Matthew 23:1-12 Part 1


We speak of these things in our preaching, and when we teach, and in our general discussions – such as in the Sunday School hour; we review the historical events as they come up in the texts of the inspired writers.

We are, for the most part, calm and not overly agitated about anything – having prepared ourselves and our families to come to worship.  There is no state of antagonism and enmity in our families, or between our families (at least there’s not supposed to be); and, hopefully, there’s a degree of confident anticipation of giving worship and honor to God our Father (which is the purpose in worship).  (Not to “receive” – but to give!)

So, entering into the text this morning there is a state of warm comfort and tranquil composure as we revel in all the blessings which are ours in covenant with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  And in these conditions we willingly open our hearts and persons and minds to hear the Words of the Gospel – which is the Power of God unto salvation….

And under these conditions, as described, it must be very hard for us to imagine the atmosphere that prevailed that day in the temple complex.  There is no verbal description (at least from me, anyway) capable of re-creating for us, in this setting, an environment so charged with dramatic tension!

But these crowds had been there in the temple complex since early in the morning; and they had watched the whole scene unfold as, individually and collectively, the priests and Scribes and Pharisees and Herodians had been shamed and humiliated!  They had paraded in and out and back in again – meeting in secret conspiracies to figure out ways to entrap Jesus in His words – strategizing and scheming; even planning His murder!

And now, with the entire robed and tasseled and fringed and phylacteried Sanhedrin there, in all of its intimidating presence (having been defeated in its collective attempt), Jesus now turns and speaks to the crowd (which includes His disciples); that’s verse one.

And this is what He says to them; verse two:


“On the seat of Moses sit the Scribes and Pharisees.  Therefore all, whatever they should say to you, do and take heed; but do not do according to their works, for they say and do not do…”


Now, there is much here for us to consider.  But first let’s examine the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.  The sense of the grammar here is not that they once took, and continue to occupy, a position (by chance or by the force of their own will or by whatever means); but that it is an historical fact; it is reality.  They sit on Moses’ seat!

Now, we all know Moses at least as well as we know anyone in biblical history.  So we don’t need to establish the fact that Moses was a great elder, teacher, leader, mediator, judge of Israel!  And His position before God, and in the minds of all succeeding generations, especially with regard to receiving and administering the Law, was so great that he is said here to have occupied a “seat”.

In fact I think we can say that, by authority from God, Moses was established by God as Israel’s first leader.  He led them in Exodus from bondage (as a type of Christ), received the Law from God at Sinai, and explained and administered God’s Law as the nation’s first Law officer!  His was the position of being the first; and therefore the “seat” of authority was first established with Moses as its occupant!

The Greek word itself is easily recognizable, and is of some interest to us.  Translated “seat”, the word is kathedra.  It is the word from which comes the English – “cathedral”.  Catholics are universally “under authority”; and that authority comes from the “seat” which is in the “cathedral” – the place of the “seat”!

When the pope speaks on matters of faith and practice, he speaks “ex cathedra” – from the chair, or from the “seat”.  The regional “bishop” is “enthroned” in a cathedral – the place where he occupies a “seat”.  The Roman catholic priest ministers in a local “cathedral” and ministers to the people from a “seat” of great authority, for he (in Romanism’s opinion) speaks for God, in place of God, from the ‘seat” – from the kathedra!

According to the tradition of the Roman Church, Peter was the first pope of the Church (a Church which, of course, was in Rome!)  (and, of course, you must be a revisionist of history in order to hold to that); and, by succession, each pope has the authority (as Peter did) to speak for God!  So the first “chair”, according to Romanism, was occupied by Peter; and that “chair” is passed to succeeding generations.

To people who follow this, the “cathedral”, the place of the “seat”, is an awe-inspiring and mysterious place, and to be greatly feared.  For when the priest or the bishop or the pope speaks, he speaks as god – and he can bind you or loose you from your sin!  Therefore he has the power to send you to hell!  To consign… to everlasting perdition!

