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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:23-24

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!


This is the fourth of seven woes — judgements — that Jesus pronounces on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here).

The fourth woe concerns their being more interested in the minutiae of observing the tithes of herbs and seeds rather than God’s greater laws of justice, mercy and faithfulness (verse 23). Jesus rebukes them for not observing both.

The parallel verse is Luke 11:42:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Jesus also related the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, involving a Pharisee who boasted of tithing all that he possessed (Luke 18:9-14).

The command to give tithes of herbs and seeds to God is stated in Deuteronomy 14:22:

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.

It was easier for the Pharisees to enhance their reputations by placing great weight on crop and seed tithes rather than exhort themselves and the faithful to love their neighbour. The same is true today of some churches where legalism takes priority over mercy and compassion.

Another aspect, as Matthew Henry surmises, is that the Pharisees got some sort of self-enhancement by exacting tithes:

it is probable that they had ends of their own to serve, and would find their own account in it for the priests and Levites, to whom the tithes were paid …

John MacArthur tells us that tithes continue in Judaism, although they are no longer of the same nature as in the Old Testament.

However, where the Church is concerned, tithing is not obligatory (emphases mine):

… the tithe is mentioned six times in the New Testament. Three times in the gospels and each time it is mention in the text condemning the abuse of it by the scribes and the Pharisees. Three times in the book of Hebrews when it simply reaches back and describes its historical reality in the history of Israel. At no time is it ever mentioned in the New Testament as binding on the church. It had to do with taxation of the national government of Israel.

That cannot be emphasised enough. Churchgoers do not have to tithe. Nor should they be required to do so.

Verse 24 is one I have wondered about all my life. Before explaining its meaning, it is worth pointing out that Jesus once more called the scribes and Pharisees ‘blind guides’ — spiritually blind leaders of the faithful. They were false teachers actively leading their people to perdition, hence the seven woes.

Previously, Jesus made a previous reference to them as ‘blind guides’ in verse 16, as ‘blind fools’ in verse 17 and as ‘blind men’ in verse 19.

What was Jesus speaking of when He rebuked them for ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel’?

As we know, Mosaic law, which observant Jews still abide by today, forbids the consumption of certain creatures. The gnat is the least of these and the camel the greatest. This goes some way towards explaining the meaning behind the verse.

In some versions, such as the King James, the verse says ‘straining at a gnat’, which causes confusion for modern readers and listeners. MacArthur tells us:

“You blind guides, you strain out,” it should be, “you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” You say what in the world is this? Well, you have to understand something about this. The word strain means to filter, diulizo, filter.

In Jesus’s time, the Jewish leaders were careful to remove any gnats that might have flown into their wine. MacArthur explains:

They make wine and as they’re making, crushing the grapes, a little gnat is flying around, he lands in the grapes, he gets gobbled up in the grapes, winds up in the wine or maybe he just flies in the wine and lands there. So the fastidious Pharisee drank his wine like this. Then he picked the gnat off his teeth

That made them look pious to each other and to onlookers.

What all were ignoring were the greater violations of God’s law: the business (which it was) of the faithful making oaths to free themselves from observing one or more of the Ten Commandments in favour of ‘tradition’. One of these was the Corban which released one from honouring one’s father and mother (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

This is what He rebuked in Matthew 23:16-19.

The Corban and similar evasions of the Commandments were what Jesus referred to as ‘swallowing a camel’. It was a figurative way of saying that their tradition was a huge sin and violation of God’s supreme law in favour of insistence on fine minutiae that brought them prestige. It was as bad as if they had swallowed a camel.

MacArthur gives us this interpretation of Jesus’s message:

In other words, you are all confused. You’re whole priority system is inverted. You’re just fooling around with stuff that doesn’t matter. And blind to the enormous evil that you’re consuming. You’re afraid to eat the tenth mint leaf and then you’re allowing into your life hypocrisy, dishonesty, cruelty, greed, self-worship; incredible.

We can better understand this verse now that it has a context.

In closing, Matthew Henry reminds us of the importance of observing God’s greater laws and Jesus’s rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, who cared nothing for the ordinary or destitute Jew:

Judgment and mercy toward men, and faith toward God, are the weightier matters of the law, the good things which the Lord our God requires (Micah 6:8) to do justly, and love mercy, and humble ourselves by faith to walk with God. This is the obedience which is better than sacrifice or tithe judgment is preferred before sacrifice, Isaiah 1:11. To be just to the priests in their tithe, and yet to cheat and defraud every body else, is but to mock God, and deceive ourselves. Mercy also is preferred before sacrifice, Hosea 6:6. To feed those who made themselves fat with the offering of the Lord, and at the same time to shut up the bowels of compassion from a brother or a sister that is naked, and destitute of daily food, to pay tithe-mint to the priest, and to deny a crumb to Lazarus, is to lie open to that judgment without mercy, which is awarded to those who pretended to judgment, and showed no mercy nor will judgment and mercy serve without faith in divine revelation for God will be honoured in his truths as well as in his laws.

John MacArthur concludes:

It’s amazing how fastidious religious people can be and so far from the reality of what God seeks. So many false spiritual leaders reverse divine priorities, substitute insignificant forms and outward acts of religion for essential realities of the heart. You see, that’s the point. So the false spiritual leaders are condemned for exclusion, perversion, subversion, inversion, how about extortion for a fifth; extortion.

This is why true Christians condemn legalism. It has no basis in Scripture. God will judge it harshly.

Next time: Matthew 23:25-26

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:20-22

20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.


Last week’s post, which concerned Matthew 23:16-19, discussed the first part of the second woe — judgement — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and the Pharisees.

If you haven’t yet read it, those verses explain the context of today’s passage.

Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees spiritually ‘blind guides’ and ‘blind fools’ for encouraging a twisted means of swearing oaths, indicating promises the faithful made at the temple which were to be kept. Their ungodly system maintained that oaths made with gifts, sacrifices and gold were more binding than those made by the altar or by the temple. This is because they wanted people to put more money in the temple coffers — with which they lined their pockets.

Last week’s verses ended with this question from Jesus:

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

He provides the answer in today’s reading.

Essentially, any and all types of oath made in the temple were binding because they were made in the name of the Lord.

First, swearing by the altar is swearing by the Almighty, to whose honour the Jews created it (verse 20). An oath made by the altar cannot be disregarded or non-binding merely because the altar is an object. That was the excuse the scribes and Pharisees told the faithful to use as a get-out clause. In reality, it was all the more binding because whatever was offered on it was given to God. Therefore, someone making an oath in that manner was actually invoking God’s witness to it. Matthew Henry explains:

for it was the altar of God and he that went to that, went to God, Psalm 43:4; Psalm 26:6.

Secondly, oaths made by the temple were equally binding (verse 21). The temple was God’s house as it was dedicated to His service and He dwelt therein. Therefore, swearing an oath there was doing so in His name.

Thirdly, there were the oaths made by heaven (verse 22). Jesus said that these were the most sinful (Matthew 5:34-35):

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

(I’ll get to verse 35 shortly.)

Making an oath by heaven is swearing by the throne of God in His kingdom. It is the most direct type of oath made in His name.

That said, God expects anyone who makes these types of oaths to fulfil them. Otherwise, as Henry tells us:

he resents the affront done to him in the form of the oath, so he will certainly revenge the greater affront done to him by the violation of it.


Christ will not countenance the evasion of a solemn oath, though ever so plausible.

Therefore, we can better understand Matthew 5:35, which forbids any type of oath because God created earth, and Jerusalem is His holy city (Psalm 48:2).

John MacArthur explains that swearing by anything is swearing by the Almighty:

I mean, everything you touch eventually is going back to God, right? You swear by anything that represents God, a gift, an altar, the gold of the temple, the temple, the heaven of heavens, the throne of God and you’re going to touch the God who fills it all.

In other words, have you forgotten that God is everywhere, as creator of all and Lord of all?

But, if you’re going to make an oath, you’d better keep it, because you made it in God’s name. This is why people only make one in a court of law and it is taken so seriously that to violate that oath is criminal.

As for the Pharisees and scribes telling people certain types of oaths were more binding that others, MacArthur says that Jesus was telling them:

They subverted the truth. They developed reasoning that undermined truth.

He warns that false teachers in our churches do much the same thing in different ways:

False spiritual leaders don’t tell the truth folks, but they parade [piety]. Try to cover up for their lying pretense. We need to be careful of that. They subvert whole houses. They by their great covetousness, says Peter, use feigned words to make merchandise out of you. They lie. They say they need money when they don’t need money. They say God told them something, when He never told them anything. They say Jesus led them into something, when He never led them into anything. They lie. Beware of those liars who are false spiritual leaders.

We have seen that happen with televangelists and faith healers who then get involved in terrible scandals. They dupe people, especially for money.

Cults and sects are also common hunting grounds for false teachers in search of naive believers.

This is yet another reason why it is so important to know and understand the Holy Bible.

Regularly praying for discernment is a great thing. The Holy Spirit is always there to help us.

