Reasons Why the Pharisees Wanted to Kill Jesus

Jesus_arrest You could also call this post, "Why We Ignore the Work of God." As I was thinking through the gospels and Jesus’ life and ministry the other day, I started to think about the Pharisees and masses of Jews, and why they wanted to kill Jesus. The Bible says on many occasions things like, "and they plotted to kill Jesus," or, "they left that place planning to kill Jesus." Well, those aren’t exact words, but they are fairly to the point of the position of the Pharisees. The question is, "why?"

First off, I need to make a confession: If I had been alive back then, absent the drawing work of the Holy Spirit (and this is true now, by the way), I would have been yelling, "Crucify, Crucify" as well. I would have. If I were Peter, I would have denied Christ. If I were Thomas, I would have doubted. If I were Judas, well, let’s not go there. If I were one of the Pharisees, I probably would have been right there, trying to get rid of this trouble maker. The Pharisees were a group that arose in Israel after the Babylonian Captivity and during the Intertestamental period for the purpose of keeping Israel pure. They saw what happened the last time Israel fell into idol worship and they wanted to make sure that the people totally followed the Law, did the right thing, did not worship idols, and only honored God. They didn’t want Israel to be punished by God and lose everything again. So far, so good. But, thier problem was that their hearts had not been changed and they were actually afraid of God, instead of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). They followed God on the outside, but not on the inside. Jesus came to mess with their insides and that upset them. It upsets us today.

Here are some places where the Bible says that the Pharisees and the larger body of Jews wanted to kill Jesus and why:

  • Matthew 12:1-14 – They were upset that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He did good work, but not according to their traditions.
  • Matthew 12:22-24 – Jesus healed, but the Pharisees thought it must be Satan. Jesus responded to them very logically in verses 25-37.
  • Luke 4:14-30 – The people were upset because Jesus was saying that salvation was going beyond the Jews. They would not have an exclusive claim on God anymore. Salvation was for everyone who believed, even dirty Gentiles and outsiders. This made them mad enough to try and kill Jesus.
  • John 5:16-18 – Jesus healed on the Sabbath and claimed to be equal with God.
  • John 7:30-32 – They tried to arrest him because he claimed to be sent by God.
  • John 8:58-59 – Jews wanted to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God.
  • John 10:22-33 – Again, they tried to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God.

So, there were three basic reasons that the Pharisees and Jews wanted to kill Jesus:

  1. Jesus healed on the Sabbath – this worked outside their religious traditions. He told them that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In that, he restored the true, biblical, divine reason for the Sabbath, so he did not break the Law. But, their tradition had become more clear to them than God’s original intention. Because they were so afraid of breaking the Law, over time they changed it and lost the true meaning. This was a parapet, or wall, far from the edge of law breaking that kept them "in bounds." Jesus challenged that so that they would be restored to the heart of God, but it made them so angry, they wanted to kill him.
  2. Jesus claimed to be God and to be sent by God. He claimed to represent God, but he did not fit their preconceived notion of what the Messiah would look like. They expected the Messiah to be a political conqueror, in the guise of David, not a humble carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Their preset notions caused them to miss God’s Anointed. They had decided how God would work, and when someone came claiming to work in a different way, they could not accept him as of God. They missed God’s greatest work, because they already had a ready made box for how God was to do things!
  3. Jesus declared that salvation was no longer just for the Jews, but it was for all who would believe in Him, even outcasts, sinners, pagans, and Gentiles. This was too much for the Jews to take! If they weren’t special, then what good were they? What was the point of all that they had been through?

Really as I think about all of this, I am left with some serious questions for myself.  Would we have accepted Jesus if we lived back then? Do we think that God only works in certain ways? Do we judge God’s work by our experience, or lack thereof? Do we accept God working in and speaking through the lives of others, even the unacceptable? I wonder how often I miss God’s work, because I force Him into the little box that I have made for Him. Beyond that, have I been guilty of persecuting those who are actually obeying God, but it doesn’t look the way I think it should? Ouch.

