In the Fulness of Time/Part 132

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2010
The first question of Jesus to the Pharisees has to do with the humanity of the Messiah; at least this is how they interpreted it. After answering the questions of the scribes who were sent by the Pharisees, and after silencing the Pharisees by His questions, Jesus then turned to the multitude and to His disciples with a warning about the Scribes and Pharisees.

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Jesus asks questions concerning Messiah. Matthew 22:41-46

Whose Son is Messiah? Matthew 22:41-42

Mt. 22:41-42 “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ, Whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David.”

The first question of Jesus to the Pharisees has to do with the humanity of the Messiah; at least this is how they interpreted it. Interestingly enough, when Christ asked this question of His disciples in 16:15, “But who say ye that I am?” Peter answered with a full-blown description: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Perhaps the Pharisees were congratulating themselves on answering such a simple question. Any Jewish child would have been able to give this part of the answer. Many verses in the Old Testament prophesied that Messiah was to be born of the family of David. God had spoken directly to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-14 that He would establish the throne of David’s kingdom forever; Isaiah 11:1 speaks of the rod out of the stem of Jesse, the father of David; Jeremiah 23:5-6 says that God will raise unto David a righteous branch, and that he will execute justice and righteousness in the earth. But, as easy as this question was to answer, the Pharisees were in no way ready for the second part, which had to do with the deity of the Messiah.

Can Messiah be David’s son and Lord? Mt. 22:43-46

Mt. 22:43-46 “He saith unto them, How, then, doth David, in the Spirit, call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David, then, call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”

In the compass of these few verses, a number of the most profound doctrines from the Old Testament are touched upon, including the Trinity (both the deity of Christ and the Person of the Holy Spirit), Inspiration of Scripture, the Ascension of Christ and Eschatology. In the first part of the question Christ caused the Pharisees to admit that Messiah was to be the son of David. In fact, in Mark 12:35 He states that the scribes were teaching this. Then He pointed to Psalm 110:1 as being written by David by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Mark 12:36 specifically says: “For David himself said by the Holy Spirit,” and then the quotation from Psalm 110 follows: “the LORD said unto my Lord.” In Hebrew the first word (LORD) is Jehovah and the second word (Lord) is Adonai, both regularly used names of deity.

Though liberal theologians have devised ridiculous means attempting to deny David as author of the psalm as well as to deny any reference to Messiah, this goes against all the records of its use in the New Testament. Not only does Jesus use it of His Messiahship, but Peter (Acts 2:34-35), Paul (1 Corinthians 15:25) and references in Hebrews (1:13; 10:13) all use it to testify of the Messiah. The fact is that One Person of the Trinity speaks to Another Person of the Trinity, calling Him Adonai. This Second Person is also David’s son according to the flesh. He is invited to sit at the right hand of Jehovah “until” His enemies are made His footstool. The word “until” spans the time from Christ’s ascension, through what we now know as the Church Age, plus the period of the 70th Week for Israel, and includes the return of Messiah to earth.

The rest of Psalm 110 pictures Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek and says: “The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of my wrath” (verses 4-5). Although the main purpose of the question was to show that the son of David is also the Son of Jehovah, all the activities mentioned will be fulfilled as well. To the question of Christ in verse 45: “If David, then, called him Lord, how is he his son?” there is only one answer, and the Pharisees were not able to admit that answer, for it would necessitate their receiving Jesus as both Lord and Christ!

His Warning against their Inconsistent Actions. Mt. 23:1-12

Their authority is to be admitted. 23:1-3

Mt. 23:1-3 “Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. All, therefore, whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do, but do not after their works, for they say, and do not.”

After answering the questions of the scribes who were sent by the Pharisees (36-40), and after silencing the Pharisees by His questions (41-46), Jesus then turned to the multitude and to His disciples with this warning here in 23:1-12. The position which they claimed is designated as “Moses’ seat.” As far back as Ezra’s day there were scribes: “This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses…. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances” (Ezra 7:6, 10). It is interesting that Ezra was both priest (cohen) and scribe (sepher), and was not only committed to seek and teach the Law, but also to do it, the latter being the very thing that the scribes of Jesus’ day were prone not to do! By the time of Jesus, the priests of Israel were primarily Sadducees who had forsaken important doctrines as the resurrection, angels and spirits.

But whence came the scribes through the centuries after Ezra?