This brings to mind Jesus’s counsel to the Apostles when He sent them out on their trial ministry (Matthew 10:16):

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Be nice, be good but be careful.

Next time: Matthew 23:23-24

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:16-19

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?


Last week’s entry discussed the first of the seven woes that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees for their ungodly, false teaching which prevented people from entering the kingdom of heaven.

In today’s passage, Jesus takes them to task for their — not Scripture’s — tradition on oaths. It was called the Corban, which means ‘given to God’ and involved a gift or sacrifice on the altar of the temple.

Jesus criticised the Corban (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this practice. In the first woe (Matthew 23:13-15), he called them ‘hypocrites’. Here he calls them ‘blind guides’ (verse 16) and ‘fools (verse 17).

‘Blind guides’ is easily understood in the literal sense but Jesus primarily meant it as being spiritually blind, leading faithful Jews to perdition. In Matthew 15:10-20, He talked about what defiles a person:

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

The Pharisees were offended. Jesus told His disciples:

14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.[a] And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

The spiritual condition of good people following spiritually blind leaders is bad. However, even worse is the condition of such leaders who deliberately deny, scorn or block out the truth from their followers. Their punishment and condemnation will be much the greater.

Jesus pronounced woe on these blind guides for honouring an oath made by the gold of the temple but dismissing one made by the temple (verse 16).

He called them fools because valuing an oath made by gold over one made by the temple made no sense (verse 17). An oath made by gold was only worth anything because it was made in the temple (verses 18, 19).

What they were doing was wrong on three counts. Matthew Henry explains.

First, Corban was not following God’s law. It was:

the work of men’s hands …

An oath is an appeal to God, to his omniscience and justice and to make this appeal to any creature is to put that creature in the place of God. See Deuteronomy 6:13.

Secondly, they placed a higher obligation on oaths made by gifts and sacrifices to enrich themselves than on an oath by the temple, which brought them no material gain. That said, neither should have been made in the first place:

Here was a double wickedness First, That there were some oaths which they dispensed with, and made light of, and reckoned a man was not bound by to assert the truth, or perform a promise. They ought not to have sworn by the temple or the altar but, when they had so sworn, they were taken in the words of their mouth. That doctrine cannot be of the God of truth which gives countenance to the breach of faith in any case whatsoever. Oaths are edge-tools and are not to be jested with. Secondly, That they preferred the gold before the temple, and the gift before the altar, to encourage people to bring gifts to the altar, and gold to the treasures of the temple, which they hoped to be gainers by

Thirdly, they lured many faithful people into their deceitful tradition:

Those who had made gold their hope, and whose eyes were blinded by gifts in secret, were great friends to the Corban …

Looking at Jesus’s statement and question about this, we see that He is telling them that without the oaths being made in the temple — God’s house — the gold or gift has no meaning. Therefore, how can an oath made by gold be more important than one made in the temple? It is the location — the altar in the temple — that renders the gold holy:

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

Henry tells us:

The temple and altar were dedicated to God fixedly, the gold and gift but secondarily.

Henry gives a practical Christian application of this lesson, warning us not to place our good works above or on a par with justification by faith:

Christ is our altar (Hebrews 13:10), our temple (John 2:21) for it is he that sanctifies all our gifts, and puts an acceptableness in them, 1 Peter 2:5. Those that put their own works into the place of Christ’s righteousness in justification are guilty of the Pharisees’ absurdity, who preferred the gift before the altar.

Where making promises and taking oaths are concerned, John MacArthur cautions us to take them seriously:

Keep your promise. Keep your word. God hates lying. So many Old Testament texts in the Psalms particularly. Let me just call your attention to several just as a point of contact. In Psalm 50, verse 14, “Offer unto God thanksgiving and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Promise to God, keep your promise. Psalm 56:12, “Thy vows are upon me oh God, I will render praises unto thee. I’m bound by my promises to you oh God. I won’t break my word.” Psalm 61, verse 8 and these are just samples, “So will I sing praise to thy name forever, that I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 66:13, “I will go into the house with burnt offerings. I will pay thee my vows.” Psalm 76:11, “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” And it goes on like that a lot of places in the Old Testament. Keep your word to God. Keep your word to men.

Next week’s entry will Jesus’s final words on this woe.

Next time: Matthew 23:20-22

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:13-15

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.[a] 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.


Last week’s entry on Matthew 22:23-33 ended with the final verse of that chapter. The Jewish leaders finally stopped challenging Jesus (emphases mine):

46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 23 has Jesus’s Seven Woes to the scribes and Pharisees, His damning response to them.

Some translations have Eight Woes. Today’s verses show two instead of three. The bone of contention is verse 14, which appears in some Bibles, e.g. the King James Version — Matthew Henry’s — but not in others, e.g. John MacArthur’s:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation

As true as it is, John MacArthur tells us why it is excluded:

… the older manuscripts of the New Testament do not include verse 14, which is to say that if in the early manuscripts you don’t have this verse and it shows up in the later manuscripts, it’s usually evidence that it was added later. That it wasn’t in the original. What is said in verse 14 is true about the Pharisees and scribes. In fact, it looks like a scribe took it out of Mark Chapter 12 and also Luke Chapter 20. Both of those Chapters mention the same kind of things. And probably a well meaning scribe thought that it fit in so well he just took it from Mark and Luke and put it here.

Matthew Henry offers an interesting explanation for this: that the eight woes are

in opposition to the eight beatitudes, Matthew 5:3.

Matthew 23:1-12 recounts our Lord’s condemnation of the scribes and the Pharisees. He does not want His disciples to either follow them or act like them. This can be applied to false teachers in the Church:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

In verse 13, Jesus pronounces the first woe on them. MacArthur explains woe:

The word woe in the Greek is a most interesting word. It’s this word, lie, which doesn’t even sound like a word. It sounds more like a painful guttural cry … It’s an onomatopoetic word. That is it sounds like its meaning. It is a word that just utters similar to the Hebrew word to howl, which is the word hoi. It’s a word used, for example, in the Septuagint to express grief, despair, sorrow, dissatisfaction, pain, and the threat of losing your life. It’s used in the New Testament to speak of sorrow, to speak of judgment. It’s the mingling of punishment and pity, cursing and compassion.

You could almost translate with the word alas; alas. And that’s the word you find in Revelation talking about Babylon in Chapter 18; alas. It’s as if to say inevitable judgment is coming, but oh how sad is that inevitable judgment. Judgment then is mingled with pity in the word woe.

In the same verse, He calls them hypocrites, from:

the word hupokrites. It originally came from a term which meant actor. Someone who played a part on a stage. Someone who pretended to be something he wasn’t.

And it was a good word that I guess etymologically in its origination, but it came to be a very bad word and finally it came to mean deceiver; deceiver. One who pretends in an evil sense, who acts evilly.

MacArthur has an excellent quote from the late professor of Divinity, William Barclay (1907-1978), who taught at the University of Glasgow:

someone who manifests what he calls “theatrical goodness who parades an outward goodness but inwardly is evil. Who wants people to see him give.”

Jesus said that these men were shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. Henry tells us:

that is, they did all they could to keep people from believing in Christ, and so entering into his kingdom.

Jesus added that they do not ‘enter’ — or believe in Him — but, even worse, prohibited others from doing so. This went all the way back to John the Baptist’s ministry, when many Jews were baptised and repented of their sins. The religious leaders never did this and, so, when Jesus began His ministry, dogged him with quarrels and accusations from the start. All of these were designed to discredit Him and discourage the faithful.

MacArthur says:

In other words, this mass of people in Israel were moving toward the kingdom … Repenting of their sin and trying to get their lives right and listening to the preaching of this prophet who confronted their evil lives and called them to obedience. In fact, it says in Chapter 3 of Matthew verse 5, “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about the Jordan and they were baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.”

And right then the Pharisees showed up and the Sadducees and he said “oh generation of snakes,” you snakes, “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Bring forth the fruit of repentance.” That’s pretty confront[ational] stuff. But He knew why they were there. Here were all these people getting ready to move toward the kingdom and here came the very guys who would slam the door in their face. The false religious leaders. So the picture is one of movement of flow toward the kingdom and these people slammed the door in the faces.

This is the pursuit of the person who’s looking for religious answers, who’s searching for God, who’s searching for some spiritual reality. And they shut up the kingdom. How’d they do that? By denying the word of God, misinterpreting the word of God, denying that Jesus was the Messiah. Denying His deity. Denying salvation by grace. Denying the need for repentance. They shut it in the faces of the people with a works righteousness system that had no place for Jesus Christ.

Now the point that its making here is that false spiritual leaders damn peoples’ souls to hell. So you don’t deal with this lightly.

In verse 15, Jesus pronounces ‘woe’ on these ‘hypocrites’ a second time, this time for travelling far and wide to make converts to the works righteousness system that He came to abolish by fulfilling the Law.

There were two types of proselytes, or converts, in Jesus’s time. One was a proselyte of ‘the gate’, which meant that the person took part in religious worship with the Jews. The second was a proselyte of ‘righteousness’, which meant that he fully adhered to Mosaic Law and became a full convert, which included circumcision. There were more proselytes of the gate than those of righteousness for obvious reasons. However, this is why the Pharisees widened their net to travel so extensively in search of those who would enter fully into their religious system.