Jesus was born under the Law and fully obeyed it. Yet, he showed us that God is bigger than our systems of thought or understanding, or the boxes we put Him in. There are so many things that tear us apart as Christians, but they are all just systems that we, as humans, come up with to explain God or put Him into a box of our understanding. Just a few of these things are the Calvinist/Arminian controversy, Cessationism vs. Continualism, Denominational struggles, listening to leaders from other ethnic or socio-economic groups, listening to only the ordained minister or also to ordinary believers, listening to only men, or believing that God can speak to women as well, only following the older or traditional ways, or being more open to younger movements of God. The list goes on and on. We should absolutely be guided by the Word of God, but we should be open to the leading and teaching of the Spirit in unusual ways.

On another blog, I made this comment: The Bible is the objective rule by which we judge our subjective relationship with God.  That is absolutley true. It is inerrant, infallible, and a perfect guide. Yet, think about what Jesus said to the Jews of that day: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” John 5:39-40.  We also, can miss Jesus in our study of Scripture, our formulation of doctrines, and our obedience to man’s theological systems if we are not willing to humble ourselves and actually go to the Savior to whom the Scriptures testify. Not only can we miss God working because He didn’t do it the way that expected Him to, but we can actually persecute the work of God and go so far as to attribute things that God is doing to Satan (Matthew 12:25-37). The results of that are disastrous. I’ve seen quite a bit of that in my day, and while I am not the judge of whether people are committing unforgivable sins, the words of Christ should at least produce some fear and humility in us before we champion our interpretations as being infallible.

Just some thoughts as we near Easter. Would you have been in the crowd yelling, "Crucify, Crucify," or would you have been believing Jesus to be the Son of God? Can anything good come from Nazareth? Sometimes, you have to be crucified yourself and lose everything before you are willing to truly embrace what He is doing (see thief on the cross – Luke 23:39-43).  May we be more teachable.

4 Responses to Reasons Why the Pharisees Wanted to Kill Jesus

  1. Excellent post, Alan. I’ve been working through the gospel of Mark in our Wednesday evening Bible study times and one of the overwhelming impressions that I’ve come away with is the sharp contrast between the common people’s eager reception of Jesus and His teachings in contrast with the religious leaders’ growing opposition to Him. We studied the passage in Mark 3 a few weeks ago where after Jesus dared to heal the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, the leaders went out immediately and took counsel with the Herodians to plot Jesus’ death. So great was their hatred for Jesus that they were even willing to align themselves with the followers of Herod, the oppressive Roman governor, for the purpose of conspiring to kill Jesus. On the other hand, the common people repeatedly exclaimed, “We’ve never heard teaching like this before. He teaches as one having authority and not as the scribes and Pharisees.”
    I think their observation is extremely important. Unlike the religious leaders who debated back and forth about the interpretations of the Law handed down by the various rabbinical schools, Jesus went to the text and declared what God’s original intent was in giving the Law. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Sermon on the Mount where 6 times He says, “You have heard it said …, but I say to you ….”
    Thanks again for a thought-provoking post.

  2. Great post. I hate to think of what my reaction to Jesus would have been if I had been there. I have been studying through scripture dealing with obedience of late and certainly I think your post touches on taking obedience to God and transforming it into our own set of rules and regulations. Our boxes. I really appreciate your posts and though I don’t always comment I do almost always check daily to see how God is using you and your gifts. Thanks for putting it down for us all to use for His glory.

  3. Good stuff, Alan. Isn’t it interesting how often we miss the big stuff in our faith simply because we’re so focused on the minute details we hold precious or struggle with?

  4. It is interesting how many times we read and can’t understand how the disciples missed what Jesus was doing right in front of them, and how many times they messed up with Jesus right there, yet we fail just as they did. I would love to say that I would have stood by Jesus till death, like Peter said, but Jesus knows my heart, and like Peter, I would have probably denied Him the same. I once was one whose spirit was yelling “Crucify him!”, but that was before I knew the truth and was set free from my sin. Great writing. You have very good insight, Alan.
    SAM