(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
Why was Jesus so hard on the Pharisees? In what way were they hypocritical? Is it possible for us to portray the Pharisees “unfairly” or irresponsibly and in such a way that contributes to antisemitism?
In Mark 7:6-8, Jesus identifies the Pharisees as 1) hypocrites, 2) those about whom Isaiah had prophesied rightly, and 3) those who had abandoned the commandment of God and were holding to human tradition (and it is appropriate to infer here that the human tradition they were holding to is being contrasted to the commandment of God, and is therefore opposed to it). Specifically, Isaiah’s prophecy names the Pharisees as those “who honor [God] with their lips, but [whose] hearts are far from [Him],” and as those whose worship of God is in vain. The Pharisees are specifically named five other times in the gospel of Mark (2:16-24; 3:3; 8:11-15; 10:2; 12:13). They are never presented in a positive light. In every encounter they have with Jesus and his disciples, they accuse Him of unrighteousness while exalting in their own righteousness. The Pharisees were those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt” (cf. Luke 18:9). They claimed to obey the law, but if they had truly known what it meant to obey it, they “would not have condemned the guiltless” (cf. Matthew 12:7).
Jesus said to the Pharisees that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them, and given to a nation bearing its fruits. And there was no doubt in their minds that he was speaking of them (cf. Matthew 21:43-45). Jesus addressed the Pharisees as descendants of those who had murdered the prophets, judged them guilty of “all the righteous blood shed on the earth,” and prophesied that judgment was about to come on their first century generation. Though they looked righteous on the outside, on the inside they were full of “all kinds of filth...hypocrisy and lawlessness” (cf. Matthew 23:1-38). The Pharisees were the “violent who sought to take the kingdom by force” (cf. Matthew 11:12); and Jesus accused them of hiding knowledge from the people: “You don’t enter the kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering” (cf. Luke 11:52).
While the Pharisees are sometimes presented by extra biblical sources as those who were concerned with returning Israel to a pure religion through a stricter observance of the law, this characterization does not line up with the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. I believe in fact that as Jesus often quoted Isaiah to expose the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and self-righteousness, they were those whom Isaiah accused of “trampling on the Sabbath, and pursuing their own interests on God’s holy day;” and who used the law to oppress God’s people (cf. Isaiah 58:1-5).
There are ways, however, in which irresponsible “Christian” portrayals of the Pharisees have contributed to anti-Jewish attitudes. It would never be responsible, or truthful, for example, to portray the self-righteousness of the Pharisees in the first century as attributable to their race. I am always perplexed when professing Christians do this, for it is completely antithetical to a theology of the cross, which understands Christ’s death as the atonement for the sins of “the whole world.” Indeed, those who crucified Christ did so because of “the definite plan and knowledge of God” (cf. Acts 2:23). “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him with pain.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (cf. Isaiah 53:1-12). Therefore, any portrayal of the Pharisees with an anti-Semitic tone would be wholly incompatible with the Gospel. Instead, we should responsibly remind ourselves of Paul’s piercing question, “What then, are we better than they?” (cf. Romans 3:9) whenever we find ourselves pointing an accusing finger at others, including the Pharisees. It is true that the Pharisees (those of them who didn’t become believers) remained condemned for their self-righteousness; but it is also true that that same spirit of self-righteousness is bound up in each of us until we have been broken by the judgment of the Gospel, and have responded with repentance and faith.
 Isaiah 29:13 The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; 14 so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden. 15 Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?"
In a theology class recently, we had a forum on eschatology, based upon our reading of various theologians on the topic. Here are a few of the questions I was asked by my classmates in the course of that discussion, and my responses to them. (Tami, did I hear you correctly??? uh, yeah, you did!):
Q: Tami, As I read through your summary, I was confused. Are you saying that the end of the age that Jesus spoke of and that the apostles spoke of already happened and everyone missed it?
A: Yes, I do see “the end of the age” that Jesus and the apostles all said was about to be fulfilled in their generation as the end of the old covenant age. As Hebrews says, “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son,” and “that which is waxing old is ready to vanish away.” And no, if we are believers in the gospel, we didn’t miss anything, but rather are living under all the benefits of the glorious new covenant (“there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”).
Q: Why do Christians believe time is linear?
A: I think you may be referring to [our textbook editor's statement here]: “A characteristic Christian belief, of decisive importance in this [eschatological] context is that time is linear, not cyclical.” Why is this of decisive importance? A few thoughts:
God’s plan of redemption laid out in Scripture, beginning in the garden (Genesis 3:15) is a historical plan. The historical event that was prophesied from the beginning that accomplished the redemption of God’s people was the death and resurrection of Christ. Some (probably a minority within Christianity) take an “idealist” (I am not sure whether this is the same as “cyclical” or not?) approach to redemption and remove it from its historical context, which in effect renders the cross of Christ unnecessary. It is instead then viewed as a “show” or “demonstration” of a redemption that was already performed, rather than the actual performance of that redemption. But Luke states that Jesus came to “perform the mercy promised to the fathers” (Luke 1:72). He had to do something. I think this will become more and more significant the more time we spend contemplating how God worked progressively (e.g. the law was a tutor to lead them to Christ, cf. Galatians 3:24) throughout the history of His people as recorded in the Scriptures to reveal, and eventual accomplish, their salvation. Things were prophesied, then they happened according to those prophecies, all leading up to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. So that:
Ephesians 1: 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time,to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
Those are just some of my thoughts on why a linear concept of time is theologically significant.
