“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat ...” (Mattnew 23:1-4)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matt. 23:1-4)

Is Jesus exposing the temple institution?

Here Jesus is teaching to “the crowds and his disciples” the truth about the Pharisees and the chief priests of the institutional temples. These were the appointed leaders of the temple institution during that time, and they had significant legal authority over the people.

They had converted the devotional teachings of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon and all the other prophets into empty ceremonies and rituals. These were supported by an ecclesiastical hierarchy with appointed teachers, who acted as politicians. Meanwhile, as Jesus is clarifying, they did not even practice what they preached.

Those original instructions by God through His ancient messengers were meant to help those of previous generations come closer to Him. The high priests and Pharisees were utilizing those teachings to maintain their authority and positions of power. Meanwhile, they did not have the vision to recognize God's representative, Jesus.

Because they maintained legal authority over the people, Jesus is recommending they follow the rules and regulations maintained by these leaders. If Jesus had advised them not to follow the rules, this could subject them to harsh punishment, and Jesus did not want that. He recognized these temple officials were connected to the Roman government. While the Romans had ownership over the lands, the temple leaders coordinated the governing of the people with the Roman governors.

Was Jesus doing what the temple teachers were doing?

Jesus was not teaching the fear and ritualistic leaning teachings as were the Pharisees and the temple teachers.

Jesus wanted to change people’s hearts and re-introduce them to God. He did not want to interfere with the system governing the people.

There is an important lesson within Jesus' statement - and the situation that had developed among the temples. The tendency to convert the instructions of a previous teacher - intended to help those of that culture and society re-establish their relationship with the Supreme Being - into empty rules and rituals with political authority has occurred repeatedly in history. This has occurred among many of the sectarian institutions around the world.

Why do sectarian institutions become fanatical?

What is it that drives some to take the teachings of a previous teacher, and turn them into an organizational power grab? If we look around at some of the organized sectarian institutions of today we find a consistent pattern: We find politically appointed leaders who promote rituals and ceremonies while minimizing the teachings of those they supposedly follow.

In many cases, this scenario results in the institution becoming fanatical.

What causes this? The quest for power. The quest for authority. Those of us living within the physical dimension in these physical bodies are here because we rejected our relationship with God. Why? Because we do not want to worship and serve God: We want to be worshiped and served.

This is why so many of us seek fame. This is why so many of us seek positions of authority.

This is why we humans will utilize whatever means available to us to gain authority and power over others. It doesn't matter whether the means happens to be the teachings of God's representative. We will manipulate those teachings in order to create organizational structures that exert authority over others.

This is precisely what the Roman Empire did with the teachings of Jesus. It saw the influence of Jesus' teachings could be used to Rome's political advantage. The Roman government could control the people by organizing an institution that exerted authority over people.

The Roman Emperor Constantine collected together church leaders from different regions (the First Council of Nicaea). He pressured them to formulate a single doctrine regarding Jesus (the Nicene Creed). Then every church had to (by law) synchronize with this doctrine.

Then Constantine ordered a politically-motivated selection of certain scriptural texts and appointed scribes to combine and translate those texts into a cohesive single book, the Bible. This became the official scripture of the official Church, sanctioned by the Roman empire - the early Roman Catholic Church.

Other scripture texts were ordered to be burned. A classic power play.

This power play continued with the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, organized by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II. This council led to the creation of the Roman Catholic Church.


Was Jesus describing fanaticsim?

Jesus is discussing the temple institution, and how it's teachers exerted their power over people. They sat "in Moses' seat" because they wanted authority. Jesus was defining how their quest for authority resulted in them misleading people and abusing people.

This is the classic definition of fanaticism.

Now we should ask: Did the Roman Catholic institution become fanatical as well?

Three hundred years after Jesus' time, this new sectarian organization set up by the Roman emperor became law.

Eventually, people were required to attend Roman Catholic mass. If they didn't, they would be condemned and hung or burned at the stake. It didn't matter that the priests of this political church did not actually teach what Jesus taught.

And it didn't matter that the Bible was translated to Latin - a language not understood by most Europeans. And it didn't matter that masses were ritualistic ceremonies spoken in Latin either. So the people were forced to sit in mass and listen to empty Latin phrases while making the ritualistic motions. Many of these rituals still take place today among Catholic churches.

This coerced power structure replete with empty rituals called the Roman Catholic Church virtually controlled the Christian world for over a thousand years. During this period so many atrocities were committed by this institution. Many innocent people were slaughtered. Many people were tortured - in the name of Jesus. This is why Jesus also said:
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will come to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:21-23)
It wasn't until a few fearless English and German persons decided that enough was enough in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries - such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus and Martin Luther - that some change came. Even then, those who translated the Bible into English and other common languages were sought out and persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church.

In other words, the very same situation (but on steroids) that Jesus was criticizing in this statement about the Pharisees and priests took place in Jesus' name after he left the planet.

And even today, we find many sects led by politically-appointed teachers whose teachings emphasize rules and rituals while they themselves utilize their positions of authority. Some as we find out, have been known to abuse their parishioners instead of abiding by their own rules.

They feel above their own laws. This is the result of the desire for authority and power. This is what Jesus was criticizing in these temple officials.

Jesus taught the opposite of this. He taught humility, compassion and caring for others - even our enemies. And above all, he taught that our focus should be upon loving and serving God, not on gaining positions of authority:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)