Chapter 7: Matthew 19–23

“Chapter 7: Matthew 19–23,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)

“Chapter 7,” New Testament Student Manual


Matthew 19–23

Introduction and Timeline for Matthew 19–23

Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry was drawing to a close. After a final journey from Galilee to Judea and a few days in Jerusalem, it would be complete. With only a few weeks remaining in His mortal life, the Savior taught doctrines of the kingdom—such as the sanctity of marriage; the reward of eternal life for those who keep their covenants; and the two great commandments, which are to love God and to love our neighbor. Knowing what awaited Him, the Savior boldly entered Jerusalem and confronted the Jewish leadership, openly revealed their secret plots to kill Him, and rebuked them for their hypocrisy.


Commentary for Matthew 19–23

Matthew 19:1–12. “What Therefore God Hath Joined Together, Let Not Man Put Asunder” (see also Mark 10:2–21)

During the time of the Savior’s mortal ministry, divorce was a vexing issue, debated without resolution among rabbis. For many people, divorce was justified even for trivial reasons. The Pharisees sought to involve Jesus in the controversy by asking His opinion about divorce. In response, the Savior emphasized the sanctity of marriage by referring to Adam and Eve, who provided the ideal of marital unity and permanence (see Matthew 19:4–6; see also Genesis 2:24).

Matthew 19:7 records that the Pharisees referred to Deuteronomy 24:1, which some of their leaders understood to mean that if a man married a woman and she did not please him, he could provide her a written bill of divorcement. When asked why Moses permitted divorce, Jesus Christ declared, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8; italics added). Latter-day scriptures affirm that in the Lord’s plan of happiness, marriage is meant to be eternal (see D&C 132:15–20; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Moses 4:18).

President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency taught about the seriousness of divorce:

“Modern prophets have warned that looking upon marriage ‘as a mere contract that may be entered into at pleasure … and severed at the first difficulty … is an evil meriting severe condemnation,’ especially where children are made to suffer [David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 8–9].

“In ancient times and even under tribal laws in some countries where we now have members, men have power to divorce their wives for any trivial thing. Such unrighteous oppression of women was rejected by the Savior [see Matthew 19:8–9]” (“Divorce,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 70).

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) taught, “There may be now and again a legitimate cause for divorce. I am not one to say that it is never justified. But I say without hesitation that this plague among us, which seems to be growing everywhere, is not of God, but rather is the work of the adversary of righteousness and peace and truth” (“What God Hath Joined Together,” Ensign, May 1991, 74).

Matthew 19:9. Is It Adultery for a Divorced Person to Remarry? (see also Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18)

President Dallin H. Oaks explained that in our day divorced individuals may remarry without their new marriage being considered adultery, but in the celestial kingdom there will be no divorce: “The kind of marriage required for exaltation—eternal in duration and godlike in quality—does not contemplate divorce. In the temples of the Lord, couples are married for all eternity. But some marriages do not progress toward that ideal. Because ‘of the hardness of [our] hearts’ [Matthew 19:8], the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of the celestial standard. He permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law” (“Divorce,” 70).

Matthew 19:12. “Made Themselves Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s Sake”

From verse 12 in Matthew 19, it may appear that the Savior approved of celibacy or self-mutilation. Modern prophets and apostles, however, have clarified “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. … God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 129).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that anciently some people held the false belief that a life of celibacy was to be sought after: “Apparently those who made themselves eunuchs were men who in false pagan worship had deliberately mutilated themselves in the apostate notion that such would further their salvation. It is clear that such was not a true gospel requirement of any sort. There is no such thing in the gospel as wilful emasculation; such a notion violates every true principle of procreation and celestial marriage” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:549).

Matthew 19:13–15. Little Children

Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 19:13–14 states:

“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them, saying, There is no need, for Jesus hath said, Such shall be saved.

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (compare Matthew 19:13, footnote b).

Matthew 19:16–22. Christ and the Rich Young Ruler (see also Mark 10:17–22; Luke 18:18–23)

Christ and the rich young ruler

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

A rich young man came to Jesus, asking what he needed to do in order to have eternal life (see Matthew 19:16–22). The Savior asked him to give up his earthly possessions and follow Him, but riches had gained such a powerful hold on the young man that he went away grieved, unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to inherit eternal life. This account shows the power of material possessions to obscure what should be our real goal in mortality. However, we are not told that the young man’s decision was final—we do not know that he absolutely refused to comply with Jesus’s instruction.

