January 23, 2022 – Matthew 23

Lesson Date: January 23, 2022

Focal Scripture Passage: Matthew 23:1-39

AIM: To lead students to identify sins for which Jesus rebuked the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders, and to examine their own hearts to see if they are guilty of any of those same sins.


Before class: Read the notes on Matthew 23 found in the Sunday School Teacher Book.  Write the following words on the marker board or chalkboard: “Warning,” “Rebuke,” and “Correction.”


INTRODUCTION (Create Learning Readiness): Lead the students to read aloud the three words written on the board.  Tell them at first glance the definitions of these three words might seem to be similar.  Ask them to take a moment to think how they would differentiate between those three words.  After allowing them a moment to think, ask: “What is different about the meanings of these three words?”  Allow time for some responses, and then explain the following :

  • The word “Warning” means to alert someone about impending danger. Signs such as “Bridge Out” or “Slippery Floor,” or admonitions to wash our hands during flu season are warnings: they are intended to keep us from harm.
  • A word of “Correction” is spoken with the intention of changing one’s behavior for the better. When a parent or teacher says, “Don’t do it that way; next time do it this way,” that is a word of correction.
  • The word “Rebuke” means “to express sharp, stern disapproval of; reprove; reprimand.”[i] The big difference between “rebuke” and the other two words is that a word of “rebuke” does not include any admonition or instruction for correction.

Tell the class the world’s image of Jesus is that of a kind, loving, and forgiving person.  Today’s lesson from Matthew 23 presents a very different side of Jesus Christ.  The title of today’s lesson is Jesus Rebuked Religious Hypocrites.



  1. Review.
    • Hold up a copy of the Sunday School Member Quarterly and remind the students that the last half of the Gospel of Matthew describes Jesus’ journey Toward the Cross.
    • Remind them that the Jewish religious leaders were plotting to kill Jesus: “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Matt. 12:14).
    • Soon, Jesus told His disciples about His future mission: “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21).
    • Two weeks ago we learn about Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.
    • Ask: “How did the Jewish religious leaders treat Jesus?” (they challenged His authority and tried to trap Him with trick questions).
    • They wanted to arrest Him, but feared the people. There was no longer any pretense of cordiality: they were committed to Jesus’ destruction.
  2. Jesus Warned the People about the Hypocritical Religious Leaders.
    • Ask a volunteer to read Matthew 23:1-3.
    • Ask: “According to verse 1, who was Jesus speaking to?” (the multitude and His disciples).
    • Ask: “In verse 2, what did He say about the scribes and Pharisees?” (they sat “in Moses’ seat;” in other words, they held positions of great spiritual authority and responsibility over the people).
    • Ask: “In verse 3, what did Jesus tell the people to obey and do?” (the scriptural teachings of the religious leaders).
    • Ask: “What did He tell them NOT to do?” (imitate their behavior).
    • Explain that this would be like a parent telling their child, “Do what I say, not what I do.”
    • Read Matthew 23:4-7.
    • Ask the students to name the things Jesus said about the scribes and Pharisees. They should name the following:
      • They burdened the people with man-made rules and regulations but didn’t obey them themselves or try to ease the peoples’ burdens.
      • They did all their religious activities to be seen and praised by men.
      • They craved prominence and notoriety.
      • They liked to be noticed and greeted with the respected title of “Rabbi.”
    • Direct the class’ attention again to the words written on the board.
    • Ask: “Were these words of warning, rebuke, or correction?” (warning: Jesus warned the people not to follow the behavior or example of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees; Jesus did not speak TO the scribes and Pharisees to rebuke or correct them).
    • Summarize: Jesus warned the people and His disciples not to follow the hypocritical example of the scribes and Pharisees.
  3. Jesus Rebuked the Hypocritical Religious Leaders.
    • Read the first sentence of Matthew 23:13 (“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”).
    • Direct the students’ attention once again to the words written on the board.
    • Ask: “Does this sound like Jesus is speaking words of warning, rebuke, or correction?” (rebuke).
    • Explain the following:
      • Throughout most of the rest of this chapter (verses 13-36), Jesus harshly rebuked the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders.
      • The word “Woe” is a harsh exclamation of warning and rebuke.
      • Jesus said it eight times in this chapter.
    • Ask the class to listen for the errors for which Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, as you read Matthew 23:13-36.
    • Read the passage in sections, stopping before each “Woe” (read verse 13, then verse 14, then verse 15, then verses 16-22, etc.).
    • After reading each of the following verses or passages, ask the students what error Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for. They should name the following:
      • Verse 13 – Because of their emphasis upon man-made rules, they kept themselves and others from going to heaven.
      • Verse 14 – They devoured the meager resources of widows and tried to impress people by making long, flowery prayers.
      • Verse 15 – They went to great lengths to convert people to Judaism, but then poisoned them with their man-made doctrines.
      • Verses 16-22 – They didn’t understand the value of holy things: they thought they could break a vow made in the name of the Temple, but not one made in the name of the gold upon the Temple.
      • Verses 23-24 – They meticulously followed insignificant rules but ignored the true meaning of God’s Word.
      • Verses 25-26 – They put up a good “front,” making themselves look good on the outside while actually being corrupt and evil on the inside.
      • Verses 27-28 – They appeared righteous to men but were actually corrupt.
      • Verses 29-36 – They built and decorated the tombs of the prophets – the very prophets their ancestors killed; they were no different from their evil ancestors.
    • Ask: “Do these words sound like the meek, mild Jesus many people think He was?” (no).
    • Tell the students Jesus rebuked the Jewish religious leaders for their hypocritical behavior.
    • Ask: “Could Jesus justifiably rebuke you for any of those same things?”
    • Summarize: Jesus harshly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy.
  4. Jesus Pronounced Judgment on the Jews’ Hypocritical Religion.
    • Explain the following:
      • Jerusalem – the city God chose to place His name (Deut. 12) and His Temple – was under the control of wicked and corrupt religious leaders.
      • The scribes were those who copied the scriptures and were supposed to be experts in God’s Law.
      • The Pharisees were the conservative Jewish leaders who were supposed to teach the people how to live for God.
      • Those unregenerate and hypocritical scribes and Pharisees actually corrupted God’s Word and rejected God’s Son.
      • The Bible says Jesus “came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).
      • Verses 37-39 contain Jesus’ last words to the corrupt Jewish religious leaders and to the city of Jerusalem.
    • Ask a volunteer to read Matthew 23:37-39.
    • Tell the class Jesus loved His people and His city.
    • Ask: “According to verse 37, what did He want to do?” (gather them to Himself like a mother hen gathers her baby chicks under her wings).
    • Ask: “Did they want that?” (no).
    • Ask: “What did Jesus say about their ‘house’ (the Temple)?” (it was desolate – waste, empty, left alone; in other words, God’s presence would no longer be there).
    • Ask: “When did He say the lost Jewish religious leaders would see Him again?” (when He returned in power and glory).
    • Summarize: The Jewish religious leaders were so corrupt and hypocritical that Jesus pronounced judgment upon them and their Temple.


