THE RELIGIOUS GROUPS Jesus condemned most of the religious leaders of his day.

"But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." (Matthew 23:13-15, 23-28) Broken down by verse, Jesus heaps criticism upon these religious leaders for (1) denying the kingdom of God to others because of their burdensome rules and regulations while professing that they will enter God’s kingdom when in fact, they would not; (2) stealing from the poor while making a great spectacle of themselves by offering long prayers in public; (3) going to great lengths to convert someone to their beliefs only to make them as bad as they were; (4) observing the smallest matters of the law while ignoring the more important ones, i.e. following the letter of the law while ignoring the intent of the law; (5) professing to be the spiritual guides, shepherds or leaders of their time and yet failing to do so; (6) failing to recognize their own spiritual blindness; and, (7) making sure that they were outwardly righteous and presentable while being inwardly filthy to the point that they were dead spiritually. "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14) The Pharisees of that time were primarily interested in position, power and authority. They were not concerned with their relationship with God. In fact, they had deluded themselves to the point that they actually believed that they were the only ones right with God. However, as Jesus taught, righteousness was not attained through a system of works but rather through humility, grace, faith and repentance. Here are some of the groups that were around when Jesus walked the earth. Some of them are well known, while others are not so familiar. However the important idea is to understand the elements of which He often worked against, through or with during His Divinely appointed mission and brief stay. PHARISEES The word "Pharisee" is the Greek word derived from the Aramaic term for "separated" or divided (ones). This refers to their strict observance of laws and traditions (Luke 18:10-12). The doctrine of the Pharisees can be described simply as "building fences around the Torah (the Law)." The Pharisees were known because of their legalistic tendency, while the Sadducees often came from

a social position. They were held in great esteem among the people, and could be from any tribe of Israel. Most Pharisees were in the ruling class, and some sat on the Sanhedrim. (Acts 23:6, John 3:1) Many of the Priests and Levites Scribes were Pharisees, yet not all of them, as some were Sadducees or Herodians. (Acts 23:9) In Acts 5:34, Gamaliel was called a doctor of the law. This title was interchangeable with the titles of scribes or lawyers. There were possibly several types of them. We see from Matthew 5:17-6:18 that Jesus is correcting some of the religious habits that have built up in the Jewish faith. What he is speaking of here is a practice of the Pharisees. Pharisees were so careful not to break the commandments of God that they would "build fences around them" in order to give themselves a safe barrier. For example if I were a Pharisee and I was given the commandment not to steal, I would be so careful not to steal that I would tell myself that I could not even go into a store without an ample amount of money. This may have been a noble idea, but over time it came to be taken too far. Pharisees began to "build fences" around the "fences" that they had already built. In my example I would later go on to say that in order to keep myself from going into a store without an ample amount of money, I should not go into a store at all. Progressing from there I might later on say that it was not even right for me to go into town because I might pass in front of a store. This, of course, is an exaggerated example, but you can see what happened as time progressed. We can see the effect this had on the parent-child relationship in Matthew 15:4-6. In fact, the Pharisees would often look down on other Jews if they did not adhere to their strict modified laws of God (see Matthew 15:9). In Matthew 5 and 6 Jesus is telling them that this practice has become so bad that they have placed their focus on the wrong thing (they placed it solely on the actions, he wanted it on the heart as well). The Pharisees were the majority of the numbers who came to Jesus in order to test him and try to trap him in the things that he said. They held traditions of fasting (Matthew 9:14) and washing of hands before meals (Matthew 15:1-3). They practiced baptism of their Proselytes (converts), and circumcision of the men. The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee before he became a follower of Christ (Acts 23:6). We also know for certain that at least some of the Pharisees believed in Christ (Nicodemus - John 3:1), and became members of the church (Acts 15:5). Despite all of this, the major characteristics by which the Pharisees are known by in the New Testament is their hypocrisy. Jesus called them hypocritical for condemning his disciples for not washing their hands, since the Pharisees themselves were breaking other commandments of God (Matthew 15:1-7). John also publicly noted their hypocrisy when they came to be baptized but did not have actions that followed his teachings of repentance (Matthew 3:7-8). SADDUCEES The Hebrew word by which the Sadducees were called is tsaddiqim, "the righteous ones." The Sadducees accepted only the written law and prophets as binding. They rejected the entire traditional interpretations and the further developments of the Scribes. "The Sadducees say only what is written is to be thought of as legal. What has come down from tradition of the fathers need not be observed." (Josephus, Antiquities, XIII, 10,6) They were more rigid in judging legal matters than the Pharisees. The Sadducees were more closely related to the Pharisees than they were to the scribes. The Pharisees and Sadducees were often mentioned together, as they are in Matthew 3:7 when John the Baptist collectively calls them a "brood of vipers." The major doctrine that distinguished the Sadducees from the Pharisees and other religious sects was their position on the resurrection. Sadducees held the belief that there was no resurrection (Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:8, Luke 20:27) and they held it so firmly that they began to persecute the church for teaching the opposite (Acts 4:1-3). Being a Pharisee, Paul knew this fact and he used it when he was before the Council in Acts 23:6 to divide those who were assembled there. Because the Sadducees believed as they did, they were vehemently opposed to Jesus' teachings and often confronted him to test him as they did in Matthew 22:23-34. Christ warned his disciples of the erroneous doctrine of the Sadducees in Matthew 16:6-12. SPECIAL NOTE: Since the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, they had no hope

under the New Covenant. As a way to remember this important distinction between Pharisees and Sadducees, some use the comical phrase "They didn't believe in the resurrection, so they were Sad-you-see (Sadducees)." SCRIBES The Scribes formed a small and exclusive class, holding absolute spiritual supremacy over the people. Everywhere you would see the Scribe as the mouthpiece and representative of the people; he pushes to the front, the crowd respectfully giving way and eagerly listening to his statements as those of a recognized authority. The great respect paid to Scribes is reflected in the title of honor "my master", in Hebrew rabbi. From this respectful address the title Rabbi was formed, probably beginning as such in the time of Christ. In John 3, Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, addressed Christ as "rabbi," a form of respect for a recognized teacher. In New Testament Greek the words nomikos, "learned in the law; jurist" (Matthew 22:35; Luke 7:30; 10:25; 11:45, 52; 14:3), and nomodidaskalos, "teacher of the law" (Luke 5:17; Acts 5:34) are used. "Scribe" is synonymous with "lawyer" (teachers of the law) since scribes of that time were those designated to teach the law publicly. It is recorded how one reverent rabbi solemnly warned a scribe thus: "Take heed how you do your work, for your work is the work of heaven, lest you drop or add a letter of the manuscript, and so become a destroyer of the world." Rather than being a sect of the Jewish faith as Pharisees and Sadducees were, scribes were men who perpetually copied the scriptures as a profession. This was done because the scriptures were written on materials that were not well preserved, and thus decayed more rapidly than the paper we have today. Because Jews regarded the scriptures so highly and because they did not have modern copy machines to duplicate the scriptures that they had, scribes were hired to copy them instead. Their profession naturally gave them a good knowledge of the scriptures, since they were dealing with them for their entire workday. It is for this reason that Herod called upon the scribes in Matthew 2:4-6 to tell him where the scriptures said that the Messiah was to be born. Despite their extensive knowledge of Scripture, it is apparent that the scribes in the time of Christ were still lacking in the area of righteousness (Matthew 5:20) and authority in teaching (Matthew 7:29). The scribes commonly were members of the Pharisee sect, but we see from Matthew 5:20 that there was a definite distinction between the two. THE SANHEDRIN The rise of this great council of the Hebrews took place in the time of Greek supremacy, though there has been some attempt to trace its origins to the council of seventy elders named by Moses. The first mention of the Sanhedrin is in the time of Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) It was evidently an aristocratic body, with the high priest acting as president. When the Roman order was introduced by Pompey, the high priest still retained the position of governor of the nation, making it likely that the Sanhedrin was carrying on. Herod the Great began his reign by ordering the whole of the Sanhedrin put to death, appointing his own council of elders in their place. Under the Roman pro-curators, the internal government of the country was in the hands of the Sanhedrin to a much greater extent. And in the time of Christ and the apostles, the Sanhedrin is frequently mentioned as being the supreme Jewish court of justice. The Sanhedrin was abolished after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. THE ORGANIZATION OF THE SANHEDRIN The Sanhedrin was composed of 71 priests who served for life and who were selected from the following: The acting high priest presided over the council; all former high priests were members. Male members of the high priestly families