Jesus fully condemned this because of all the zealotry it brings with it:

you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.

MacArthur explains:

Have you ever noticed that a convert to a cult is more zealous and aggressive for the cult than somebody raised in it? That’s pretty much routine. That’s almost true of anything. That can be said of Christianity. Very frequently people saved out of the world and brought into Christ from an ungodly, un-Christlike background are more zealous for their newfound faith than people that are raised up in it.

There’s something about that tremendous transition that is made. That euphoria of coming into the movement that gives you a great amount of zeal. And so here this new convert is filled with more fanatical zeal for his newfound system than even the ones that brought him in. And naturally there’s a euphoria about having discovered what he thinks is the truth and the newness and he’s not been in long enough to find out all the problems with it. And he becomes a double son of hell in the sense that he is perverted even beyond his teachers. And more zealous even than they are. And so they make a spiritual convert who turns out to be perverted instead of finding God, instead of finding heaven, he becomes a son of hell.

This extended into the Apostolic Age, the time of the Apostles’ ministries. Henry reminds us:

In fury against Christianity the proselytes readily imbibed the principles which their crafty leaders were not wanting to possess them with, and so became extremely hot against the truth. The most bitter enemies the apostles met with in all places were the Hellenist Jews, who were mostly proselytes

However, St Paul was a Pharisee by upbringing and was every bit as zealous. He took his persecution to distant places before his Damascene conversion, effected directly through Christ Himself (verses 14, 15). Acts 26 records his testimony before King Agrippa:

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Then Paul’s dramatic conversion occurred:

21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

It’s difficult to imagine how dire that period, with its physical violence, must have been for those early Christians, suffering at the hands of zealots.

In closing, I wanted to look at the Pharisees’ treatment of widows, often taken advantage of. This occurs today as well, including in the Church. Who is more vulnerable than a woman alone, especially one grieving the loss of her husband?

Henry explains what the Pharisees did under the cloak of religiosity and law. They ingratiated themselves to these vulnerable women to gain use or ownership of their property for their own personal gain:

What their wicked practices were they devoured widows’ houses, either by quartering themselves and their attendants upon them for entertainment, which must be of the best for men of their figure or by insinuating themselves into their affections, and so getting to be the trustees of their estates, which they could make an easy prey of for who could presume to call such as they were to an account? The thing they aimed at was to enrich themselves and, this being their chief and highest end, all considerations of justice and equity were laid aside, and even widows’ houses were sacrificed to this. Widows are of the weaker sex in its weakest state, easily imposed upon and therefore they fastened on them, to make a prey of. They devoured those whom, by the law of God, they were particularly obliged to protect, patronise, and relieve. There is a woe in the Old Testament to those that made widows their prey (Isaiah 10:1,2) and Christ here seconded it with his woe. God is the judge of the widows they are his peculiar care, he establisheth their border (Proverbs 15:25), and espouseth their cause (Exodus 22:22,23) yet these were they whose houses the Pharisees devoured by wholesale so greedy were they to get their bellies filled with the treasures of wickedness! Their devouring denotes not only covetousness, but cruelty in their oppression, described Micah 3:3, They eat the flesh, and flay off the skin. And doubtless they did all this under colour of law for they did it so artfully that it passed uncensured, and did not at all lessen the people’s veneration for them.

This reading gives us two practical takeaways for our era.

First, let us not do anything by coercion, forcing people to give their money, property or time to the Church. Leave it for church members to decide if that is what they wish to do. Coercion is no different to works righteousness and legalism.

Secondly, new converts quite rightly are ‘on fire for Christ’, as I so often read online. However, those who are ‘all in’ — another commonly used expression — should take care how they present this to their families, especially wives and children. Many who have come to the church from the occult or addiction display an off-putting tendency to push their faith down other people’s throats. Their approach in its mildest form looks nutty but, when extreme, has the potential to become threatening and violent.

Coercion and threatening behaviour is not in His Name nor is it evidence of the Gospel of Grace. In fact, it often leads to cultlike allegiances and alliances.

Pray for guidance, discernment and a cool head.

Next time: Matthew 23:16-19

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 22:23-33

Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.


Matthew 22 records the continuation of theological tests from the Jewish hierarchy and Jesus’s lessons to them.

These took place on Wednesday of His last Passover, which we commemorate during Holy Week.

Matthew 22:1-14 is the Parable of the Wedding Feast. This is an allegory for God’s invitation to share eternal life with Him. The king in Jesus’s parable prepared a wedding feast but those he invited turned the celebration down because they were otherwise occupied. Some even killed his servants, the king’s messengers. The king then instructed his servants to invite all and sundry, both ‘bad and good’ (verse 10). One man was not wearing a wedding garment, not because he could not afford one but because he did not care, a reference to the state of our hearts. The king threw him out. Jesus concluded the parable:

13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Jesus meant that, through Him, God extended an invitation to the Jews to eternal life through belief in His Son the Messiah. The Jews rejected Him, so God invited the Gentiles instead. However, those who do not honour God, like the man not wearing a wedding garment, face His condemnation to eternal death.

It is useful to add that this parable refers to God’s condemnation of them and their people in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple.

Matthew Henry gives us the takeaways of the Parable of the Wedding Feast (emphases mine):

… this feast, a heaven upon earth now, and a heaven in heaven shortly. God has prepared it in his counsel, in his covenant.

Gospel calls and offers are represented by an invitation to this feast. Those that make a feast will have guests to grace the feast with. God’s guests are the children of men.

none are excluded but those that exclude themselves … They are bidden to the wedding, that they may go forth to meet the bridegroom for it is the Father’s will that all men should honour the Son.

Note, Making light of Christ, and of the great salvation wrought out by him, is the damning sin of the world. AmelesantesThey were careless. Note, Multitudes perish eternally through mere carelessness, who have not any direct aversion, but a prevailing indifference, to the matters of their souls, and an unconcernedness about them.

Observe, Both the city and the country have their temptations, the merchandise in the one, and the farms in the other so that, whatever we have of the world in our hands, our care must be to keep it out of our hearts, lest it come between us and Christ.

The prophets and John the Baptist had been thus abused already, and the apostles and ministers of Christ must count upon the same.

Such were some of you or, some that after their conversion proved bad, that turned not to the Lord with all their heart, but feignedly others that were upright and sincere, and proved of the right class. Ministers, in casting the net of the gospel, enclose both good fish and bad but the Lord knows them that are his.

Observe, This hypocrite was never discovered to be without a wedding garment, till the king himself came in to see the guests. Note, It is God’s prerogative to know who are sound at heart in their profession, and who are not. We may be deceived in men, either one way or other but He cannot. The day of judgment will be the great discovering day, when all the guests will be presented to the King …

Those, and those only, who put on the Lord Jesus, that have a Christian temper of mind, and are adorned with Christian graces, who live by faith in Christ, and to whom he is all in all, have the wedding garment.

They who never heard a word of this wedding feast will have more to say for themselves their sin will be more excusable, and their condemnation more tolerable, than theirs who came to the feast without the wedding garment, and so sin against the clearest light and dearest love.

they are few, very few, that are chosen many called to the wedding feast, but few chosen to the wedding garment, that is, to salvation, by sanctification of the Spirit. This is the strait gate, and narrow way, which few find.

The Pharisees then asked Jesus paying tax to Caesar (verses 15-22). They wanted to trap Him into taking one theological side or the other. The Pharisees despised Roman rule and opposed paying tax to their oppressors. Their theological opponents, the Herodians, supported Roman rule. They did well out of it as a result. The people, in turn, loathed the Herodians.

Here they mocked Jesus by calling Him ‘Master’ insincerely. Jesus called them out:

18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?

He asked them to produce a coin, which they did. He asked them whose it was, and they replied, ‘Caesar’s’. He answered them (verse 21):

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

They marvelled at His response and went away.

However, Henry makes this distinction:

Note, There are many in whose eyes Christ is marvellous, and yet not precious. They admire his wisdom, but will not be guided by it, his power, but will not submit to it. They went their way, as persons ashamed, and made an inglorious retreat. The stratagem being defeated, they quitted the field. Note, There is nothing got by contending with Christ.

Then it was the turn of the Sadducees to approach Him, which brings us to today’s verses.

There were four groups of Jews in Jesus’s time. John MacArthur explains:

Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. Essenes were sort of hermits down in the desert who spent all their time copying scrolls and most likely copies the Dead Sea Scrolls, which we have found. Then there were the Zealots who were political activists, who were very nationalistic, who were sort of the terrorists, who were giving trouble to Rome. And then there were the Pharisees who were the religionists. And then there were the Sadducees.

And I’ll give you a little bit of information about them so you’ll understand what’s going on here. They were not many in number. They were a very small group. They were extremely wealthy and very influential. They were the aristocratic ruling class in Judaism. They were the highest echelon. In fact, the chief priests, the high priest, the noblest of the priests were SadduceesThe majority of the members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Israel were also Sadducees. So they had great power, they had great influence, they had great prestige, and they also were wealthy because it was they who ran the temple concessions, the money changing, the buying and selling of all sorts of things that went on there were under their power.

