Pharisees and Followers

Claudia Elzinga

READ : Matthew 15-18

The Pharisees appear frequently in the Gospels. Their original purpose had been good. In the period between the Old and New Testaments, the great threat to true religion was the infiltration of pagan Greek culture in the life of God’s people. The Pharisees emerged as first-century theological conservatives and sought to maintain the true faith. But they used the wrong method, that of emphasizing obedience to the letter of all of their traditions, so that by the time Jesus arrived on the scene they were legalistic and hypocritical. They are severely criticized by Jesus, and we are not to be like them in their faults. Rather, we are to be like the Gentile woman of humble faith (15:28). Significantly, the Sadducees, who were theological liberals in their day and the enemies of the Pharisees, yet team up with them in their opposition to Jesus.

Unlike them, the disciples are led to confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). Jesus reveals to his followers that a true disciple must “deny himself and take us his cross and follow me” (16:24). Here is a paradox: only those willing to lose even their lives for Christ will experience what true life really is. Among his followers are those to whom he reveals himself in a special way, in the transfiguration (17:2), so that they will be able to deal with difficulties. Being a disciple involves experiencing Christ’s glory but also the willingness to forgive (18:22).


Father, keep us from hypocrisy and help us to lose ourselves for Christ and thus experience true life. Amen.