Sitting in Moses’ Chair: Matthew 23:1-36

Focus Passage: Matthew 23:1-36 (NASB)

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the group of people He seemed to have the most difficulty with were the scribes and Pharisees. These two groups of people were the most religious of the religious people living at that time, and in many ways, their religion was their life.

While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include Jesus cautioning the people about becoming like the scribes and Pharisees, only Matthew goes into great detail describing where the scribes and Pharisees had missed God’s plan. Matthew tells us that Jesus said to those listening, “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.” (v. 2-5)

It is interesting that Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees teaching as being worthwhile, but their actions as being worthless. Jesus told the people, “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.” (v. 3)

The role of the religious leaders was to show God to the people, but the only picture they were painting of God was a harsh, demanding dictator that was standing by, ready to punish those who messed up. The religious leaders had set up rules and laws to protect them from coming close to breaking God’s laws, because in their minds, God is very strict and protective of His law.

When these first century Jewish leaders compared God’s will for His people on a spectrum measuring obedience and compassion, they firmly believed that He would only be compassionate on those who were obedient. Obedience was at the foundation of what they taught, but they didn’t even live up to their own standard. This may be why Jesus shared a few verses later, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (v. 13-14 [Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47])

The problem Jesus had with the religious leaders while He was present on earth is they had built the wall between humanity and God so high that it was impossible to get through – and then after they had that wall built, they didn’t go through themselves. Because of their teaching, and especially their actions, the scribes and Pharisees turned people off of even wanting to know God.

This warning to those living in the first century also cautions me to live out what I teach. The leaders in the first century spoke more conservatively than they acted, but perhaps it is better to err in the other direction. It may be better to live in a more conservative way than what we communicate to others. If we live and share God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance towards those who have repented, we are accurately representing His character as displayed through Jesus’ life on earth!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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