They were not popular with the people. First of all rich people who tend to do things for the expediency of their own personal gain don’t tend to be very popular. Secondly, their theology was not the theology of the people, for it denied the resurrection. The Pharisees were more popular with the people, and so the conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees even added to their unpopularity. They had structural power, they had money power, they gouged the people with the money changing, they gouged the people with the selling and the buying of the animals for the sacrifices, they were not a popular group.

Now politically they were pro Rome, which even added to their unpopularity. They were pro Rome for this reason: they were fat cats

MacArthur says they were also very literal in their interpretation of Scripture, which helps us make more sense of the hypothetical situation they put forward to Jesus.

Now MacArthur says we do not know how the Sadducees got their name, but Henry did. He tells us:

These heretics were called Sadducees from one Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus Sochæus, who flourished about two hundred and eighty-four years before our Saviour’s birth. They lie under heavy censures among the writers of their own nation, as men of base and debauched conversations, which their principles led them to. As the Pharisees and Essenes seemed to follow Plato and Pythagoras, so the Sadducees were much of the genius of the Epicureans[;] they denied the resurrection, they said, There is no future state, no life after this that, when the body dies, the soul is annihilated, and dies with it that there is no state of rewards or punishments in the other world no judgment to come in heaven or hell. They maintained, that, except God, there is not spirit (Acts 23:8), nothing but matter and motion. They would not own the divine inspiration of the prophets, nor any revelation from heaven, but what God himself spoke upon mount Sinai. 

The Sadducees held that only the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Bible, those credited to Moses — were the only valid Scripture. Everything else — Psalms, prophecies and others — held no validity for them. They also rejected the whole body of Jewish traditions from generations before.

In verse 23, we are told they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They presented a scenario to Jesus involving the Mosaic Law which said that a widow must remarry a single brother of her late husband’s so that the family lineage — and God’s chosen — could continue and multiply (verse 24).

Henry explains:

They suggest the law of Moses in this matter (Matthew 22:24), that the next of kin should marry the widow of him that died childless (Deuteronomy 25:5) we have it practised Ruth 4:5. It was a political law, founded in the particular constitution of the Jewish commonwealth, to preserve the distinction of families and inheritances, of both which there was special care taken in that government.

MacArthur tells us of Ruth:

You remember Elimelech had two sons and Ruth had married one of the sons and that son had died. You remember his name was Obed and there was no child. And along came Boaz into her life and Boaz took her as his wife and raised up a child and we’re very interested in that because you must remember that the line of Elimelech was the line of whom, of Messiah. And so that very idea of a near kinsman coming into the line to take up the place of a dead husband to raise up seed fits right into the line of Messiah Himself.

God blessed Boaz and Ruth for their obedience.

On the other hand, God killed Onan for not marrying his widowed sister-in-law. That was before God instituted this law via Moses. Even so, there was a God-given expectation to Jacob’s sons — the twelve tribes — that everyone would play a role in their continuance:

You go back into the time before the law in the 38thchapter of Genesis in the time of the household of Judah, the son of Jacob, and you will remember that there was a situation where Onan, you remember the name Onan, Onan refused to comply and to raise up a child to his dead brother’s wife, and the Bible said Onan spilled his seed on the ground. He refused to give a child to his brother’s wife, to go in and become her husband, and take that role. And it says that God killed him, Genesis 38:8-10. God took his life, because in those early years in the formation of that people and keeping that identification pure that Messiah might come to His people, God maintained these kind of laws so that names and families could be passed on.

MacArthur says it was not clear how strictly this law was applied in Jesus’s time, however, it would have been important to the Sadducees. They asked Jesus a mocking question about the afterlife (verses 25-28). What would happen if a woman married all the brothers of one family in succession with no children: whose wife would she be after the resurrection?

Jesus point blank told them they were wrong in their thinking and their question (verse 29), because they knew neither Scripture nor the power of God the Father. MacArthur says:

He really discredits them. You are mistaken and He uses the word planeo. We got our word planet from it. It means to cause to wander, to lead astray and it’s in the middle voice reflective. It means you are causing yourself to wander. You are leading yourself astray from the truth. You are mentally cut loose from reality. That’s really what He’s saying. To put it in the vernacular, you are spaced out.


Had you known the Scriptures you would have known God promises resurrection. Had you known the power of God you would have known that God can raise people in a state where that’s not going to be an issue. If you knew the power of God you would know that He wouldn’t recreate people with the same problems here. He’s not limited to that, as if God has spent all His creative power on the way we are and can’t improve on it? If you knew the power of God and if you knew the Scripture you wouldn’t be so spaced out in your thinking.

Jesus then went on to say that when we are resurrected, marriage will be finished; we will be ‘like angels in heaven’ (verse 30). MacArthur explains:

There will be no two people who have an exclusive relationship. There will be no intimacy in that sense, and I mean that in the sense of marriage. It could even extend from there to friendships. Nobody will be closer to anybody else because we’ll all be perfectly close to each other and all perfectly intimate with the living God Himself.

We’re not going to be the angels, but be like them. And they were glorious eternal heavenly creatures whose number was fixed who never died and never reproduced. Marriage is necessary in this life for reproduction, preservation, propagation for the race. In [heaven] it will be as unnecessary for us as it is for angels. That’s why Luke in his parallel passage says, “We will be equal to the angels.” Equally deathless, equally spiritual, equally glorified, equally eternal, who have no longer any need to reproduce.

More importantly, Jesus took the Sadducees apart over their unbelief regarding the resurrection. These men who held the Pentateuch so dearly really didn’t know it, because Jesus cited Exodus 3:6 (verses 31, 32).

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

You say, well wait a minute. Is that supposed to be a statement about resurrection? It is. Is indeed a statement about resurrection. He quotes Moses because that’s what they demanded and the statement is an emphatic statement. In the Greek it’s egome I am, present tense, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And the argument here is an argument of the verb tense. He doesn’t say I was he God of Abraham, I was the God of Isaac, and I was the God of Jacob. You see in Exodus 3:6, Abraham was dead, Isaac was dead, and Jacob was dead already. How then can He say I am the God of Abraham, I am the God of Isaac, I am the God of Jacob, which is exactly what the Hebrew of 3:6 implies?

Well you can see it also in Genesis 26:24, Genesis 28:13, God says I am the God of Abraham and in both of those passages Abraham is already dead. And in Exodus 3:6, Exodus 3;15, Exodus 3:16, Exodus 4:15, God says I’m the God of Abraham, I’m the God of Isaac, I’m the God of Jacob, and they’re already dead. And His point then, at the end of the verse, is God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, so if God says I am the God of these people they must be, what, alive, alive. God is not worshipped by corpses. He’s not the God of people who don’t exist. Who wants to be the God of people who don’t exist?

Now note that each is individually singled out there, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and He’s talking about personal intimate relationship of each of them. Now the genitive here of the God of, the God of, the God of, can be seen two ways. It could mean this: the God to whom Abraham belongs, the God to whom Isaac belongs, the God to whom Jacob belongs. Or it could mean the God who belongs to Abraham, the God who belongs to Isaac, the God who belongs to Jacob, and I like to see both. I am the God to whom Abraham belongs and who belongs to Abraham. I am the God to whom Isaac belongs and who belongs to Isaac. I am the God to whom Jacob belongs and who belongs to Jacob. In other words, I am the God who continues to have an intimate relationship of life and worship with these who are dead, which means they still must be, what, alive.

When the crowd heard that, they were ‘astonished’ (verse 33). This is because Jesus was able to answer His enemies perfectly. Remember, most of those people did not recognise Him as their Messiah.

MacArthur says this passage should leave us with three messages about Jesus:

… one, I see here the majestic deity of Jesus.

Second thing I see is His commitment to Scripture.

And thirdly I see his affirmation of resurrection. Whenever I might be prone to doubt the resurrection I’m reminded that Jesus never doubted it for a moment, never for a moment, and affirms here that those who are dead are still alive because God is the God of the living. And so I’m encouraged with another view of Jesus as God, with another view of His dependence on Scripture, with another view of the hope of everlasting life. Instead of them discrediting Him, He discredited them and exposed Himself in all His majesty one more time.

After two more unsuccessful religious tests, Matthew 22 ends with this:

46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 23 recounts what Jesus did next. He condemned the hierarchy with seven woes.

In closing, there are two parallel accounts of this exchange. Mark 12:18-27, about which I wrote in 2013, is not in the Lectionary. However, Luke’s — Luke 20:27-38 — is included.

Next time: Matthew 23:13-15

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 21:23-27

The Authority of Jesus Challenged

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.


We are in the events of Holy Week, which recall Jesus’s final Passover on earth.

After Jesus entered Jerusalem — the Triumphal Entry — He cleansed the temple then healed the blind and the lame. He went to Bethany that night and the following day, hungry and finding that a leafy fig tree had no fruit, He cursed it, a portent for the destruction of the temple and a judgement on the Jewish people.

