Summary: Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we see a growing opposition to Jesus from the Pharisees and the other religious leaders of the day. To understand that, we need to look at the religious landscape Jesus ministered in
Jesus, the Rebel With a Cause
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we see a growing opposition to Jesus from the Pharisees and the other religious leaders of the day. To understand that, we need to look at the religious landscape Jesus ministered in. In Jesus’ time, there were three sects of Jews and then the rest of the population. Through the Gospel account, we find that Jesus is in conversation with these three groups. Most of what Jesus taught was not new but were elements taken from each of these three groups. So while Jesus started in conversation with these groups, each of them felt threatened by Him and moved the conversations to confrontations. But who were these groups?
The Essenes are not directly mentioned in the Gospels but certainly referred to. They were a very small monastic group which emphasized separating from the evil in society, either in monastic communities or communities of faith in towns across Israel. They also separated themselves from Temple worship because they believed the priests of the Temple were corrupted and thus their leadership in worship was illegitimate. Some scholars believe that Nazareth may well have been an Essene community meaning Jesus either had close contact with them or direct participation. Jesus’ conflict with them was that they removed themselves from the unclean rather than help them to be clean.
The Sadducees were a group of priests from the tribe of Levi and were the wealthy upper class and educated elite who were the priests and scribes. They comprised approximately 10% of the population of Israel, about 50,000 people. They oversaw Temple worship which was the center of Judaism. They believed when you came to God, you came to the Temple and brought your sacrifices. They were the most conservative of the Jews meaning the kept to the oldest of traditions. They looked at the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament as the only inspired Word of God. They had great respect for the rest of the Scriptures but the laws they followed were only in the first five books. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead or the afterlife because it was not mentioned in the Law of Moses. And so everything they believed and every practice of their faith was grounded in the first 5 books. The Sadducees had the most to lose because of Jesus. Jesus’ growing influence and following among the general population jeopardized not only their influence on the religious life of Israel, but also the support of the Romans who ruled through the Sadducees to keep peace among the people.
On the other end of the spectrum were the Pharisees whose name means the “called out ones” or “set apart ones.” There were approximately 6000 Pharisees in Israel in Jesus’ time, roughly 1% of the population, and many of them resided in Jerusalem and in and around the Sea of Galilee. They were the most prominent of the religious sect of Jesus’ day in terms of their influence over the general population, in part because they too came from the lower class.