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THE  TEACHINGS  OF  JESUS

THE   SIX  WOES

Mt. 23:13-15  

Their treatment of the living

Mt. 23:16-22  

False swearing

Mt. 23:23  

Hypocrites

Mt. 23:24  

Blind guides

Mt. 23:25-28  

False cleansing

Mt. 23:29-33  

Their treatment of the dead
WOE  # 1 - THEIR TREATMENT OF THE LIVING
Matt 23:13-15

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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, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.    (NKJ)

Matt 23:13-15
13 "Woe to you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders. Hypocrites! For you won't let others enter the Kingdom of Heaven and won't go in yourselves. And you pretend to be holy, with all your long, public prayers in the streets, while you are evicting widows from their homes. Hypocrites!
14  Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharoisees, Hypocrites! For ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
15 Yes, woe upon you hypocrites. For you go to all lengths to make one convert, and then turn him into twice the son of hell you are yourselves.  (TLB)

Hypocrites - [hupokritai (grk 5273)]. From [hupokrinoo] (grk 5271), 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 - [emprosthen (grk 1715)]. Very graphic. The preposition means "before, or in the face of." They shut the door in men's faces.  
(from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

Neither suffer ye that are entering to go in - Here they are charged with skutting heaven against men: in <Luke 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 bright knowledge of God's revealed word is eternal life, as our Lord says (<John 17:3>, and <Matt. 23:39>); but this they took away from the people, substituting for it their wretched traditions. 
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

THE PHARISEES

[FARE uh sees] (separated ones)-- a religious and political party in Palestine in New Testament times. The Pharisees were known for insisting that the law of God be observed as the scribes interpreted it and for their special commitment to keeping the laws of tithing and ritual purity.

The Pharisees had their roots in the group of faithful Jews known as the Hasidim (or Chasidim). The Hasidim arose in the second century B. C. when the influence of HELLENISM on the Jews was particularly strong and many Jews lived little differently than their Gentile neighbors. But the Hasidim insisted on strict observance of Jewish ritual laws.

The way in which the scribes spelled out the meaning of the Mosaic Law, the ways in which they adapted that Law to suit the needs of their day, the time-honored customs which they endorsed-- all these became a part of the "tradition of the elders" <Mark 7:3>. Although these traditions were not put into writing, they were passed on from one scribe to another and from the scribes to the people. From this tradition, they claimed, the Jewish people could know the way God's law should be observed. The Pharisees agreed, and they were known for supporting and keeping the "tradition of the elders."

According to the New Testament, the Pharisees were concerned about strictly interpreting and keeping the law on all matters <Acts 26:5>, including the Sabbath <Mark 2:24>, divorce <Mark 10:2>, oaths <Matt. 23:16-22>, the wearing of PHYLACTERIES and FRINGES <Matt. 23:5>, and so on. But they showed special zeal in insisting that laws of tithing and ritual purity be kept <Matt. 23:23-26; Mark 7:1-13; Luke 11:37-42; 18:12>.

Unlike the SADDUCEES, the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection of the dead. On this point, they were on common ground with the early Christians <Acts 23:6-9>. The scribe in <Mark 12:28> who thought that Jesus had answered the Sadducees well concerning the resurrection was probably a Pharisee.
(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary)   (Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Shall receive the greater damnation - Taking advantage of the helpless condition and confiding of "widows," they contrived to obtain possession of their property, while by their "long prayers" they made them believe they were raised far above "filthy lucre." So much "the greater damnation" awaits them. What a life-like description of the Romish clergy, the true successors of those scribes!
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

In verses 13-33 we have eight woes levelled directly against the scribes and Pharisees by our Lord Jesus Christ, like so many claps of thunder, or flashes of lightning, from mount Sinai. Three woes are made to look very dreadful <Rev. 8:13; 9:12>; but here are eight woes, in opposition to the eight beatitudes, <Mt. 5:3>. The gospel has its woes as well as the law, and gospel curses are of all curses the heaviest. These woes are the more remarkable, not only because of the authority, but because of the meekness and gentleness, of him that denounced them. He came to bless, and loved to bless; but, if his wrath be kindled, there is surely cause for it: and who shall entreat for him that the great Intercessor pleads against? A woe from Christ is a remediless woe.
(from Matthew Henry's Commentary)

Devour widows' houses - The word "houses" is used here to denote "property" or possessions of any kind. You take away or get possession of the property of widows by improper arts and pretences. This was done in two ways:

1. They claimed a very exact knowledge of the law and a perfect observance of it. They pretended to extraordinary justice toward the poor, friendship for the distressed, and willingness to aid those who were in embarrassed circumstances. They thus induced "widows" and poor people to commit the management of their property to them as guardians and executors, and then took advantage of them and defrauded them.