Now, we find vestiges of the word “seat” in other spheres of authority as well, such as with kings and governors and presidents and judges.  We speak of a “sitting” president, or a “sitting” judge.  When a judge walks into a courtroom we hear the words from the bailiff – “all rise”; and everyone stands until the judge “sits”.  When he sits, then everyone else can sit.  And the trial can begin.  So the “chair” is a position of authority.

That even carries over into business, because at the point that a client or a sales representative walks into the office of a lawyer of business owner, he may encounter a man sitting behind a desk.  And all who have ever approached a man in that position know that he is always different there than he is in any other location!  A good salesman will always try to get his contact into a more “neutral” situation rather than compete with the added authority of his “chair”.

But in the Scriptures the “seat” was the place of particular distinction and authority, given by God.  It is a representation of God Himself, Who “sits” enthroned.  And when Jesus ascended, after His resurrection, He was commanded to “sit” at the right of the Father.  He took the “kathedra” – the seat – of authority.  He was given all power in Heaven and Earth – a Kingdom – and all His enemies would, progressively, be held down under His feet.  And from His place of enthronement, His chair, at the right of the Father, He would then rule the universe until such time as all powers and authorities recognized and bowed to His unique and ultimate authority.

And this is the One Who turns to His disciples and the remnant of Israel and says, “On Moses’ seat sit the Scribes and the Pharisees….”  It is an historical fact that the place of distinction and authority that God gave to Moses is now occupied by the Scribes and the Pharisees!  The authority and leadership of Moses in receiving and interpreting the Law, and in administering justice in the nation of Israel, is now vested in the Scribes and Pharisees!

Now, I wish for you to see the grand design of Jesus Christ in this statement; and I want us to see it so clearly, because the emphasis and importance it deserves is hardly ever given to it!  This is so important that it must not be missed!

And it comes in two points, the first of which is this:  the Older Testament Scriptures, in the Revelation of the Law and the Prophets and in the outworking of the history of that entire period, make it clear that God raises up all authority.  And those authorities are His.

Moses didn’t want to confront Pharaoh:  he didn’t want to lead the nation out of bondage; he didn’t want to be the nation’s leader and prophet and judge!  He even complained and raised questions about his abilities and skill with language.  But God had chosen him and raised him up for his own purposes.

David was raised up by God to be a type of Christ and to be king of Israel.  The prophets, from Elijah and Elisha to Samuel to Isaiah to Jeremiah, and so forth – it is manifest in Scripture that God called them and prepared them to do what He had for them to do!  God even called the kings and peoples of pagan nations His “servants”.  He had raised them to accomplish His purposes.  The language and the history of the Older Scriptures make it abundantly evident – irrefutable – that this was the case.

And the New Testament Scriptures are the same way!  In fact, what is so evident in the historical writings of the Older Testament is put into doctrinal statements of faith and Commandments from the apostles – that all authority is established by God.

We’ve read them before, but listen again to Paul in Romans chapter thirteen:


“Let every person be subject unto the higher powers.  For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves judgment.”


And it was the apostle Peter who warned the Christian refugees in all the Churches to “fear God and honor the King.”  And, “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake….”  The righteousness of the man in the position of authority was not an issue in connection with our obedience; we are to obey “for the Lord’s sake”.

So the Scriptures of both Old and New Testaments are clear that all power and authority is established by God; they belong to Him and they are to be obeyed by men – not because of the positions or “seats” of power and authority, and not because of the quality (or lack thereof) of the people who occupy those positions – but because they are ordained of God!

We all have often heard that we are to honor the president because of the “presidency” – the office; or that we are to honor the man because he is the one who has been elected by the people.  But neither one of those reasons for giving honor is Biblical.  We are to honor and obey because God has ordained all authority!  That’s the reason; and that’s point one.

And point two is this:  Since God has ordained every authority, and since all authority belongs to Him, and since all men are commanded to obey these authorities; then the manner in which those who occupy those seats of authority carry out their duties and obligations before God is chargeable to their accounts!!!

So a man who establishes a household, with a wife and children, is ordained of God as that household’s authority.  And he is to nurture and love his wife and raise his children only in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord.  That is his obligation before God, because God ordained the authority!

