Picture the city of Jerusalem in the first century A.D. Under Roman rule, Judaism is recognized as a legitimate belief system, and factions such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees battle to claim the mantle of true religion.
However, the Jews as a whole had long since strayed from what was given to Israel through Moses, adding many manmade traditions, watering down certain standards, by this time even observing Passover on the wrong day.
This was the world into which Jesus Christ was born as a Jew. When He was a young boy, He paid a visit to the Temple in Jerusalem: âAnd it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answersâ (Luke 2:46-47).
Matthew 21 describes Christ coming into Jerusalem again as an adult, shortly before His trial and crucifixion. After He is ceremonially received as a King, a number of well-known events take place in this and the following chapters. He purges the Temple of moneychangers and merchants, heals the blind and lame, and curses a fig tree.
He also rebukes and confounds the Jewish religious authorities of the dayâthe chief priests, scribes, lawyers, Pharisees and Sadduceesâtime and again, setting forth parables that illustrate their hypocrisy and stubbornness.
Christâs Counsel to the Multitude
Chapter 23 begins with a unique account of Christ instructing a large group of listeners. (Notice that here Christ was speaking to âthe multitudeâ of Jerusalem residents, most of whom would never be part of His Churchânot privately to His disciples as He does in the next chapter, which begins the Olivet prophecy): âThen spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Mosesâ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on menâs shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingersâ (Matt. 23:1-4).
The word âseatâ is translated from the Greek word kathedra, which Strongâs defines as âa bench (literally or figuratively); seat.â The English cathedral comes from this word, as does the Latin cathedra, most commonly heard in reference to the Pope speaking ex cathedraââfrom the chair.â
This word is found in only two other places in ScriptureâMatthew 21:12 and Mark 11:15, where it is used for the âseatsâ occupied by those who sold doves in the Temple.
Thayerâs adds that the phrase âsit in Mosesâ seatâ means the scribes and Pharisees at the time did âbear themselves as Mosesâ successors in explaining and defending his law.â
As we continue, keep in mind that this phrase is found only here in the entirety of Scripture.
A Modern Application?
We now move ahead to the late 20th century. The Church that Christ went on to found, just weeks after the above instruction was given, has weathered nearly two millennia of trials and persecutions. Its Headquarters has gradually migrated from the Holy Land through Europe and the British Isles to the United States, by the late 1960s using the corporate name the Worldwide Church of God (WCG).
In the wake of the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, apostasy sets inâspearheaded by his successorsâand Godâs people are scattered in many directions. Thousands leave WCG to join various âsplinterâ groups, with each offering a unique theology to justify its existence.
During this process, a set of doctrines is born that maintains Godâs people should notâin fact, cannot and must not!âleave the WCG, since, as it is portrayed, âGodâs government is there.â
One of the key doctrines set forth to support this idea takes Christâs statementââthe scribes and the Pharisees sit in Mosesâ seatââand asserts that Mr. Armstrongâs successor and his accomplices (who by this time had rejected the true God, His law and nearly all of His doctrines) now âsit in Mosesâ seat.â
Thus, those who accept this premise are obligated to âwhatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do.â
Are Christians now under this constraint? Have they ever been?
