The Pharisees, Judah’s Ancient Teachers
The ancient teachers were said to sit on the Seat of Moses as was confirmed by Yeshua. He commanded His followers to listen to what the Pharisees taught but not to do what they do (because typically they were hypocrites, not doing what they taught others to do). The Seat of Moses is a seat of authority; a seat of interpretation and instruction. Those who are honored to carry on the teachings and mantle of Moses did so to determine proper conduct to God’s Covenant people through the instructions of Torah. The conduct or behavior as it relates to the Scriptures is called “hallachah” which comes from the Hebrew word holech, meaning “he walks”. How a person walks or behaves in life is determined by keeping God’s instructions or Torah precepts. As we take the idea of holech (walk) we can see parallel thoughts with words such as “paths” or “ways”” we “walk” on. These words connect the idea of hallachah to other scriptures. Consider this:
So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” 1 Kings 3:14 (NKJV) [sic]
The ways or paths of hallachah of God are narrow and dedicated to holiness. Enoch, (whose name means “dedicated” from the Hebrew word chanoke) walked with God as well. He was so dedicated in his walk with God that he was able to walk right into eternity without dying a physical death. So, hallachah is obedience to a high path; God’s ways; God’s instruction. Hallachah is how you walk out your life according to His Laws.
Concerning the Pharisees Yeshua was basically saying that their hallachah teachings had merit and he no problem with them. But one must practice what one preaches. If you talk the talk you must walk the walk. A common idiomatic question in biblical times was “whose dust is on your feet?” meaning what rabbi or teacher do you “follow” or “walk” behind – Whose path are you on? The “followers” (like those walking down the path behind Yeshua) were often referred to as “the Way”. This is probably a misnomer. Instead of being an exclusive name of the followers of Yeshua this term could have ascribed that all Jews followed a halllachah or way of some teacher’.
“But this I do admit to you: I worship the God of our fathers in accordance with the Way (which they call a sect)*…
In some translations of this verse the word “sect” is replaced by the word “heresy” or “false” to say “…..I worship the God of our fathers in accordance with the Way which they call a heresy or perhaps better translated the hallachah they call false.
There were those who followed the way of Hillel or the way of Shammai. So the way of Yeshua may have been a term of generality identifying the group that followed Him.
Modern Day Pharisees
Many modern day teachers and leaders that teach God’s Word often teach the Truth but are living their lives in sin at the same time. They too aren’t practicing what they are preaching! There is much accountability in this matter. This was Yeshua’s greatest issue with the Pharisees.
Much of modern Christianity has a negative bias toward the ancient Pharisees but few realize the correct reason why. Many just think the Pharisees were legalistic and that was Yeshua’s problem with them. Or, some think they were erroneous in their system of belief. But, we can clearly see Yeshua told his disciples to do that the Pharisees teach. If they were teaching error Yeshua would not have told his disciples to “take care” to do what they tell you. In fact, the doctrinal tenants of faith of the Pharisees is very close to that of modern Christianity. They believed in the coming of Messiah as King and Judge to restore all creation, they believed in the resurrection, the existence of angels, the power of God to heal and cast out demons.
The sad thing is very few people today think twice about double standards. They know Yeshua taught that one must not lie, steal, commit adultery, judge others or profane the Name of the Lord but they acknowledge these things while compromising their own conduct as did the Pharisee.
The problem is most Christians are lacking hallachah, which is a dedicated and righteous path. One might say ah, but Christ did away with that Law. I don’t have to follow that path. Not so, as Yeshua said:
Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. 18 Heaven and earth may disappear. But I promise you that not even a period or comma will ever disappear from the Law. Everything written in it must happen.
19 If you reject even the least important command in the Law and teach others to do the same, you will be the least important person in the kingdom of heaven. But if you obey and teach others its commands, you will have an important place in the kingdom.
Mat. 5:17-19 (CEV)
This distinctly clear message somehow creates much dissention amongst Christians. It would seem many Gentile believers have been blinded regarding the Torah and uncertain of exactly what Yeshua did to change the Torah of God. Hear what Yeshua goes on to say, warning us that we must not be double minded as the Pharisees were:
You must obey God’s commands better than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law obey them. If you don’t, I promise you that you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
Mat. 5:20 (CEV)
It is true Yeshua DID “do away” with the Laws that were written against us but, not the whole Law; Certainly not God’s instructions for Holiness; Not God’s Ways; Not God’s behavior; Not God’s hallachah. God’s ways are good. They are Spirit. They are life.