Drawing a lesson from the account of the rich young man, Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that being a valiant disciple of the Savior means not just avoiding sin but actively doing good:

“Failing to be valiant in Christian discipleship will leave us without significant happiness. Therefore, our active avoidance of wickedness must be followed by our active engagement in righteousness. Then we can come to know true joy—after all, man is that he ‘might have joy’ (2 Nephi 2:25).

“It is very often the sins of omission that keep us from spiritual wholeness because we still lack certain things. Remember the rich, righteous young man who came to Jesus asking, ‘Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’ …

“A customized commandment thus came for that man [see Matthew 19:21–22]. It was something he needed to do, not something he needed to stop doing, that kept him from wholeness” (“The Pathway of Discipleship” [Brigham Young University fireside, Jan. 4, 1998], 4;

Matthew 19:24. A Camel through the Eye of a Needle

Some have asserted that the eye of the needle was a small door in the Jerusalem city wall, requiring a camel to be stripped of its load in order to enter. There is no evidence that such a door ever existed. Others have proposed that altering one letter in the Greek text would change the scripture to mean that a rope, not a camel, would have to pass through the eye of a needle. However, when Jesus Christ referred to a camel passing through the eye of a needle, it was likely an example of hyperbole, an intentional exaggeration to teach “that a rich man shall hardly [with difficulty] enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). The Joseph Smith Translation adds, “With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all these things are possible” (Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 10:26 [in Mark 10:27, footnote a]).

President Brigham Young (1801–77) spoke of the difficulty people face when they accumulate riches: “The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church. … This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth” (quoted in James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer [1971], 122–23).

Matthew 19:27–29. Forsaking the World for Jesus Christ’s Sake

In contrast to the rich young man, who was not willing to give up his possessions to follow Jesus Christ, Peter declared that he and his fellow Apostles had “forsaken all” to follow the Savior (Matthew 19:27). In our time, we must also be willing to make the sacrifices required of us as disciples of the Savior. President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded us of the great sacrifices made by the Latter-day Saints who were required to leave their homes and cross the plains, and he taught that their spiritual power came from keeping their gospel covenants:

“We often hear of the suffering and the sacrifice those early Saints endured, and we ask ourselves, How did they do it? … Those early Latter-day Saints had made covenants with God, and those covenants burned like unquenchable fire in their hearts.

“Sometimes we are tempted to let our lives be governed more by convenience than by covenant. It is not always convenient to live gospel standards and stand up for truth and testify of the Restoration. It usually is not convenient to share the gospel with others. It isn’t always convenient to respond to a calling in the Church, especially one that stretches our abilities. Opportunities to serve others in meaningful ways, as we have covenanted to do, rarely come at convenient times. But there is no spiritual power in living by convenience. The power comes as we keep our covenants” (“Like a Flame Unquenchable,” Ensign, May 1999, 86).

Life of Jesus Christ: Sermon on the Mount

Jesus teaching the Twelve

Matthew 20:1–16. The Parable of the Laborers

A common practice in Jesus’s day was for landowners to go to a central gathering place and hire temporary laborers. In this parable the householder went into the marketplace at about 6:00 a.m. and hired laborers to work for a “penny” (or denarius, which was a typical day’s wages). He returned to the marketplace at 9:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. (the eleventh hour), found other unemployed men who were willing to work, and hired them, promising to pay them “whatsoever is right” (Matthew 20:4, 7).

It would have been unusual to pay first those who had worked the least (see Matthew 20:8). However, this parable is an extension of what Jesus Christ taught in Matthew 19:30: “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” Those hired in the eleventh hour might represent those who become converted late in life but thereafter labor diligently in the kingdom. One truth this parable illustrates is that whether people become disciples of Christ in their youth, in their young adulthood, in the later stages of life, or in some instances in the spirit world (see D&C 137:7–8), eternal life is the reward for all people who make and keep sacred covenants with the Lord (see D&C 76:95; 84:38; 88:107).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered these additional lessons from this parable of the laborers:

“This parable—like all parables—is not really about laborers or wages any more than the others are about sheep and goats. This is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought I heard many years ago that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.

