People of good judgment seldom rely merely on their own insights - but the Pharisees nevertheless insisted. Like the Pharisees during the times of Jesus, the reactionaries of today like to design harsh doctrinal codes that stress a strict avoidance of worldly customs. They enjoy being associated with the puritans for their emphasis on upholding what is holy and sacred. They pride themselves on being obstructionists. Similarly, one could evaluate the Pharisees by the company they avoided. These mis-beliefs give members of the ultra-conservatives a feeling of superiority. One will often hear them teach, "Come out from their midst and be separate and do not touch what is unclean."(2 Corinthians 6:17) Emphasis on separation from the world is an important aspect of the fighting fundamentalist's approach to problems. Separation from the secular values of the world and its systems is a historical pattern of the fundamentalists in America. Being an outsider has become an accepted part of being a fighting fundamentalist in America. The Pharisees were also fond of regulations that gave them a distinctive identity. By expanding on their traditions of oral laws the Pharisees became Christ's greatest opponents. Jesus loathed their legalistic mind-sets that put the laws of men above the love for God. The Pharisees loved to lay burdens on other people who could not live up to their high standards of righteousness. This gave them a sense of religious superiority. One should not depend on the evaluation of others whose imaginations are out of focus. Jesus discerningly exposed them for not being willing to bear the burdens that they were so eager to place on others. The Lord saw people both with His eyes as well as with His heart. (Matthew 23:2-4) Jesus said, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach!"
In some ways, the Pharisees were simply following in the traditions of their forefathers. Someone once said, "The only way to judge the future is by the past, but if the Pharisees are judged that way, they wouldn't have had much of a future." The Pharisees thought they could make themselves great by showing others to be small. The ultra-orthodox religious leaders believed that many things were worth fighting for. Plus, the Pharisees knew that it was much easier to point a finger than to lend a helping hand. For thousands of years the people of the twelve tribes of Israel had to fight for their survival. They became conditioned to a lifestyle of having to fight against the wrath of their oppressors. Therefore, when the Pharisees were constantly looking for peoples' faults they seldom found anything else. Numerous Psalms have been written asking God for relief from the burden of oppressors, no doubt this would have included the Pharisees.
In some ways, the Pharisees served a useful purpose for the Jewish nation. They were people who constantly reminded Israel of their distinguished history. Take for example King David, one of Israel's greatest kings. Few people are more highly honored than David who delivered them from the hands of their enemies. As a small shepherd boy David defeated the giant Goliath in a way that demonstrated God's power through one who believed. However, the Pharisees put more emphasis on the historical facts than on the God of history.
It just made sense to the Pharisees that they needed to continue to fight their Roman oppressors or anyone who might threaten their security. When Jesus came along, the Pharisees failed to recognize Him as the Son of God and plotted to have Him crucified. They saw in Jesus a power that they could not fit into their traditional ways of thinking. Jesus said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the eyes of men. But God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God."
To the Pharisees, Jesus was challenging the "religious values" of their sacred traditions. Yet, Jesus saw through the Pharisees as religious leaders who were more interested in the observance of the letter of the law without understanding the spirit behind it. When the Lord saw the hypocrisy of the Pharisees He exposed their duplicity of motives. Jesus said, "You wash theoutside of the cups, but leave the inside of the cups dirty. You white washed fences. You brood of vipers. You are responsible for leading many people into an eternity apart from God in hell." These charges inflamed the Pharisees who saw themselves as the guardians of everything that was Jewish and sacred. The Pharisees thought, "How dare this young man from Nazareth challenge the religious powers of the day." After trying to lead the Pharisees to the truth about the Kingdom of God and seeing them reject it, Jesus turned to a small group of twelve common laborers and saw success.