Matthew 23:13
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in.
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(13) Woe unto you.—We enter in these verses on the sternest words of condemnation that ever came from our Lord’s lips; but it may be questioned whether our English “Woe unto you” does not exclude too entirely the element of sorrow, as well as indignation, of which the Greek interjection (as in Mark 13:17) is at least capable. Woe for you is, perhaps, a better rendering.

Hypocrites.—See Note on Matthew 6:2.

Ye shut up the kingdom . . .—The words reproduce what had been said before as to “the key of knowledge” (Luke 11:52), the symbol which was given to each scribe on his admission to his office. Our Lord’s charge against them is that the only use they made of the key was to lock the door. They did not enter into the inner meaning of Law or Prophets; they excluded (with a possible reference to their putting out of the synagogue those who believed in Jesus, John 9:22; John 12:42) those who were so entering into the higher life and the higher teaching of the Kingdom. (Comp. Galatians 4:17.)

Matthew 23:13-15. But wo to you, scribes, &c. — Our Lord pronounced eight blessings upon the mount, he pronounces eight woes here, not as imprecations, but solemn, compassionate declarations of the misery which these stubborn sinners were bringing upon themselves. The reasons of his denouncing these woes are set forth in this and the subsequent verses. The first is here given: For you shut the kingdom of heaven against men — Namely, by the prejudices you are so zealous to propagate among the people, and by taking away, as it is expressed Luke 11:52, the key of knowledge, or the right interpretation of the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah, by your example and authority; for they both rejected Jesus themselves and excommunicated those who received him. In short, they did all they could to hinder the people from repenting of their sins, and believing in the gospel. Wo unto you, for ye devour widows’ houses, &c. — Here we have the second reason of these woes. They were covetous, rapacious, and committed the grossest iniquities under a cloak of religion; making long prayers in order to hide their villany. Ye compass sea and land — In these words we have the reason of the third wo. They manifested the greatest zeal imaginable in making proselytes, compassing sea and land, that is, making long journeys and voyages, and leaving no means untried to accomplish that end, while their intention in all this was not the glory of God and the salvation of men’s souls, but their own honour and profit; that they might have the credit of making men proselytes, and the advantage of making a prey of them when they were made. Ye make him two-fold more the child of hell — In the heathen countries these interested, worldly- minded zealots accommodated religion to the humours of men, placing it, not in the eternal and immutable rules of righteousness, but in ceremonial observances; the effect of which was, either that their proselytes became more superstitious, more immoral, and more presumptuous than their teachers; or that, taking them for impostors, they relapsed again into their old state of heathenism; and in both cases became two-fold more the children of hell than even the Pharisees themselves, that is, more openly and unlimitedly wicked than they.23:13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.Woe unto you - You are guilty, and punishment will come upon you. Jesus proceeds to state wherein they were guilty. This most eloquent, most appalling, and most terrible of all discourses ever delivered to mortals was pronounced in the temple, in the presence of multitudes. Never was there more faithful dealing, more terrible reproof, more profound knowledge of the workings of hypocrisy, or more skill in detecting the concealments of sin. This was the last of the Saviour's public discourses; and it is a most impressive summary of all that he had ever said, or that he had to say, of a wicked and hypocritical generation.

Scribes and Pharisees - See the notes at Matthew 3:7.

Hypocrites - Note, Matthew 6:2.

Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven - Note, Matthew 3:2. They shut it up by teaching false doctrines respecting the Messiah; by binding the people to an observance of their traditions; by opposing Jesus, and attempting to convince the people that he was an impostor, thus preventing many from becoming his followers. Many were ready to embrace him as the Messiah, and were about entering into the kingdom of heaven - that is, the church - but they prevented it. Luke says Luke 11:52 they had taken away the key of knowledge, and thus prevented their entering in - that is, they had taken away the right interpretation of the ancient prophecies respecting the Messiah, and thus had done all that they could to prevent the people from receiving Jesus as their Redeemer.

13. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men—Here they are charged with shutting heaven against men: in Lu 11:52 they are charged with what was worse, taking away the key—"the key of knowledge"—which means, not the key to open knowledge, but knowledge as the only key to open heaven. A right knowledge of God's revealed word is eternal life, as our Lord says (Joh 17:3; 5:39); but this they took away from the people, substituting for it their wretched traditions. Our Saviour now cometh to denounce eight woes against the teachers of those times, the scribes and Pharisees. Luke saith, Luke 11:52, Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye enter not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. It was written of old, that the priest’s lips should preserve knowledge: God hath committed the key of knowledge to the ministers and guides of his church, not that they should take it away, but that the people might seek the law at their mouths, because they are the messengers of the Lord of hosts, Malachi 2:7. Now saith our Saviour, you have taken it away: this Matthew calls a shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men; doing what in them lay to keep men from the knowledge of the mind and will of God, neither themselves teaching them the knowledge of God, which yet was their office and duty, nor suffering others to do it who would. You will neither go in yourselves, neither will you suffer them that are entering to go in. Yourselves are too proud or lazy, to preach the gospel, which is the way to the kingdom of heaven, and when others would, you suffer them not; nor yet will you suffer the people, who have a heart to it, to hear it. For this he calls them hypocrites seven times in this chapter, they pretending to be teachers and openers of the door to the kingdom of heaven, when indeed they did shut it; and denounces a woe to them, comprehending that ruin which soon after came upon them and their city by the Roman armies, and that eternal damnation which slept not, and was due to them. There are no worse men in the world than hypocrites, men pretending highly to God, yet neither themselves doing their duty in embracing the gospel, nor suffering others to do it, but doing what in them lie to hinder people from the means by which they might come to the kingdom of heaven. But woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,.... It seems from hence, that the Scribes and Pharisees had not left him, at least not all of them, notwithstanding the confusion they were thrown into; but were still about him, observing what he said to the people, and watching an opportunity to take every advantage against him; whom he addresses in a very awful manner, calling them "hypocrites", as he truly might; for they were such, both to God and men: he had detected them already before the people, in several instances of hypocrisy; and gives sufficient reasons, in the following part of this chapter, to support the character, he gives of them, and his charge against them; denouncing a woe upon them in this world, and that which is to come, no less than eight times; expressing his abhorrence of their wickedness, his commiseration of their case, and their certain destruction: "for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men": not eternal life and happiness, the entrance into which can neither be opened nor shut by men: those whom God determines to bring thither, shall have an entrance abundantly ministered to them, in spite of the opposition of men and devils; though these men did all that in them lay, to hinder persons enjoying everlasting glory. But the Gospel dispensation is here meant, which opened by the ministry of John the Baptist, Christ and his disciples, and which the Scribes and Pharisees did all they could to shut; by discouraging the preaching of the Gospel, and the administration of ordinances, in which this dispensation lay; and prejudicing the minds of men against it, that they might not embrace the doctrines of it, nor submit to its ordinances: they, by their office, ought to have opened and explained the Scriptures, the prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the Messiah, and led the people into a knowledge of the mysteries of his kingdom, and encouraged them to enter into this new state of things; which, according to the true intent of Scripture, was to take place, and now did: but instead of this, they shut up the Scriptures, took away the key of knowledge, and laid it aside; and darkened the Scriptures by their false glosses, and obliged the people to observe the traditions of the elders, and which they call , "an hedge for the law" (w); to which Beza thinks, the allusion is here, and by which men were shut up, and kept from the true knowledge both of law and Gospel:

for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in: they neither believed in the Messiah themselves, nor embraced the doctrines relating to his person and office: have any of the Pharisees believed on him? No; they received him not, they rejected him, and also the counsel of God, against themselves, not being baptized with the baptism of John, the forerunner of Christ; nor would they suffer others, that were inclined to profess their faith in him, and be baptized, to do it; but discouraged them all they could, by their reproachful treatment of the person, miracles, and ministry of Christ, and by their threatenings and menaces, and by their excommunications of such as made a confession of him.

(w) Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 1.

{5} But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, {m} hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are {n} entering to go in.

(5) Hypocrites cannot endure others to be better than themselves.

(m) Christ, when he reproves any man sharply, uses this word to show us that there is nothing more detestable than hypocrisy and falsehood in religion.

(n) Who are even at the door.

