Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
mat 23:1Then - Leaving all converse with his adversaries, whom he now left to the hardness of their hearts.
mat 23:2The scribes sit in the chair of Moses - That is, read and expound the law of Moses, and are their appointed teachers.
mat 23:3All things therefore - Which they read out of the law, and enforce therefrom.
mat 23:4Luk 11:46.
mat 23:5Their phylacteries - The Jews, understanding those words literally, It shall he as a token upon thy hand, and as frontlets between thine eyes, Exo 13:16. And thou shalt bind these words for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes, Deu 6:8; used to wear little scrolls of paper or parchment, bound on their wrist and foreheads, on which several texts of Scripture were writ. These they supposed, as a kind of charm, would preserve them from danger. And hence they seem to have been called phylacteries, or preservatives. The fringes of their garments - Which God had enjoined them to wear, to remind them of doing all the commandments, Num 15:38. These, as well as their phylacteries, the Pharisees affected to wear broader and larger than other men. Mar 12:38.
mat 23:8The Jewish rabbis were also called father and master, by their several disciples, whom they required, To believe implicitly what they affirmed, without asking any farther reason; To obey implicitly what they enjoined, without seeking farther authority. Our Lord, therefore, by forbidding us either to give or receive the title of rabbi, master, or father, forbids us either to receive any such reverence, or to pay any such to any but God.
mat 23:11Mat 20:26.
mat 23:12Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that shall humble himself shall he exalted - It is observable that no one sentence of our Lord's is so often repeated as this: it occurs, with scarce any variation, at least ten times in the evangelists. Luk 14:11; Luk 18:14.
mat 23:13Wo to you - Our Lord pronounced eight blessings upon the mount: he pronounces eight woes here; not as imprecations, but solemn, compassionate declarations of the misery, which these stubborn sinners were bringing upon themselves. Ye go not in - For ye are not poor in spirit; and ye hinder those that would be so.
mat 23:14Mar 12:40; Luk 20:47.
mat 23:16Wo to you, ye blind guides - Before he had styled them hypocrites, from their personal character: now he gives them another title, respecting their influence upon others. Both these appellations are severely put together in Mat 23:23 and Mat 23:25; and this severity rises to the height in Mat 23:33. The gold of the temple - The treasure kept there. He is bound - To keep his oath.
mat 23:20He that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon - Not only by the gift, but by the holy fire, and the sacrifice; and above all, by that God to whom they belong; inasmuch as every oath by a creature is an implicit appeal to God.
mat 23:23Judgment - That is, justice: Faith - The word here means fidelity.
mat 23:24Ye blind guides, who teach others to do as you do yourselves, to strain out a gnat - From the liquor they are going to drink! and swallow a camel - It is strange, that glaring false print, strain at a gnat, which quite alters the sense, should run through all the editions of our English Bibles.
mat 23:25Full of rapine and intemperance - The censure is double (taking intemperance in the vulgar sense.) These miserable men procured unjustly what they used intemperately. No wonder tables so furnished prove a snare, as many find by sad experience. Thus luxury punishes fraud while it feeds disease with the fruits of injustice. But intemperance in the full sense takes in not only all kinds of outward intemperance, particularly in eating and drinking, but all intemperate or immoderate desires, whether of honour, gain, or sensual pleasure.
mat 23:26Ye build the tombs of the prophets - And that is all, for ye neither observe their sayings, nor imitate their actions.
mat 23:30We would not have been partakers - So ye make fair professions, as did your fathers.
mat 23:31Wherefore ye testify against yourselves - By your smooth words as well as devilish actions: that ye are the genuine sons of them who killed the prophets of their own times, while they professed the utmost veneration for those of past ages.
From Mat. 23:3-30 is exposed every thing that commonly passes in the world for religion, whereby the pretenders to it keep both themselves and others from entering into the kingdom of God; from attaining, or even seeking after those tempers, in which alone true Christianity consists. As, Punctuality in attending on public and private prayer, Mat 23:4-14. Zeal to make proselytes to our opinion or communion, though they have less of the spirit of religion than before, Mat 23:15. A superstitious reverence for consecrated places or things, without any for Him to whom they are consecrated, Mat 23:16-22. A scrupulous exactness in little observances, though with the neglect of justice, mercy, and faith, Mat 23:23-24. A nice cautiousness to cleanse the outward behaviour, but without any regard to inward purity, Mat 23:25-26. A specious face of virtue and piety, covering the deepest hypocrisy and villany, Mat 23:27-28 A professed veneration for all good men, except those among whom they live.
mat 23:32Fill ye up - A word of permission, not of command: as if he had said, I contend with you no longer: I leave you to yourselves: you have conquered: now ye may follow the devices of your own hearts. The measure of your fathers - Wickedness: ye may now be as wicked as they.
mat 23:33Ye serpents - Our Lord having now lost all hope of reclaiming these, speaks so as to affright others from the like sins.
mat 23:34Wherefore - That it may appear you are the true children of those murderers, and have a right to have their iniquities visited on you: Behold, I send - Is not this speaking as one having authority? Prophets - Men with supernatural credentials: Wise men - Such as have both natural abilities and experience; and scribes - Men of learning: but all will not avail. Luk 11:49.
mat 23:35That upon you may come - The consequence of which will be, that upon you will come the vengeance of all the righteous blood shed on the earth - Zechariah the son of Barachiah - Termed Jehoiada, Ch2 24:20, where the story is related: Ye slew - Ye make that murder also of your fathers your own, by imitating it: Between the temple - That is, the inner temple, and the altar - Which stood in the outer court. Our Lord seems to refer to this instance, rather than any other, because he was the last of the prophets on record that were slain by the Jews for reproving their wickedness: and because God's requiring this blood as well as that of Abel, is particularly taken notice of in Scripture.
mat 23:37Luk 13:34.
mat 23:38Behold your house - The temple, which is now your house, not God's: Is left unto you - Our Lord spake this as he was going out of it for the last time: Desolate - Forsaken of God and his Christ, and sentenced to utter destruction.
mat 23:39Ye - Jews in general; men of Jerusalem in particular: shall not see me from this time - Which includes the short space till his death, till, after a long interval of desolation and misery, ye say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord - Ye receive me with joyful and thankful hearts. This also shall be accomplished in its season.