“… However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.

“… There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning.

“… His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.

“So if you have made covenants, keep them. If you haven’t made them, make them. If you have made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the Master of the vineyard says there is time” (“The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 32–33).

Matthew 20:22–23. What Is Meant by Drinking the Savior’s Cup?

For help in understanding what it means to drink the Savior’s cup, see the commentary for Mark 10:38–39.

Matthew 20:28. Jesus Christ Came “to Give His Life a Ransom for Many”

For help understanding the “ransom” Jesus Christ paid, see the commentary for Mark 10:45.

Matthew 20:29–34. Healing the Blind Men

To read about the healing of the two blind men, see the commentary for Mark 10:46–52.

Matthew 21:1–11. Entering Jerusalem on a Donkey (see also Mark 11:1–10; Luke 19:29–44; John 12:12–19)

The Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, during the observance of the Passover, directly fulfilled the prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9–10 and publicly declared that Jesus was the Messiah. In ancient times, the ass was a symbol of Jewish royalty. During the time of the monarchy in ancient Israel, following the enthronement of King Saul, the Jews held annual reenthronement rituals that featured a king riding into Jerusalem upon a donkey. The rider approached Jerusalem from east of the city, through the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley, and then came to the temple. These rituals looked forward to the time when the Messiah would come to His people in this same way. Thus, at a time when Jerusalem was flooded with Jews, Jesus entered Jerusalem in a manner that demonstrated He was the Messiah, the King of Israel. Riding on a donkey also showed that Jesus came as a peaceful and “lowly” Savior, not as a conqueror upon a warhorse (see Zechariah 9:9–10).

At the Second Coming, Jesus will return to earth in great power and glory. As a symbol of His glory, the book of Revelation describes Him coming to earth on a “white horse,” rather than on the ass that He rode into Jerusalem (see Revelation 19:11–16).

Matthew 21:8. The Multitude “Spread Their Garments in the Way” (see also Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36)

Christ's Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem

Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, by Harry Anderson

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the significance of the multitude spreading garments and branches before the Lord as He entered Jerusalem: “Only kings and conquerors received such an extraordinary token of respect as this. (2 Kings 9:13.) … Amid shouts of praise and pleas for salvation and deliverance, we see the disciples strewing our Lord’s course with palm branches in token of victory and triumph. This whole dramatic scene prefigures that yet future assembly when ‘a great multitude,’ … shall stand ‘before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,’ crying with a loud voice, ‘Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.’ (Rev. 7:9–10.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:578).

Matthew 21:9–11. “Hosanna” (see also Mark 11:9–10; Luke 19:38; John 12:13)

Hosanna is a Hebrew word that “means ‘please save us’ and is used in praise and supplication. … At the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the multitudes cried ‘Hosanna’ and spread palm branches for Jesus to ride upon, thus demonstrating their understanding that Jesus was the same Lord who had delivered Israel anciently (Ps. 118:25–26; Matt. 21:9, 15; Mark 11:9–10; John 12:13). These people recognized Christ as the long-awaited Messiah” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Hosanna”; The phrase “all the city was moved” (Matthew 21:10) suggests that Jesus’s triumphal entry was noised throughout the city and was known by many people.

Matthew 21:17–22. The Barren Fig Tree

Fig Tree (Israel)


Photograph by Richard L. W. Cleave

The leaves on the fig tree indicated that it should have had fruit, but it did not. With its misleading appearance, the tree symbolized hypocrisy, and its fate perhaps represented what awaited those who professed righteousness, yet plotted the Savior’s death. Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) stated that another truth we learn from this account is that Jesus had “power to destroy by a word.” This truth helps us appreciate that His willingness to be arrested and crucified just a few days later was “truly voluntary” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 526).

Matthew 21:12–16, 23–27. “By What Authority Doest Thou These Things?”

The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem saw Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His cleansing of the temple as a challenge to their authority (see Matthew 21:15–16). Temple priests oversaw the money changing that was taking place in the temple, thus profiting thereby. When Jesus overturned the tables and referred to the temple as “My house” (Matthew 21:13), He openly questioned their authority to do so. Later, when Jesus was teaching in the temple, the Jewish leaders issued a dramatic challenge to Him by asking, “By what authority doest thou these things?” (Matthew 21:23).

