Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
DENUNCIATION OF THE
FAREWELL TO THE
For this long and terrible discourse we are indebted, with the exception
of a few verses in Mark and Luke, to Matthew alone. But as it is only an
extended repetition of denunciations uttered not long before at the
table of a Pharisee, and recorded by Luke
we may take both together in the exposition.
Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees
The first twelve verses were addressed more immediately to the
disciples, the rest to the scribes and Pharisees.
1. Then spake Jesus to the multitude--to the multitudes, "and to his
2. Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit--The Jewish teachers
stood to read, but sat to expound the Scriptures, as will be seen
with Lu 4:20.
in Moses' seat--that is, as interpreters of the law given by Moses.
3. All therefore--that is, all which, as sitting in that seat and
teaching out of that law.
they bid you observe, that observe and do--The word "therefore" is
thus, it will be seen, of great importance, as limiting those
injunctions which He would have them obey to what they fetched from the
law itself. In requiring implicit obedience to such injunctions, He
would have them to recognize the authority with which they taught over
and above the obligations of the law itself--an important principle
truly; but He who denounced the traditions of such teachers
cannot have meant here to throw His shield over these. It is remarked by
WILKINSON that the warning to beware of the scribes is
given by Mark and Luke
without any qualification: the charge to respect and obey
them being reported by Matthew alone, indicating for whom this Gospel
was especially written, and the writer's desire to conciliate the
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--"touch
with one of their fingers--referring not so much to the
irksomeness of the legal rites, though they were irksome enough
as to the heartless rigor with which they were enforced, and by men of
5. But all their works they do for to be seen of men--Whatever good
they do, or zeal they show, has but one motive--human applause.
they make broad their phylacteries--strips of parchment with
Scripture-texts on them, worn on the forehead, arm, and side, in time
and enlarge the borders of their garments--fringes of their upper
6. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts--The word "room" is now
obsolete in the sense here intended. It should be "the uppermost place,"
that is, the place of highest honor.
and the chief seats in the synagogues. See on
Lu 14:7, 8.
7. And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi,
Rabbi--It is the spirit rather than the letter of
this that must be pressed; though the violation of the letter,
springing from spiritual pride, has done incalculable evil in the
Church of Christ. The reiteration of the word "Rabbi" shows how it
tickled the ear and fed the spiritual pride of those ecclesiastics.
8. But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master--your Guide,
9. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your
Father, which is in heaven, &c.--To construe these injunctions into
a condemnation of every title by which Church rulers may be
distinguished from the flock which they rule, is virtually to condemn
that rule itself; and accordingly the same persons do both--but against
the whole strain of the New Testament and sound Christian judgment. But
when we have guarded ourselves against these extremes, let us see to it
that we retain the full spirit of this warning against that itch for
ecclesiastical superiority which has been the bane and the scandal of
Christ's ministers in every age. (On the use of the word "Christ" here,
11. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant--This
plainly means, "shall show that he is so by becoming your servant"; as
12. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased--See on
What follows was addressed more immediately to the scribes and
13. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut
up the kingdom of heaven against men--Here they are charged with
shutting heaven against men: in
they are charged with what was worse, taking away the key--"the
key of knowledge"--which means, not the key to open knowledge, but
knowledge as the only key to open heaven. A right knowledge of God's
revealed word is eternal life, as our Lord says
(Joh 17:3; 5:39);
but this they took away from the people, substituting for it their
14. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour
widows' houses, &c.--Taking advantage of the helpless condition and
confiding character of "widows," they contrived to obtain possession of
their property, while by their "long prayers" they made them believe
they were raised far above "filthy lucre." So much "the greater
damnation" awaits them. What a lifelike description of the Romish
clergy, the true successors of those scribes!
15. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass
sea and land to make one proselyte--from heathenism. We have evidence
of this in JOSEPHUS.
and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than
yourselves--condemned, for the hypocrisy he would learn to practice,
both by the religion he left and that he embraced.
16. Woe unto you, ye blind guides--Striking expression this of the
ruinous effects of erroneous teaching. Our Lord, here and in some
following verses, condemns the subtle distinctions they made as to the
sanctity of oaths--distinctions invented only to promote their own
which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing--He has
incurred no debt.
but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple--meaning not
the gold that adorned the temple itself, but the Corban, set
apart for sacred uses (see on
he is a debtor!--that is, it is no longer his own, even though the
necessities of the parent might require it. We know who the successors
of these men are.
but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty--It
should have been rendered, "he is a debtor," as in
19. Ye fools, and blind! for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar
that sanctifieth the gift?--(See
20-22. Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, &c.--See on
23. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe
of mint and anise--rather, "dill," as in Margin.
and cummin--In Luke
it is "and rue, and all manner of herbs." They grounded this practice
which they interpreted rigidly. Our Lord purposely names the most
trifling products of the earth as examples of what they punctiliously
exacted the tenth of.
and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy,
and faith--In Luke
it is "judgment, mercy, and the love of God"--the expression being
probably varied by our Lord Himself on the two different occasions. In
both His reference is to
where the prophet makes all acceptable religion to consist of three
elements--"doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our
God"; which third element presupposes and comprehends both the "faith"
of Matthew and the "love" of Luke. See on
Mr 12:32, 33.
