In these verses, Jesus goes on the offensive against His foe, and it is important to recognize that His foe is actually Satan, and not the Jewish religious leaders who have been deceived into playing the role as Satan’s shills. I point this out again, because what these texts are really all about is the larger spiritual conflict; we have seen over and over again that these leaders were incapable of seeing the obvious right in front of them, and I have pointed this out many times in this study. For Jesus, the ball game is in His play to the disciples and the crowd; He knows that the Pharisees and teachers of the law aren’t going to change their minds because they have hardened their hearts. A few will understand and repent later… but precious few.
As for the crowds, many will respond in time, perhaps because of what they have heard Jesus say, but most did not. The disciples however are the real prize, for they are destined to lead the church forward in its infancy; they must hang on with Jesus, and as you will see, the next two chapters of this section are discussion between Jesus and the disciples alone. Finally, in our day, in our world, not much has changed from Jesus’ day, and often the battles we find ourselves in have similar dynamics as we must deal with people who are really not our foes, even though they are in our faces. In such cases, the battleground is really in the hearts and minds of those who witness the events as they unfold; we would do well to remember this.
Jesus, now in full Old Testament prophet mode, opens His assault by telling the people that they must do what their leaders tell them to do, acknowledging their position in the seat of Moses, and then tells the people not to do the things their leaders do, for they are hypocrites (23:1-4).
He explains their hypocrisy by reminding the crowds that everything their leaders actually do is for show; to impress people with their importance, their righteousness, and their positions (23:5-6). Then beginning in verse 7, Jesus asserts His divine authority, in my view as a preamble to what follows in 23:13 ff. They are not to call their leaders “Rabbi” or “teacher” for they have only one Teacher. They are not to call anybody “father” for they have only one Heavenly Father. They are not to call anyone “instructor” for they have only one Instructor, and He is the Messiah (who by the way is the One who is speaking).
I’m not quite sure what else He could have said that would assert His superiority over everyone present that would have done so more thoroughly than He did in these verses.
Then, a familiar refrain: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Personally, I think this was for the disciples’ benefit, since they have heard Him say this a number of times, and haven’t seemed to comprehend it before.
As verse 12 is reverberating across the Temple mount, Jesus is about to deliver God’s judgment upon the Jewish leaders, and all that they represent, but we must wait until next time to hear it!