The priests claimed authority based on their ancestry; the scribes, based on their education; and the elders, based on their social standing and wealth. The Savior, however, had authority from His Father, which had been manifest in His teachings and works throughout His public ministry (see Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:27; John 3:2). The Savior responded to the Jewish leaders’ challenge by posing yet another question that silenced them (see Matthew 21:25). This set the stage for a vivid teaching moment, as the Savior proceeded to teach His challengers and the listening multitude three successive parables dealing with the failure of Jewish leaders to repent and believe in Him (see Matthew 21:28–44; 22:1–14).

Matthew 21:28–32. The Parable of the Two Sons

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the meaning of this parable:

“The Father of the sons is God himself who offers employment in his earthly vineyard to all his children. The first son, who initially refused to labor in his Father’s vineyard but later repented and served him, is symbolical of the publicans and harlots who repented of their early sins and became faithful servants in their Father’s cause. …

“The second son, who willingly accepted an assignment in the vineyard but then failed to render the appointed labors, is symbolical of the Jewish leaders who professed to be about their Father’s business but were in fact letting the vineyard degenerate. …

“[In Matthew 21:31, Jesus] … teaches in forceful and plain language that repentance is a living, abiding principle which actually works. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ (1 Tim. 1:15.) What, publicans and harlots in the kingdom of God! Yes, and even the chief priests, scribes, and elders—if they also repent and keep the commandments” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:589–90).

Matthew 21:33–46. The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen

In this parable, the householder represents God Himself, the husbandmen represent the leaders of Israel, and the servants represent the prophets sent to teach the people of Israel. Through the parable, the Lord taught that over the course of the preceding centuries, the leaders of Israel had rejected many prophets—men like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and numerous others (see 1 Kings 19:10; 2 Chronicles 36:15–16). The “heir” who came “last of all” and was cast “out of the vineyard” and slain (Matthew 21:37–39) represents Jesus Christ. This part of the parable was fulfilled three days later when Jesus was taken outside of the city and slain (see Hebrews 13:12).

Then, by referring to prophecies about a stone that would be rejected but would become “the head of the corner” (Matthew 21:42), the Lord announced to the Jewish leaders that He was the Messiah and that there would be terrible consequences for rejecting Him.

Matthew 22:2–10. The Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son

An invitation from a king was tantamount to a command; to refuse his invitation was to reject the king and his authority. Through this parable the Savior taught that, as invited guests, the Jewish leaders were refusing to partake of the feast offered them by God. Several attitudes indicated that the guests were rejecting the king: refusing outright to come (see Matthew 22:3); feeling that what they wanted to do was more important than responding to the king’s invitation (see verse 5); and rejecting the king’s servants (see verse 6). Each of these attitudes, evident also in today’s world, indicates unworthiness to enter into God’s kingdom. (For insights on the similar parable of the great supper, see the commentary for Luke 14:12–24.)

Matthew 22:11–14. “A Man Which Had Not on a Wedding Garment”

In ancient times, it was sometimes the custom for wealthy individuals, such as kings, to provide invited guests with proper clothing to wear to events such as weddings. Despite being invited to the wedding, this man chose to attend on his own terms rather than those of the king, and he was not permitted to remain. There are requirements for entering the kingdom of God, even though everyone is invited (see Matthew 22:9). While the meaning of the required garment is not specified, elsewhere in the scriptures, garments and robes often symbolize righteousness and purity—qualities required to enter into the Lord’s presence (see Isaiah 61:10; Revelation 19:8; 2 Nephi 9:14; D&C 109:76). Today, the clothing worn in the temple symbolizes clothing ourselves in covenants, righteousness, and purity in preparation for entering into God’s presence. We cannot participate in the great “marriage supper” of the Son of God unless we have accepted and put on the protective clothing of His Atonement (see Revelation 19:8–9).

Matthew 22:15–22. Render unto Caesar and unto God

Matthew recorded that both Pharisees and Herodians sought to entrap Jesus with the question, “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) explained the dilemma this posed and identified truths we learn from the Savior’s answer (see also Genesis 1:26–27; Revelation 3:12; Alma 5:14):

“If he had said, ‘Yes, pay the tax,’ he would have been called a traitor. It would have driven a wedge between him and his followers and created rebellion. If his answer had been, ‘No, it is not lawful to pay the tax,’ they would have delivered him into the hands of Rome on the charge of treason.

