Did you ever wonder how it came to be that as you turn the page from Malachi to Matthew that an entirely new group of religious leaders has replaced the Aaronic priesthood? Did you blink when you encountered words that are foreign to what Christians call the Old Testament, such as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, synagogue, rabbi?
During the 400 years between the close of the Tanach [Old Testament/Hebrew Bible] and the advent of Jesus/Yeshua, laymen rose up to fill the gap left by a corrupt priesthood in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes . Quite likely, these men, at least in the beginning, were sincere and diligent students of the Scriptures who only wanted to obey God’s instuctions for righteousness and justice.
Eventually, however, they became recognized as experts in applying the commandments to everyday circumstances. Their rulings were known as “halacha” [how to walk] Their decisions became precedents for other decisions. Eventually they claimed that their rulings had been passed down from father to son since Moses. The New Testament defines these rulings as “tradition” and “tradition of the elders.” This body of teaching came to be known as the Oral Torah and Jewish Law, not to be confused with the Law of Moses. It was recorded around 200 C.E. and today consists of the many volumes of the Gemara and Mishnah, known collectively as the Talmud.
From their point of view, the halacha which the Pharisees established [manner of walking out the precepts] put a “fence” around God’s Torah, to protect the people, to assure that no one transgressed it. The problem is that the rabbis came to value their oral tradition above God’s instructions. This is the leaven of the Pharisees of which Jesus warned His disciples.
Mat_16:6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Mat_16:11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Mat_16:12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Mar_8:15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
Luk_12:1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
The Pharisees eventually gained power to control even Temple activities, to the chagrin of their opponents, the Sadducees. This group was an aristocratic priestly sect with their own brand of leaven, which was to incorporate Hellenism [the “progressive” ways of the Greeks] into Temple practice. The Sadducees rejected the Oral Torah, and, in addition, rejected the Pharisee’s belief in a resurrection and afterlife. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, this sect effectively disappeared, leaving the power with the rabbis, the fathers of modern Judaism, who “leavened the whole lump,” as Paul said. (1 Cor. 5:6, Gal. 5:9).
By the time of Yeshua’s ministry, the rules of the Pharisees had become extremely burdensome. For example, despite the Torah’s injunction not to add to or subtract from it [Deut. 4:2, 12:32], the rabbis had piled on a multitude of regulations in regard to Sabbath keeping alone. [We have to point out that Christianity stands just as guilty, though instead of adding to the Torah, they have subtracted from it.]
It was actually rabbinical law of which the disciples of Jesus [Yeshua in Hebrew] were accused of breaking when they ate grain in a field on the Sabbath. The Law of Moses commands farmers to leave produce on the corners of their field for the poor to eat. Likewise, it was a man-made law that Yeshua transgressed when He healed on the Sabbath. Apparently, God loves to heal on the Sabbath because many of Yeshua’s healings took place on the Holy Day. Likewise, it was a Pharisaic rule that the lame man whom Yeshua healed was accused of transgressing as he took up his mat and carried it. In addition, it is a rabbinical law to which Peter refers in Acts chapter 10 when he states that it is unlawful for a Jew to enter the home of a Gentile. The Torah of Moses instructs interaction with the “stranger” and the “foreigner.” Jesus/Yeshua was furious with the religious leaders who forbid such interaction. The Son of Man minced no words when expressing His opinion of their “fence” that kept Gentiles out of His Father’s house! Here is a soundbite from the 23rd chapter of the Book of Matthew:
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. [Mat. 23:13,15]
Instead of drawing the nations to God, the religious leaders effectively shut up the gospel inside Judea by making the requirements for a convert almost impossible. In His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua accused them of producing “bad fruit” and teaching others to do so. God only calls “good” that which produces the fruit He determines, as seen in the creation story.
“You will recognize them by their fruits…every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (see Mat. 7:16-19) For more on this, please see “We Must Obey God Rather Than Man”
During excavations of Jerusalem in 1871, archaeologists discovered the Soreg Inscription which warned non-Jews to keep out of the Temple area. It states: “No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow.”This was in direct contradiction of Isaiah 56:2-8 where God beckons “the foreigner” and the “son of the foreigner” to enter into covenant with Him.
One of the reasons God had to come to earth in the flesh of Jesus/Yeshua was to unlock the gospel and release it to the whole world. The religious leaders wanted to control who came into the Kingdom. They considered Gentiles “common” and “unclean.” But, because God “so loved the world,” the net that the “fishers of men” would cast for the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat. 10:6, 15:24) would also serve to bring the nations, those outside the covenant, into the restored Kingdom of God, comprised both of the Jewish people, the House of Judah, and Ephraim, the House of Israel, which was scattered to the four winds by the king of Assyria. The House of Judah took possession of (part of) the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–and struggles to maintain it. There is coming a day, soon, when Ephraim and “whosoever will” will join brother Judah and take our rightful places in, Greater Israel, the entirely of the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And that will truly be a glorious day!!!