One must shed this Greco-Roman mindset that we are now allowed to be lawless because of grace. Grace does not mean you get to break his Laws, Grace does not give you a pass to dismiss His ways, or forget his hallachah. No – the teacher now is the Holy Spirit that is deposited in the covenant believer by trust. The Spirit begins to write His laws (His higher ways) on your heart as you are transformed into a new creation – you (the mortal) and the Holy God immortal become one in covenant. Because you are in covenant, Yeshua takes on your liabilities (the debt of the law you owe and all that is written against you and pays for it on your behalf) and he gives you HIS assets of the covenant which Is the power to not only “do or walk” out the ways of God by His Spirit but the desire to do it too! Because the Torah is supernaturally written in you it becomes apart of your new behavior, a new, more powerful way to walk out God’s instructions for life. You actually become a living Torah. The Torah is not dead any longer. It is alive in you by the Spirit. It is the Law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus, Moshiach Yeshua!
The Laws or “behavior” of God never changes because God never changes and His Covenant is eternal. It is not a new Law that God has instituted but rather it is a new or better covenant. While the terms of the covenant remain the same which are wonderful promises of provision, protection, health and liberation from evil on God’s side of the contract and obedience to follow His ways on man’s side of the contract, the difference (besides nailing the laws that condemn us to the cross) is the new covenant comes with a free gift of the Holy Spirit to those who enter in by trust. Obedience is no longer determined by man’s power to “walk” out His commandments in the flesh but rather it’s by the power of the Holy Spirit in man that the ways of God are now manifest. His Grace is the gift of a supernatural conscience dictating when you are disobeying God’s ways (sin) or affirming God’s ways as you operate in the fullness of the Spirit. The fruit or works will be apparent in your life as the “greater deeds” Yeshua mentioned will begin to overflow in you. He will give you desires such as wanting to help the poor or widows, teach or evangelize, serve as a volunteer, give financially more than you ever have before and many other selfless deeds. The most important desire He gives is the desire to reject sin in your life. Even though you are capable of and may still be in sin your desire will be to turn away from it. But He allows you to decide, as an act of your own will, to leave it behind or deliberately continue to do what you now hate to do. God giving the desires in your heart does not mean if you have a desire for a Mercedes Benz, God will give it to you but rather, if you delight yourself in the Lord then the desires you begin to experience in your heart are manifesting there because God actually gave those desires to you.
The Fault of Judgment
Many a Christian has taken the parable of the judgmental Pharisee as a reason to judge the judgmental Pharisee.
Also, to some who were relying on their own righteousness and looking down on everyone else, he told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Parush and the other a tax-collector. 11 The Parush stood and prayed to himself,
‘O God! I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, immoral, or like this tax-collector! 12 I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on my entire income, . . . ’ 13 But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God! Have mercy on me, sinner that I am!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home right with God rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (CJB)
The question becomes how many Christians have taken the scripture above and said in their hearts ‘O God! I thank you that I am not like the Pharisee in this story?
The Oral Law
In ancient times it was not the custom for people to take notes of a sermon like we do today. Many did not read or write. There was no printing press. No one had a family Bible on the living room coffee table or bookshelf. There were no recording devices, DVDs, CDs, tapes or books on the subject, or internet to check out more information. There weren’t any pads of paper, pencils or convenient ballpoint pins! The custom was that the books of Torah and Prophets were to be memorized by every male Jew. The boys of age were taught to read and write the Hebrew language of Torah. Husbands and kinsman redeemers were required to teach the women and children the ways of God that he would learn from the Torah teachers.
The Rabbis and Torah teachers would have sermons (like our teachers and pastors do today) to teach the lay people how to understand and implement Scriptures. These sermons were in the form of parables, stories, and allegories. The older ancient stories were passed down orally and eventually redacted into a book called the Mishnah. The Mishnah is one of the two books included in the Talmud. The other book included in the Talmud is the Gamara also known as the oral traditions passed down from Moses (remember they had no way of taking notes so they had to memorize oral teachings from the great prophet that heard from God on Mt. Sinai). These oral teachings, like the Rabbi’s commentaries were eventually redacted in a written form too. Every Jew that sought Yeshua for understanding was well versed in the Scriptures, the Talmudic stories of the famous Rabbis as well as the oral traditions passed down from their beloved ancestry. When Yeshua taught these first century Jews, he would often refer to the common foundational and cherished knowledge of the Talmud. As Gentiles, we are not versed on the teachings of the Talmud and are unaware that many of Yeshua’s teachings were based on clarifying or expounding on these ancient oral teachings. We are at a loss and sometimes we misunderstand the intent and premise of Yeshua’s lesson as we have nothing to hang the teachings on like these first century listeners did.
A good example is the reference to the parable of the new wine in the old wine skins. The context of Yeshua’s comments are a response to the Pharisees who asked why Yeshua didn’t require the new and additional fasts that John the Baptist emphasized to his followers. Yeshua’s retort was embedded in a Talmudic story. He was basically implying from His answer that The Torah, even though it is ancient and old is still very good and that adding new corporate fasts could become a burden to the people making observance more than they could bear. Based on the listeners understanding of the famous Talmudic story one would be able to apply the meaning in this way: The new fasts of John The Baptist would be “new wine”; The appointed fasts of the Modedim would be the old wine. The Covenant people would be the “old wine skins”. Since this parable alludes to the Talmudic teaching of old wines jars the Pharisees would have immediately connected to His point without further explanation. (Note: Yeshua did adhere to additional individual fasts when warranted as when a certain demon would only come out by prayer and fasting. He also explained to the Pharisees, when the bridegroom, a reference to Messiah, is present there’s no need to fast. I’m sure this comment raised a few Pharisaic eyebrows.).
The Silencing of the Pharisees
Yeshua’s followers were Jews. In fact, multitudes followed Him! It was believed by scholars that upwards of hundreds of thousands of the Jews followed and believed that Yeshua was the Messiah. The Sadducees were nervous about the enormous numbers of Jews that were following him. In the past charismatic teachers caused revolts against Rome and the people suffered because of the rebellion. The Sadducees were appointed by Rome to govern the Jews in the ways of their Spiritual Laws and in compliance to Roman rule thereby keeping the peace. This governing group, called the Sanhedrin was political not spiritual. Vetting for favor from the Roman government, they were more interested in their position of power than anything God may requiring.
The Sanhedrin, comprised primarily of Sadduccees arrested Yeshua in the middle of the night (2 am). The Pharisees were not the group that conspired with Judas or arrested or tried Yeshua. We see in scripture that at some point the Pharisees stopped asking Yeshua questions.
While the Pharisees [sic] were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David. 43 He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying:
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’?
45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. [sic]
The Sanhedrin, however, hand picked certain people, waking them in the middle of the night to be their prosecuting witnesses. They were not successful as to finding two people who could agree that He broke any of the Laws of Torah. As requirement of Torah to convict someone of a transgression of the Law there had to be two witnesses. Finally, they forced Him to admit that He was the Messiah. It was then, at Yeshua’s comment “It is as You say”, that He was charged with blasphemy. Rome did not consider it a crime for anyone to claim to be the Jewish Messiah, so instead Caiaphas, the High Priest of the Sanhedrin convinced Pontious Pilate that Yeshua claimed to be King and of course according to Rome only Caesar was King. The accusing crowd around Yeshua in the early hours of the morning were the ones held as witnesses by the Sanhedrin In the middle of the night in order to speak against Yeshua before Pilate. This covert plan to arrest, and convict in the cloak of the night was a scheme of the prosecution. It was done quickly as the Sanhedrin did not want His vast numbers of followers from all over Israel to cause a riot. He was already on the cross by 9 AM on Passover at which time the majority of the Jews of Jerusalem and the guests from the countryside were arriving at the temple for the morning prayers and sacrifices.
The Pharisees in a new light
We see in scripture that there was an instance recorded that some of the Pharisees were sympathetic toward Yeshua warning Him to leave the Galilee in order to save His life from Herod.
Just at that moment, some P’rushim came up and said to Yeshua, “Get out and go away from here, because Herod wants to kill you!”
Two members of the Sanhedrin, who were also Pharisees, were in fact secret believers. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and respected man begged Pilate for Yeshua’s body. He prepared it for burial and laid Him in his own tomb with the help of Nicodemus.
We see believing Pharisees participating in debates over a major issue of the movement:
But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised …
Then there was the time when a Pharisee came to defense of the disciples and those of the Way of Yeshua;
But one of them, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was a teacher of the Law and was highly respected by all the people, stood up in the Council. He ordered the apostles to be taken out for a while, 35 and then he said to the Council, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men. 36 You remember that Theudas appeared some time ago, claiming to be somebody great, and about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed, all his followers were scattered, and his movement died out. 37 After that, Judas the Galilean appeared during the time of the census; he drew a crowd after him, but he also was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 And so in this case, I tell you, do not take any action against these men. Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, 39 but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God!”
Proud of their Position in God
The Pharisees were a very vocal group. They were a party of zealous Jewish spiritual leaders who prided themselves in the cloak of religion. They had the truth of God’s Word in their hands but instead of applying it to their lives or allowing it to change their inward behavior or yielding to the true Spirit of God’s Word to be healing and encouragement to a hurting human world, they created platitudes, were empowered by debate in order to just be right; They lived for the recognition of man, walking in arrogance with unteachable spirits. There was an election, however who heard, humbled themselves and began to walk in SPIRIT and in truth.
How sad as Christians many of us are no different than the Pharisees. No wonder Yeshua said to the dead, powerless, lawless, deedless, defiled church of the End times:
“And to the angel of the church [sic] in Sardis write,
‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.[a] 3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Rev. 3:1-5
May we wake up and begin to walk with God as His Spirit writes His Ways and Will (which is His Kingdom) in our hearts. Oh, that we not be so blind that we can’t see the Messiah right in front of our face. May we not be so arrogant that we can’t operate in the true Spirit of His precepts evidenced by good fruit. May we continue to die to self everyday as we choose to turn away from sin. Our King is faithful!