By Cheng Tu
My brothers and sisters:
May you have peace in the Lord! We all know that two-thousand years ago, the Jews joined the Pharisees in nailing the Lord Jesus to the cross. I trust many brothers and sisters are confused about the following: During the time when the Lord Jesus appeared to carry out His work, He showed people the way of repentance, taught them to love others as they loved themselves and to be forgiving and patient. He gifted abundant grace unto man and performed many miracles, such as bringing the dead back to life with a single word and feeding five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. At the time, many Jews also followed the Lord Jesus. So what reason could possibly account for the fact that the Jews joined the Pharisees in abandoning the Lord Jesus and nailing Him to the cross even after receiving such abundant grace from Him? Understanding the answer to this question is of great importance to us as we strive to improve in our following of God. Today, let us commune on the question of why the Jews joined the Pharisees in resisting the Lord Jesus and how we may avoid treading the same road of failure as the Jews trod. I pray that God may guide us in the following communion.
1. Two reasons why the Jews joined the Pharisees in resisting the Lord Jesus
Reason one: The Jews did not magnify God and did not search for or accept the truth. On the contrary, they blindly idolized the Pharisees and were deceived by the Pharisees’ false piousness.
For generations, the Pharisees had served God in the temple and had traveled far by land and sea to spread the gospel. They were well-versed in the Bible, experts in law, and often provided commentary on the scriptures for believers. As well, they could often be seen on street corners praying for believers, giving out alms in the markets and streets and generously providing assistance and aid…. The Jews had no discernment of whether the Pharisees were following Jehovah God’s teachings or whether they were acting out of personal interest, but instead were fooled by their false outward appearance. They mistakenly believed that the Pharisees understood the truth, knew God, and acted completely in accordance with God’s will. They thought that by practicing faith with the Pharisees they would certainly gain God’s commendation. As a result, the Jews blindly idolized the Pharisees, thought of them as their guides on the path of faith and, at the same time, treated their word as truth.
When the Lord Jesus came to carry out His work, the Pharisees, seeing that more and more Jews were following Him and wishing to preserve their status and livelihoods, started frantically to resist Him and condemn His words and work as being not in keeping with the Bible and heretical. They said that the Lord Jesus spoke words of blasphemy, and they even made false, libelous testimonies that blasphemed the Lord Jesus and they eventually nailed Him, in all His benevolence, to the cross. The Jews, having not the least bit of truth, were incapable of seeing through to the Pharisees’ essence of false piousness and discerning their God-resisting antichrist nature, and were thus deceived by them. Additionally, because the Jews were not lovers of the truth, and didn’t search for or accept the truth, even when the Lord Jesus exposed the Pharisees saying, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13), “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27), the Jews still failed to discern the behaviors and actions of the Pharisees, and even blindly followed and submitted to their words. This caused them, ultimately, to tread the path of resistance against God, which led them to destruction.
Reason two: The Jews highly valued status and power and would attach themselves to those with high influence. They followed whomever had the most influence and power.
The Jews highly revered the Pharisees because they occupied the top level of leadership within the religious world, held high status within the temple, and were greatly renowned and powerful. They believed that they were certainly right to follow the Pharisees in their practice of faith and that they would definitely earn God’s commendation.
When the Lord Jesus appeared and carried out His work, He promulgated the way of repentance and performed many miracles. When the Jews observed from the Lord Jesus’ words and work that He possessed authority and power, they went along with the popular trend of that time, which was to follow the Lord Jesus. However, when the Pharisees started frantically accusing, resisting and blaspheming the Lord Jesus, the Jews didn’t seek God’s will, but seeing that the Pharisees were high in status and authority, whereas the Lord Jesus was a Nazarene, the son of a carpenter, and had no status or influence, they opted to abandon Jesus and follow the Pharisees. This eventually led them to crucify Jesus, which thereafter brought calamity down on them.
Additionally, the Jews were particularly acquiescent to the demands of those with status and power. They feared that the Pharisees would oppress them, persecute them and banish them from the synagogue and that they would be abandoned. As such, they didn’t dare take a firm stance on the issue of the Lord Jesus, nor did they dare to accept or follow Him. For instance, the Bible relates how, after the Lord Jesus had cured a man of congenital blindness by spreading mud on his eyes made from His spit and dirt, his parents, despite knowing that it was Jesus who had healed their child, didn’t dare admit to the Pharisees what had happened when questioned for fear of being driven from the synagogue (see John 9:18–22). Also, John 12:42–43 relates the following: “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” From these facts it is clear that the Jews did not have God in their hearts in the least, and that they had not the slightest devotion to God. They cherished their own flesh and their own interests, but they failed to cherish God’s way. Because they so highly valued status and power, they denied and betrayed God and thoroughly lost God’s salvation.