Because it was Passover week, the temple was teeming with faithful Jews. The temple was not just a place of worship but a vast complex of a courtyard and courts, each of which served a particular purpose. Some courts, like the Court of Women, were for every Jew. The rest had increasingly more restricted access up to the Holy of Holies, where only a few designated priests were permitted.

John MacArthur says:

That temple had a tremendous courtyard…huge courtyard. And surrounding it were these high walls and pillars. And in among those pillars were porches and colonnades and porticos and people would mill all about, especially at Passover, the place would be filled with people and especially having been cleansed. That would invite even more people. And then when Jesus came who had cleansed it, no doubt it was just teeming with people.

Jesus spent His final days teaching at the temple, as He did on this particular day (verse 23).

Matthew Henry points out:

Now that Christ taught in the temple, that scripture was fulfilled (Isaiah 2:3), Let us go up to the house of the Lord, and he will teach us his ways. The priests of old often taught there the good knowledge of the Lord but they never had such a teacher as this.

The parallel versions of this account are found in Mark 11:27-33, about which I wrote in 2012, and Luke 20:1-8, discussed in 2014.

Luke 20:1 tells us He:

was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel

when the Jewish religious authorities approached Him asking him by whose ‘authority’ He ‘was doing these things’ (Matthew 21:23). They implied that He did not receive any authority — permission and power — via ordination from the Sanhedrin.

Jesus responded in rabbinical style, asking them a question (verse 24). By whose authority did John the Baptist baptise (verse 25)? Man’s authority or God’s?

He was confronting a big group of men. The temple had all sorts of priests and elders, many of whom were charged with specific functions, even down to overseeing the bakery for the showbread and the salt used in various ceremonies. MacArthur tells us:

Now, you’ve got to understand who this gang is. This is a big group. First of all, Matthew says the chief priests and the elders, and those are very general terms to engulf a whole group of people. The chief priests would include all the priests. That would mean the high priests, perhaps Caiaphas and Annas who was behind the scenes. That would include the captain of the temple who was second in command, he was in charge of all the worship, he was able to arrest people who did violate the temple rules, as we find in Acts 5 when he arrested the Apostles. The captain of the temple was an office from which the high priest was elected. If the high priest was ill on the Day of Atonement or couldn’t serve, then the captain of the temple was elevated to that role. So it was like being vice-president.

And then under him came the priests of the weekly course of which there were twenty-four of those who offered sacrifice and carried out ceremony. And then there were the priests of the daily course and there were 156 of those. And then there were ordinary…what was called overseer priests who had charge of the keys and the doors and the gates and little areas of administrative responsibility. And then there were the treasurer types who cared for the money, collected the money. And history tells us that these last two categories of overseers and treasurers could be divided into all kinds of people …

And then you probably had other priests. And then you had the non-priests, the rabbis and the scribes. And there’s a large group of guys involved in wanting to bring Jesus’ ministry to a fast stop.

Returning to Jesus’s question about John the Baptist, the hierarchy confronting Him knew they were in a difficult position. The Jewish faithful — the people — knew that John the Baptist was a prophet. Many went to receive his baptism in advance of the Messiah. Gentiles, including some Romans, also received it. Therefore, if the chief priests and elders answered that John had heavenly authority, Jesus would ask (verse 25):

Why then did you not believe him?

Neither could they say that John’s authority came from man, because the faithful recognised him as a prophet. Just as the people feared these men, so they, in turn, feared them (verse 26). They did not want a mob uprising that would threaten their power structure.

These men knew the truth. For their own worldly purposes, however, they refused to acknowledge it. MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

These guys were trained at ignoring facts. They had trained themselves at that. It didn’t matter what the evidence was, they could ignore it. It didn’t matter what Jesus said, it didn’t matter what He did, didn’t matter how powerful His miracles were, how utterly inexplicable they were on a human basis, how utterly unanswerable was His teaching, they still refused to believe. You remember in John 5, He heals the man at the pool of Bethsaida and He’s all finished healing the guy and it says, “Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus and sought to slay Him.” They wanted Him dead instead of saying He has the power of God, He can heal, He must be the Messiah John spoke of, they wanted Him dead.

John chapter 9, they met a blind man, Jesus made the blind man see. And they said to him, “Well, who is He and where is He from?” And the blind man says, “It’s a strange thing that you don’t know who He is or where He came from and He made me see.” When unbelief investigates the truth, it comes up with the wrong answer, see, because it’s already predisposed to ignore the facts. Typical of people who come to look at the gospel message and look at the virtue of Jesus Christ already having convinced themselves that their way is right and the way of God is wrong and no matter how much evidence you give them, they’ll still reject because that’s their predisposition.

To save their own earthly prestige, they told Jesus that they did not know the source of John the Baptist’s authority (verse 27). Henry tells us:

they knew that John’s baptism was of God. Note, There are many who are more afraid of the shame of lying than of the sin, and therefore scruple not to speak that which they know to be false concerning their own thoughts and apprehensions, their affections and intentions, or their remembering or forgetting of things, because in those things they know nobody can disprove them.

Jesus ended the confrontation by saying that He would not reveal by whose authority He did what He was doing. When He said that, He was rejecting them completely. His condemnations continue through Matthew 23 and in a few subsequent verses. MacArthur says:

Now it was their duty to be the acute observers of religious matters. It was their duty to know. And they ignored all the evidence because they would not be put in a position where they would admit Jesus Christ to be the Messiah. Oh, the hardness of their hearts.

And so He says, verse 27, “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” I’m not answering your question either. “Why cast pearls before swine?” They rejected the light so He turned it off, I have nothing more to say to you, nothing more. And He didn’t, He really didn’t. He said to them in 23:33, “You serpents, you generation of snakes, how can you escape the damnation of hell?” In verse 38 He says, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate…desolate.” I mean, it was over, He turned off the lights. And when He was confronted before Caiaphas in Matthew 26:63 it says, “And Jesus held His peace.” Never said a word. He had nothing to say. And when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, Matthew 27:12, “He answered nothing.” Nothing.

O, what a fearful moment. They had so long rejected that He rejected them. Genesis 6:3, God said, “My Spirit will not always strive with man.” In Hosea 4:17 God said, “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.” In Isaiah 63:10 God says, “This people has so long rebelled against Me and vexed My Holy Spirit that I have now determined to fight against them.” That’s where they are, fearful thing.

Unbelievers, deniers and mockers would do well to take note. They still have time to repent with a contrite heart.

Next week’s verses continue the same theme.

Next time: Matthew 21:44-46

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 21:18-22

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”


Last week’s reading — Matthew 21:14-17 — ended with Jesus leaving bustling Jerusalem during His last Passover and retreating to the peace and quiet of nearby Bethany.

John MacArthur says that He stayed with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. A few days before, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The people spread the news quickly, which accounts for the rejoicing crowds who greeted Him on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

When Jesus reached the temple He was filled with righteous anger as He cleansed it of greedy moneychangers and sacrifice swindlers. He then restored it to His Father’s house by healing the blind and the lame (Matthew 21:14-17).

In this continuing account, He returned to Jerusalem from Bethany with His disciples. He was hungry (verse 18). Even if Martha and Mary had given Him breakfast, He knew He was facing death by the end of the week, so it was a monumentally difficult time which was probably taking a lot out of Him.

He went up to a fig tree by the roadside in the hope that it would have fruit, something He could eat (verse 19). As it had only leaves, He cursed it and, instantly it died. A fig tree bears fruit before it has leaves, so one with leaves would imply it was still bearing fruit.

This is more than an account of Jesus’s hunger. This is an allegory for the curse to come to the Jews for their unbelief and hard hearts. Remember that the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. No replacement was ever built.

The fig tree with leaves and no fruit symbolises the Jewish people of His day. The hierarchy were hypocrites, with one set of rules for themselves and an onerous one for ordinary Jews. The religious leaders felt that Jesus threatened their prestige and power. Instead of seeing Him as their long-awaited Messiah, foretold in so many places in Scripture, they plotted to kill Him. They looked religious — just as the fig tree looked fruitful, covered in leaves as it was. However, just as the leaders were devoid of faith and dead in sin, so the fig tree was devoid of fruit. Under the principles of divine judgement, both would have to go.

The ordinary people were no better. How many thousands followed Him to be amazed? How many followed Him and came to believe He was their Saviour? Very few.

Matthew Henry explains this illustration of divine judgement (emphases mine):

all he did was for the benefit and comfort of his friends, none for the terror or punishment of his enemies but now, at last, to show that all judgment is committed to him, and that he is able not only to save, but to destroy, he would give a specimen of the power of his wrath and curse yet this not on any man, woman, or child, because the great day of his wrath is not yet come, but on an inanimate tree that is set forth for an example

The destruction of the temple, which came from the hands of the Romans, demonstrated divine lasting judgement:

Never any good came from them (except the particular persons among them that believe), after they rejected Christ[;] they became worse and worse blindness and hardness happened to them, and grew upon them, till they were unchurched, unpeopled, and undone, and their place and nation rooted up their beauty was defaced, their privileges and ornaments, their temple, and priesthood, and sacrifices, and festivals, and all the glories of their church and state, fell like leaves in autumn. How soon did their fig-tree wither away, after they said, His blood be on us, and our children! And the Lord was righteous in it.

