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The Persecuted Church


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Were all the Pharisees unbelievers and haters of Jesus?

The Bible does not broadbrush any group of people and make them all evil or put halos on their head. It tells us that there were even believers among the Pharisees. For the most part the Pharisees stuck together as a group, as did the Sadducees but there were a few independent thinkers that questioned the masses opinion of Jesus and did not participate in plotting his death.

The Pharisees came from the scribes. They were a particular sect of Judaism that was ardent students of the law, they took the position as the teachers of the law (an assignment God gave the Levites). They were known as “the separatists.” They called themselves Haberim in the language of the Mishna it means one who is associated with the law, observe it strictly in opposition to Hellenism. They kept all the written and oral laws and added 1500 more laws. They used the Hebrew and Aramaic writings. They believed in the supernatural, angels and demons, an afterlife and a bodily resurrection (Acts 23:8).

They were first were sent out with the Sadducees (Jn.1:24) to question John the baptizer in the wilderness.

Matt 3:7-8 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

Jesus famous sermon on the Mount relayed to the people the difference the ways the Pharisees taught and practiced and what Moses taught in the law. The people realized the Pharisees were wrong. It was not long before the Pharisees became the main antagonizers of Jesus as he challenged their religious leadership. They would often come out to question Jesus about what he and his followers were doing eating on the Sabbath. Matthew 12:2: “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” Or ask his disciples why “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”(Matthew 9:11). The Pharisees considered tax collectors as the lowest of low(things have not changed much) but anyone who was not a Pharisee and did not obey their laws was considered a sinner.

They would ask why they werent fasting Mark 2:18 The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” Despite the animosity Jesus was willing to reach out to them “A certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat” (Luke 11:37.)

They tested Jesus on the law-Matt 22:34-40: “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him,” 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets”

This did not sit well because the Sabbath was the highest law to them, the Sabbath became their main area of questioning Jesus. This was the largest area of contention, since this was the crown of all laws to them and if one did not obey it like they did they were not considered a Jew (Lk.6:2). The Pharisees made the Sabbath the barometer of obedience. Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

Mark 12:13 “Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.” The Pharisees accused him of his witness not being true (John 8:13.) The majority of the Pharisees intent as a group was to influence the people in not believing and following Jesus.

They continually asked for signs from Jesus but did not care what the signs proved. They wanted to catch him in something wrong “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.

(Matt 12:38; 16:1) They persisted in this that Jesus had to react “Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation”(Mark 8:11-12).

Matt 16:6 Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” In other words do not eat what they teach. V12: ‘Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Though the Pharisees were a separate group than the Sadducees they did unite together in their overthrow of Jesus. Matt 22:34 “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.”

Jesus gave one final challenge openly to their hypocrisy in Mt.23 showing that their religiosity was not honest truthful or Biblical. It was not obeying the law Moses gave.

Finally they were fed up with his answers and challenges to their religious monopoly over the people.

“Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. (Matt 12:14-15)

Though a number of them plotted his death from the beginning with the Herodians (Mark 3:6)

Matt 12:24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

They continually tried to trap Jesus “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. “Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? (Matt 22:15-18)

We know of at least two men mentioned of the religious Jews that believed. One was Nicodemus that spoke similar words, but Jesus knew his heart. John 3:1-2: “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

John 12:42: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue”

John 7:46-51: The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? “Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”

Many kept their belief secret. There was a great pressure on the people not to follow Jesus, but even greater for the Pharisees. John 19:38 “Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews”

Acts 6:7: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (these were the Saducees)

Acts 18:8: “Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.”

Later on we see certain Pharisees that claimed to believe but thought the law continued in the new covenant of grace. Acts 15:5: “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” A number of the Pharisees believed on Jesus but did not let go of the Old Testament law and made mixture which Paul condemned. (Gal.2:16,21;3:2,10-11,19, 21-23; 4:4-5; 5:4; 6:13)

Finally the most famous Pharisee of all was saved- Paul, who became the carrier of the gospel to the Gentiles.

Gal 1:14: “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” These traditions were the Pharisees that continued to add to the law and ended up with over 6000 extra laws over the 613 commandments and 1500 specifically about the Sabbath.

Acts 23:6 “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council,Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” I lived a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5).

Phil 3:5-7: “concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” He then explains the difference- “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”

So there were a number of Pharisees that became believers but overall they were a sect that whose intent was to undermine Jesus and his ministry to the people as they questioned his teachings and finally his miracles.

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