How Jewish is your Jesus?
Where did the Pharisees come from?
About a week before his crucifixion, Jesus was approaching Jerusalem and started weeping. He gave his reasons in Luke 19:42, 'if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God's coming to you'.
It was a prophecy about the future, a prophecy that would be fulfilled within the lifetime of many who were listening.
Of course, one could write a library - and many have - about Jesus and his mission, but all we are doing in this study is to examine the effect that his life had on the Jews of his day. A key to our understanding of this matter is to examine how the nature of the Jews' relationship with their God had changed since the Babylonian exile. Or, rather, how the ways in which they managed to anger their God had changed.
Prior to the exile, in fact the dominant reason for the exile, was their idolatry, forever prostituting themselves to foreign gods, gods made of stone and fashioned by the corrupting influences of unclean spirits. Since the exile they no longer chased after the gods of their neighbours; the gods of Persia, Greece and Rome had no appeal for them. Our 'kingdom of priests' had been cemented together like never before, one people under one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The problem was not in who they worshipped, but how they worshipped Him. They had built a hedge around the simple laws that God had given them at Sinai, adding more and more rules and regulations to convert the simple act of following God’s ways from a joy to a burden.
We know this as Pharisaism, which is a little unfair on the Pharisees, who started out as a breath of fresh air and real people of revival and ended up, at the time of Jesus, as no worse than many modern day rule-laden and judgemental clergymen, who can be found lurking in the corridors of churches throughout the World. There’s no doubt that, if Jesus would appear today in the flesh, many church leaders would reject him for similar reasons as the Pharisees of old - it takes great faith and courage to mount a challenge to established religious systems.
Needless to say the life and death and re-life of Jesus was dramatic, in different ways, for those who accepted him and for those who rejected him. The crux of the matter was that many Jews accepted Jesus for who he claimed to be, but the majority didn't and that particular generation who witnessed the crucifixion, were to reap the whirlwind. Jesus himself warned them of this near to the end of his life.
"When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21:20-24)
We will next return to history and see how this all panned out ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Jesus Man of Many Names