“His adversaries intended that Jesus would be gored on whichever horn of dilemma he might choose. …

“The wisdom of [the Savior’s] answer defines the limitations of dual sovereigns and defines the jurisdiction of the two empires of heaven and earth. The image of monarchs stamped on coins denotes that temporal things belong to the temporal sovereign. The image of God stamped on the heart and soul of a man denotes that all its facilities and powers belong to God and should be employed in his service” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 64–65).

Matthew 22:23–30. Marriage in the Resurrection

Some people have misinterpreted the Savior’s words in Matthew 22:30 to mean there is no eternal marriage. Elder James E. Talmage pointed out that the Savior’s words do not state that marriages will not exist after the Resurrection, but that marriages will not be performed after the Resurrection: “In the resurrection there will be no marrying nor giving in marriage; for all questions of marital status must be settled before that time” (Jesus the Christ, 548).

An important key to understanding the Savior’s words is to remember that they were spoken to Sadducees, who “say that there is no resurrection” (Matthew 22:23). Therefore, the question they posed to the Savior was insincere—they were not truly interested in knowing about marriage in the Resurrection. The Savior’s reply that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30; italics added) referred to the individuals in question, who were Sadducees, for the questioners said that “there were with us seven brethren” (Matthew 22:25; italics added). For those who do not marry for eternity, marriage does not endure beyond this life (see D&C 132:15–17). In these latter days, the Lord revealed that marriage can be eternal only if it is entered into according to His law, performed by one who has authority, and sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 132:19).

Another key to understanding the Savior’s words is to realize that when the Sadducees referred to the words of Moses (see Matthew 22:24), they were referring to what is sometimes termed “levirate marriage.” According to the law of Moses, when a man died leaving his wife childless, his brother was supposed to marry the deceased man’s wife to provide for her and to raise up children for the deceased man (see Deuteronomy 25:5; Bible Dictionary, “Levirate marriage”).

Though the doctrine of eternal marriage is not explicitly taught in the Bible, the Bible does state that husband and wife are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7), that “whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever” (Ecclesiastes 3:14), and that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11).

Matthew 22:35–40. The Two Great Commandments

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) discussed the importance of the first great commandment and its relationship to the second:

“To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all-consuming and all-encompassing. It is no lukewarm endeavor. It is total commitment of our very being—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—to a love of the Lord.

“The breadth, depth, and height of this love of God extend into every facet of one’s life. Our desires, be they spiritual or temporal, should be rooted in a love of the Lord. Our thoughts and affections should be centered on the Lord. …

“Why did God put the first commandment first? Because He knew that if we truly loved Him we would want to keep all of His other commandments. …

“We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives.

“When Joseph was in Egypt, what came first in his life—God, his job, or Potiphar’s wife? When she tried to seduce him, he responded by saying, ‘How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Genesis 39:9). … When Joseph was forced to choose, he was more anxious to please God than to please his employer’s wife. When we are required to choose, are we more anxious to please God than our boss, our teacher, our neighbor, or our date? …

“If someone wants to marry you outside the temple, whom will you strive to please—God or a mortal? … You should qualify for the temple. Then you will know that there is no one good enough for you to marry outside the temple. If such individuals are that good, they will get themselves in a condition so that they too can be married in the temple.

“We bless our fellowmen the most when we put the first commandment first” (“The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4–6; see also Mark 12:28–34).

Matthew 22:41–46. “What Think Ye of Christ?”


“Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2). This stone seat was found in the excavation of a synagogue at Chorazin, and similar stone seats have been discovered in other ancient synagogues. They may have been used by scribes and other teachers of the law of Moses. To sit in someone’s seat meant to succeed that person, to serve in his place. As teachers of the law, the scribes were the successors of Moses.

Photograph by James Jeffery

In Matthew 22:41–46, Jesus referred to an inspired psalm of David (see Psalm 110:1), in which David called the Messiah his Lord, even though the Messiah was prophesied to be David’s son. The Pharisees believed that the Messiah would be an earthly king who would deliver the nation of Israel, but David, inspired by the Spirit, knew that the Messiah would be the Son of God. Therefore, David could call his own descendant Lord. The Savior was teaching the Pharisees that according to their own scriptures, Christ was more than just the son of David—He was also the Son of God.