Matthew 23:13. Here begins the direct and withering apostrophe of Jesus to His adversaries themselves who are still present, this part of the address consisting of seven woes, and extending to Matthew 23:36. For the spurious Matthew 23:14, Elz., concerning the devouring of widows’ houses, see the critical remarks. The characteristic feature in this torrent of woes is its intense righteous indignation, such as we meet with in the prophets of old (comp. Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 10:1; Habakkuk 2:6 ff.),—an indignation which abandons the objects of it as past all hope of amendment, and cuts down every bridge behind them. To Celsus (in Origen, ii. 76) all this sounded as mere empty threat and scolding.

ὅτι] assigns the reason of this οὐαί.

κλείετε, κ.τ.λ.] The approaching kingdom of the Messiah is conceived of under the figure of a palace, the doors of which have been thrown open in order that men may enter. But such is the effect of the opposition offered to Christ by the scribes and Pharisees, that men withhold their belief from the Messiah who has appeared among them, and show themselves indifferent to the δικαιοσύνη, necessary in order to admission into the kingdom from which they are consequently excluded. Comp. Luke 11:52. They thus shut the door of the kingdom in men’s faces.

ὑμεῖς γὰρ, κ.τ.λ.] explanatory reason.

τοὺς εἰσερχομ.] who are trying, who are endeavouring to obtain admission. See Bernhardy, p. 370 f.Matthew 23:13-31. The seven woes.—There are eight, if we count that in Matthew 23:13 of T. R., but as this ver. is omitted in the best MSS. and appears to be a gloss from Mk. and Lk. I do not count it. Vide notes on Mark 12:40. These woes seem to be spoken directly to the scribes and Pharisees. Weiss regards this as a rhetorical apostrophe, the disciples being the real audience throughout.13. ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men] In allusion to the symbolic “key of knowledge” given to the Scribe on admission to the order. They use their keys to shut rather than to open the doors of the Kingdom.Matthew 23:13-14. Οὐαὶ, woe) Woe is uttered eight times in this passage:[993] blessed is uttered eight times and more in Matthew 5. from Matthew 23:3, where see Gnomon.—οὐαὶ ὑμῖνκλείετε τὴν βασιλεὶανκατεσθίετε τὰς οἰκίας τῶν χηρῶν, κ.τ.λ., woe unto you—ye shut up the kingdom—ye devour widowshouses, etc.) In many MSS. these words are transposed;[994] but that must come first in which the kingdom of heaven is mentioned; cf. ch. Matthew 4:17, Matthew 5:3, etc.[995]—ὑποκριταὶ, hypocrites) The characteristics of hypocrites may be ascertained from this indictment, as Thomasius has done in his Cautions. Woes were denounced against them, not because they were Scribes and Pharisees, but because they were hypocrites.—κλείετε, ye shut up) i.e. with a key: ye shut up as being ignorant and blind.—ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, before men[996]) sc. before their eyes, when they were just close.—οὐκ εἰσέρχεσθε, ye do not enter) a great woe, and the first; cf. Matthew 5:3, on the first degree of blessedness.—τοὺς εἰσερχομένους, them that are entering) sc. either in will or in deed.

[993] Our Saviour had used various degrees of argument against His opponents all along from ch. Matthew 9:4; but now, at the last, moved by a holy fervour, He brings forth most plainly the whole fact as it really was.—Harm., p. 472.

[994] Such is the reading of E. M.; but E. V. supports the order approved by Bengel. In his Apparatus Criticus, Bengel says of the reading:—“κλείετεκατεσθίετε”—“Sic Erasmus, Beza, Bodl. 1. 2, Cypr. Laud. 1. 2, Roe et sex et octo alii, vel etiam Cam. Item Hilar. Euthym. Copt. Lat., etiam apud Hieron.” Of the order “κατεσθίετεκλείετε,” he says:—“Comp. Stap. Steph. edd. Aug. 1, 2, 4, Byz. Gehl. Mosc Wo. 1, 2, etc., Chrysost. Theophyl., opus imperf. Arab. Lat. pauculi, Syr. Quinque Colbertinos pro illâ lectione citat Millius, a silentio amicorum, qui Bezam adhibuerant argumentatus; pro hâc Simonius in notis ad h. l. Vide Gnomon: quanquam is prior videtur esse versus, quem scorsum referunt Marcus et Lucas.”—(I. B.)

