus mentioned Gehenna again: “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Among the scribes and Pharisees were the ones who actually planned Jesus’ death. Thus some were more culpable than others. Jesus was addressing the specially obnoxious class among the scribes and Pharisees.

For “generation,” the Diaglott has “progeny,” which gives the thought of an inherited trait rather than just a reference to the current generation then living. The scribes and Pharisees were the children of those who had killed the prophets.

Matt. 23:34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:

Jesus predicted that subsequently the scribes and Pharisees would do to Christians the same things that were done to the faithful ones of the Old Testament. Imagine being scourged in the synagogue (the religious center)—what shame and humiliation!

Matt. 23:35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

Matt. 23:36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

Matt. 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Matt. 23:38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

The “righteous blood” of Zacharias was shed when he was slain “between the temple and the altar.” There has been debate over which Zacharias this was. In 2 Chronicles 24:20,21, a Zacharias (Zechariah) was killed in the court of the Temple precincts, but since he was said to be the son of another, not Barachias, and since the account does not specifically state that the slaying took place between the Temple and the altar, he is ruled out. The early Church fathers believed Jesus was referring to a contemporary at the time of the First Advent, and this belief seems to be correct, namely, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist.

In the antitype for verses 35-38, the feet members will say that trouble is coming on Christendom in the near future because of all the blood shed down through the Gospel Age.

This shed blood, from the time of the First Advent onward, is crying out for vengeance, just as the earlier blood from Abel to Zacharias cried out. Zacharias was slain before Jesus’ ministry began. Zacharias and his wife were elderly when John the Baptist was born. John’s mother would have died relatively early in his childhood, and his father was killed, so John was left an orphan. When Herod issued the decree for the babies two years old and under to be slain, John’s parents, being too old to accompany him, gave John into the custody of someone else to flee to the desert for safety. Then John was reared in the desert.

The pronouncement “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” applied to AD 33, just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. In antitype, our day, the application is to the very end of the age. (The application does not reflect back to 1878, when Babylon was cast off as the Lord’s mouthpiece.) The antitype predicts the actual destruction of Babylon. To the nominal systems, the feet members will say with confidence, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”

Matt. 23:39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

(1983–1985 study)

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  1. Matthew 23:24 I believe the verse is stating that the Pharisees are swallowing a camel (taking in large amounts of money) and straining a gnat (giving back very small amounts of money to the hungry and poor) The straining part means they are forcing themselves to give a very tiny bit of money out. The Pharisees are constipated and very stingy with their money. A full explanation is at … The original verse was “strain out” not “strain at” Most bibles have “strain out”

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