President David O. McKay (1873–1970) taught this insight about the importance of the question, “What think ye of Christ?”: “What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be. No person can study this divine personality, can accept his teachings without becoming conscious of an uplifting and refining influence within himself” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 93).

Matthew 23:1–5. “They Make Broad Their Phylacteries”

Jesus began His critique of the scribes and Pharisees by acknowledging that they taught truths that would bring men closer to God and that those teachings should be followed. But the scribes and Pharisees did not follow their own teachings; they acted out of pride and self-interest (see Matthew 23:1–5).

The Holy Land

Modern phylacteries around forearm and forehead

Photograph by James Jeffery

The way the scribes and Pharisees wore “phylacteries” showed their pride. Through a traditional interpretation of Exodus 13:9 and Deuteronomy 6:8, Jews adopted the custom of wearing tefillin, or phylacteries, which were small leather boxes strapped onto the forehead and arm. Inside the phylacteries were small rolls of parchment, on which were inscribed, in whole or in part, several Old Testament texts—Exodus 13:2–10, 11–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21. Most Jews wore phylacteries only at prayer time, but the Pharisees sometimes displayed them throughout the day. The Pharisees also made “broad their phylacteries,” or wore enlarged boxes, thus drawing attention to their supposed piety (Matthew 23:5). The Savior also warned His disciples not to follow the example of the scribes, who wore “long robes” to draw attention to themselves (Luke 20:46).

Matthew 23:5–6, 11–12. “He That Is Greatest among You Shall Be Your Servant”

The Savior chastened the scribes and Pharisees for their efforts to be seen and praised by others. President Howard W. Hunter similarly counseled us to serve the Lord without concern for status: “Don’t be overly concerned with status. Do you recall the counsel of the Savior regarding those who seek the ‘chief seats’ or the ‘uppermost rooms’? ‘He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.’ (Matt. 23:6, 11.) It is important to be appreciated. But our focus should be on righteousness, not recognition; on service, not status. The faithful visiting teacher, who quietly goes about her work month after month, is just as important to the work of the Lord as those who occupy what some see as more prominent positions in the Church. Visibility does not equate to value” (“To the Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 96–97).

Matthew 23:13–33. Woes Pronounced upon Hypocrites

The word hypocrite is translated from a Greek word meaning “actor” and refers to one who pretends, exaggerates a part, or is deceitfully inconsistent in his or her actions. The Lord denounced the scribes and Pharisees for exaggerating their outward observance of the law of Moses, while their hearts were arrogant and insincere. The Savior pronounced a series of eight “woes” that would befall the scribes and Pharisees because of their hypocritical actions. The word woe means a condition of misery, distress, and sorrow resulting from great affliction or misfortune. The following chart briefly identifies some actions of the scribes and Pharisees that the Lord identified as hypocrisy:

Matthew 23

Actions of the Scribes and Pharisees Identified as Hypocrisy

Verse 13

They not only rejected Christ, His Church, and His offer of salvation, but they also sought to prevent others from accepting Christ and salvation.

Verse 14

They were greedy and materialistic, and they preyed upon the misfortunes of others.

Verse 15

They were recruiting souls to false beliefs.

Verses 16–22

Through their oaths, they gave more reverence to the gold and furnishings of the temple than to the Lord, whom the temple honors.

Verse 23

They obeyed rules but ignored the more important doctrines and principles the rules were based on.

Verses 25–28

They hid internal greed and self-indulgence beneath an exterior show of righteousness. They looked clean and good on the outside, but on the inside they were full of corruption and spiritual decay.

Verses 29–30

They rejected living prophets while claiming allegiance to dead prophets.

Matthew 23:23–28. The Weightier Matters of the Law Focus on Internal Requirements

When the Savior accused the scribes and Pharisees of omitting the “weightier matters of the law,” he told them they were “blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23–24). This was a reference to the practice of some Jewish leaders who carefully strained their drinking water to avoid mistakenly swallowing the smallest of unclean animals. Yet they would symbolically swallow a camel—the largest of unclean animals (see Leviticus 11:4).