PERSONAL APPLICATION: Tell the students that most of the Jews refused to believe in Jesus or accept Him for who He really is: the promised Messiah and Son of God.  The religious leaders openly opposed Him and secretly plotted to kill Him.  Their system of worship (which God had originally established in the Old Testament) had become nothing more than empty ritualism.  The religious leaders and teachers were hypocrites who desired the praise of men more than the approval of God.  They looked righteous and holy on the outside, but were corrupt and wicked on the inside.  Jesus announced that their Temple, which had once been filled with the presence and blessing of Almighty God, was now nothing more than an empty shell.

Direct the students’ attention once again to the words “Warning,” “Rebuke,” and “Correction” written on the board.  Ask: “Did Jesus speak any words of warning in this chapter?” (yes; He warned the people not to imitate the hypocritical behavior of the scribes and Pharisees).  Ask: “Did Jesus speak any words of rebuke in this chapter?” (yes; He harshly rebuked the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees).  Ask: “Did Jesus speak any words of correction in this chapter?” (no).

Tell the class Jesus rebuked the Jewish religious leaders because they were hypocrites: they talked one way but lived another.  Ask: “Do we still have religious hypocrites today?” (yes).  In fact, many of them sit in church pews on Sunday mornings.

Ask everyone to bow their head and close their eyes.  Ask: “Are you a religious hypocrite?  Are you guilty of any of the same things for which Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees?”  Urge everyone to confess any sins God has brought to their minds and recommit themselves to Jesus Christ right now.  Voice a closing prayer.


CONCLUSION: Ask everyone to memorize Matthew 23:12.  Encourage them to re-read this chapter sometime this week and ask the Lord to reveal any hypocrisy in their lives.  Tell them to repent of any hypocrisy as soon as they recognize it.



[i] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/rebuke

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