Selwyn now turns to the issue of pride and prejudice. The Pharisees and teachers of Jewish law were the experts to whom the people turned to, when they required advice on how to live their lives according to Jewish law. To an objective observer, they were the logical group who should have been the first to recognise who Jesus was, based upon what was written in Scripture, by various prophets, concerning the coming of their Messiah, our Saviour.
A prophet’s voice had not been heard in Jerusalem for a few hundred years before Jesus’ birth; and, the land had ‘suffered’ constant political turmoil. After the break up of Alexander the Great’s Greek empire, Israel was under the rule of the Seleucid Empire, and a process of conversion to Greek pagan practices was initiated. This process was at its height during the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175 – 164 BC), when in 167 BC, Jewish sacrifice was forbidden, sabbaths and feasts were banned and circumcision was outlawed.
In about 166 BCE there was a revolt, when Judah Maccabee (Hasmonean) led an army of Jewish dissidents to their first victory over the Seleucids – then, there were a series of further battles – finally, Judea was freed from Seleucid rule, in 129 BC.
Hasmonean rule lasted until 63 BC, when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem and subjected Israel to Roman rule, while the Hasmonean dynasty itself ended in 37 BC when the Idumean – Herod the Great – became king of Israel and king of the Jews (with the approval of Rome).
The influence of the Pharisees grew in this period (from around 150 BC to Jesus’ time); and, as Selwyn mentions in today’s study: “Some commentators say the Pharisees became the conscience of the Hebrew people.” He goes on to say: “How do you think Jesus felt, being outlawed by the acknowledge representatives of those He came to save and serve?”
I’ve included this small sketch of Jewish history in today’s post (for more details go to Wikipedia), to place the Pharisees into some sort of context – they were, in a sense, guardians of Jewish religious practice; which was at the centre of their national identity, especially as it was nearly destroyed by Greek pagan influences. The average person in Israel, looked to them for guidance on religious matters, as these matters were a significant part of their lives. Consequently, during those three years of Jesus’ ministry; those who heard Jesus speak would have turned to the Pharisees and sought their views on the authenticity of Jesus’ claims.
You can understand how they felt about Jesus; here is a (young, ‘uneducated’) person ‘telling’ them – in a fairly blunt way, that they did not really understand spiritual matters – the very area, that was at the centre of their prestige and ‘national’ standing.
The lesson for us today, I think, is that pride and prejudice is still an area of concern within the ranks of our religious leaders. Perhaps, some leaders in religious matters, are more concerned about their reputation and standing; than in helping us deliver the good news about Jesus. What’s your view?
In Matthew 23, Jesus delivers His view (and, not in a meek, gentle way), here are some examples of what He said (NLT): “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
Everything they do is for show. … They love to receive respectful greetings … .
“Blind guides! … What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. … For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. … You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!
Inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence! Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. … Hypocrites! … Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? … “
I think, the important message for all of us – is that we should honestly try to practice what we believe – and, when we don’t – we should be honest about our failings and openly repent (especially, when the failing is public knowledge) – in this way, we remain faithful witnesses to our God.