The Pharisees, who were laden with the spoils of the people which they received in gifts, etc. These three verses are not found in the sermon, as recorded by Matthew. They seem to be spoken chiefly to the scribes and Pharisees, who, in order to be pleasing to all, spoke to every one what he liked best; and by finesse, flattery, and lies, found out the method of gaining and keeping the good opinion of the multitude.
Woes denounced against prospering sinners as miserable people, though the world envies them. These we had not in Matthew. It should seem, the best exposition of these woes, compared with the foregoing blessings, is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus had the blessedness of those that are poor, and hunger, and weep, now, for in Abraham’s bosom all the promises made to them who did so were made good to him; but the rich man had the woes that follow here, as he had the character of those on whom these woes are entailed.
1. Here is a woe to them that are rich, that is, that trust in riches, that have abundance of this world’s wealth, and, instead of serving God with it, serve their lusts with it; woe to them, for they have received their consolation, that which they placed their happiness in, and were willing to take up with for a portion, v. 24. They in their life-time received their good things, which, in their account, were the best things, and all the good things they are ever likely to receive from God. "You that are rich are in temptation to set your hearts upon a smiling world, and to say, Soul, take thine ease in the embraces of it, This is my rest for ever, here will I dwell; and then woe unto you."
It is the folly of carnal worldlings that they make the things of this world their consolation, which were intended only for their convenience. They please themselves with them, pride themselves in them, and make them their heaven upon earth; and to them the consolations of God are small, and of no account.
It is their misery that they are put off with them as their consolation. Let them know it, to their terror, when they are parted from these things, there is an end of all their comfort, a final end of it, and nothing remains to them but everlasting misery and torment.
[Excerpt from Barnes' Notes & Matthew Henry's Full Commentary]
Who are rich - In this world's goods. They loved them; they had sought for them; they found their consolation in them. It implies, farther, that they would not seek or receive consolation from the gospel. They were proud, and would not seek it; satisfied, and did not desire it; filled with cares, and had no time or disposition to attend to it. All the consolation which they had reason to expect they had received. Alas! how poor and worthless is such consolation, compared with that which the gospel would give!
Here is a woe to them that are full (v. 25), that are fed to the full, and have more than heart could wish (Ps. 73:7), that have their bellies filled with the hid treasures of this world (Ps. 17:14), that, when they have abundance of these, are full, and think they have enough, they need no more, they desire no more, Rev. 3:17. Now ye are full, now ye are rich, 1 Co. 4:8. They are full of themselves, without God and Christ. Woe to such, for they shall hunger, they shall shortly be stripped and emptied of all the things they are so proud of; and, when they shall have left behind them in the world all those things which are their fulness, they shall carry away with them such appetites and desires as the world they remove to will afford them no gratifications of; for all the delights of sense, which they are now so full of, will in hell be denied, and in heaven superseded.
[Excerpt from Clarke's Commentary, Barnes' Notes, & Matthew Henry's Full Commentary]