MacArthur says this extended even unto fig trees, a biblical symbol of blessing:

So, the presence of fig trees were the mark of the prosperity of the land. The absence of fig trees, the mark of the judgment of the land. And today there aren’t surely nearly the fig trees there were once. They’ve had to be replanted, you know, that land has been denuded and stripped naked so many, many times that they’re having a reforestation project now to put it back to what it used to be. But it was made naked by so many different conquerors who came in and built all their war machines out of the wood. They stripped the woods bare. And then in one period of Israel’s history, they made a law that every man was taxed according to the number of trees he had on his land. So everybody went out and cut down all their trees. But the fig trees are coming back to the land. Their absence now may be a mark of God’s judgment on that prosperity.

Of course, this extends to political survival and national security:

And they’re in a constant state of vigilance. Life for them is reduced to the basic things, survival and defense.

They’re under a curse…the curse that our Lord pronounced upon them, the curse that Isaiah pronounced upon them, the curse that’s pronounced upon them by God in Deuteronomy, it’s the same thing. You disobey Me, you are under judgment. And they’re under that.

MacArthur has an interesting analysis:

when He comes, just after He’s been inaugurated king, He does two things immediately. First, cleanse the temple; second, curse the tree, and they are monumentally significant things. And if you don’t understand them, you won’t understand why they wanted Him dead.

The first thing, cleansing the temple, was a denunciation of their religion. It was a denunciation of their worship. The second thing, cursing the tree … was a denunciation of them as a nation. So instead of overthrowing their enemies, in a sense He denounces them. And it’s inconceivable to them that their own Messiah could come and condemn them. And that is why they put Him to death. They would have nothing to do with Him and they said it, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” This isn’t our kind of king. He wasn’t like other kings …

So, what you see here are two acts of kingly authority: the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the tree. He has the scepter and He wields it in these ways.

The next series of verses show that the three-year Lectionary editors and compilers made a serious oversight in excluding this passage for three reasons.

First, the disciples were astonished that a leafy tree could die instantly before their eyes (verse 20). Divine judgement is swift, immediate — and effective.

Secondly, Jesus issued a warning about doubt (verse 21) — the oh-so-popular sentiment in Christian circles these days, one which clergy so readily excuse:

if you have faith and do not doubt

Our Lord Himself told us not to doubt.

Faith without doubt can move mountains, a popular expression in the Jewish world that meant resolving the most insurmountable (!) of problems.

Thirdly, Jesus tells us that God answers prayer coming from faith (verse 22).

We read about the fruits of faith in the New Testament, in both the Gospels and the Epistles. MacArthur explains:

Fruit is ever and always the manifestation of true salvation. And what God is saying here is Israel is a nation with a pretense of religion that is unsaved, unredeemed, lost, cut off from God.

Again, it is essential not to confuse fruit with works. Obeying a checklist of laws will not bring salvation.

Fruit is a spontaneous product of real faith. It’s checking in on a sickly neighbour not because you think you ought to, but because you want to. It’s helping other people because you personally feel the urge to do so. Fruit is praying as if you were talking to a friend several times a day, whether asking for divine grace and assistance or giving thanks for blessings received.

MacArthur explains what Jesus means by faith:

Now let me tell you what He means by this. Faith is not faith in nothing. And faith is not faith in things that you think ought to be, and faith is not faith in you or your ideas or your dreams or your ambitions. Faith is placing your confidence in God. All right? So when it says if you have faith, it doesn’t mean nebulous…”Well, I believe in believing…well, I believe because I believe.” Faith is placing confidence in something you know that is true. It is believing in God as God has revealed Himself … 

Having faith is trusting in the revelation of God. In other words, if I know that something is consistent with God’s mind, if I know it is consistent with His will, if I know it is consistent with His purpose, if I know it is consistent with His desire, then I believe that and I can see that come to pass.

Faith should increase as we move through life, just as the tiny mustard seed produces an incredibly large bush the size of a tree:

The faith of a grain of mustard seed is this, a mustard seed’s a small seed that produces what? a very large bush. And the idea is if you have faith that starts small but gets larger and larger and larger and larger, you’re going to see God work in power. That’s what He’s saying. So you start out small and if it doesn’t happen, you don’t say, “Well, I give up…I asked the Lord to do it and He didn’t do it.” But your faith grows and strengthens and strengthens and strengthens …

In other words, the Lord is saying if you believe in God enough to be persistent in your prayers and to start out small and keep praying and keep praying and keep praying, let that faith strengthen and strengthen and strengthen, then God’s going to respond to that.

Too many of us give up on prayer, including some reading this post! MacArthur says:

some of you are not seeing God work in your life simply because there’s no persistence in your prayer. There’s no continuance in your prayer. There’s no strengthening. You don’t get an answer so you quit. And it’s not mustard seed, it’s something else. Mustard seeds start small, gets big.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, ‘Keep the faith, baby’ was a popular saying. If you liked that paraphrase of St Paul’s verses, then apply it to your prayer life. I promise that you will receive more blessings than you ever imagined.

In closing, the parallel account for this reading is found in Mark 11:12-14, about which I wrote in 2012.

Next time: Matthew 21:23-27

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 21:14-17

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.


Last week’s entry — ‘Jesus cleanses the temple’ — discussed how He restored His Father’s house to its rightful place of honour and worship by purging it of sin, specifically deception and greed.

There is a place for a consecrated building to be designated as God’s house. Whilst we are God’s people because we love and worship His Son Jesus Christ, let no one convince us that there is no place for a church building. Over the past decade, if not longer, increasing numbers of clergy have been saying that a structure is unimportant. In the short term, where there is a new church plant, it’s understandable. Looking towards the long term, however, a congregation should be saving money and raising funds for a church building.

If a building dedicated to worship were that negligible, Jesus never would have bothered to cleanse the temple. He could have simply said that the temple was man-made and flawed by definition, therefore, it had nothing to do with Him or God. As it was, He reminded the swindlers that God called the temple ‘My house’.

Today’s verses complete the story. What is particularly striking is that no sooner did Jesus purge the temple of sin than He went on to glorify God through healing the blind and the lame, restoring them to full health immediately (verse 14).

He would be hanging agonisingly on a cross within a few days, yet He reached out to the infirm for one last time. His compassion and love know no bounds.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful analysis, wherein he says that Jesus also granted them spiritual health. How much more proof of His divinity could He give? Emphases mine below:

When he had driven the buyers and sellers out of the temple, he invited the blind and lame into it for he fills the hungry with good things, but the rich he sends empty away. Christ, in the temple, by his word there preached, and in answer to the prayers there made, heals those that are spiritually blind and lame. It is good coming to the temple, when Christ is there, who, as he shows himself jealous for the honour of his temple, in expelling those who profane it, so he shows himself gracious to those who humbly seek him. The blind and the lame were debarred David’s palace (2 Samuel 5:8), but were admitted into God’s house for the state and honour of his temple lie not in those things wherein the magnificence of princes’ palaces is supposed to consist from them blind and lame must keep their distance, but from God’s temple only the wicked and profane. The temple was profane and abused when it was made a market-place, but it was graced and honoured when it was made an hospital to be doing good in God’s, is more honourable, and better becomes it, than to be getting money there. Christ’s healing was a real answer to that question, Who is this? His works testified of him more than the hosannas and his healing in the temple was the fulfilling of the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former.

While the children nearby rejoiced in the most glorifying of ways, the chief priests and scribes became angry (verse 15). Of these men, Henry observes:

Proud men cannot bear that honour should be done to any but to themselves, and are uneasy at nothing more than at the just praises of deserving men … When Christ is most honoured, his enemies are most displeased.

He explains their indignation:

They were inwardly vexed at the wonderful things that he did[;] they could not deny them to be true miracles, and therefore were cut to the heart with indignation at them, as Acts 4:16,5:33. The works that Christ did, recommended themselves to every man’s conscience. If they had any sense, they could not but own the miracle of them and if any good nature, could not but be in love with the mercy of them: yet, because they were resolved to oppose him, for these they envied him, and bore him a grudge.

We might well wonder if the children fully understood why they sang hosannas and referred to Jesus as the Son of David.

John MacArthur reminds us that this event came shortly after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so the children might have been repeating what they had heard then or afterwards:

… we don’t know really how perceptive they were. I’m sure they were perceptive enough to see that He had healed people and that’s pretty overwhelming. You say, “Well, where did they get the idea that He was the Son of David?” Hey, what had been going on all day the day before? And kids learn from their parents, they were just echoing what they heard the day before only it was no problem for them, boy, it seemed really clear now. Mom and dad yesterday had been shouting hosanna to the Son of David, the one coming in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest. They had been praising Him as the King. And as far as these kids could see, it was pretty clear that that’s who He was.