In rabbinic literature the train of tradition is given as follows: Moses received the Torah on Sinai and delivered it to Joshua, who in turn delivered it to the elders, the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Men of the Great Synagogue (Avot1:1)…. Thus, the transmitters of tradition included the successors of the Men of the Great Synagogue down to modern times, namely the scribes (soferim), the pairs (zugot), the tannaium, the amoraim, the savoraim, the geonim, the codifiers, the world famous Torah authorities of every era, and the rasher ha-yeshiva (heads of the academies). [Jewish Values (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1974), pp. 42-43.]

Included in this list were the scribes (soferim, from saphar “to write”). In the New Testament era they were “the teachers of the law” (Luke 5:17). Many of them were Pharisees, but certainly not all Pharisees were scribes. They “sat in Moses’ seat,” that is, there was no appointment, rather, they took upon themselves this position of authority, and it was continued by tradition. Still, Jesus told the multitude and His disciples to “observe and do” (both present tenses: “keep on observing and keep on doing”) all that these scribes were saying. Obviously this cannot mean all their traditions, for He has already said that they made the Word of God of no effect by their traditions in 15:3, 6. The emphasis of Jesus is on all that they say as sitting in Moses’ seat, which could only include the Word of God.

This is similar to Paul’s admonition in Romans 13:1, 4: “Let every man be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God, For he is the minister of God to thee for good.” This does not mean that we have to obey an immoral law, or one which restricts Christian testimony. The apostles in Acts 5:29 made it clear to the authorities that there are times when we ought to obey God rather than men. Therefore, while Jesus instructed obedience to what the scribes and Pharisees said, He also admonished the people not to do after their works, because they did not practice what they preached. In order to enforce this principle, Jesus listed specific areas of their practice to shun.

Their actions are to be avoided. Mt. 23:4-12

Binding of heavy burdens. Mt. 23:4

Mt. 23:4 “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

This verse does not imply that the scribes and Pharisees refused to observe their own traditions; the very next verse speaks of their doing of their works. Verse 4 does mean that they piled the burdens of tradition on others to the extreme, and would not move a finger to ease such burdens. Since the written Law, the Torah, did not give specific details in such things as buying and selling, or how to transfer property, or even what was involved in Sabbath work, an Oral Law was formulated, “because the literal reading of the Torah text cries out for further amplification” (Jewish Values, p. 13).

The idea was, that this Oral Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, but he did not preserve it in writing; rather, it was passed down from one generation to another by oral tradition. Yet, it was given equal authority with the written Law and was expected to be observed and obeyed. This kept the common people under the bondage of the scribes and Pharisees, who used the so-called Oral Law as an excuse to add burdensome regulations to the Law of Moses. Eventually, the true grace of God in the Old Testament was buried under their merciless traditions.

Broadening of outward Symbols. Mt. 23:5

Mt. 23:5 “But all their works they do to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.”

Christ made it clear that all the works of the scribes and Pharisees had selfish motives. This was not to fulfill Scripture, nor to glorify God, but was all directed to be seen of men. Two things are mentioned here, phylacteries and tassels on the borders of their garments. There is not much question about the wearing of tassels because they were commanded in Numbers 15:38-39; Deuteronomy 22:12 that they should “make fringes on the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringes of the borders a cord of blue.” The blue tassels were to remind them of all the commandments of God, and to be holy.

But concerning the wearing of phylacteries it is not certain. The word “phylacteries” does not occur in the Old Testament at all, and it may surprise some that it is used only this one time in the New Testament. It is from the Greek phulakteria (from phulasso, “to guard”) and in paganism was an amulet or charm worn to ward off, or guard against evil. In the Jewish culture they were made of small leather pouches to which straps were attached, one for the forehead and one for the left arm since it was nearest the heart. In these little boxes were placed four sets of verses of Scripture, Exodus 13:1-10; 11-16 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21. The straps were wrapped around the arm and hand to form the Hebrew letter shin (sh) which is the first part of the name of God, Shaddai, or Almighty.

A further surprising note is that all four references may have never been intended to be taken literally, that is, that these leather boxes should never have been worn at all:

If the practice of wearing borders had Scriptural authority, we are well convinced that no such plea could be urged for the so-called phylacteries. The observance arose from a literal interpretation of Ex. xiii.9, to which even the injunction in Deut. vi.8 gives no countenance. This appears even from Deut. xi.18, where the spiritual meaning and purport of the direction is immediately indicated, and from a comparison with kindred expressions, which evidently could not be taken literally – such as Prov. iii.3; Cant. viii.6; Isa. xlix.16…. There is sufficient evidence, even from the Rabbinical writings, that in the time of Christ, phylacteries were not universally worn, nor yet by priests while officiating in the Temple. [Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Life in the Days of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1956), pp 220-221.]