A âstudy paperâ that promotes this theory was written some years ago by a man who had never served in any spiritual office within Godâs Church. While it may have been written with good intentions, it is riddled with errorâincluding many statements and conclusions that have no basis whatsoever in Scripture, arising purely from human reasoning. Letâs examine just a few:
âThe apostle John was the last of the original apostles to share in that âseat.â But, just as the Church would never die out (Matt. 16:18), the âseat of Mosesâ would also continue to exist as God raised up new leadership.â
- âTherefore say I unto you, âThe kingdom of God shall be TAKEN FROM YOU, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereofââ (Matt. 21:43). That ânationââwhich was to shortly begin bringing forth fruits of that kingdomâis the CHURCH (1 Pet. 2:9). Christ was saying that the Church was to inherit âMosesâ seatââthat there would be those within the Church who would BOTH TEACH AND JUDGE by Godâs laws. The âseat of Mosesâ went, specifically, to the apostle Peterâbut, just as it was shared under Moses by other judges, the other apostles (with other leaders) SHARED IN THAT SEAT.ââ
Re-read Matthew 21:43. âChrist was sayingâ? Nowhere in that verse does Christ mention Mosesâ seat! This is a blatant case of âputting words in Christâs mouth.â The kingdom of God is not in any sense equivalent to âMosesâ seat.â
Again, there is no mention anywhere in Godâs Word of Johnâor anyone other than the scribes and Phariseesâsitting in Mosesâ seat! This is a particularly far-fetched version of the âbaton-passing/papal-style successionâ idea that has afflicted a number of splinters. These seem to forget that if, for argumentâs sake, we supposed that a âbatonâ actually existed, then Mr. Armstrongâs successors threw it in a ditch!âGod did not appoint the scribes and the Pharisees to âMosesâ seatââthey usurped that âoffice.â But God allowed it to happenâand he is in control. Likewise, God did not place the Tkachâs [sic] over the WCGâbut he allowed it to happen. Christ might just as well have said, âJOE TKACH SITS IN MOSESâ SEAT: All therefore [that is good and right] he bids you to observe, that observe and do.ââ
âChrist might just as well have saidâ? This is a leap in logic that exceeds Olympic high jumps, and insults Jesus Christ in the process. Ask yourself: What âgood and rightâ things have Mr. Armstrongâs successors âbidâ Godâs people to do over the last two decades? Answer: None!
This begins to get to the heart of the matter: Those who profess to honor false leaders in âMosesâ seatâ will find that they need not âobserveâ much of anything, with the possible exception of tithing to the WCGâwhich now no longer exists corporately under that name. So theirs is a Christianity without obligations, requirements, standards, boundaries or parametersâan environment ripe for human nature to flow unchecked (Rom. 8:7).
One argument that has been set forth is that the Pharisees and scribes at the time were the equivalent of the âfroward masterâ described in I Peter 2:18: âServants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.â
The context makes plain that this was written to members of Godâs Church who worked as domestic servants, a common occupation in the Roman Empire (see Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1)! The direct application of this verse in the modern world would be submitting to (working diligently and obediently for) a difficult, antagonistic employer or supervisor.
A few more points about the âfroward masterâ idea: Note that just a few verses later in the âMosesâ seatâ account, Christ instructs the same listeners not to call any man âmasterâ as a religious title! âBut all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not you called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be you called masters: for one is your Master, even Christâ (Matt. 23:5-9).
Jesus forbids His disciples to view anyone other than Himself as their spiritual âMaster.â Even Godâs true ministers are not âmastersâ of His peopleâhow much less wolves (as in the case of the apostates)?
Plainly, in no way, shape or form had Christ been setting those âin Mosesâ seatâ on a pedestal as âmastersâ to whom His disciples must subject themselvesârather, He indicts them as blind, hypocritical, foolish âserpentsââa âgeneration of vipersâ (vs. 13-36).
New Priesthood, New Temple, New Israel
The apostle Paul, explaining to the Hebrews that the physical, Old Testament Levitical priesthood no longer had authority over them, wrote about a âchange in the law.â He explained that the Levitical high priest and priesthood have been replaced by Jesus Christ and His ministry:
âIf therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the lawâŚ
âAnd it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there arises another priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. And inasmuch as not without an oath He was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by Him that said unto Him, The Lord swore and will not repent, You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this man, because He continues ever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them. For such an High Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needs not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the peopleâs: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself. For the law makes men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, makes the Son, who is consecrated for evermoreâ (Heb. 7:11-16, 20-28).
Mosesâ seat, occupied by the scribes and Pharisees, formally and finally ended when God began to work with spiritual Israelâthe New Testament Churchâthe true Temple (II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). As of Pentecost A.D. 31, the scribes and Pharisees had no authority whatsoever over Godâs people!
