This chapter is part of a greater chiastic structure that spans several chapters. But there is an interesting smaller one within it:
1a) Mat 23:1-3, Beware of the scribes and Pharisees who sit in Moses’ seat;
1b) Mat 23:4-7, The hypocritical works of the Pharisees;
1c) Mat 23:8, Do not be called ‘Rabbi’, for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren;
central axis) Mat 23:9, Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your father, He who is in heaven;
2c) Mat 23:10, And do not be called teachers, for One is your Teacher, the Christ;
2b) Mat 23:11, He who is greatest among you shall be your servant;
2a) Mat 23:12, Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus warned the multitudes and His disciples, not to do as the Pharisees did, but to do what they said, because they sit in Moses’ seat. In other words, obey Moses’ authority, because his authority as lawgiver of Israel did not originate with himself. He was called, commissioned, and appointed by God. The Law that Moses gave Israel did not originate with himself, but he merely relayed the Word of the Lord that he received. So, when someone obeys Moses, they are really obeying God.
But that section of the chiastic structure, Mat 23:1-3, about sitting in Moses’ seat is paired with Mat 23:12, Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Who sat the Pharisees in Moses’ seat? Who conferred upon them his mantle of authority? Moses said that the next One who would come, who would take up his authority, would be a Prophet like himself. Moses said the next One, in other words, who would sit in his seat, would be Messiah. So neither God nor Moses conferred on the Pharisees the authority of Moses’ seat. They took it upon themselves. They exalted themselves to set in that seat. They will be humbled.
The next pairs are likewise instructive. Jesus begins to explain the hypocritical works of the Pharisees in vs. 4: they bind heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders. They make themselves great by taking the most honored seats and accruing titles to themselves. But they do not serve the Lord’s flock — they prevent the Lord’s flock from entering the kingdom of heaven! But he who is the greatest, will be the servant of all.
So it is a deception. The men who exalt themselves and who the world exalts, they are not great in the Lord’s eyes. The men who call themselves Rabbi, Teacher, and Holy Father — they are taking His glory to themselves. They are first here, they will be last there. They are great here, they will be the slave of all there. Let’s not add to the deception by feeding it. But,
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Phil 2:3-4
I know some people who do this. They are meek, and spend their lives serving those even lower than themselves. They do not consider themselves great. But they are greater than me, and anyone else I know. The Lord proved His love and generosity toward us, by integrating them into our family.
The next time someone who is homeless, poor, and outcast comes across your path, thank the Creator of heaven and earth. He has just sent His most precious treasure into your life for you to serve. 🙂