As Christians, our foremost duty is to strive to imitate Christ. Through the example of his life, Christ showed the world what it means to live as an obedient son of God. We must look to the Bible to learn what Christ loved, what Christ commanded, what Christ condemned, and what Christ fought against. This last point is especially important for Christians today. During his earthly ministry, Jesus sought to undermine the teachings of the Pharisees and destroy their influence. Jesus condemned the Pharisees more harshly than any other group, either Jewish or pagan, saying that the Pharisees do not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 23:13) and calling them sons of hell (Matthew 23:15). For their part, the Pharisees were so offended by the Gospel message that they plotted to murder our Savior: “the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him” (Matthew 12:14). We Christians are therefore bound to follow our Lord and condemn the Pharisees and their teachings, not only the Pharisees of 2000 years ago, but also the Pharisees of today.
To determine the identity of the Pharisees of today, we turn to the history of the second century AD, when the victory of the Roman empire over the rebellious Jews resulted in the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine. The following information and quotes are drawn from a mainstream Jewish source, the Jewish Encyclopedia. These are not anti-Jewish views, but the views held by Jews themselves.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Pharisees gained prominence as a theological faction during the second Temple period. Their chief rivals were the Sadducees, who represented the Temple priests. Over the centuries, the teachings of the Pharisees gained more and more favor, and became dominant in Israel. The Pharisees were responsible for “[t]he very institution of the synagogue for common worship and instruction,” which shifted focus away from the Temple as the sole site of worship. The Pharisees introduced changes in religious practice in several different areas, including the festivals, the keeping of the Sabbath, and legal decisions. By the time of Christ, the Pharisees were already a very large and influential group, who had gradually lessened the influence of the priestly Sadducees. It is no wonder then that the Pharisaic teachings became even more powerful when the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were scattered:
with the destruction of the Temple the Sadducees disappeared altogether, leaving the regulation of all Jewish affairs in the hands of the Pharisees. Henceforth Jewish life was regulated by the teachings of the Pharisees; the whole history of Judaism was reconstructed from the Pharisaic point of view…A new chain of tradition supplanted the older, priestly tradition…Pharisaism shaped the character of Judaism and the life and thought of the Jew for all the future.
This “new chain of tradition” was the foundation of the rabbinic teaching of today, and the modern rabbis are the direct intellectual descendants of the Pharisees. Over time, the rabbis came to be seen as “the authoritative teachers of the Law…who are the appointed spiritual heads of the community.” Given these facts, we are confident in saying that modern Judaism is Pharisaism, and that the Jews are the Pharisees of today.
Someone might object that while today’s rabbis are guilty of propagating the errors of the Pharisees, surely individual Jews will not be condemned because of the wickedness of their spiritual leaders. In response to this objection, let us turn to the words of Jesus:
woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Here we see that followers of false teachers rightly suffer for their teachers’ error. The followers of the Pharisees are estranged from the Kingdom and dwell in the same spiritual darkness. Today’s rabbis preach against the Gospel, teaching their followers not to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and the Jews who listen to their rabbis will not gain salvation. By supporting their rabbis and either explicitly or tacitly acknowledging rabbinic authority and teaching, all Jews make themselves enemies of Christ and his Church.
Let us turn now to some of the specific points of Christ’s condemnation of the Pharisees, points that apply to the Jews of today:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
In this passage, Jesus lays out the guilt of the Pharisees. They are guilty not only of crimes that they have actually committed themselves, but also of crimes committed long ago by their spiritual forebears. He says that if the Pharisees had been alive at the time, they would have persecuted the prophets or supported those those who did. We see therefore that the Jews of today incur tremendous guilt by accepting the teachings of the Pharisees. If modern Jews support the pharisaic rabbis who teach against the Gospel, why would they not have supported the Pharisees who actively opposed Christ during His lifetime? If anything, the Jews of today possess an even greater guilt. The Pharisees who persecuted Christ lived before the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit, at a time when the Gospel was still preached in parables. But the Jews of today have persisted in their stubborn unbelief despite the loud and universal preaching of the Gospel for the last 2000 years.
If anyone still insists that the above passage from Matthew 23 applies only to the Pharisees and not to Jews in general, we turn to 1 Thessalonians. In this epistle, the apostle Paul speaks of
the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved.
-1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
It is significant to note that Paul says that Jesus was killed by the Jews, not by the Pharisees or Jewish leadership. By this early period the Bible already uses the term “Jew” to refer to the unbelieving enemies of God, not to faithful holders of the covenant. This point is absolutely essential to developing a Biblical understanding of the Jews.
One of the main subjects of the Bible is salvation history, which includes the account of the fall of man, the establishment of a special covenant with Abraham, and the life and passion of Jesus Christ. In this history we see the establishment of the nation of Israel and the Church. As time progressed, God gave his people new revelations and commandments, changing in different ways the practices of the faithful. For example, a Jew living in the time of the Judges was under no obligation to obey a king, but after God established the monarchy, a Jew would be obligated to obey a king. Similarly, the Old Testament Jews did not have the Eucharist, a sacrament instituted by Christ during his earthly ministry, but believers who live after the time of Christ are required to partake of this sacrament. When we look to the Bible for how to live our lives, we must take into account what the Bible teaches on a subject during the most recent phase of salvation history. Thus when we consider the Jews of today, we must think of them as the wicked Pharisees of the New Testament, not the venerable patriarchs of the Old Testament. To have a Biblical view of the Jews is to have a New Testament view of the Jews. The righteous Jews of the first century accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and in the above passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul assigns the guilt of the murder of Christ to all Jews who reject Him, not just to certain individual Jews. We must bear in mind this distinction between the Jews of the Old and New Testaments when we look at the Jews of today, and understand why Paul never tells the Christians of his time to support the political or foreign policy ambitions of the Pharisees. When we offer our support to the current Zionist state, we do not aid David or Samuel, but we aid the Pharisees who crucified our Lord. This is a complete contradiction of our duty to imitate Christ, and puts the soul of the Christian in danger.