ON BEING A JEW IN JESUS TIME
Both Mary and Joseph were from the lineage of King David. They followed the laws of the Old Testament and devoutly studied the scriptures each day. They would have insisted on that within their family. The command to raise a child in the way he should go was a way of life for them. The Word was necessary for the spiritual growth of each member of the family as it should be today. The head of the house would lead the family in this process.
When we think about the divisions in our churches today – the differences in theology and doctrine – the subtle differences in interpretations of the Bible – things like that were going on in Jesus’ time too. Here in our country, we have countless denominations of Christians. There are Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians. There are also the non Christian sects -Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Scientologists and others. I’m quite certain there will be an assortment of believers in heaven. Salvation has never been limited to one religious group or another. Jesus came to save all people – not just one elite sect.
The Romans had a huge assortment of gods, as mentioned in a prior post – all of which tended to the needs of humanity. Many felt if they led a good life these things would be added to them if they worshipped those gods. Because the Jews moved around so much and were often held in captivity, they were influenced by various other religions. They also had various sects within their religion:
The Pharisees were the upper class, wealthy part of Jewish society. They were considered Separatists. The name Pharisee comes from the Hebrew word, persahin which means, separate. This particular sect was educated in the law of Moses and deemed it necessary to follow it to perfection, yet they sometimes manipulated it to suit their own personal needs. During Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees felt threatened, because His words held great authority and the Pharisees were losing control. The plot to get rid of Jesus began shortly after He gained popularity with the people.
The Essenes resided near the Dead Sea. They were not materialistic so weren’t wealthy. Their position on the Law was to keep it perfectly. They were considered isolationists. The historian, Josephus, described Essenes as strict observers of the Sabbath. They also followed every dietary law and would do so even under threat of death. They are not mentioned in scripture by name. They believed in the immortality of the soul, following the law to the letter and remained celebate.
The Scribes were not really a sect, but an occupation. Since these men were skilled in reading and writing, they were able to teach others from the Scriptures. They could also write down the events of the time and keep a history of the church at the time. They were prosperous, because of their knowledge. They would be first and foremost a Rabbi, but they also served as arbitrators within the community.
The Priests were responsible for bringing sacrifices before the Lord and being the intermediary between man and God. This was also an occupation rather than a sect. When Aaron appointed priests in the Old Testament, there were strict laws regarding the physical and spiritual wellness of priests. Leviticus 21:16-23 clearly states that the priest was to be perfect in every way.
The Sadducees were the intellectuals, philosophers, the deep thinkers. They probably came about during the Greek occupation of Israel. Bits and pieces of Grecian culture began to infiltrate their thinking. They were obedient to the Torah, but like the Pharisees, they manipulated the law to their advantage. They were part of the elite element of society. John, the Baptist, referred to both the Sadducees and Pharisees as a brood of vipers. Jesus also addressed them as hypocrites and a wicked and adulterous generation.
Zealots were considered nationalist militants. They were against Roman rule, because they believed that God was their only king. They acted as armed insurgents in defense of the temple. They were referred to as rebels, bandits, activists and trouble makers, but they eventually overthrew Roman rule and provided sovereignty for Israel.
There were other groups with the community. They didn’t always think or worship the same but they were united by the Word of God, the prophets and the Law. They were waiting for a messiah that would rid them of their earthly problems. They wanted a king like David to rule over them and defeat their enemies.
Christians believe that the Messiah came to earth to dwell among us – to pitch His tent with us – to walk in the sandals of the average person. He wasn’t what the Jews wanted, but many followed Him, because of His message of peace. Jesus would teach, lead, work alongside, look inside of people’s hearts and offer them forgiveness of all their sins. He died to make that happen and rose again to show His authority as King of Kings. We now wait for His return.