Mat 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
Mat 23:2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.
Mat 23:3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
Mat 23:4 They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them.
Mat 23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long.
Mat 23:6 They love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues
Mat 23:7 and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’
Mat 23:8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.
Mat 23:9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
Mat 23:10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.
Mat 23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.
Mat 23:12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
The authority of Moses’ Seat
While it may not be readily apparent this passage speaks of authority. Jesus makes reference to the seat of Moses. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes it this way:
While a conspicuous seat may be been situated at the head of the congregation in the synagogue, Jesus was not referring simply to a physical chair. That “scribes” and “pharisees” are plural at “Moses’ seat” is singular and that Mt. 23:6 Jesus denounced their love for the first seats of the synagogue strongly suggest that he was not referring to a physical sitting but the collective symbol of their legal authority. The imperatives in 23:3 (“do and keep”) are based on the authority implied in v.2. Mt. 23:2f. is the prelude to the denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees and presents the claims of the Pharisaic scribes to be the ordained guardians and interpreters of the Mosaic law.
Those who occupied the seat of Moses were the authoritative teachers and interpreters of the Mosaic law. We see Jesus instructing people to pay attention to and follow the teaching of the people who occupy this kind of authority. It is also clear that the submission that he advocates is conditional. He instructs people to not follow the example of the Pharisees. In the rest of chapter 23 Jesus goes on to highlight several deceptions and hypocrisies among the scribes and Pharisees. I don’t think anyone would have walked away from Jesus’ honest and unsparing rant thinking “the Pharisees are blind sons of hell, I don’t need to think about what they are teaching me, I’ll just blindly follow them.” Furthermore Jesus previously warned people to beware of the “yeast of the Pharisees” in Mat 16:6,12.
Mat 16:6 “Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Mat 16:12 Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Biblical submission involves being open to people who can teach us even if they are hypocrites. However it never involves blindly trusting or following everyone. We are continually reminded to test things, to know the Lord for ourselves and warned that we are responsible for our actions. In the midst of Jesus’ woes he didn’t warn the leaders that they will be held responsible for the persecution of the prophets and wise men. He said that the entire generation would be held responsible.
You are all brothers
Jesus responded to the typical one up/one down gamesmanship of the religious elite by instructing his disciples to be nothing like them. He tells them to not devote themselves to the pursuit of fame or reputation, even so much as to not take any titles that people so often long for. The gentile rulers desired power but the Jewish religious elite desired status and prestige in the community.
“But you are not be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.”
This is one of the most bold statements about the equal state of all Christians. One that even traditional churches should take to heart because Jesus often goes where we fear to follow. We are all brothers (and sisters) and we expend far to much energy attempt the scale the ladder of religious success.
Jesus’ words stand in stark contrast to the covering teachings that the word and the Holy Spirit are insufficient, that we need a delegated authority, like a pastor to teach us. Jesus’ challenge doesn’t rule the role for quality biblical teaching. Later on in the same chapter (verse 34) he says that he is sending “experts in the law” who will be rejected. He does rule out the idea that anyone can set themselves up as a necessary intermediary between people and God.