[995] Although that verse seems likely to come first, which Mark and Luke represent as spoken separately.—App. Crit. Ed. ii. p. 134.

[996] E. V. “against men.”—(I. B.)

BDLZ a Vulg. (Amiat. MS.) omit all the words of Matthew 23:14, ovalοὐαὶκατεσθίετε τ. οἰκίας τ. χηρῶν (Rec. Text adding καὶ) προφασειπροσευχόμενοι διὰ τοῦτοκρίμα. The Canons of Euseb. seem to omit the words: also Origen, who speaks of “the second woe in Matthew” being οὐαὶὅτι περιάγετε τὴν θάλασσαν, etc. 4, 352a. Therefore Lachm. and Tischend. rightly omit them. The words seem to me to have crept in from Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. However bc and Hilary 725d and 89 supports the words here.—ED. The margin of Bengel’s Ed. ii. holds the omission of Matthew 23:14 as all but equal to the Rec. Text.—E. B.Verses 13-32. - Eight woes pronounced on the Pharisees for their conduct and teaching. (Comp. Luke 11:42-52.) Verse 13. - Some authorities transpose vers. 13 and 14 - a variation attributable to the circumstance that the commencing clauses are the same. As Christ inaugurated his public teaching by pronouncing eight benedictions in the sermon on the mount, so here he closes his ministry by imprecating or prophesying eight woes on the perverse and unbelieving Pharisees. In Lange's commentary there is proposed a scheme of antithesis between the benedictions and the woes, but it is not very successful, being often forced and unnatural; and it is better to regard the contrast in a general view, and not to attempt to press it in particulars. Jesus here pours forth his righteous anger on those whose obstinate infidelity was about to bring ruin on the Jewish city and nation. Woe unto you! (Matthew 11:21). These terrible "woes" are not only evoked by indignation, and pronounced as a solemn judgment, they are also expressive of the profoundest pity, and are prophetic of the future. They have, indeed, a twofold reference - they refer first to temporal judgments and visitations, now ready to fall; and secondly to the retribution in the eternal world. That the meek and lowly Jesus should utter such awful denunciations shows how greatly he was moved how he left nothing untried to turn these hard hearts to introspection and repentance. Scribes and Pharisees (see on ver. 2), hypocrites (Matthew 6:2). Christ uses this word seven times in these denunciations. It is applied to the Pharisees as deceiving themselves and others, under the mask of godliness hiding polluted hearts, persuading themselves that formal externalism was real piety and devotion, and practically teaching this fatal delusion. Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων: before men; ante homines (Vulgate. This is the first woe - against perverse obstructiveness. They prevent men from accepting Christ, and so entering God's kingdom, by their false interpretation of Scripture, by not allowing that it testified of Christ, and by making the path impassable for the poor and ignorant. And this is done "in the face of men," when they are, as it were, thronging round and wishing to enter. "Ye have taken away the key of knowledge," he says, in another place (Luke 11:52). Neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. The kingdom of heaven is here metaphorically regarded as a banqueting hall, where are celebrated the espousals of Christ and his Church. The Pharisees watched the access thereto. They stood at the door to bar all entrance. If any showed signs of yielding to honest conviction, they sternly forbade them to proceed; they repelled them with violence, as by excommunication (John 9:22, 34), or by calumniating the Teacher (Matthew 9:34, etc.). There was many a time when 34, people were ready to acknowledge Christ and to follow him as Messiah. A word from their authorized leaders would have turned the scale in his favour; but that word was never spoken. The weight of authority was always placed on the opposite side, and naught but prejudice, animosity, and slander befell the cause of Jesus. Hypocrites (ὑποκριταί)

From ὑποκρίνω, to separate gradually; so of separating the truth from a mass of falsehood, and thence to subject to inquiry, and, as a result of this, to expound or interpret what is elicited. Then, to reply to inquiry, and so to answer on the stage, to speak in dialogue, to act. From this the transition is easy to assuming, feigning, playing a part. The hypocrite is, therefore, etymologically, an actor.

Against (ἔμπροσθεν)

Very graphic. The preposition means before, or in the face of. They shut the door in men's faces.

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