From 1050BC to 587 BC, Israel was an independent nation. Then, Babylon destroyed it and exiled the people. They struggled with the question of what it meant to be Jewish without a country. In 539 BC, Persia conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return home and rebuild. The Israelites found it was hard to go back to the same when everything was so different.
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great basically conquered everything and spread Greek culture throughout the region. Between 319 BC and 302 BC, Jerusalem changed control seven times and chaos ruled. In 200 BC, the Seleucid Empire conquered the area and outlawed Jewish worship. There was this constant battle with Greek influence and religion. Groups emerged to bring back Jewish traditions and one group specifically focused on the Law as the key and they devoted themselves to this. These were the Pharisees and they loved their faith and at the time, these were the good guys.
So how come, in Matthew 15:3, Jesus asks: why do you break the Commands of God for the sake of tradition? The Pharisees had wandered from their original path. Matthew 23:1-7 says that the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, but do not practice what they preach. They are not willing to bear the load.
There were 613 laws from Moses. Thinking of a way to keep these laws, the Pharisees created little laws around each of these big ones. This was the oral law and was later written down as the Talmud. The Pharisees would pile guilt and shame on you if you didn’t follow all of the rules. Jesus showed up and said it should be about service and love and not following all of the rules.
Jesus made 7 states about the Pharisees all beginning with “Woe to you….” Matthew 23:13-14: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” The Pharisees were using an in versus out mentality and religion was an exclusive thing to them. However, this determination should only be used by God. The irony in all of this is that the Pharisees couldn’t get in either. There were so many laws that it was impossible for anyone to follow all of them.
In Matthew 9, Jesus met Matthew, a tax collector. Matthew began following Jesus and Jesus ate with him and other sinners. The Pharisees asked why He did this. Jesus told them that the healthy do not need doctors, but the sick do. Jesus desired mercy, not sacrifice. He came to call not the righteous, but sinners. Jesus is upset with the Pharisees’ judgement and tells them at the tax collector and prostitutes will enter God’s kingdom ahead of them.
1 John 4:8 states that God’s love is the defining characteristic. In Ephesians 2:14-16 we are told that Jesus has made two groups into one humanity, making peace. He came to unite people and there should be no division. Our faith should be based on Jesus and not the law.