From the above it can be seen that the Jews had no love for the truth, nor for the way of compatibility with God, but rather they fervently worshiped status and power above all else. Ultimately, they abandoned and betrayed God and set foot on the road to ruin. Just as God’s words say, “Some people do not rejoice in the truth, much less judgment. Rather, they rejoice in power and riches; such people are called snobs. They exclusively seek out those denominations in the world with influence and those pastors and teachers coming from seminaries. Despite having accepted the way of truth, they remain skeptical and are unable to devote themselves fully. They speak of sacrificing for God, but their eyes are focused on the great pastors and teachers, and Christ is brushed aside. … For they only value position, prestige, and power; what they hold in high regard are large groups and denominations. They have no regard at all for those led by Christ; they are simply traitors who have turned their backs on Christ, on truth, and on life” (“Are You a True Believer in God?”).
2. Deriving cautionary lessons from the failures of the Jews
The foundering experience of the Jews in their resistance toward God despite their belief in Him should be a cautionary tale to us modern day believers. Jehovah God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). It says in Proverbs 10:21, “Fools die for want of wisdom.” If believers fail to magnify God, don’t love the truth, don’t search for truth when they encounter issues, don’t pursue the way of compatibility with God, but rather idolize and revere mere men, direct their love toward status and power and in all things obey man’s word and submit to the constraints of man, then they are not genuine believers and followers of God. Ultimately, such people will perish because of their ignorance. Upon close reflection, it appears that we too are often guilty of blindly following and obeying mere men. For instance, seeing how our pastors and elders work and toil for God year-round, have a deep understanding of biblical knowledge, and many are even graduates of seminary schools, we have great reverence and admiration for them. Some brothers and sisters even think that we should obey and submit to pastors and elders at all times, that the pastors and elders are the crutches on which we lean while walking the road of belief in God, and that by following them in practicing faith in God we’ll be sure to enter into the kingdom of heaven. However, we never bother to discern whether the behavior and actions of the elders and pastors are in compliance with God’s word. This is particularly relevant with regard to one major event: the welcoming of the Lord’s return. The pastors and elders don’t guide us in actively seeking God’s work and welcoming the return of the Lord Jesus, but rather they stubbornly compel us to guard against false Christs and even say that, “Any claims that the Lord has returned are false” and “Anyone who doesn’t come with clouds is not the Lord Jesus.” They don’t listen to, entertain or have anything to do with any claims of the Lord’s return. We rarely stop to consider if the pastors’ or elders’ words are in line with God’s will, and we do not seek what God requires of us, but instead we blindly accept the pastors’ and elders’ words. Even when we hear word that the Lord has returned, we don’t engage with or investigate the matter…. Based upon these behaviors, can we really be said to be genuine believers and followers of God? If we continue in this way, won’t we risk making the same mistakes the Jews made and reject the return of the Lord? It would be worthwhile for every brother and sister to ponder these questions.
3. How we can avoid treading the failed path of the Jews
God’s words say, “People who genuinely believe in God always have Him in their hearts, and they always carry within them a God-revering heart, a God-loving heart. Those who believe in God should do things cautiously and prudently, and all that they do should be in accordance with God’s requirements and be able to satisfy His heart” (“A Warning to Those Who Do Not Practice the Truth”). As is clear from God’s word, true believers in God magnify Him, revere the truth as the most high, respond to any situation with a God-fearing heart, and seek God’s will in all situations to achieve fulfillment of God’s requirements. Only people who satisfy these conditions are genuine believers in God. Take, for instance, the example of Peter, John and Philip. When they heard the Lord calling to them, they didn’t go first to the temple to seek counsel from the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, and they didn’t believe the slander and condemnation which the Pharisees leveled against the Lord Jesus. Rather, they kept an open mind in their seeking and investigation. As such, they heard the voice of God in Jesus’ words and observed that the Lord’s word was the truth, and that it was full of authority and power. They recognized that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah that was prophesied and they followed Him without the slightest hesitation. When the high priest arrested Peter and the other apostles and threatened and intimidated them in an attempt to make them abandon their belief in the Lord, they staunchly asserted, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Peter and the other apostles didn’t acquiesce to the demands of the Pharisees in all their status and authority. Even when they were arrested and persecuted, they didn’t deny the Lord’s name but steadfastly kept their belief in Him, followed Him and sought to fulfill His will, and thus their faith received God’s commendation.
Let us learn the lessons of the Jews’ failure and refrain from misguided belief in and idolization of any person. May we never be bound or controlled by any person, event or thing or by status and authority. I will, also, that in all things we may magnify God, and seek, accept and submit to the truth with a God-fearing heart. Especially with regard to welcoming the coming of the Lord, we should treat this issue with a God-fearing heart and pay close attention to what the Spirit says to the churches. When we hear someone testify that the Lord has returned, we should actively seek and investigate so that, as soon as we’ve confirmed that it is indeed the voice of God and the expression of the truth, we can then accept and submit to it. Only in this way will we be able to keep pace with the footsteps of the Lamb and be upraised before the throne of God.
Dear Brothers and sisters, this brings our communion to a close. Thanks be to God for His enlightenment and guidance!