In actuality, Exodus 13:9 rather seems to be referring to the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “The festival prescribed was to be for Israel ‘for a sign upon its hand, and for a memorial between the eyes’” (Keil and Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), pp 34, 37.] Even though Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18 both mention binding God’s Word on their arms and foreheads, there is also the command to lay them up in their hearts and souls. Keil and Delitzsch remark further that the correctness of the figurative interpretation here: is obvious from the words themselves, which do not say that the commands are to be written upon scrolls, but only that they are to be to the Israelites for signs upon the hands, and for bands between the eyes, i.e., they are to be kept in view like memorials upon the forehead and the hand” (Ibid, p. 37). Then, in Proverbs 3:3, mercy and truth are to be bound around the neck, and in Proverbs 6:21 the father’s commandments are to be bound upon the heart and around the neck; both of these, obviously, can only be interpreted figuratively.

It is not easy to trace the history of the literal usage of phylacteries by the Jews, although MacArthur does mention that: “There is no record of the use of phylacteries until about 400 B. C. during the intertestamental period. Relics of them were found in the Essene community at Qumram near the Dead Sea” (John MacArthur, Matthew, 4 Volumes (Chicago, Moody Press, 1985-89), Vol. 3, p. 364.] What Christ condemned was not the wearing of the phylacteries nor the sewing of tassels on the borders of their garments, but the practice of making either or both of these things larger than normal in order for them to be seen of men. At the same time, He did not recommend the wearing of phylacteries at all.

Boasting of Superior Positions. Mt. 23:6-12

Mt. 23:6-12 “And love the uppermost places at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters, for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”

Continuing with His explanation that the scribes and Pharisees do all their works to be seen of men, Christ next considered three areas for which they had great affection, at the feasts, in the synagogues and out in the market-place. At the feasts the guests reclined on couches at low tables, The “uppermost places” were: “at the extreme left of the couch, considered foremost because the person occupying it could overlook the entire table without throwing back his head or turning around” [R. C. H. Lenski, Matthew (Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1932), p. 875.] In the synagogues they loved the “chief seats” exhibiting their pride: “The congregation sat facing the ark. On the other hand, the ‘rulers of the synagogue,’ Rabbis, distinguished Pharisees, and others, who sought honor from men, claimed the ‘chief seats,’ which were placed with their backs to the ark, and facing the worshippers” (Edersheim, op. cit., p. 263).

Out in the streets in the marketplace, they loved to be called, Rabbi, Rabbi, which means “my great one,” and came to refer to teachers among the Jews. Judas called Jesus Rabbi in Matthew 26:25, 49 and in John 1:38 two disciples of John the Baptist called Jesus: “Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master).” So it was, at that time, a general title of respect; but later history indicates the extremes to which the title was taken. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees loved the notoriety of being addressed as Rabbi.

Jesus then turned directly to His disciples and gave strict admonitions against such pride and pomposity. The three titles are not forbidden on the basis of their meanings, but rather because of certain implications in their use.

First, “Be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your Master (the Greek word here is didaskalos, “teacher,” as it is in John 1:38; or it could be kathegetes, “leader,” according to the Textus Receptus) even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” The emphasis would then be, Christ is your authoritative teacher and you are brothers, all learning from Him, not exalting your authority over His authority.

Second, “call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father who is in heaven.” Certainly Christ could not forbid them to call their physical sire “father,” and even in one sense would not contradict Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:15 who claimed to be the father of the Corinthian believers, in that: “in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” No, Christ was dealing with Pharisaic pride and in this sense, no one could claim to be their father, supposing that by means of their traditions and heavy legal requirements, they had been the source of life for their followers! Even when Paul used the title, he made sure to say that “in Christ Jesus” he had begotten the Corinthians through the gospel. So, the title “father” has reference to the source of life, thus there is only one Father, and He is in heaven.

Finally, in verse 10 they are not to be called masters, for One is their Master, even Christ. Here the word is definitely kathegetes, or “leader” from the verb kathago,to lead, to guide.” No man should usurp the place of Christ in guiding His followers.

The same admonition inheres in all three titles; the appearance before men in an attitude of pride. Christ’s final words in these admonitions makes this clear; to be greatest, be the servant; to be exalted, humble yourself. This is identical with Matthew 20:26-28 where Jesus presented the same challenge to His disciples. To be otherwise may, “in the fulness of time” result in a condition of such Pharisaism as would keep an individual from true belief in Christ!

Read Part 133

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