2. They put on the appearance of great sanctity, and induced many conscientious but credulous women to give them much, under pretence of devoting it to religious purposes.

[Long prayer] Their prayers are said to have been often three hours in length. One rule among them, says Lightfoot, was to meditate an hour, then pray an hour, and then meditate another hour-- all of which was included in their "long prayers or devotions."  
(from Barnes' Notes)

Matthew 23:15

Proselyte - One that comes over from a foreign nation, religion, or sect to us-- a convert. Among the Jews there were two kinds of proselytes:

1. "Proselytes of righteousness," or those who wholly and fully embraced the Jewish religion, who were baptized, who were circumcised, and who conformed to all the rites of the Mosaic institutions.

2. "Proselytes of the gate," or those who approved of the Jewish religion, renounced the pagan superstitions, and conformed to some of the rites of the Jews, but were not circumcised or baptized.

Twofold more the child of hell - That is, twice as bad. To be a child of hell was a Hebrew phrase, signifying to be deserving of hell, to be awfully wicked. Compare the notes at <Matt. 1:1>. The Jewish writers themselves say that the proselytes were "scabs of Israel," and "hindered the coming of the Messiah" by their great wickedness. The Pharisees gained them either to swell their own numbers, or to make gain by extorting their money under various pretences; and when they had accomplished that, they took no pains to instruct them or to restrain them.   they had renounced their superstition which had before somewhat restrained them, but the Pharisees had given them no religion in its place to restrain them, and they were consequently left to the full indulgence of their vices.
(from Barnes' Notes)

Dr. Lightfoot, and others, observe, that the proselytes were considered by the Jewish nation as the scabs of the church, and hindered the coming of the Messiah; and Justin Martyr observes, that "the proselytes did not only disbelieve Christ's doctrine, but were abundantly more blasphemous against him than the Jews themselves, endeavouring to torment and cut off the Christians wherever they could; they being in this the instruments of the scribes and Pharisees."
(from Adam Clarke Commentary)

WOE  # 2 - FALSE SWEARING
Matt 23:16-22

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16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.'
17 "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?
18 "And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.'
19 "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?
20 "Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.
21 "He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.
22 "And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.     (NKJ)

16 Blind guides! Woe upon you! For your rule is that to swear 'By God's Temple' means nothing-- you can break that oath, but to swear 'By the gold in the Temple' is binding!
17 Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold, or the Temple that sanctifies the gold?
18 And you say that to take an oath 'By the altar' can be broken, but to swear 'By the gifts on the altar' is binding!
19 Blind! For which is greater, the gift on the altar, or the altar itself that sanctifies the gift?
20 When you swear 'By the altar' you are swearing by it and everything on it,
21 and when you swear 'By the Temple' you are swearing by it and by God who lives in it.
22 And when you swear 'By heavens' you are swearing by the Throne of God and by God himself.  (TLB)

The temple that sanctifieth the gold - To sanctify is to make holy. The gold had no holiness but what it derived from the temple. If in any other place, it would be no more holy than any other gold. It was foolish, then, to suppose that that was more holy than the temple, from which it received all the sanctity which it possessed.

The altar - The altar of burnt-offerings, in the court of the priests. See the notes at <Matt. 21:12>. It was made of brass, about 30 feet in length and breadth, and 15 feet in height, <2 Chr. 4:1>. On this altar were offered all the beasts and bloody oblations of the temple.  

The gift that is upon it - The gift or offering made to God, so called because it was devoted or "given" to him. The gift upon this altar was always beasts and birds.

The altar that sanctifieth the gift - The altar, dedicated to God, gave all the value or holiness to the offering, and must therefore be the greatest or of the most importance. If, therefore, either bound to the fulfillment of an oath, it must be the altar.

Him that dwelleth therein - That is, God. The temple was his house, his dwelling. In the first, or Solomon's temple, he dwelt between the cherubims in the most holy place. He manifested himself there by a visible symbol, in the form of a cloud resting on the mercy-seat, <1 Kings 8:10,13; Ps. 80:1>.

