Judaism,which is made up of a few separate groups, was very common at theoriginating of Christianity. The commonground (shared beliefs)for these sects was the belief in One God and that this One God hadmade a covenant with the people of Israel. The foundation of thiscovenant was called “The Torah.” The Pharisees and Sadducees werethe two main groups the Bible focuses on around the time of Jesus,along with the Zealots, the Hellenists, the Lawyers, and the Essenes,who we only read about in sources outside of the New Testament.
Inthe Gospels, the Pharisees appear to be the enemies of Jesus, butactually are responsible for having Him crucified. They Constantlytried to find fault with Him, and violation of their vast, ridiculouslaw. The Pharisees were a pack of religious wolves that roamed amongthe Jews in Jesus day. They formed around 200 BC and existedthroughout the first century. It is stated that there were about sixthousand of them. They held to the Law and were ritually pure. Aswith many things though, their purity was sacrificed to power, and inthe New Testament, the Pharisees represent the worst of the sects.
Asthey became powerful in Israel, They were challenged by Jesus. HisTruth and miracles exposed them to their deepest parts and Jesuslabeled them as “hypocrites” because their outer appearance in noway justified the evil in their hearts. TheSadducees, on the other hand, were a group of leaders, that have nocollections of information in and of themselves. All of theinformation that we get from them today is mostly taken from theirenemies. A great separation between the Hellenizers and Hasidim tookplace soon after the Saduccees show up. It’s not long after whenthey just disappear in the destruction of 70AD. But they had theirday and were well known during it. They were known for their beliefof no resurrection, or life after death, which Jesus shut them downon, proving that the scriptures specifically say that God is not theGod of the dead but of the living, speaking of the Patriarchs.
Thefact that they lived near the temple and had their needs fulfilled bythe noble, it is assumed that the Saduccees were wealthy, and onlydealt with the wealthy. This makes sense that they would only have afew rich followers versus the Pharisees who were followed by massiveamounts of people. That is, until Jesus arrived on the scene andthreatened their power. Alike most of the Jews they revered the Torahabove all other scripture as well. They were religious, political,conservative, rich, and mostly made up of arrogant Priests. Ifyou were a Jew, these were two of the groups of people you would haveto deal with on a daily basis. Among the other stresses of beingJewish in the Roman Empire, this could wear you out quickly. It tookmuch effort, daily, to fulfill even the smallest details of the Law.
It was a way of life, for example, the laws of Kashrut, or kosher asit’s known today, had control of Jewish food culture, and is stillevident in the Jewish culture today. The separation of dairy frommeat, and only eating animals that had been properly killed andbutchered by trained Rabbis is a major part of this. Leviticus,Numbers, and Deuteronomy all contain information and commands, thatexceed greatly beyond the Ten Commandments that Moses brought downfrom Mt. Sinai. This is where the foundation of their law can befound.
From the viewpoint of health and safety, you can clearly seethat God had their best interest in mind. Israeli climate isn’texactly the best storage place for items like milk, and meat.Especially for long periods of time. Scientifically, it was of greatbenefit for the Jews to not eat shellfish and pigs, both of whichmaintained the local grounds by consuming human bi-products. Gods lawfor people is far more than just a grip of religious do’s anddont’s, but from every viewpoint shows nothing but pure concern forthe safety, health, and ethics of human beings. They do appear as alist of rules to the common man, but the devout Jew these are allacts of faith in obedience.
TheSecond Temple of the first century, one of Herod the Great’smassive work projects, was what the Jewish life and culture wasmainly focused on. People flocked in and out, getting daily atonementfor their sins through the sacrificing of animals. Not only for sinsbut for offerings of thanks to the Lord were animals given up. Thiswould make sense that Jesus’ family went there around the time ofhis birth and also around the time of his rite of passage intoadulthood when He was 12. We read of both of these accounts in theGospel according to Luke.
Jesus already knew of course, but itwould’ve been important for Jewish boys to understand the miraclesthat God did for them in His Sovereign deliverance of them fromslavery and bondage in Egypt to their promised land. Despitethese common practices, the Roman Empire haunted the Jews’ dailylives, whether urban people or country folk, from 63 BC through 70AD. From 37 to 4 BC, Judea was a vassal state of the Roman Empire,ruled and puppeted by Herod the Great.
Rebellion and revolts by twomain sects called the Zealots and the Sicarii took place rampantlyafter Herod’s death. The territory was divided and given to hissons, but still sat under the Roman authority Iudaea Prefecture ofSyria Province. The hatefulness towards the Jews increased rapidlyduring this. Oppressive taxes, physical abuse, mockery even to thepoint of making them worship Roman soldiers as God.
Time and timeagain, their striving at gaining political independence never worked.At last, the Jewish society was left in ruins when waves of Romansoldiers under the command of Titus crushed Jerusalem and destroyedthe Temple. This devastating loss of their sanctuary destroyed thelives and spirits of the first-century Jews, leaving bitterness andanticipation that remains in their hearts, even to this day. We knowtoday that they are waiting for their messiah to arrive and re-buildthe temple for them. We will know him as the anti-Christ.
Sadlyenough, the spiritual blindness that had overtaken the Jews stillleaves them blind today. Eagerly waiting for their messiah, who weknow is Jesus. He is not only their messiah but because of theirrejection of Him, He has now extended His saving grace to become thesoon-returning messiah of the world. Wehave been freed from the bondage of the law of Judaism, thanks be toGod and His wonderful Son. These 613 laws that the Jews tried to keepand that Jesus fulfilled perfectly, don’t give a shred of light onthe law of the new covenant that we are under, that is, the law ofgrace. The book of Hebrews, a book that is written to the backsliddenChristian in the Roman Empire era, the Christian who is trying toearn grace by falling back to the law, tells us that Jesus isgreater, and to hold fast to Him.Thebible clearly shows Jesus supremacy over all, but the book of Hebrewsmakes special recognition of how much greater Jesus is than all ofthe angels, heroes, and other legacies of the Jewish faith.
Everyonehas their place in history and Gods purpose in the Jewish tradition,and present Body of Believers. Jesus, being the one who put theseheroes into their places, also placed Himself into these positions tobe glorified, and to save us. While Moses was a servant of God Jesusis the Son of God. Joshua led them into rest, but Jesus is a greaterrest himself.
Jesus far exceeded the priesthood of Aaron because Heis sinless and immortal. Jesus is better than any other human figure,religious or secular. His ministry has lead us to a better covenant,built on better promises, with a better eternal sacrifice, JesusHimself.