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Matthew 23 - IVP New Testament Commentaries


Matthew's final discourse (chaps. 23-25) approximately balances the first discourse (chaps. 5-7) in length and concludes with the same summary statement as the other discourses: "When Jesus had finished saying all these things" (26:1). But whereas Jesus' first sermon in Matthew opens with blessings for the meek (5:3-12), his last opens with woes against the religious elite. Jesus here condemns much of the religious leadership of his and Matthew's day. Judgment against both the religious teachers (scribes and Pharisees) and the temple blend together with the final judgment in this final sermon of the Gospel. Matthew's audience, probably facing increasing pressure from the religious elite of their own day (very possibly successors of the Pharisaic scribes), would have heard in these warnings cause for hope.

At the same time, scribes and Pharisees are hardly the address's main audience; these words function instead to warn Christians. The explicit audience, as in the first discourse section (5:1-2; 7:28), consists of both disciples and crowds (23:1). Sometimes Christian preachers have caricatured Pharisaic piety to avoid the demands that Jesus' condemnations otherwise would make on Christians today (see Odeberg 1964). Just as judgment separated true from false religion at Jesus' first coming, it would do the same at his second, laying bare the hearts of church leaders (24:45-25:30).

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Judgment on the Religious Elite

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