Have you heard It taught that legalism was the chief fault of the Pharisees? Is this the reason they missed the Son of God in their midst?
Legalism is defined by the dictionary as
Excessive adherence to law or formula.
“this petty legalism encouraged more to flee”
dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.
“stress obedience apart from faith and you produce legalism”
But was this really the heart of the matter concerning this religious sect that opposed Jesus?
In my previous post, I listed 23 characteristics of the Pharisees spelled out in the Gospels. Their true nature, collectively, was manipulative, vicious, authoritarian, and outright murderous. Jesus called them “children of [their] father, the devil.”
For this reason, we should exercise caution before labeling fellow believers who disagree with our position, “Pharisees.” For while there are preachers and teachers with whom we would disagree, even strongly on particulars, if they profess Jesus Christ as the only way to God and have refused to call sin “holy,” are they not joints heirs;? To dub them Pharisees is to accuse them of a fundamentally antichrist nature.
Moreover, I believe when we go after our brothers and sisters with accusations, we miss the true villains, those spiritual authorities in high places, who conduct their evil through flesh and blood human beings in this present age.
The common notion of the pharisees as legalistic is challenged by the scriptures themselves. Consider,
* Jesus told them, “you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28).
* Stephen called them out for receiving the law ordained by angels but failing to keep it (Acts 7:53)
* Jesus also rebuked them for neglecting the most important matters of the law while only keeping what didn’t cost (Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” – Mathew 23:23)
*Similarly, Ellicott expounds on Luke 11:52 saying, “The ‘woe’ in this case is uttered against those who were, by their very calling, the professed interpreters of the Law. Its form rests on the fact that each scribe or ‘doctor of the law,’ in the full sense of the term, was symbolically admitted to his office by the delivery of a key. His work was to enter with that key into the treasure-chambers of the house of the interpreter, and to bring forth thence “things new and old” (Matthew 13:52). The sin of the ‘lawyers’ of that time, the ‘divines’ as we should call them, was that they claimed a monopoly of the power to interpret, and yet did not exercise the power.
Moreover, inYeshua, the Life of Jesus from a Jewish Perspective, Arnold Fruchtenbaum writes that the Pharisees and Sanhedrin broke 22 of their own laws in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and sentencing.
Lawlessness, not legalism, stands out as the chief sin of the pharisees. Legal matters were only invoked so far as It suited their narrative in the moment. They had their own two-tiered justice system: one for their opposition and one for themselves.
It is important to understand too that lawlessness is worse than simply breaking the law.
At their zenith, the Pharisees revealed who they really were in the mob rule chant calling for the release of a convicted murderer in preference to someone who they couldn’t prove had done anything wrong, but had instead threatened their political structure. And when they said “we have no king but Caesar” they despised their Abrahamic covenant and showed that they preferred the slavery of Roman rule, if it meant they might keep their own hierarchy intact within it.
In the same manner, it has become common today to hear the phrase “the devil is a legalist.” The father of lies is a legalist in the same way that the pharaoh sees were legalists: The law mattered only when it suited their agenda. If they might use it as a snare for their opponent and to pervert justice, they will not cease to bring up God’s law. Apart from this, the devil and his offspring operate entirely outside the bounds of the laws of God. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the devil is a trial lawyer?).
Had the pharisees really been legalists, diligently studying the law, they may have indeed seen Moses as a type of Christ, and the entire Passover celebration as a foreshadowing of His appearing. They may have also connected the dots of so many prophecies He fulfilled.
Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, stands out as a pharisee who truly was committed to his disciplines: he was legalistic and yes, he carried out his convictions with the commitment of a terrorist. Yet of all the bad apples listed in the accounts of the Pharisees, Saul went on to become Paul, zealous for the Lord and repentant of where he’d missed it – to the point that he gave his life to the gospel of Jesus Christ and saw himself as chief among sinners. Why?
Why Paul and not most of the other pharisees?
Paul himself testified under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that it is God who decides who has their eyes opened. And yet we also know He desires that none should perish. It appears that despite Saul’s gross shortcomings and even Violence toward the early church, there was something in his spirit that truly desired God and was zealous for adherence to truth. One infers that he was not a Pharisee purely for political power and to exploit his position to rule others, but truly had a passion for God’s law (Philippians 3:5).
It is critical that we see things for what they are: spiritual entities and how they play out in the battlefield of the human experience. No longer must we content ourselves to live as medieval peasants, relying on clergy for knowledge of God and revelation of the scriptures, when we have full access to The Bible, to the original Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and we enjoy the liberty to study them.
This is particularly true because of the lateness of the hour and the end of the age coming to a close. Deception is rampant. Most of us have been propagandized for years in government schools, through godless television programming and the arts, through a corporately controlled monolithic media, and even recently through a corrupt medical system that works in tandem with powerful financial interests. We should be more enlightened than any other generation, not because of our opportunities only, but because we have a full history to learn from of authoritarian, anti-Christ governments and movements that murdered millions of people.
And yet, many are content to look the other way in the face of this unprecedented existential threat and point fingers and echo the same rhetoric the puppets masters have conditioned us to believe.
It ought not be. Let us study the word of God intently, test narratives against scripture, and pray that we not miss heaven like the Pharisees.