Session #7  (Most quotes are NIV)


The Jewish community consisted of a variety of groups:  Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots were the best known.

Zealots were the most political of the groups.  Although relatively small in number, their goal was to incite riots, if possible, to militarize the Jewish people to rise up against the Romans and forcibly or violently get rid of them.  They wanted a “purified” Israel, free from foreign intervention.  It is claimed that the group started in 6 B.C. when the governor of Syria, Quirinius, decided to instigate a tax reform coupled with Caesar Augustus’ decree to have everyone “register” for taxes (you’ll remember that from the Luke 2 Christmas story).  Jesus had a Zealot in his group of 12 Disciples:  “Simon the Zealot” is in the list at Luke 6:16.

Essenes were thought by some to be separatists, but in reality, they were more like  monastics.  They lived a very strict life of piety and commitment to the rules and regulations of the sect.  A person had to serve an apprenticeship before being accepted.  Their fame is centered primarily in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It is thought, however, that they were not the writers of these scrolls but only the dedicated protectors of this treasure trove of documents.

Sadducees were the second largest group.  They consisted primarily of priests, and were generally upper-class Jews with a large bank account.  The High Priest and the 5 Chief Priests were all Sadducees and were, consequently, the six most powerful Jews in the nation.  While not all priests were Sadducees (some were Pharisees or non-affiliated), the primary focus of the Sadducees was the care and maintenance of the Temple, along with overseeing the religious ceremonies.  They also were the “Executive” Branch of the Jewish state; they held the top positions of power on the Jewish Council.  Among their quirks was the religious belief that there is no resurrection or afterlife, and they attack Jesus on that point.  They also had a reputation for being obnoxious—and they reveled in that reputation.  They were even rude to each other!  We see that in High Priest Caiaphas’ language in John 11:49-50 where he basically calls his fellow-Sadducees “idiots.”  (Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all!You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”)  They were NOT particularly against Roman rule or Greek ways of living.

Pharisees were the largest group by far, numbering about 5000 men, most of them living in Jerusalem.  The general population admired these men as “truly religious.”  They were meticulous about keeping the 10 Commandments—so much so that they contrived 613 additional commandments to explain and expand the original 10.  Matt. 23:23 tells us that Jesus condemned them for giving a tithe to God (a tenth) of dill seed and cumin seed, while they’re foreclosing on widow’s houses (“Well, it wasn’t against the law!”).  As you can imagine, the Pharisees were “pure Jews” and thus were against all things Roman or Greek.  As a result, they were also politically against the Sadducees who tolerated and cooperated with the Roman occupation.  Pharisees generally were not as wealthy as the Sadducees, but they had money!  It was impossible to “behave perfectly” on a 24-hour basis and still hold a job.  Pharisees also claimed to be the “true interpreters” of the Law and were often in that group mentioned in the New Testament as “scribes” (professional manuscript copyists, but also could draft legal documents).


Jesus is in the courtyard of the Temple, teaching.  Matt. 21, Luke 20 and Mark 11 all portray this as “ganging up on Jesus.”  Matt. 21:23 “Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Teaching was a sacred privilege.  Not just anyone could be a “rabbi” (teacher).  Firstly, you had to be taught by another rabbi to insure your knowledge and accuracy.  Secondly, a rabbi had to be at least 30 years old.  If you weren’t 30 or more, you were too young to know anything (while we tend to admire youth, they admired age!).  In other words, teaching required a certain “certification.”  They want to know:  “Jesus, where are your credentials?”

Jesus is able to confound them by asking about John the Baptist.  “Did John the Baptist have the right certification?”  Oops!  Sadducees rejected John the Baptist but the people LOVED him!  There’s no right answer for these Chief Priests!  All they can say is “We don’t know!”

Jesus continues his attack on the Jewish leaders by telling several parables.  While a discussion of parables is best left for another time, one parable should be mentioned:  The Parable of the Vineyard (Mark 12:1-12; Matt. 21:33-45; Luke 20:9-19).  Two things must be mentioned here:  1. “Vineyard” in the Old Testament is a metaphor for the people of Israel.  Read Isaiah 5:1-7, especially verse 7: “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in.”  2.  Crucifixion was done outside the walls at the city gates!  The “caretakers” of the vineyard (Jewish leaders!) kill, beat and stone EVERYONE whom the owner sends (the Prophets) until Luke 20:13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’”  In the parable, the leaders kill the son also, but WHERE?  “Outside the vineyard” say all three Gospels.  The Son of God is killed outside the walls on a cross!  Luke 20:19 is representative of all three Gospels:  “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraidof the people.”  It wasn’t just Pilate who was jittery about this crowd!


Mark 12:13-17, Matt. 22:15-22 and Luke 20:20-26 tell the story of the Pharisees and some Herodians (no one is really sure what “Herodians” means—perhaps another sect?) who ask Jesus  “Is it lawful for a Jew to pay taxes?”  This is a trick question.  If Jesus says “Yes” then the Jewish population will be against him; if Jesus says “no” then the Romans will arrest him for trying to start a rebellion.  He responds cleverly by asking for a coin.  When they give him a denarius (a small coin which represents a day’s wage),  “he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’  ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.”  So, Jesus says “Well, it must belong to Caesar—give it back to him!”

Yes, this is very clever of Jesus.  But there is more here than we catch at first.  By pointing to Caesar’s image on the money, Jesus is forcing the Pharisees (an anti-Roman group) to admit that they are part of the Roman Empire and they are using Roman money!  What the Pharisees heard Jesus say was “You ‘purists’ aren’t so pure, are you?”  The Greek (Mark 12:17) says ἐξεθαύμαζον—an imperfect verb form which indicates an on-going action:  “they continued to be amazed.”  Jesus had just “rocked their world again,” they were on their heels, and they weren’t sure how to handle him! 


The “Sanhedrin” or Jewish Council was a group of 71 prominent Jews.  It consisted of Sadducees, Pharisees, Scribes and “Elders” who were from prominent “pure” Jewish families.  It met EVERY DAY except Saturdays and holidays in the Hall of Hewn Stones which was attached to the Temple.  It was the executive, judicial and legislative branches rolled into one body!

Order of Importance:  1. High Priest, 2. Chief Priest and Captain of the Temple Guards 3. Chief Priest in charge of Temple services and Priesthood 4,5,6. Chief Priests in charge of the Temple Treasury; 7 thru 71:  By age, the oldest to the youngest.  Officially, they were in charge of the Nation and of Jewish life.  Some claim more Chief Priests were necessary, but there’s no arguing about #1 and #2:  The High Priest and his Enforcer!