The Easter story remains the same, even in ways that are not usually examined. Let’s consider thinking about Christ’s passion story as it relates to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. This examination will include a comparison of yesteryear to today. It doesn’t take long to see where their views are still with us today; and it isn’t pretty. The article will consist of two parts. The first will be a look at the Pharisees and the second the Sadducees.
There is a something that should be noted before we look directly at the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It may have had an influence in their time and it may still be an influence today. Shortly after the ten northern tribes of Israel were defeated but before Judah was led captive to Babylon, there was a religion being developed in the Middle East that became known as Zoroastrianism. This religion described a belief in two gods, one good and one bad. When more people were worshiping and serving one god over the other, that god would win. This meant that either good would prevail or evil would. Now that form of religion puts a major emphasis on the works of man.
Let’s jump forward in time just enough to look at the religion the Pharisees developed. They had an idea that they could incorporate a system of works righteousness whereby the God of the universe would accept man’s efforts of purifications and rule keeping, known today by the term legalism. Through it God (Yahweh) would accept this work of man and welcome them into heaven based upon their efforts. Does that sound vaguely familiar to serving the ‘good god’? A side benefit to this approach for the Pharisees was that they got to be the ones who established the rules and were accepted as authorities, which brought additional fringe benefits to the lives of these “elites.” For proof one only needs to look at those leaders, the Sanhedrin council, who condemned Christ as a heretic. Another person who can provide us with proof is the apostle Paul before his conversion.
The evidence we have is that Paul was a rising star within the Pharisees. This is found in the book of Acts. It begins with the stoning of Stephan while Paul was still called Saul. Acts 7: 58, 59 states, “When they had driven him out of the city they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (NASB). Much later in Acts 22: 3 we read Paul saying, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.” Then in the next verse we see the results of that belief. Acts 22: 4, 5 says, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify.” By his actions, Paul the zealous Pharisee proved he thought his religion was his means of salvation.
The premises of this group of Pharisees included faith, but not one that accepted the need of grace. Especially regarding the grace through faith extended to them by Christs gift of atonement. The Pharisees wanted to do that for themselves. They were “serving” the good god. They didn’t want anything to do with Christ’s spilled blood. They didn’t want Jesus upsetting the applecart. They had established their own path to heaven by works, or so they thought.
However, Paul refuted that legalism, condemning the Pharisees motives. It saddened Paul that his fellow Jews rejected the truth. He wrote in Romans 10 of how he prayed for them and hoped they would turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
Are some attempting to get to heaven by works and serving the ‘good god’ still with us today? I should say so. These are the people who still think they must perform religious acts in order to be saved. They think you must attend their church without fail and follow their specific set of rules or else you can’t enter into heaven. Many of those people “hope’ they are good enough to get in.
But they are not alone. There are many known cults that have created necessary practices that must be observed in order to become fellow members and inherit the kingdom. The book “Kingdom of the Cults” by Walter R. Martin will introduce you to them.
In Mathew 12: 34; and 23: 33 Jesus called the Pharisees “a den of vipers.” Choice words that He would probably apply to the legalistic groups of today. The Pharisees, and for that matter today’s religiosity and cults have to totally ignore Isaiah 53, a whole Chapter dedicated to the suffering servant, who we know to be Jesus Christ. He is the only one who was able to perform a work that makes any difference. His sacrificial work gives mankind the opportunity to have a relationship with and share an eternity with God. Today, Christ’s sacrifice of dying on that cross is what gives us hope, a genuine, trustworthy hope of grace through faith. There is a fitting acronym for the word grace that describes its meaning; it is God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense.