Christians love to hate on Pharisees. If you’ve been going to church since you were a kid, you probably have this image of a Pharisee in your head:
A stern, shady looking man with his Bible-thumping scroll and fancy clothing. He’s usually just about ready to judge someone, say something completely ignorant, or get owned by Jesus. In kids’ Sunday School classes, they’re the bad men, the evil, wicked ones that can never get a clue… and in adult classes, they’re stupid. Why can’t they just get it right? They’re so blind! It’s the poor, perfect Gentiles that see Jesus for who He truly is.
Some people advance to a higher level of understanding about the Pharisees and make the connection that we are no better than they are. In fact, we are in many regards, the same. Amazing fact: we are no better or worse than anyone. We are all on an equal level. When we make ourselves greater than someone or less than someone, we are entering codependency.
And this is where I want to go with this: stop demonizing the Pharisees, or anyone for that matter. Our aim in life should be to understand people. To pray for them and ask God to show us where they’ve been and how they’re hurting. Our role here on earth is to love. God is the judge and we are to have compassion on whoever comes in our path.
Little known fact in the average Sunday School class is that the Pharisees at one time could be seen as the American constitutionalists of our day. During the Maccabean revolt and up to the time of Jesus’ birth, the Greek and Roman cultures were incorporating syncretism (a meshing of cultures and religions) into the Jewish way of life. It was then that the Pharisees, among other groups, were established to protect their monotheistic way of life and the scriptures. They wanted the Law to not only be protected from the polytheistic tendencies of the Greeks and Romans, but to be relevant to daily living. They created all these extra rules to go along with the Law for practical purposes. I believe much of the resistance to Jesus came from fear of losing life as they knew it.
When Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, He was blunt and honest with them but not with the intent to give us somebody to hate. Jesus loved the Pharisees. He loved Israel. At one point when Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees came to Him and warned Him that Herod was out to kill Him. Jesus already knew His fate and lamented over Israel that kills the prophets of the Lord. He told them, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Although painful, Israel’s rejection of Jesus was part of God’s greater plan to bring the outside nations into the kingdom of God. Their hardness of heart fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy from long before then: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (Isaiah 6:10) If it wasn’t for the blind eyes of Israel, we would never have gained sight to the truth.
Instead of mocking the Pharisees for their wickedness and ignorance, we should be praising God that not only did He come to die for the legalistic Jews, but for the rest of the world, as well.
The Pharisees rose to a place of power in the Jewish communities and they became corrupt. It’s not a new thing. Power oftentimes leads to corruption. As believers, we have to be on guard for false teachers or manipulators of the faith. And when we meet them, let them talk, really listen to them, and converse peacefully. Pray for them and let God do the miracles. It’s how you came to faith – not by your intelligence, but by God’s grace. Before God opened your eyes to see His truth, you couldn’t see any better than the Pharisee.