Henry is of the same perspective and adds this practical application by way of warning:

Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do so easily do they imitate and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples, and no bad ones. Maxima debetur puero reverentia–Our intercourse with the young should be conducted with the most scrupulous care. Children will learn of those that are with them, either to curse and swear, or to pray and praise.

Henry goes a step further than MacArthur in saying that the children were divinely inspired:

The Jews did betimes teach their children to carry branches at the feast of tabernacles, and to cry Hosanna but God taught them here to apply it to Christ.

That’s a beautiful thought.

Furious, the chief priests and scribes asked Jesus if He had heard what they were saying? In response, Jesus simply cited Psalm 8:2, the source of the centuries-old saying, ‘Out of the mouths of babes’, indicating profound truth emanating from a blameless innocent who does not understand what he is saying:

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

What a perfect response to the imperfect souls of the hierarchy!

MacArthur says that the idea here was that God would elicit praise for His Son, and if adults wouldn’t justly do it, children would:

God is going to get His praise to His Son, even if the stones have to cry out, as Luke 19:40 said. Like the stones, Christ is to be praised. Like the children, Christ is to be praised. Like people, they are to praise Him as well. He will get the praise either from mature people or infants or rocks if need be. He just alludes to that Psalm as an illustration of what is happening. And I say that so that you’ll understand it isn’t to say that these were zero to three-year-old babies all chanting together, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” But rather an allusion to that principle there.

With that citation, Jesus left the heartless hierarchy standing there. It is also possible that He did not wish to be in their presence lest they seize Him before time. He made His way towards Bethany (verse 18), which, as Henry says, was but a short distance away:

He left them, in prudence, lest they should now have seized him before his hour was come in justice, because they had forfeited the favour of his presence. By repining at Christ’s praises we drive him from us. He left them as incorrigible, and he went out of the city to Bethany, which was a more quiet retired place not so much that he might sleep undisturbed as that he might pray undisturbed. Bethany was but two little miles from Jerusalem thither he went on foot, to show that, when he rode, it was only to fulfil the scripture. He was not lifted up with the hosannas of the people but, as having forgot them, soon returned to his mean and toilsome way of travelling.

Jesus’s good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus — whom He had recently resurrected — lived in Bethany. Scripture does not tell us, but their house might have been a haven of peace and prayer for Him. They would have rejoiced at having Him as a houseguest.

Next time: Matthew 21:18-22

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

12 And Jesus entered the temple[a] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”


We are now reading about the events of Jesus’s final Passover, which many Christians commemorate during Holy Week.

Matthew 21:1-11 records His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember as Palm Sunday. It is important to remember that the crowds hailed him as a temporal king, not the spiritual Messiah.

Once in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple, which, being Passover, was teeming with faithful Jews anxious to offer the proper animal sacrifice.

My past posts have discussed the temple in more detail. The history of the temples is detailed here and here. The structure of the temple of Jesus’s era, the one that the Romans destroyed in 70 AD, is here.

That last post is well worth reading before contemplating today’s verses as it also includes how suitable home bred animals were often rejected and the faithful were forced to buy their sacrifices from the temple.

Then there was the question of temple tax, due during this time. The Jews had to pay it with a special coin in order to be allowed into the Temple during Passover. The moneychangers would charge an exhorbitant rate to exchange everyday money for this coin.

There was a real racket going on. No wonder Jesus was filled with righteous anger.

Some readers might be confused about this cleansing of the temple. After all, isn’t it recorded early on in John’s Gospel? John 2:13-17 says:

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

That cleansing was at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. John MacArthur explains:

So, when He started His ministry, He started it at the temple and when He ends it, He ends it at the temple.

These two cleansings bookend His earthly ministry.

They are important in that, through them, He establishes his Messianic credentials. He is cleaning His Father’s house (verse 12).

In some manuscripts, such as the King James Version, verse 12 begins (emphases mine):

And Jesus went into the temple of God

Jesus drove out these crooked, greedy men. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those selling pigeons. Pigeons were the poor man’s sacrifice. The impoverished faithful were charged exhorbitant prices.

One can imagine the scene. Carefully counted coins scattered everywhere. Pigeons flew away, perhaps not to be seen again.

All this had the permission of the high priest, Annas. He and the other priests were in on the racket. MacArthur explains:

Annas being the high priest, a corrupt and vile man who saw the temple as a way to get power and wealth…had a great idea. He and his priests sold concessions. In other words, you could buy space in the Court of the Gentiles. And there you could come and sell sheep, lambs, doves, pigeons, make money exchanges, sell oil, wine, salt and other requisites that go along with sacrifices.

And you paid dearly for those concessions because here’s how the system worked. Every offering had to be approved by the priests, right? When you finally got into the Court of the Israelites and you brought what you were going to give, it had to be approved. And maybe they had approving stations even before you got that far in. But the priests had to say your sacrifice is okay, and the odds were that if you bought it outside the temple, it was not going to be approved. If you had raised a lamb way out where you lived and brought that little lamb in to be offered, they’d say that lamb is not acceptable, you must have a lamb purchased in the Court of the Gentiles. Go see So-and-so. And so you’d go to buy a lamb from him, only according to Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, you would pay ten times the value of that lamb. So you were extorted, you were fleeced to reverse the picture a little. You were taken by robbers.

Poor people, according to Levitical law, didn’t have to bring a lamb because they couldn’t afford lamb, so they were allowed to have a dove or a pigeon in the place of a lamb. And most historians feel that in today’s currency, a couple of birds might be worth a nickel or a dime. But you would have paid four or five dollars for them there. And if you wanted to exchange your money because you had to have exactly a half shekel so you had to have the right change, and if you came from a foreign country with foreign currency and it had to be changed, you would pay twenty-five percent fee just to make small change.

It is easy for us to say that all this was Jewish practice, nothing to do with us. However, the accounts of these cleansings are warnings about similar corruption in the Church. In pre-Reformation times, this would have meant the selling of indulgences for notional penance for sin or entry into heaven:

In 1392, more than a century before Martin Luther published the 95 Theses, Pope Boniface IX wrote to the Bishop of Ferrara condemning the practice of certain members of religious orders who falsely claimed that they were authorized by the pope to forgive all sorts of sins, and obtained money from the simple-minded faithful by promising them perpetual happiness in this world and eternal glory in the next.[50]

Some of these indulgences were a mandatory purchase and, as with the pigeons of the poor, expensive. The seller — the pardoner — pocketed a percentage of the money and the rest filtered its way to clerics and local rulers. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’, featuring a typical story of the Middle Ages:

The Pardoner says to the pilgrims that by these tricks he has acquired a considerable sum of money. He goes on to relate how he stands like a clergy at the pulpit, and preaches against avarice but to gain the congregation’s money; he doesn’t care for the correction of sin or for their souls.[7] Against anyone that offends either him or other pardoners, he will “stynge hym with my tonge smerte”. Although he is guilty of avarice himself, he reiterates that his theme is always Radix malorum … and that he can nonetheless preach so that others turn away from the vice and repent—though his “principal entente” is for personal gain. The Pardoner explains that he then offers many anecdotes to the “lewed [ignorant, unlearned] people”.[8] He scorns the thought of living in poverty while he preaches; he desires “moneie, wolle [wool], chese, and whete”[9] and doesn’t care whether it were from the poorest widow in the village, even should her children starve for famine.

Some indulgences purchased an exemption from spiritual disciplines:

The “Butter Tower” of Rouen Cathedral earned its nickname because the money to build it was raised by the sale of indulgences allowing the use of butter during Lent.[51]

Similar things go on today with televangelists or independent pastors urging their flocks to give generously because, without them, the ministry cannot exist. Then one sees the money going towards lavish mansions, limousines and clothes for the preacher!

Matthew records that Jesus cited Isaiah 56:7 after cleansing the temple (verse 13):

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”

Matthew Henry tells us:

Tradition says, that his face shone, and beams of light darted from his blessed eyes, which astonished these market-people, and compelled them to yield to his command …

This would indicate the fulfilment of Old Testament Scripture:

if so, the scripture was fulfilled, Proverbs 20:8, A King that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes. He overthrew the tables of the money-changers he did not take the money to himself, but scattered it, threw it to the ground, the fittest place for it. The Jews, in Esther’s time, on the spoil laid not their hand, Esther 9:10.

MacArthur gives us examples from the Old Testament showing the sanctity of the temple, as holy a place as we consider church:

I’m reminded of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah, she went to the temple and Eli the priest sat on a seat by the post of the temple of the Lord. She went there to seek God. She was in bitterness of soul. She prayed to the Lord, she wept bitterly. She vowed a vow. Now that’s what the temple was for. It was for a person to go and find some quiet, the court was where a Jew or a Gentile could go and seek God, a place of silence, a place of meditation, a place to vow a vow to God. And she was there, you remember, and Eli saw her lips moving and she found there the face of God that she sought. God wonderfully heard her prayer and gave her a child.

