“They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’ Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….’ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ Mark 11:27-33
The relationship between Jesus and the leaders of Israel was strained – to say the least. The Pharisees and Sadducees agreed on very little, but they did agree about Jesus. They hated Him and wanted Him dead. The Lord’s teachings were making them look bad to the people – and they were afraid He would lead the people to take away their cushy jobs. The leaders of Israel had tried for 3 years to trip up Jesus with their questions and accusations so He would look bad to the people. Didn’t happen. Jesus was way ahead of them on every count. He always knew what to say.
Jesus knew that His disciples were going to face the same opposition to their ministry as He had to His. So, as Jesus made His way toward the Cross, He taught them more lessons about opposition. Watch how Jesus dealt with an attack covered in the honey of flattery.
“Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?’ But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, ‘Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.’ So they brought it. And He said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at Him.” Mark 12:13-17
Jesus was now under a full-court press. The leaders of Israel came at Him from every side to find a way to make Him look bad to the people. They believed that if the people rejected Jesus, it would be easy to arrest Jesus and kill Him. The Sadducees came right behind the Pharisees and Herodians with their own brand of deception.
“Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: ‘Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” Mark 12:18-27
This response from Jesus hit the Sadducees hard. They were proud of their “knowledge” of the Scriptures. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and were using that to trip up Jesus in another way. They believed that their interpretation of God’s Word was the only right one, but here was Jesus telling them that they were greatly mistaken and did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. God would raise the dead – He was the God of the living!
The Pharisees came back with a volley of their own right behind the Sadducees. It’s so obvious to see the game they were playing with Jesus – a game with deadly intent. This would be a game the Pharisees and Sadducees would play with the disciples soon enough, so Jesus taught the disciples how to deal with the constant barrage of verbal attacks and mind games religious people play.
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’ While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?’ And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.” Matthew 22:34-46
The verbal attacks finally ended. Jesus had responded wisely to the opposition and they were quiet. The Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees didn’t give up their opposition to Christ, but they no longer tried to trip Him up before the people. That tactic failed. They would move from trickery to brute force.
So, what did Jesus do with that momentary victory over the religious leaders? He took full advantage of the moment and taught his disciples and the people more about the wickedness of the opposition. We know this as the Lord’s “Message of Woes.” It is one of the most stunning and courageous things anyone has ever said or done in the face of opposition.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” Matthew 23:1-36
Remember that the Lord’s disciples were always close to Him – they heard everything He said to the leaders of Israel. They saw how He handled their opposition and tough questioning. They saw how He was relentless in opposing sin on the part of those who were supposed to care for the spiritual needs of God’s people. This was an important lesson for them to learn because they would face fierce opposition to their Gospel message after Jesus returned to His Throne in Heaven and would need boldness in opposing sin on every side and at every turn. It is also an important lesson for us.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”