Shortly after the âMosesâ seatâ instruction was given, âJesus went out, and departed from the temple: and His disciples came to Him for to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See you not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown downâ (Matt. 24:1-2).
Here Christ foretold the destruction of the physical Temple, which came about in A.D. 70, further demonstrating that the Old Testament system had been replaced. This made it even clearer that God was no longer working in that Temple, but was rather working in His Churchâthe spiritual Temple, composed of living stones (I Pet. 2:5)âthrough His Spirit!
From A.D. 31 until that time, the Old Covenant system, including those sitting in Mosesâ seat, were simply fading remnants of a nullified contract between God and physical Israel. And there is no evidence in the New Testament that Godâs Church acknowledged the Pharisees, scribes and human high priest in any wayâin fact, Paul and others were severely persecuted by these religious authorities.
This begs some questions: When would the authority of Mosesâ seat have been transferred to the apostles, as some suppose? And if it did, why is this not recorded in Scripture? Would this not have had a bearing on the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15), which was sparked by a dispute with false teachers from Judea who attempted to impose parts of the Mosaic Law on the Church?
The idea of a secret, supernatural transference of Mosesâ seat to the New Testament ministry has literally been pulled out of thin air. If it is accepted without question, then the door is opened to build an elaborate scheme of Old Testament/New Testament parallels. Butâhowever intriguing this theology might beâits foundation is not in Godâs Word.
When put to the test of Scripture, it falls apart like a house of cards!
Consider the Fruits
It must be noted that those who refuse to leave WCGâbelieving that it would be rebellion to do so, and that God requires them to endure where they areâin some respects demonstrate a level of commitment and patience that is rare.
On the other hand, this burdensome situation is unnecessary and terribly harmful! It prevents large numbers of Godâs people from being part of His Work. It requires His sheep to provide tithes to feed murderous wolves. It allows, or even encourages, brethren to subject themselves to an environment of spiritual poisonâfalse doctrineâdirectly contradicting verses such as the following:
- âIf there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speedâ (II John 1:10).
- âBe you not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believes with an infidel? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols [including the trinity]? For you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almightyâ (II Cor. 6:14-18).
- âWherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge you what I sayâ (I Cor. 10:12-15).
Ironically, professing oneself subject to Mosesâ seat is ultimately a way to exempt oneself from any real government or authority, since the WCG is now defunct. The groups that profess âallegiance from a distanceâ to it are loosely organized, largely tolerant of division, heresy and misconduct, and not focused on productivity and finishing Godâs Work.
As a final aside, understand that the idea of a 21st century âMosesâ seatâ meshes very conveniently with the popular false idea that the two witnesses will be types of Moses and Elijah, with a supposed end-time Moses returning to the âseat.â This negates Mr. Armstrongâs role as the final Elijah (Matt. 17:11), which he clearly taught that he had fulfilled in being used to restore hundreds of vital truths to the Church. It also negates the need to hold fast to all that Mr. Armstrong restored, opening the Pandoraâs Box of doctrinal confusion.
The idea that someoneâanyoneâsits in Mosesâ seat today is fiction, pure and simple. It is one of many fictions that has arisen in the confusing, disorienting wake of the largest apostasy ever to strike the Church (II Thes. 2:3). While the originators of such ideas may be sincere, they are sincerely wrong!
Consider one more time the results of following this doctrineâdivision, inaction, frustration, doctrinal confusion and spiritual decline. None of this is Godâs intent for His people!
We can be grateful that Godâs Church and Work are not in bondage to any supposed modern-day âscribes and Pharisees.â Rather, we are called to liberty: âWhere the Spirit of the Lord is, there is libertyâ (II Cor. 3:17).
Those who break free from the false âMosesâ seatâ conceptâand are reconnected to the true Vine, the Body of Christ and the spiritual Templeâcan recapture the excitement of doing the Work, re-ground themselves in the fullness of the truth, and fellowship with those of like minds. Does this sound like what you are missingâwhat you once had?
To learn more, please request The Restored Church of Godâs Splinter Explanation Packet.