And you remember when the temple was dedicated in 1 Kings chapter 8 verses 29 and 30 and Solomon offered his prayer to God. And he said, “I pray to God that this place may be a place where Your people can come and confess and find forgiveness, a place of quiet, a place of confession.” And I’m reminded, too, of the psalmist in Psalm 27 who identifies the usefulness of the temple with these words, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” It’s a place where we can see the beauty of the Lord and worship and where we can beseech Him, inquiring of Him there in His holy place. And they had turned it into a crooked bank, a stockyard, a thoroughfare…blasphemous.

What is chilling is Jesus’s comparison of these money-men, priests included, to robbers hiding in a cave awaiting their prey. What a transformation of evil to God’s holy place on earth:

And He says to them in verse 13, “But you have made it a den of thieves,” or a cave of robbers. And that’s another Old Testament quote from Jeremiah 7:11. You have made it…and He borrows the phrase from Jeremiah…a cave of robbers, where robbers hole up. Instead of being a place for true worshipers, it’s a place where people can rob and be protected in doing it. You have made it a cave of robbers. They can come here and they’re safe. Robbers used to hide in the caves. Jeremiah alludes to that in chapter 7 verses 4 to 11 where the robbers were hiding in the caves. And they were safe there, out of the way, unfound, secure. And he says you’ve provided a cave for robbers to hide in in the temple of God. And they can do their robbery right in the place they’re hiding. Such protection of extortioners is blasphemous. Yahweh’s house, God’s house to be a temple to worship and pray and commune with Him, what a prostitution you’ve made of this.

The parallel accounts are Luke 19:45-46, which I covered in November 2014, and Mark 11:15-19, which is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. Mark’s is fuller than the other two accounts, because of these two verses:

18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they[b] went out of the city.

Henry concludes with these words of wisdom:

When dissembled piety is made the cloak and cover of iniquity, it may be said that the house of prayer is become a den of thieves, in which they lurk, and shelter themselves. Markets are too often dens of thieves, so many are the corrupt and cheating practices in buying and selling but markets in the temple are certainly so, for they rob God of his honour, the worst of thieves, Malachi 3:8. The priests lived, and lived plentifully, upon the altar but, not content with that, they found other ways and means to squeeze money out of the people and therefore Christ here calls them thieves, for they exacted that which did not belong to them.

For us, church should also be a holy place where we can communicate with God, perhaps publicly, perhaps privately. It is not a place for running around, distracting others or engaging in ordinary activity, such as checking one’s phone messages or texting (unless it’s an emergency).

Many today — including clergy — say that church is people, not a building. We see from Holy Scripture that this is not the case. A bit more consideration and reverence on our part would not go amiss.

Those of us over a certain age were told from childhood that church is God’s house. May we be ever mindful of it.

Next time: Matthew 21:14-17

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 20:17-19

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”


The two previous accounts in Matthew are are Matthew 16:21-23 and Matthew 17:22-23.

However, Jesus also alluded to His suffering more subtly in Matthew 17:10-13, after the Transfiguration.

The direct parallel verse for today’s reading is Mark 10:32-34, about which I wrote in 2012.

Jesus had now finished His ministry in Perea (Matthew 19:1-Matthew 20:16). He and the Twelve were on their way up to Jerusalem (verse 17). John MacArthur explains the course of His ministry (emphases mine):

It takes us back to Luke 9:51 where the text says, “And He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He was resolute in that commitment. He had while in the northern area of Galilee, finished His Galilean ministry, crossed the Jordan at a northern point, come to the east of the Jordan known as the Beyond called Peraea and He had been in Peraea coming south down the backside of the Jordan. Chapter 19 in the early part of 20 give us incidents in that ministry. Now He crosses the Jordan again, coming toward Jerusalem. He will go through Jericho. Chapter 20 verse 29 has Him departing from Jericho. So He crosses about Jericho, comes to Jericho and starts the long ascent to Jerusalem. It’s only a matter of days really now until He faces the passion, the death and the resurrection.

And you’ll notice it says, “going up to Jerusalem.” They must have been already in motion that way. Already on the move. And when you go up, you really go up. Jericho is about a thousand feet below sea level, Jerusalem is over 5,000 above and as the crow flies, they’re fifteen miles apart. So that’s a very steep ascent.

Jesus explained what would happen in Jerusalem (verses 18, 19). He would face the chief priests and scribes who would condemn Him to death. As Jews were forbidden from carrying out the sentence under Roman rule, the Gentiles would scourge Him and crucify Him.

Note how Jesus ended by saying that He would ‘be raised’ on the third day. It is a way of saying, ‘Fear not. Although my suffering and death will be such as you have never seen, I will rise again in glory’.

He told them this on the way to Jerusalem out of earshot of others because of the charged atmosphere. Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:

It was not fit to be spoken publicly as yet, 1. Because many that were cool toward him, would hereby have been driven to turn their backs upon him[;] the scandal of the cross would have frightened them from following him any longer. 2. Because many that were hot for him, would hereby be driven to take up arms in his defense, and it might have occasioned an uproar among the people (Matthew 26:5), which would have been laid to his charge, if he had told them of it publicly before: and, besides that such methods are utterly disagreeable to the genius of his kingdom, which is not of this world, he never countenanced any thing which had a tendency to prevent his sufferings.

MacArthur directs us to the aforementioned account in Mark 10:32, which tells us that:

the disciples were–and he uses two words–amazed and afraid. They were amazed and afraid. And the reason for this is because they knew the hostility of the Jerusalem aristocracy. They knew that both the chief priests and the scribes were definitely enemies of Christ. They had enough experience to know that. They had already run into conflict with these people, the Pharisees namely, on several occasions. And they really couldn’t see any point in going right into Jerusalem. They also knew that that’s where the Roman seat was. Maybe they felt that if you’re going to pull off a revolution, it ought to start up in Galilee and become sort of an ascending sort of accumulative grass roots revolution. You don’t just walk a motley group of thirteen people into the city of Jerusalem and take over. And so they were somewhat confused. And I think really, in the negative side, they had…many of them had sort of given up on the Kingdom concept in its immediacy, at least emotionally if not intellectually. And all they could see was we’re going to go right in there and die. In fact, in John 11:16, when Jesus said we’re going to go to Jerusalem or to Bethany which is right in that proximity, Thomas who is called Didymus said, “We’ll all go with You and die, too.” Very pessimistic.

Yet what happened next?

In both Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts the next event was the request for the ‘sons of Zebedee’ — James and John — to sit closest to our Lord in His kingdom!

Mark records that James and John requested this themselves:

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Matthew states that their mother asked on their behalf:

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

It’s amazing. Here Jesus was describing the world-changing events to come in Jerusalem and James and John were preoccupied with sitting closest to Him in the kingdom to come.

It all seems rather arrogant, especially as Jesus admired both of them very much. Henry’s analysis surmises that for them, this followed a certain flawed logic:

It was a great degree of faith, that they were confident of his kingdom, though now he appeared in meanness but a great degree of ignorance, that they still expected a temporal kingdom, with worldly pomp and power, when Christ had so often told them of sufferings and self-denial. In this they expected to be grandees. They ask not for employment in this kingdom, but for honour only and no place would serve them in this imaginary kingdom, but the highest, next to Christ, and above every body else. It is probable that the last word in Christ’s foregoing discourse gave occasion to this request, that the third day he should rise again. They concluded that his resurrection would be his entrance upon his kingdom, and therefore were resolved to put in betimes for the best place nor would they lose it for want of speaking early. What Christ said to comfort them, they thus abused, and were puffed up with. Some cannot bear comforts, but they turn them to a wrong purpose as sweetmeats in a foul stomach produce bile.

As far as the mother is concerned, she might have felt that, because of her relationship to Mary, the request was justified:

The mother of James and John was Salome, as appears by comparing Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:40. Some think she was daughter of Cleophas or Alpheus, and sister or cousin german to Mary the mother of our Lord. She was one of those women that attended Christ, and ministered to him and they thought she had such an interest in him, that he could deny her nothing, and therefore they made her their advocate. Thus when Adonijah had reasonable request to make to Solomon, he put Bathsheba on to speak for him. It was their mother’s weakness thus to become that tool of their ambition, which she should have given a check to. Those that are wise and good, would not be seen in an ill-favoured thing. In gracious requests, we should learn this wisdom, to desire the prayers of those that have an interest at the throne of grace we should beg of our praying friends to pray for us, and reckon it a real kindness.

This request takes us back to the Apostles squabbling over which of them was the greatest (Matthew 18:1-4). Students of the Gospel know that the topic also came up again before the Last Supper!

Going back to this episode, however, Jesus did not answer their mother but answered James and John directly. He warned them that they did not know what they were talking about:

22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”

They had no idea.

Not surprisingly:

24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

With some justification.

Jesus told them to put away such thoughts and behaviour:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[c] 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,[d] 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It is sad that the Apostles did not enquire about Jesus’s upcoming suffering and death. They could have asked if they could help alleviate it or for advice on what they could do for their Master.

Instead, their minds were full of prideful things. Let us guard against this in our own lives.

Next time: Matthew 20:29-34

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