President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained how the Savior’s teachings focused on the “weightier” internal requirements of God’s law:

“The Savior taught that judgment, mercy, and faith are the ‘weightier matters of the law’ [Matthew 23:23].

“I wish to state unequivocally that the commandments of God must be kept to receive the blessings and promises of the Savior. The Ten Commandments are still a vital thread in the fabric of the gospel of Christ, but with His coming came new light and life which brings a fuller measure of joy and happiness. Jesus introduced a higher and more difficult standard of human conduct. It is simpler as well as more difficult because it focuses on internal rather than external requirements: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself. When smitten, turn the other cheek. When asked for a coat, give your cloak also. Forgive, not just once but seventy times seven. This was the essence of the new gospel. There was more emphasis on do than do not. More moral agency was given to each of us [see Matthew 7:12; 22:37–39; Luke 6:29; Matthew 5:40; 18:21–22]” (“The Weightier Matters of the Law: Judgment, Mercy, and Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 53).

Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy taught that hypocrisy involves inconsistency between what one does and the weightier matter of what one is:

“The Savior often denounced those who did without being—calling them hypocrites: ‘This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’ (Mark 7:6). To do without to be is hypocrisy, or feigning to be what one is not—a pretender. …

“The Savior chastised the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe’—something they did—‘of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith’ (Matthew 23:23). Or in other words, they failed to be what they should have been.

“While He recognized the importance of do, the Savior identified be as a ‘weightier matter.’ The greater importance of being is illustrated in the following examples:

  • “Entering the waters of baptism is something we do. The be that must precede it is faith in Jesus Christ and a mighty change of heart.

  • “Partaking of the sacrament is something we do. Being worthy to partake of the sacrament is a weightier and much more important matter.

  • “Ordination to the priesthood is an act, or do. The weightier matter, however, is power in the priesthood, which is based ‘upon the principles of righteousness’ (D&C 121:36), or be” (“What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 103–4).

Matthew 23:25–28. “Ye Are Like unto Whited Sepulchres”

It was common during New Testament times to apply a white finish to the exterior of tombs, thus making the exterior look clean, while the dead body decayed within. No amount of exterior polish could abate what was happening on the inside. The Savior used this image, along with that of a cup that is clean on the outside but not on the inside, to illustrate the glaring inconsistency between the inward and outward states of hypocrites. President Dallin H. Oaks applied this teaching to those who view pornography:

“One of the Savior’s most memorable teachings applies to men [and women] who are secretly viewing pornography:

“‘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 and excess.

“‘Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also’ (Matthew 23:25–26; see also Alma 60:23). …

“The immediate spiritual consequences of such hypocrisy are devastating” (“Pornography,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 88).

Matthew 23:34. “I Send unto You Prophets”

When Jesus Christ stated, “I send unto you prophets” (Matthew 23:34), His words clearly implied that He was Jehovah of the Old Testament, and that He is the one who directs the inspired priesthood leaders of all ages. He was referring to those prophets who were sent to save the Jews and who would be persecuted and killed as a result of their efforts, including Himself and His Apostles.

Matthew 23:37–39. Jesus Christ Lamented over Jerusalem

O Jerusalem

O Jerusalem, by Greg K. Olsen

As the Savior approached the end of His ministry, He lamented over Jerusalem (see Matthew 23:37–39; Luke 13:34–35). The Joseph Smith Translation includes this touching introduction to the Savior’s lament: “And in this very hour he began to weep over Jerusalem” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 13:34 [in Luke 13:33, footnote b]).

Why would Jesus weep over Jerusalem? Elder Bruce R. McConkie declared:

“Jerusalem—the holy city!

“Jerusalem—city of depravity, ‘which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt’! (Rev. 11:8.)

“Jerusalem—doomed spiritually and soon to be desolated temporally. (See Luke 19:41–44.)

“Jerusalem—site of the temple; home of the prophets; city of our Lord’s ministry.

“Jerusalem—city where the Son of God was crucified, crucified by ‘the more wicked part of the world,’ for ‘there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.’ (2 Ne. 10:3.)

“Jerusalem—future world capital and center from which ‘the word of the Lord’ shall go unto all people. (Isa. 2:3.)

“Truly Jerusalem’s history is like that of no other place; and truly Jesus with cause, wept because of the rebellion of her children” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:626).