To begin our study, I think we should say a little bit about who the Pharisees are. An article I found by Jack Zavada, I think is good. I will give you just the first part of it.
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.
The name “Pharisee” means “separated one.” The Pharisees separated themselves from society to study and teach the law, but they also separated themselves from the common people because they considered them religiously unclean.
Besides this article—and there is a lot more to it if you care to click the title and read it—I’m sure we will gain a good bit of info on the Pharisees just by this progressive study.
What I want to do in this study is to just observe what the Pharisees do and say toward Jesus and about Jesus; we want to see their attitude toward Jesus. We also want to see Jesus’ attitude and sayings about the Pharisees. In the end, we want to make some applications for ourselves and maybe also about other people. We want to look and see how some people are like the Pharisees and how others are more like Jesus. Generally, we can say that Jesus is the good guy who does everything right (because He is God); and the Pharisees are the bad guys who do most things wrong—though in their eyes, they are always right—righteous.
Okay, here is what we will do. I have already found all the passages in the gospels where there is a conversation or debate between Jesus and a pharisee, or a group of Pharisees. I found 41 such passages, eliminating all the repeat passages (mainly between Matthew and Mark, in which case I used Matthew). We will take this study a little at a time until we are finished. We will start this first blog with Matthew 5:17-20.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Bold text for emphasis)
In this passage Jesus is preaching in His famous Sermon on the Mount. He is saying here that He has come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it—as the Pharisees may have been saying about Him. In this public sermon He does not tip toe around the Pharisees. He comes right at them, telling His disciples and all who are listening that their kind of righteousness is not good enough to enter heaven. He said that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees…you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
John MacArthur in his bible notes writes that the Pharisees “had a tendency to soften the law’s demands by focusing only on external obedience.” But Jesus here was preaching a more “radical holiness” that demanded on “internal conformity to the spirit of the law.”
If we are to follow Jesus’ example, we ought to boldly warn against false teachers. And if we know who they are we ought not to be afraid to point them out.