The same tendency to merge greater duties in less besets even the
children of God; but it is the characteristic of hypocrites.
these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone--There
is no need for one set of duties to jostle out another; but it is to be
carefully noted that of the greater duties our Lord says, "Ye ought
to have done" them, while of the lesser He merely says, "Ye ought
not to leave them undone."
24. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat--The proper rendering--as
in the older English translations, and perhaps our own as it came from
the translators' hands--evidently is, "strain out." It was the custom,
says TRENCH, of the stricter Jews to strain
their wine, vinegar, and
other potables through linen or gauze, lest unawares they should drink
down some little unclean insect therein and thus transgress
(Le 11:20, 23, 41, 42)
--just as the Buddhists do now in Ceylon and Hindustan--and to this
custom of theirs our Lord here refers.
and swallow a camel--the largest animal the Jews knew, as the "gnat"
was the smallest; both were by the law unclean.
25. within they are full of extortion--In Luke
the same word is rendered "ravening," that is, "rapacity."
26. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup
and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also--In Luke
it is, "Ye fools, did not He that made that which is without make that
which is within also?"--"He to whom belongs the outer life, and of
right demands its subjection to Himself, is the inner man less His?" A
remarkable example this of our Lord's power of drawing the most
striking illustrations of great truths from the most familiar objects
and incidents in life. To these words, recorded by Luke, He adds the
following, involving a principle of immense value: "But rather give
alms of such things as ye have, and behold, all things are clean unto
As the greed of these hypocrites was one of the most prominent features
of their character
our Lord bids them exemplify the opposite character, and then their
outside, ruled by this, would be beautiful in the eye of God,
and their meals would be eaten with clean hands, though much fouled
with the business of this everyday world. (See
27. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like
whited sepulchres--or, whitewashed sepulchres. (Compare
The process of whitewashing the sepulchres, as LIGHTFOOT says, was performed on a certain day every
year, not for ceremonial cleansing, but, as the following words seem
rather to imply, to beautify them.
which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead
men's bones, and of all uncleanness--What a powerful way of conveying
the charge, that with all their fair show their hearts were full of
But our Lord, stripping off the figure, next holds up their iniquity in
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children
of them which killed the prophets--that is, "ye be witnesses that
ye have inherited, and voluntarily served yourselves heirs to, the
truth-hating, prophet-killing, spirit of your fathers." Out of
pretended respect and honor, they repaired and beautified the
sepulchres of the prophets, and with whining hypocrisy said, "If we had
been in their days, how differently should we have treated these
prophets?" While all the time they were witnesses to themselves that
they were the children of them that killed the prophets, convicting
themselves daily of as exact a resemblance in spirit and character to
the very classes over whose deeds they pretended to mourn, as child to
our Lord gives another turn to this figure of a grave: "Ye are as
graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware
of them." As one might unconsciously walk over a grave concealed from
view, and thus contract ceremonial defilement, so the plausible
exterior of the Pharisees kept people from perceiving the pollution
they contracted from coming in contact with such corrupt
33. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the
damnation of hell?--In thus, at the end of His ministry, recalling
the words of the Baptist at the outset of his, our Lord would seem to
intimate that the only difference between their condemnation now and
then was, that now they were ripe for their doom, which they were not
34. Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and
scribes--The I here is emphatic: "I am sending," that is,
"am about to send." In
the variation is remarkable: "Therefore also, said the wisdom of God, I
will send them," &c. What precisely is meant by "the wisdom of God"
here, is somewhat difficult to determine. To us it appears to be simply
an announcement of a purpose of the Divine Wisdom, in the high style of
ancient prophecy, to send a last set of messengers whom the people
would reject, and rejecting, would fill up the cup of their iniquity.
But, whereas in Luke it is "I, the Wisdom of God, will send them," in
Matthew it is "I, Jesus, am sending them"; language only befitting the
one sender of all the prophets, the Lord God of Israel now in the
flesh. They are evidently evangelical messengers, but called by the
familiar Jewish names of "prophets, wise men, and scribes," whose
counterparts were the inspired and gifted servants of the Lord Jesus;
for in Luke
it is "prophets and apostles."
unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the
temple and the altar--As there is no record of any fresh murder
answering to this description, probably the allusion is not to any
recent murder, but to
as the last recorded and most suitable case for illustration.
And as Zacharias' last words were, "The Lord require it," so
they are here warned that of that generation it should be
36. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this
generation--As it was only in the last generation of them that "the
iniquity of the Amorites was full"
and then the abominations of ages were at once completely and awfully
avenged, so the iniquity of Israel was allowed to accumulate from age
to age till in that generation it came to the full, and the whole
collected vengeance of heaven broke at once over its devoted head. In
the first French Revolution the same awful principle was exemplified,
and Christendom has not done with it yet.