Q: Do you think dispensationalism has died down?
A: I grew up being taught dispensationalism in church. (At the age of 8, I watched a movie produced by Billy Graham's group called "A Thief in the Night" about the "rapture" and it scared the sh*t out of me. I was almost scarred for life! ) In fact, it wasn't until fairly recently that I even knew there were other ways of understanding eschatological prophecies, because I was sheltered within that specific denominational culture.
You ask if dispensationalism has died down? I think it depends on where you are. For example there are some big mega churches (e.g., John Hagee's in San Antonio) where it is still preached with fervor. But I do think that it has begun (thankfully) to die down. From my view point, one factor has been the growth of the emergent church movement, another the increasing prominence of voices within evangelical churches like Greg Boyd's (see his book "The Myth of a Christian Nation"), and another has been the increasing involvement of activist groups with mainline associations (e.g., Methodist, Episcopalian, some more liberal Lutherans--and in this case I use "liberal" in a positive sense!) in speaking out against American foreign policy which has been so heavily influenced by dispensationalism (e.g., Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson). I don't mean to sound arrogant here, but dispensationalists are by and large not very educated about things beyond this country's borders (I sure wasn't!). The "left-behind" craze is primarily an American evangelical phenomenon. So there is a shift happening in the culture which I think will result in the marginalization of dispensational eschatology, even in America where it has enjoyed such mainstream prominence and influence.
The other thing that is going to cause it to inevitably die out is time passing. How many more definitions are they going to be able to come up with for a "generation?" (Their "last generation" clock started ticking in 1948--and time is running out.)
[And in response to a comment someone made about "newspaper eschatology"]:
A: The thing that has always perplexed me about those who practice the "newspaper eschatology" that you mention, is that they see "signs" today that lead them to believe "the end is near." But where do they get this idea? What I mean is, what tells them what the "signs" of the end are? They say the Bible (specifically the New Testament) tells them what the signs are, yes? And yet the Bible was written by the apostles who believed with unwavering conviction that *they* were seeing the signs *then*. So if the apostles mistakenly believed they were seeing the signs that Jesus told them to look for (the apostle John *knew* without a doubt that it was the last the "last hour," precisely because of the signs he was seeing), and if Jesus was mistaken when he told them *when* to look for those signs, then on what basis would a "newspaper eschatologist" today consider their writings to be authoritative? This is just what perplexes me when I hear people say that the Bible is what is telling them that this or that event in the news today is a "sign" with some prophetic significance, when the apostles who wrote the Bible (which describes the very signs these modern folks are pointing to!) were saying the signs were happening back then.
So we have the apostles on one hand....and we have the "newspaper eschatologists" on the other, who claim the apostles as the source of their eschatology which directly contradicts what the apostles taught. Are you confused yet? I sure am!
The phrase "Jews for Jesus" has a nice ring to it, due to the alliteration and all. But the fact is that ALL JEWS are for Jesus! Only those who believe in Jesus can legitimately call themselves Jews, according to the Scripture. According to the Scripture, there is NO SUCH THING as a Jew who is NOT for Jesus! So, the phrase "Jews for Jesus" is kind of redundant.
Scripture makes it crystal clear to us who is a Jew, and who is not:
Romans 2: 28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
In the first century, there were those who claimed to be Jews, but were not. Jesus had these harsh words for them:
Revelation 2: 9... I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. ("Satan" simply means "adversary", and it was a term used in the New Testament to refer to enemies of the gospel and God's people.)
In fact, to be a Jew, or part of "Israel," is to be a new creation in Christ:
Galatians 6: 14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Scripture also clearly identifies "the Seed of Abraham", to whom all God's promises belong:
Galatians 3: 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham...16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ... 29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Isaiah prophesied that when the Messiah came to redeem His people by forgiving their sins, Jerusalem would be called "The city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 60). Scripture tells us plainly and irrefutably that "the city of the Lord" and "Zion" is the church of Jesus Christ:
Hebrews 12: 22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
So, regardless of your nationality, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you should feel free to call yourself a "Jew for Jesus". Or, to avoid superfluous redundancy, it would be entirely accurate to simply call yourself a "Jew"
Peace to you, the "Israel of God,"
Question: When Jesus spoke of "the light of the world" and a "city set on a hill," he was referring to:
A) His church
B) The United States of America
According to a spokesman for John Hagee's organization "Christians United for Israel," the answer is B) the United States of America:
"America is a shining city on the hill ordained by God. We have that tradition right here in America, and we do see Israel's promise in the Scripture"
Where did he even get the phrase "shining city on the hill?"
Jesus said to His disciples,
Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Compare it also, to this description of a "shining city," which is the church:
Revelation 21:23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
So, this spokesman for John Hagee's influential organization "Christians United for Israel" is taking a description of the church, the body of Christ, from the Bible, and applying it to the United States of America! And how many thousands of Christians are following this?
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.