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Anyone who has read the Bible has read about the Pharisees and their seemingly never-ending run-ins with Jesus. In this post we will look at who the Pharisees were, what the definition of Pharisee is, and ask ourselves who are the Pharisees today!
Who Are the Pharisees Today? -Pharisee Definition
The Pharisees or Perushim in Hebrew, were an elite, ancient group of religious Jews who were strict adherers to the Law and esteemed themselves more highly than others.
These were the most educated of Jews and spent their lives in the study of Torah Law. They not only studied Law, they taught it. They believed the Law was the only way to God.
According to Learn Religions:
The Pharisees formed the largest and most influential religious-political party in New Testament times. They are consistently depicted in the Gospels as antagonists or opponents of Jesus Christ and the early Christians.
Who Are the Pharisees Today? - Characteristics of Pharisees
They believed the law also required human interpretation and, of course, they were the ones to give it.
They believed themselves to be loftier than all others, including the Sadducees.
They judged others and their observance of Law and often put themselves in the position of judge and jury, as we see in the New Testament story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11)
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” NIV
Interestingly enough, Jesus NEVER called into question the punishment prescribed by the Law. He knew the Pharisees were in fact correct. Stoning WAS called for by the Law of Moses.
But Jesus had grace and mercy on His mind, not condemnation. This was something the Pharisees just could not wrap their heads around. Mercy was not something they were familiar with because religious people will always go by rules, rather than relationship.
But the Pharisees weren’t all bad and no good.
They are responsible for the institution of the synagogue and were key in preserving and fostering Judaism through the years.
To summarize, the Pharisees believed themselves to be holier than thou and it appeared as though they thought their opinions and traditions better than others.
This much is evident in Luke 18:9-14:
Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” NKJV
Who Are the Pharisees Today? -What is a Pharisee Spirit and Who Are Modern Day Pharisees?
A Pharisee spirit is a spirit of haughtiness, self-righteousness, pride and, yes, hypocrisy. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:6:
Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” ESV
He also said in Matthew 23:1-12:
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. NKJV
Jesus was essentially saying ‘do as they say not as they do’. You see they taught the Law well. They just weren’t that great at keeping it when it concerned themselves.
They look at what other people do and are critical of it but yet they turn around and do the same themselves.
They believed the rules did not apply to themselves because they were better and more learned than everyone else.
They were offended by everyone and everything!
They were so full of themselves that they could not recognize the Messiah when He stood right in front of them because He didn’t fit THEIR vision of who He would be!
Who are the Pharisees today? A Pharisee spirit is one who believes they somehow do Christian life better than others. They judge people for what they wear, what they drive, what church they go to, how often they pray, what version of the Bible they read, who they associate with.
They will criticize others for not reading the Bible as much as they do or praying as long as they do.
Jesus was not their picture of a victorious, conquering Messiah. They weren’t interested in God’s definition of a Messiah, they cared about their own.
They ignored the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him,there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him,and by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53: 2-6 NKJV
Pharisees will form their own version of truth based on what suits them.
They did this even to the Law of Moses, by adding to it with their oral traditions or oral law.
The rules that apply to others, do not apply to them.
They had a picture of who the Messiah would be and Jesus just didn’t fit the bill. A lowly carpenter? Joseph’s Son? How could THIS be the Messiah? He isn’t as lofty as we are! How on earth could we EVER dare worship a Messiah lower than we are?
He’s the carpenter’s son! He is not a High Priest or a Scribe! It can’t be!
Doubt this is the case? Well, let’s see their own words in Matthew 13:55-57:
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. NIV
They were “offended”. They couldn’t possibly acknowledge a Messiah who was ‘common’.
They failed to see the WHY of a Messiah and chose to see the WHAT instead. They couldn’t possibly comprehend, in spite of the prophecies, that a Messiah came to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world and not a conqueror of Rome.
He just didn’t fit their mold.
Who are the Pharisees today? They can be people who look at you and form opinions about your ministry or your calling because you fail to fit their “image”.
Who Are the Pharisees Today? - Modern Day Pharisees
Who are the Pharisees today? Well, we have modern day Pharisees in our own circles. We may even BE one (gasp!!).
Do you ever look at someone God is using and think you could do it better or that you are more deserving?
Do you ever look at someone’s church attendance and make judgments about their walk?
Have you ever gotten offended because someone dared take your seat at church or YOUR parking spot near the door to the lobby and now you have to walk?
Have you thought of yourself better than someone else because you were in a higher tax bracket or had a certain skin color?
Do you discount someone’s gifting because they just got saved like yesterday and you’ve been at this a long time?
Do you think if a church sings contemporary worship and not good old time hymns they are somehow not as close to God?
Do you think someone is less knowledgeable about Scripture because they choose to read the NIV and not the KJV or ESV?
If people DO Christianity differently than you do, do you judge their salvation?
Are you a modern day Pharisee?
Who are the Pharisees today? WE are much of the time.
We have all done it. I’ve done it and I can bet you have. And if you’re sitting there thinking “Well! I’ve never done THAT!” then you just proved my point.
None of us is perfect. ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Let me say that again….ALL fall SHORT!
As a church, we need to do better.
We need to stop creating and fostering division in the body of Christ. We need to stop judging with an overly critical eye.
We need to stop creating enemies out of each other and work together.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™