Lamentation over Jerusalem, and Farewell to the Temple
37. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest
them which are sent unto thee, &c.--How ineffably grand and melting
is this apostrophe! It is the very heart of God pouring itself forth
through human flesh and speech. It is this incarnation of the innermost
life and love of Deity, pleading with men, bleeding for them, and
ascending only to open His arms to them and win them back by the power
of this story of matchless love, that has conquered the world, that will
yet "draw all men unto Him," and beautify and ennoble Humanity itself!
"Jerusalem" here does not mean the mere city or its inhabitants; nor is
it to be viewed merely as the metropolis of the nation, but as the
center of their religious life--"the city of their solemnities,
whither the tribes went up, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord";
and at this moment it was full of them. It is the whole family of God,
then, which is here apostrophized by a name dear to every Jew, recalling
to him all that was distinctive and precious in his religion. The
intense feeling that sought vent in this utterance comes out first in
the redoubling of the opening word--"Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" but, next,
in the picture of it which He draws--"that killest the prophets, and
stonest them which are sent unto thee!"--not content with spurning God's
messages of mercy, that canst not suffer even the messengers to live!
When He adds, "How often would I have gathered thee!" He refers surely
to something beyond the six or seven times that He visited and taught in
Jerusalem while on earth. No doubt it points to "the prophets," whom
they "killed," to "them that were sent unto her," whom they "stoned."
But whom would He have gathered so often? "Thee," truth-hating,
mercy-spurning, prophet-killing Jerusalem--how often would I have
gathered thee! Compare with this that affecting clause in the great
ministerial commission, "that repentance and remission of sins should be
preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem!"
What encouragement to the heartbroken at their own long-continued and
obstinate rebellion! But we have not yet got at the whole heart of this
outburst. I would have gathered thee, He says, "even as a hen gathereth
her chickens under her wings." Was ever imagery so homely invested with
such grace and such sublimity as this, at our Lord's touch? And yet how
exquisite the figure itself--of protection, rest, warmth, and all
manner of conscious well-being in those poor, defenseless, dependent
little creatures, as they creep under and feel themselves overshadowed
by the capacious and kindly wing of the mother bird! If, wandering
beyond hearing of her peculiar call, they are overtaken by a storm or
attacked by an enemy, what can they do but in the one case droop and
die, and in the other submit to be torn in pieces? But if they can
reach in time their place of safety, under the mother's wing, in vain
will any enemy try to drag them thence. For rising into strength,
kindling into fury, and forgetting herself entirely in her young, she
will let the last drop of her blood be shed out and perish in defense
of her precious charge, rather than yield them to an enemy's talons.
How significant all this of what Jesus is and does for men! Under His
great Mediatorial wing would He have "gathered" Israel. For the figure,
Ps 17:8; 36:7; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4;
The ancient rabbins had a beautiful expression for proselytes from the
heathen--that they had "come under the wings of the Shekinah." For this
last word, see on
But what was the result of all this tender and mighty love? The answer
is, "And ye would not." O mysterious word! mysterious the resistance of
such patient Love--mysterious the liberty of self-undoing! The awful
dignity of the will, as here expressed, might make the ears to
38. Behold, your house--the temple, beyond all doubt; but
their house now, not the Lord's. See on
is left unto you desolate--deserted, that is, of its Divine Inhabitant.
But who is that? Hear the next words:
39. For I say unto you--and these were His last words to
the impenitent nation, see on
Ye shall not see me henceforth--What? Does Jesus mean that He was
Himself the Lord of the temple, and that it became "deserted" when
finally left it? It is even so. Now is thy fate sealed, O Jerusalem, for
the glory is departed from thee! That glory, once visible in the holy of
holies, over the mercy seat, when on the day of atonement the blood of
typical expiation was sprinkled on it and in front of it--called by the
Jews the Shekinah, or the Dwelling, as being the visible
pavilion of Jehovah--that glory, which Isaiah
saw in vision, the beloved disciple says was the glory of Christ
Though it was never visible in the second temple, Haggai foretold that
"the glory of that latter house should be greater than of the
because "the Lord whom they sought was suddenly to come to His temple"
not in a mere bright cloud, but enshrined in living humanity! Yet brief
as well as "sudden" was the manifestation to be: for the words He was
now uttering were to be HIS VERY LAST
within its precincts.
till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the
Lord--that is, till those "Hosannas to the Son of David" with which
the multitude had welcomed Him into the city--instead of "sore
displeasing the chief priests and scribes"
--should break forth from the whole nation, as their glad acclaim to
their once pierced, but now acknowledged, Messiah. That such a time
will come is clear from
2Co 3:15, 16,
&c. In what sense they shall then "see Him" may be gathered from
Eze 37:23-28; 39:28, 29,