Men Against Jesus
One of our fondest desires is to know Jesus and understand His work and His religion. We can be assisted in this when we also understand His opponents. You can know a person, a movement or an idea not only by its friends but also by its enemies. We wish to take a look at some who chose to oppose Christ, especially observing why they sought to destroy Him and His teaching. Basically, the same reasons that cause people to oppose Him while he was on earth are the reasons His cause suffers opposition today.
It is truly difficult to understand why there was such hostility and venomous hatred toward Him. Why should anyone who lived such a life of service, love, kindness, good deeds and sympathy toward others incur such savage resistance from anyone? Yet, it began early in his life and grew in intensity with the passing of time and events. Again, we can generally say that His opposition was motivated among those who transgressed what He taught. They can be divided into three major groups; (1) the scribes and Pharisees, (2) the Sadducees, (3) and the priests and elders of the people.
Scribes and Pharisees
Opposition to Jesus that arose early and stayed most persistent came from the scribes and Pharisees. To understand why we must understand how they considered the Jewish law. To them there were the Ten Commandments, the Pentateuch, and their oral traditions. The first two came from God while the third consisted of man's opinions and doctrines. Yet, traditions were the most important with them. They made it their business to make rules and regulations, declaring them binding on everyone, enforcing them with unrelenting zeal as if such rules were God's laws. They were not beyond violating God's written laws to uphold their human traditions and opinions. One such instance of this was noted by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 15:1-9 regarding washing hands and honoring parents. Not only did they assign certain washings, but also they had to be done a certain way. They refused to sustain parents saying their funds were already committed, even though God commanded honoring their parents even to providing for them. They considered healing a man on the Sabbath Day a violation of their traditions, even though the law allowed even relieving animals in distress.
As long as one showed outward conformity to their doctrines, they considered him all right regardless of the condition of the heart. Their faith was one of human legalism, external form, designed for the expert and professional religionist. They looked upon the sinner and publican with contempt and as being untouchable, being a disgrace to have anything whatever to do with them, even to helping them. They were self-righteous, narrowing God's love only to themselves.
Jesus had a head-on collision with these people. He taught God's will was above any and all human laws and opinions. His religion was for the common man; even the poor had the gospel preached to them. He acknowledged the propriety of certain outward piety, but condemned the hypocrisy being exhibited. He stressed internal purity as well as external ritual. He condemned their self- righteousness and urged self-denial. He taught that God loved the Jew, but He also loved all men, even sinners, and desired that all be saved. He did not teach God's approval of all, but He did teach God's love for all. Jesus could not have crossed and contradicted the scribes and Pharisees much more than He did if that conflict had been His primary goal in life.
The Sadducees were the aristocrats, the wealthy, the politically powerful and materially well-to-do people, the “high society” of Jerusalem and Judaism. They were bitter enemies and rivals of the scribes and Pharisees, denying the resurrection and judgment to come, rejecting oral laws as well as written laws. There were written laws they would accept, but only portions of those. Jesus accused them of error because they did not know the Scriptures. “Ye do err not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God, ”(Matthew 22:29). Is this not why many err today?
While the scribes and Pharisees would have little to do with the Roman conquerors, the Sadducees collaborated with them, staying in political and religious power, controlling the seat of the high priest. But, strangely, in Jesus these two groups found a common foe. As much as they hated each other, they hated Jesus more.
Why were they so eager to join with their rivals to destroy Jesus? It is because they misread Him, considering Him a political rival and one who might lead a revolt against Rome. Such a revolt, if successful, would remove their privileged positions, luxuries, wealth, power and material prosperity. So they accused Jesus of being against Caesar, even though Jesus denied His kingdom was of this world (John 8:36). In fact, Jesus taught that one should pay tribute to Caesar and obey the laws (Matthew 22:21). While admitting He was to be a king, He was a spiritual king, not a competitor to earthly powers.
But the Pharisees accused Him of blasphemy because He said He was the Son of God, and the Sadducees accused Him of treason. Such a charge would arouse prejudice in the minds of Roman authorities.
Jesus also taught against the folly of material wealth and power when compared to spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-21). You can imagine how this set with those who placed so much emphasis on such things. Jesus taught not to be anxious about food, drink, clothing, etc., but rather to seek God's kingdom and righteousness before anything else (Matthew 6:33). This ran against their fondest earthly ambitions.
Priests and Elders
The third group of opponents consisted of the priests and elders of the people. Their opposition came more slowly, being centered around Jerusalem and the temple while much of the work of Jesus was done in the countryside. But in His last days on earth, when He was in the city of Jerusalem, teaching, healing, rebuking, the priests became dominant on the scene in the plotting for His death. Matthew 26:3,4, “Then assembled together the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people, into the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiphas, and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety and kill him.” Matthew 27:1, “When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.” They were the ones who conspired with Judas (Mark 14:10). They were behind His arrest in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:47). They hired false witnesses against Him (Matthew 26:59). They urged the mob to call for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27:20)
Why did they do this? The priests had become a very privileged body of people. They lived royally off the people of comparative poverty. They took advantage of their power over the people because they were supposedly between man and God under the Jewish law. They had position, prestige, respect, honor, rank, title and control. They were determined to retain it.
Like the other opponents, especially the scribes and Pharisees, they stressed ritual to the neglect of righteousness. Therefore, they came in for their share of rebukes from our Lord and they resented it.
He Was a Threat
The greatest menace to them was the teaching of Jesus that He would fulfill the old law and accomplish its purposes. This would mean the removal of the law and its replacement with another. It meant there would be a change in the priesthood. In the faith of Christ every person who comes to God through Christ is a priest and needs no man through whom to approach the Father.
Jesus was also a great teacher and had great influence among the people. They were jealous of this displacement of them by a lowly Galilean. They were supposed to be the instructors of man.
The removal of the old law would also mean the termination of animal sacrifices, one of the primary duties of priests. As far as the priests were concerned, opposition to Jesus was a life or death struggle for what they considered themselves to be. Either Jesus had to go or their way would have to go. Their vested interests were at stake.
So all the loveliness, beauty of character and truth of His life counted for nothing among them. The scribes and Pharisees considered Him a threat to their human religions; the Sadducees considered Him a threat to their station in life and their materialism; and the priests and elders considered Him a threat to their lifestyle and continued dominion over the people. Without doubt, Jesus did cut across the blind folly of political and social ambition, and showed the essentiality of His spiritual kingdom soon to come. He did fulfill and remove the old law, accomplishing its purposes and removing the Levitical priesthood forever. This being so, they conspired together, even though enemies one of another, to crush a common foe, declaring Him worthy of death and pursuing that goal to its end.
Defeat or Victory?
The cross may at first seem a victory for those who opposed Him. But actually it was but another magnificent step forward in God's provision for the salvation of all mankind who will receive Him. His enemies ignorantly, al though intentionally, called for the sacrifice by which His blood was shed; the very blood by which we can be justified.
Many still oppose Jesus and for much the same basic reasons. How the world is plagued with human religions and traditions, people of price, wealth, power, sporting their opinions and doctrines above the doctrine of Christ! Self-righteousness and external piety still characterize many. But Jesus Christ, having been raised from the tomb, and now by the right hand of God as King of all, demands obedience to the will of the Father above everything else, in humble submission, denying self, loving truth and purity in both heart and life, seeking His kingdom first.
The enemies of Christ made their choice about Him. We must also decide concerning Him. We are either for Him or against Him (Matthew 12:30). On our decision hang the success of life and our place of eternal destiny.