Scribes, legal assessors, bureaucrats Pharisees and Sadducees Elders - tribal and family heads Criminal judges were members of the Sanhedrin, and twenty-three of them sat in judgment, with two clerks to record votes for acquittal and conviction. In capital cases, argument for acquittal was heard first, then those in favor of conviction. Anyone who had spoken in favor of the accused could not then speak against him; but one who had spoken against the accused could change his testimony in his favor. Sentence for acquittal could be pronounced immediately; but sentence for conviction was reserved for the next day. In voting, each member stood, beginning with the youngest. A simple majority was sufficient for acquittal; but a majority of at least two votes was required for conviction. More members of the Sanhedrin would be brought in two at a time to vote whenever there was a majority of only one for conviction. When all 71 had voted, the person was acquitted if there was still a majority of only one. Jesus appeared before the Sanhedrin on a charge of blasphemy (Matt. 26:65; John 19:7). Peter and John were charged with being false prophets and deceivers of the people (Acts 4 and 5), Stephen with being a blasphemer (Acts 6:13), and Paul with being guilty of transgressing the Mosaic law (Acts 23). The Sanhedrin had the right of ordering arrests by its own officers; of finally disposing of such cases as did not involve capital punishment. A sentence of death had to be ratified by the Roman procurator. ESSENES The Essenes were a smaller group or "sect" that lived a communal "monastic" lifestyle at Qumram (near the Dead Sea) from 2nd century BCE through the first century AD; the "Dead Sea Scrolls" found in this location in 1947 are usually associated with them. Originally they were a group of priests, founded or led by a "Teacher of Righteousness" during the early Maccabean (Hasmonean) era. The Essenes regarded the Jerusalem priests as illegitimate, since those there were not Zadokites (from the family of the high priest Zadok). They also rejected the validity of the Temple worship, and thus refused to attend the festivals or support the Jerusalem Temple. They expected God to send a great prophet and two different "Messiahs" (anointed leaders), one kingly and one priestly. They lived a communitarian life with strict membership requirements, rules, and rituals; they probably also practiced celibacy. Josephus mentions them, but not in the NT (although some scholars think the "Herodians" in the NT refer to Essenes). Their monastery destroyed by the Roman Army in 68 AD, during the Jewish War against Rome, which Essenes probably considered the final battle between the forces of good (the true Israelites) and evil (the Romans and their collaborators). Literally dozens of complete scrolls and thousands of written fragments were discovered from 1947 to mid-1950's in caves near Qumran. The Scrolls contain copies of almost the entire Hebrew Bible, some older non-canonical texts, and dozens of the Essenes own writings. HERODIANS The Herodians were probably a faction that supported the policies and government of the Herodian family, especially during the time of Herod Antipas, ruler over Galilee and Perea during the lifetimes of John the Baptist and of Jesus. They are mentioned only twice in Mark and once in Matthew, but never in Luke, John, or the rest of the NT. In Mark 3:6 they conspire with the Pharisees to kill Jesus, still fairly early during Jesus' ministry in Galilee. In Mark 12:13-17 and Matt 22:16 they join some Pharisees in trying to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes to Caesar. Also possibly referred to as the friends and court officials of Herod (Mark 6:21, 26; Matt 14:1-12; Luke 23:7-12). ZEALOTS The Zealots were one of several different "revolutionary" groups in the 1st century AD who

opposed the Roman occupation of Israel. These "Zealots" were probably not an organized group at first, but any Jews "zealous" for God's law (Numbers 25:13; 1 Kings 19:10; Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14). Just before and during the First Jewish War against Rome, "Zealots" were a nationalistic revolutionary party opposed to the Romans. One of Jesus' apostles (not the same as Simon Peter) is called "Simon the Zealot" in Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13 (but "Simon the Cananaean" in Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:4). He may have belonged to a revolutionary group before joining Jesus, but more likely was "zealous" in the older sense. PRIESTS The High Priest, Chief Priests, Priests, and Levites were members of the tribe of Levi who were responsible for the temple and its sacrifices, and thus were the religious and social leaders of the Jewish people. The Priests and Levites in ancient Israel had to be men from the tribe of Levi; any Jews from the eleven other tribes could not be priests. Levites (members of the tribe of Levi who were not priests) also assisted in the practical operation of the temple as guards, musicians, etc. (Luke 10:32; John 1:19; Acts 4:36; Numbers chapters 3, 8; etc.). Priests offered the sacrifices and took care of other ritual concerns in the temple (Mark 1:44; Matthew 12:4-5; Luke 1:5-23; etc.). The same Greek word is translated "High Priest" (sg.) and "Chief Priests" (pl.) in most English Bibles; they were in charge of the Temple in Jerusalem and thus were the most important religious leaders in ancient Israel, at least prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The High Priest was appointed annually, but members of the family of Annas and Caiaphas were often reappointed in the first century (Matt 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49; 18:12-28; Acts 4:6). The Gospels portray the chief priests (often with the scribes and elders) as members of the ruling authorities who opposed Jesus, long sought to arrest and kill him, and eventually condemned him to death (in cooperation with the Roman governor).

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