(from Barnes' Notes)

And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty], [ofeilei (grk 3784)]. It should have been rendered, "he is a debtor," as in <Matt. 23:16>.
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

Strong's: #3784 opheilo (of-i'-lo); or (in certain tenses) its prolonged form opheileo (of-i-leh'-o); probably from the base of 3786 (through the idea of accruing); to owe (pecuniarily); figuratively, to be under obligation (ought, must, should); morally, to fail in duty:

KJV-- behove, be bound, (be) debt (-or), (be) due (-ty), be guilty (indebted), (must) need (-s), ought, owe, should. See also 3785.

WOE   # 3 - HYPOCRITES
Matt 23:23

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Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.    (NKJ)

Yes, woe upon you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders-- hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things-- justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn't leave the more important things undone.   (TLB)

Ye Tithe -  [apodekatoute (grk 586)]. [apo] (grk 575), "from," [dekatooo] (grk 1183), "to take a tenth." Tithe is tenth; also in older English, "tethe," as "tethe hest," the tenth commandment. A tething was a district containing ten families.

Mint - [heeduosmon (grk 2238)]. [heedus], "sweet," [osmee] (grk 3744), "smell." A favorite plant in the East, with which the floors of dwellings and synagogues were sometimes strewn.

A garden herb, in the original so called from its agreeable flavor. It was used to sprinkle the floors of their houses and synagogues to produce a pleasant fragrance.

Anise  - [aneethon (grk 432)  Anise is known commonly among us as "dill." It has a fine aromatic smell, and is used by confectioners and perfumers.

The English Revised Version (1885) renders "anise, dill" in the margin

Cummin - kuminon (grk 2951)]. . A plant of the same genus, like "fennel," and used for similar purposes. These were all herbs of little value. The law of Moses said that they should pay tithes of the "fruits of the earth," <Deut. 14:22>. It said nothing, however, about herbs. It was a question whether these should be tithed. The Pharisees maintained, in their extraordinary strictness, that they ought. Our Saviour says that they were precise in doing small matters which the law had not expressly commanded, while they omitted the greater things which it had enjoined.

[And cummin.] In Luke <Luke 11:42> it is "and rue, and all manner of herb." They grounded this practice on <Lev. 27:30>, which they interpreted rigidly. Our Lord purposely names the most trifling products of the earth, as examples of what they punctiliously exacted the tenth of.

(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

Anise and Cummin were used as condiments. The tithe of these plants would be very small; but to exact it would indicate scrupulous conscientiousness. The Talmud tells of the ass of a certain Rabbi which had been so well trained as to refuse corn of which the tithes had not been taken.

Faith - [pistin (grk 4102)]. Rather "faithfulness," as in <Rom. 3:3>, English Revised Version (1885); <Gal. 5:22>, English Revised Version.

Ye pay tithe - A tenth part. The law required the Jews to devote a tenth part of all their property to the support of the Levites, <Num. 18:20-24>. Another tenth part they paid for the service of the sanctuary, commonly in cattle or grain, but where they lived far from the place of worship they changed it to money, <Deut. 14:22-24>. Besides these, there was to be every third year a tenth part given to the poor, to be eaten at their own dwellings <Deut. 14:28-29>; so that nearly one-third of the property of the Jews was devoted to religious services by law. This was besides the voluntary offerings which they made. How much more mild and gentle are the laws of Christianity under which we live!
(from Barnes' Notes)

Judgment - Justice to others, as magistrates, neighbors, citizens. Giving to all their just dues.

Mercy - Compassion and kindness to the poor and miserable.

Faith - Piety toward God; confidence in him. Faith in God here means that we are to give to him what is his due; as mercy and justice mean to do to PEOPLE, in all circumstances, what is right toward them.  

These ought ye to have done - Attention to even the smallest points of the law of God is proper, but it should not interfere with the "higher" and more important parts of that law.
(from Barnes' Notes)

WOE  # 4 - BLIND GUIDES
Matt 23:24

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Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!    (NKJ)

Strain at - [diulizontes (grk 1368)]. [dia] (grk 1223), "thoroughly or through," and [hulizoo], to "filter or strain." "Strain" at is an old misprint perpetuated. Hence, the English Revised Version (1885) correctly, as Tyndale: "strain out." Insects were ceremonially unclean <Lev. 11:20,23,41-42>, so that the Jews strained their wine in order not to swallow any unclean animal. Moreover, there were certain insects which bred in wine. Aristotle uses the word gnat [koonoopa (grk 2971)] of a worm or larva found in the sediment of sour wine.  (from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

The proper rendering-- as in the older English translations, and perhaps our own as it came from the translators' hands-- evidently is, `strain out. ' It was the custom, says Trench, of the stricter Jews to strain their wine, vinegar, and other potables through linen or gauze, lest unawares they should drink down some little unclean insect therein, and thus transgress (<Lev. 11:20,23,41-42>-- just as the Buddhists do now in Ceylon and Hindustan-- and to this custom of theirs our Lord here refers.     (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

Swallow a camel - [katapinontes (grk 2666)]. The rendering is feeble. It is "drink down" [kata (grk 2596)]; "gulp." Note that the camel was also unclean <Lev. 11:4>.    (from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

The largest animal the Jews knew, as the "gnat" was the smallest: both were by the law unclean.  (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

"You Jews take great pains to avoid offence in very small matters, superstitiously observing the smallest points of the law, like a man carefully straining out the animalculae from what he drinks, while you are at no pains to avoid great sins-- hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, and lust-- like a man who should swallow a camel." The Arabians have a similar proverb: "He eats an elephant, and is suffocated with a gnat." He is troubled with little things, but pays no attention to great matters.   (from Barnes' Notes)

WOE   # 5 - FALSE CLEANSING
Matt 23:25-28

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25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.
26 "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
28 "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.   (NKJ)

25 "Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders-- hypocrites! You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed.
26 Blind Pharisees! First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean.
27 "Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders! You are like beautiful mausoleums-- full of dead men's bones, and of foulness and corruption.
28 You try to look like saintly men, but underneath those pious robes of yours are hearts besmirched with every sort of hypocrisy and sin.  
   (TLB)

Platter - [paropsidos (grk 3953)]. [para] (grk 3844), "beside," [opson], "meat." A side-dish, with the accompanying sense of something dainty; later, as here, the dish itself as distinguished from its contents.

Excess - [akrasias (grk 192)]. [a] (grk 1), "not," [kratos] (grk 2904), "power." Hence, conduct which shows a lack of power over oneself: "incontinence or intemperance."

(from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

Whited sepulchres - [tafois (grk 5028) kekoniamenois (grk 2867)]. Not the rock-tombs, belonging mostly to the rich, but the graves covered with plastered structures. In general, cemeteries were outside of cities; but any dead body found in the field was to be buried on the spot where it had been discovered. A pilgrim to the Passover, for instance, might easily come upon such a grave in his journey, and contract uncleanness by the contact <Num. 19:16>. It was therefore ordered that all sepulchres should be whitewashed a month before Passover, in order to make them conspicuous, so that travelers might avoid ceremonial defilement. The fact that this general whitewashing was going on at the time when Jesus administered this rebuke to the Pharisees gave point to the comparison.

(from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

Extortion and self indulgence - (excess)Harpagees (grk 724) kai (grk 2532) akrasias (grk 192), rapine and intemperance; but instead of akrasias (grk 192), intemperance, many of the very best MSS., CEFGHKS, and more than 100 others, the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Slavonic, with Chrysostom. Euthym., and Theophylact, have adikias (grk 93), injustice, which Griesbach has admitted into the text instead of akrasias (grk 192). The latter Syriac has both. Several MSS. and versions have akatharsias (grk 167), uncleanness; others have pleonexias (grk 4124), covetousness; some have poneerias (grk 4189), wickedness; and two of the ancients have iniquitate, iniquity. Suppose we put them all together, the character of the Pharisee will not be overcharged. They were full of rapine and intemperance, injustice and uncleanness, covetousness, wickedness, and iniquity.   (from Adam Clarke Commentary)

The outside appeared well; the inside was filled with the fruit of extortion, oppression, and wickedness. The meaning is, that though they took much pains to appear well, yet they obtained a living by extortion and crime. Their cups, neat as they appeared outward, were filled, not with the fruits of honest industry, but with that which had been extorted from the poor by wicked arts. Instead of "excess," many manuscripts and editions of the Greek Testament read "wickedness."  (from Barnes' Notes)

Cleanse first that which is within the cup and the platter - Let them be filled with the fruits of honest industry, and then the outside and the inside will be really "clean." By this allusion to the cup and platter he taught them that it was necessary to cleanse the heart first, that the external conduct might be really pure and holy.
(from Barnes' Notes)

[Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion], [harpagees (grk 724)]. In Luke <Luke 11:39> the same word is rendered "ravening," that is, `rapacity. ' "and excess."

