Matthew 23–25: Spiritual Pretense & Spiritual Reality

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 9: Saturday

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His
disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees
have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;
therefore all that they tell you, do and observe,
but do not do according to their deeds; for they
say things and do not do them.

“They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.

“They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called  Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Matthew 23:1–12

In Matthew 23, Jesus harshly rebukes the Pharisees as He castigates them for their love of honor and pronounces woes upon them for their hypocrisy and lawlessness. The role the Pharisees had carved out for themselves directly contradicted Jesus’ teaching on true greatness in this chapter and in Matthew 18 and Matthew 20.

Several years ago I found myself scouring the internet and books for information on spiritual abuse. I had been working on a church project, but communication with one of the church leaders stopped being open and straightforward, and instead became increasingly nuanced and confusing. Tight control also became more obvious. I tried to be cooperative yet I felt I was being treated badly, but the more I tried to clarify and talk things out, the worse things became, until finally blame were placed on me. In my attempt to understand what was happening I came across this review by John Engler of Healing Spiritual Abuse by Ken Blue. It sounded helpful, and I bought the book.

When Blue wrote this book, he was a pastor with experience in counseling many people who were scarred from spiritually abusive situations—some in churches and some in their homes. Much of the book is based on Matthew 23, one of the chapters in today’s Bible reading, Matthew 23–25, because as he was preaching in Matthew:

“I came to the twenty-third chapter where Jesus publicly confronts the Pharisees about the dereliction of their pastoral duties….I realize that the authoritarian, narcissistic ecclesiastical abusers of our day are the modern equivalent of the Pharisees…”1

The analogy doesn’t totally stand because not all spiritual abusers today are as godless as the Pharisees, and Blue does make that clear in his book. He is even-handed with no intention of going on a witch hunt; his definition of spiritual abuse is not designed to encompass any and every church disagreement.

“…spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.”2

I found the book immensely helpful in cutting through the fog and giving me guidelines to assess my situation. If you’re interested in learning more, the review I linked to above contains lengthy quotes from the book. I brought this up because the problem is widespread. It’s easy for any of us to get caught up in wanting adulation and to be in charge, and to forget that if God calls us to lead, that means God has called us to serve: to be humble, to be a slave. When He said take His yoke and learn from Him, Jesus chose the words meek and lowly in heart to describe Himself. Jesus didn’t break the bruised reed or quench the dimly burning wick; neither should His followers.

At the end of Matthew 23, Jesus laments over Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”
Matthew 23:37–39

The next two chapters are known as the Olivet Discourse because in Matthew 24, Jesus leaves the temple for the Mount of Olives, and there teaches about the Last Days and His second coming. The parables on the kingdom of heaven and judgment in Matthew 25, provide a strong contrast to the Pharisees of Matthew 23, as Jesus teaches about being ready for His return as faithful slaves who are good stewards and in the service and care of other Christians.

As you read these chapters take Jesus’ words to heart. Be ready when the Son of Man comes in His glory.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees (Malheur à vous, scribes et pharisiens),
Jerusalem Jerusalem (Jérusalem Jérusalem),
James Tissot,
No known copyright restrictions.
1, 2Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, pp. 17, 12.
In 1646, John Milton wrote a scathing poem addressing spiritual abuses of his day. You can find it here.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

Each section of Matthew ends with a teaching discourse by Jesus. Matthew 7: 28a states, “When Jesus had finished these words…” You’ll find similar phrases in 11:1a, 13:53, 19:1 and 26:1; they mark the end of each set of teachings. Matthew will close his Gospel with Jesus’ final charge to His disciples, words known as The Great Commission. R. E. Nixon writes:

“It is evident that there are five discourses in the Gospel (5:1–7:27, ‘The Sermon on the Mount’; 10:1–42, the mission charge to the Twelve; 13:1–15, the parables of the kingdom; 18:1–35, relationships in the kingdom; 24:1–25:46, the second coming). Each of these is followed by a note stating that when Jesus had finished this teaching He went on to further action….

…The first discourse is basically ethical, the second missionary, the third kerygmatic [proclamation of the Gospel], the fourth ecclesiastical and the fifth eschatological. It is probable that ch. 23 (the denunciation of the religious leaders) should be taken as part of the final discourse.”2

R. E. Nixon, “Matthew,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 813.

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