“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.’”
Pharisees were first-century Jews. The Pharisees had emerged as a group during the period before Jesus arrived on earth. They were the Hasidim or “the pious ones.”
Jewish leadership was divided during the time of Roman occupation. The chief priests and Sadducees were the Temple leaders. The Pious Ones were the teaching leaders.
The Pious Ones had subdivided. They were intent on restoring the kingdom to Israel, but there were factional divisions. One group of Pious Ones were the Zealots (zeal for the Lord and his house). They believed in righteous violence and the overthrow of both Rome and the corrupt temple leaders by violence and terror tactics.
The Pharisees had the same goal, minus the violence. They were committed to the overthrow of Rome and the temple leaders by relying on the truth of God’s Word, trust in God, teaching the people, and reasoning together.
The rabbis were Pharisees. They were the teachers. They were called “teachers of the law” or “Torah teachers” in the Gospels. They were also the small, esteemed teachers with authority. Not every Pharisee was a rabbi, but every rabbi was either a Pharisee or most closely aligned with the Pharisees.
I am not saying that it can be proven from Scripture that Jesus was a Pharisee. The Gospel writers do not call him one, and he does not call himself one. I am saying that, as a teacher with authority, he was more closely aligned with that group of leaders than with any other.
In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it.” Jesus did not come to do away with Torah. Jesus came to make our understanding of God’s words more complete.
That was the goal of Pharisees, too. Torah teachers taught for understanding; teachers with authority added interpretations to enrich the understanding of the people. Pharisees were devoted to Torah and to making God’s words the center of life and community.
“Listen to those who sit in Moses’ seat,” said Jesus in Matthew 23. A Moses Seat was in every Jewish synagogue. The worship reader and teacher sat on it until their turn came in the service. Jesus reminded his people that Pharisees sat in it when their turns came.
“Listen to them,” said Jesus. “Do what they say.” Jesus acknowledged them and their faithfulness. Like all of us, some of them were off-base (next week’s devotional). But their intentions were good, their commitment to God’s Word undeniable, and their passion for faithfulness unmatched among their contemporaries.
Among these righteous and pious ones were Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Paul, disciples who demonstrated faithfulness at the risk of their own reputations, standing, and lives. Each was a disciple, and each sought to be like Jesus.
May those who are called to lead in the 21st century be like these Pharisees.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services