In Luke <Luke 11:40> it is, "Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?"-- `He to whom belongs the outer life, and of right demands its subjection to Himself, is the inner man less His? ' A remarkable example this of our Lord's power of drawing the most striking illustrations of great truths from the most familiar objects and incidents in life. To these words, recorded by Luke, He adds the following, involving a principle of immense value: "But rather give alms of such things as ye have, and behold, all things are clean unto you" <Luke 11:41>.
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

Like unto whited sepulchres - For the construction of sepulchres, see the notes at <Matt. 8:28>. Those tombs were annually whitewashed to prevent the people from accidentally coming in contact with them as they went up to Jerusalem. This custom is still continued. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. i. p. 148) says, "I have been in places where this is repeated very often. The graves are kept clean and white as snow, a very striking emblem of those painted hypocrites, the Pharisees, beautiful without, but full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness within." The law considered those persons unclean who had touched anything belonging to the dead, <Num. 19:16>. Sepulchres were therefore often whitewashed, that they might be distinctly seen. Thus "whited," they appeared beautiful; but within they contained the bones and corrupting bodies of the dead. So the Pharisees. Their outward conduct appeared well, but their hearts were full of hypocrisy, envy, pride, lust, and malice-- suitably represented by the corruption within a whited tomb.
.(from Barnes' Notes)

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men - But what will this appearance avail a man when God sits in judgment upon his soul? Will the fair reputation which he had acquired among men, while his heart was the seat of unrighteousness, screen him from the stroke of that justice which impartially sends all impurity and unholiness into the pit of destruction. No. In the sin that he hath sinned, and in which he hath died, and according to that, shall he be judged and punished; and his profession of holiness only tends to sink him deeper into the lake which burns with unquenchable fire. Reader! see that thy heart be right with God.
(from Adam Clarke Commentary)

[Which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.] What a powerful way of conveying the charge, that with all their fair show their hearts were full of corruption! (Compare <Ps. 5:9; Rom. 3:13>.) But our Lord, stripping off the figure, next holds up their iniquity in naked colours!
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

WOE  # 6 - THEIR TREATMENT OF THE DEAD
Matt 23:29-33

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29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,
30 "and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.'
31 "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
32 "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt.
33 "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?    (NKJ)

29 "Yes, woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders-- hypocrites! For you build monuments to the prophets killed by your fathers and lay flowers on the graves of the godly men they destroyed, and say, 'We certainly would never have acted as our fathers did.'
31 "In saying that, you are accusing yourselves of being the sons of wicked men.
32 And you are following in their steps, filling up the full measure of their evil.
33 Snakes! Sons of vipers! How shall you escape the judgment of hell?      (TLB)

Tombs of the prophets - By this name are called four monuments at the base of the Mount of Olives, in the valley of Jehoshaphat; called at present the tombs of Zechariah, Absalom, Jehoshaphat, and James. Two of them are monoliths cut out of the solid rock; the others are merely excavations, with ornamental portals. "They appear," says Dr. Thomson, "to be quite extensive, consisting of winding or semicircular galleries, passing under the mountain more than a hundred feet from east to west, and terminating in a rotunda about eighty feet from the entrance. There is no authority for the name which they commonly bear." Possibly they were in sight of our Lord when he spoke, and were pointed to by him. The reference would be all the more telling, if, as has been conjectured, the Pharisees were engaged in constructing the tombs of Zechariah and Absalom at the time that the Lord addressed them, and that the chambered sepulchres of James and Jehoshaphat, lying between those two, were the sepulchres which they were garnishing at their entrances.
(from Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament)

Ye build the tombs of the prophets - That is, you build sepulchres or tombs ever the prophets that have been slain. This they did professedly from veneration and respect for their character. This is often done at the East at the present day, and indeed elsewhere. Among the Muslims it is a common way of showing respect for any distinguished man to build a tomb for him. By doing this, they profess respect for his character and veneration for his memory. So the Pharisees, by building tombs in this manner, professedly approved of the character and conduct of the prophets, and disapproved of the conduct of their fathers in killing them.