But if, on the other hand, he should not perform his duty very well, which of these two following scenarios best lays his neglect and disobedience to his account?  In scenario one, his wife rebels and divorces him, and his children dishonor him by demeaning him, railing against him and by being disobedient, ungodly children.

In scenario two, the wife and children obey and honor him; for, as Peter said, “for the sake of the Lord” … “for this is thankworthy, if a person for conscience toward God, endure grief, suffering wrongfully….”

The question is, which scenario best lays the man’s neglect and disobedience to his account?  The second one, of course!  In the first scenario, the wife and children suffer the consequences of their own sin, for they have disobeyed and dishonored God’s authority.  But in the second scenario, the wife and children obey God’s authority – thereby establishing the man’s duty and obligation!  Dutiful and obedient wives, and father-honoring children establish God’s authority and lay the charge of neglect and disobedience and rebellion right in his lap – right to his account!

Now that same thing holds true with respect to civil authorities, doesn’t it?  All authority is ordained of God; so the civil magistrate is there at the direct ordination and establishment of God.  And when God’s people honor, respect and obey God’s magistrate, then the full weight of his sin and evil accrues to his account!

He belongs to God, you see.  The apostle Peter says that when we suffer at the hands of the magistrate for wrongdoing, what good is that?  But when we suffer wrongfully at his hands, then that is thankworthy!  It is our obedience that establishes his obligation for goodness and justice and charges all his evil and tyranny to his account.  Peter goes on to say (just as a sideline here) that the way you spot a false prophet is that he’s one who dishonors authority and promotes disobedience and rebellion!  A false prophet, remember, is a liar!  So one can’t be a speaker of Truth and dishonor authority at the same time.

By the way, I remember that president Clinton, when he was in office, gave what some have called a “sermon” in a Church.  And during his speech he referred to his presidential efforts against crime as a “ministry”.  And for that He was mocked and made fun of.  But however much we may have disliked his ungodly policies and however much we may have suspected his motives, the Scriptures call him “God’s minister for justice”!  The word “minister” is diaconas.  The president is exactly what he said he is in that speech – he is a minister of God!

However he performs his duties and obligations to God, our obligation to God is to obey His minister for justice!  Whoever he is!  And our obedience to him, during whatever suffering we may endure at his hands and from his “seat” of authority, (our obedience) is God’s way of laying the responsibility for his ministry squarely to his account.

Now back to verse two, Jesus says that the authority given to Moses in receiving and interpreting the Law, and in administering justice for the new nation of Israel, is now vested in the Scribes and Pharisees.  “On Moses’ seat sit the Scribes and Pharisees.”

These are the men who now, in Moses’ seat, interpret God’s Law and administer justice in the nation of Israel.  They are, now, the powers and authorities in Israel; therefore they are ordained of God!

And since that is the case, they have a duty and obligation to carry out their “ministries” of justice in accord with the will of Him Who established them in Moses’ seat!  They belong to God.  And they have a solemn responsibility to interpret the Law of God faithfully and to teach the Truth to the people; to judge righteously; to insure that the weakest segments of the society are treated with equity; to correctly interpret the prophets, for the people, with regard to Messiah and the coming salvation of God; to see to it that the people have God-ordained worship with no admixture of pagan religion – and many other things!

And one of the last things that was now needed in Israel was for the Lord Jesus Christ to admonish the people to obey the Scribes and Pharisees, verse three:


“…therefore, all whatever they should say to you, do and take heed….”


Why?  Because it was necessary for the Lord’s people to obey God’s ordained authorities – to lay at their feet an obedient and suffering people, that their leaders’ disobedience and rebellion might be charged to their account!!  For the sin of the leaders is made full by the righteous obedience of the people.  This is the grand design of Jesus in His statement to God’s people!

Our righteous Lord Jesus suffered in quiet obedience to these men.  He did not raise His voice in the streets – He did not incite to riot and rebellion – but He commanded obedience from the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  He was perfectly Holy; and He was their authority – not the other way around… but the evil men put Him to death anyway, for no cause.  And He obeyed all the way to the cross.  And His righteous obedience laid the charge of His murder to their account!

Next Lord’s Day, the command to do what they say, and not what they do.