And garnish - That is, adorn or ornament. This was done by rebuilding them with more taste, decorating them, and keeping them neat and clean. The original word means, also, to show any proper honor to the memory of the dead, as by speaking well of them, praying near them, or rearing synagogues near them in honor of their memory.
(from Barnes' Notes)

It appears that, through respect to their memory, they often repaired, and sometimes beautified, the tombs of the prophets. M. De la Valle, in his Journey to the Holy Land, says, that when he visited the cave of Machpelah, he saw some Jews honouring a sepulchre, for which they have a great veneration, with lighting at it wax candles and burning perfumes. See Harmer, vol. 3 p. 416. And in ditto, p. 424, we are informed that building tombs over those reputed saints, or beautifying those already built, is a frequent custom among the Mohammedans.
(from Adam Clarke Commentary)

We would not have been partakers - They imagined themselves much better than their ancestors; but our Lord, who knew what they would do, uncovers their hearts, and shows them that they are about to be more abundantly vile than all who had ever preceded them.
(from Adam Clarke Commentary)

Ye be witnesses] Ye acknowledge that ye are the children of these murderers, and ye are about to give full proof that ye are not degenerated.

There are many who think that, had they lived in the time of our Lord, they would not have acted towards him as the Jews did. But we can scarcely believe that they who reject his Gospel, trample under foot his precepts, do despite to the Spirit of his grace, love sin, and hate his followers, would have acted otherwise to him than the murdering Jews, had they lived in the same times.
(from Adam Clarke Commentary)

Fill ye up then - Notwithstanding the profession you make, ye will fill up the measure of your fathers-- will continue to walk in their way, accomplish the fullness of every evil purpose by murdering me; and then, when the measure of your iniquity is full, vengeance shall come upon you to the uttermost, as it did on your rebellious ancestors. <Matt. 23:31> should be read in a parenthesis, and then <Matt. 23:32> will appear to be, what it is, an inference from <Matt. 23:30>

Ye will fill up, or fill ye up-- Pleeroosate (grk 4137), but it is manifest that the imperative is put here for the future, a thing quite consistent with the Hebrew idiom, and frequent in the Scriptures. So <John 2:19>, Destroy this temple, etc., i. e. Ye will destroy or pull down this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days-- Ye will crucify me, and I will rise again the third day. Two good MSS. have the word in the future tense: and my Old Manuscript Bible has it in the present-- Ge (ye) fulfillen the mesure of goure (your) fadris.
(from Adam Clarke Commentary)

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers - What a terrible stroke! Ye are serpents, and the off-spring of serpents. This refers to <Matt. 23:31>: they confessed that they were the children of those who murdered the prophets; and they are now going to murder Christ and his followers, to show that they have not degenerated-- an accursed seed, of an accursed breed.
(from Adam Clarke Commentary)

Ye be witnesses unto yourselves - The emphasis, here, lies in the words "to yourselves." It is an appeal to their conscience. It was not by their building the tombs that they were witnesses that they were the children of those who killed the prophets; but that, in spite of all this pretence of piety, under all this cloak of profession, they knew in their consciences, and were witnesses to themselves, that it was mere hypocrisy, and that they really approved the conduct of those who slew the prophets.
(from Barnes' Notes)

Fill ye up, then - This is a prediction of what they were about to do. He would have them act out their true spirit, and show what they were, and evince to all that they had the spirit of their fathers, Compare the notes at <John 13:27>. This was done be putting him to death, and persecuting the apostles.  

The measure - The full amount, so as to make it complete. By your slaying me, fill up what is lacking of the iniquity of your fathers until the measure is full; until the national iniquity is complete; until as much has been committed as God can possibly bear, and then shall come upon you all this blood, and you shall be destroyed, <Matt. 23:34-35>.
(from Barnes' Notes)

Damnation of hell - This refers, beyond all question, to future punishment. So great was their wickedness and hypocrisy, that, if they persevered in this course, it was impossible to escape the damnation that should come on the guilty. This is the sternest language that Jesus ever used to wicked people. But it by no means authorizes ministers to use such language to sinners now. Christ knew that this was true of them. He had an authority which none now have. It is not the province of ministers to denounce judgment, or to use severe names, least of all to do it on pretence of imitating Christ. He knew the hearts of people. We know them not. He had authority to declare certainly that those whom he addressed would be lost. We have no such authority. He addressed persons; we address characters.
(from Barnes' Notes)

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? - In thus, at the end of his His ministry, recalling the words of the Baptist at the outset of his, our Lord would seem to intimate that the only difference between their condemnation now and then was, that now they were ripe for their doom, which they were not then.
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

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