Why was Jesus so harsh with the Pharisees?

Have you ever wondered why Jesus treated the Pharisees so badly? In the Gospels, He rebukes them again and again. This is because He hated the self-righteousness and legalism that characterized the Pharisees. God the Father hates it too. It grieves and weakens the work of the Holy Spirit. It damages the testimony of the church.

And yet, if we are completely honest, we must admit that these qualities are also noticeable in us. But we can only truly see the Pharisee within us through the merciful work of the Holy Spirit.

The Pharisees believed that they were righteous before God by showing good works. But anyone who relies on their personal righteousness for salvation can lose salvation in Jesus Christ. Paul, who was a Jew and grew up among the Pharisees, said:

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes…” (Romans 10:1-4).

I often ask unbelievers, “When you stand before God and He asks you, ‘Why should I let you into My kingdom?’ I always get a response that reflects their self-righteousness. For example, for the past 20 years I have ministered at Westminster Chapel where I spent two hours every Saturday working with a team of street evangelists we called Pilot Lights. We distributed Christian tracts in Victoria at Big Ben and Buckingham Gate. Every time someone said to me: “I don’t believe in heaven, I don’t believe in God,” I said, “But what if there is a heaven and you stand before God and He asks you, “Why should I let you into My kingdom?”, what do you answer?

The answer almost always went something like this: “I always treated people well. I was kind. I lived a good life. I haven’t done anything terrible.” In other words, all people were actually self-righteous. This is all because we are products of the Fall, born non posse non peccare (Latin: unable not to sin).

We sin the moment we claim that we deserve to go to heaven because we have done good deeds. Such words or even thoughts are already a sin.

We must not forget that most of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were in some sense godly men. Some scholars believe that most of the Pharisees actually did what they said they did: they fasted twice a week, gave away a tenth of all their income, not to mention that they were never guilty of crimes like robbery or adultery. They were considered truly righteous people in their time. They undoubtedly formed the basis of synagogues and were in some ways similar to today’s evangelical Christians who come to church with their Bibles, never smoke, never drink, and never watch movies that are not suitable for family viewing. But they tended to look down on those who did not follow their rules and called such people “sinners”.

Although the Pharisees were pious, religious, and generally good, why was Jesus so harsh with them? One might think that He could praise them by saying: “You are greatly needed here in Jerusalem now. I can’t imagine how things would have been if you hadn’t been here.” No. He never praised them or gave the slightest hint that they were necessary or valuable. He was harsh and strict with them.

Interestingly, Jesus was patient, loving, and merciful toward other sinners, such as the woman caught in the sin of adultery, unlike the outraged Pharisees who caught this woman sinning (John 8:3-11). He never showed any soft feelings toward the Pharisees. He did not treat them well, even though they defended the inerrancy of Scripture, believed in an afterlife (unlike the Sadducees), and adhered to practices that Jesus himself agreed with.

When I was a young Christian, I often wondered why so much attention was paid to the Pharisees in the four Gospels, even though they are long gone. Isn’t that a waste of time? Why should we read about non-existent people? Then, of course, I realized that Pharisees still exist today. And I’m afraid that in many ways I am one of them. But you? It is very important to listen to what Jesus said to and about the Pharisees, because as much as we are Pharisees, we too can be the target of His harsh words.

We are not free from this tendency. His relentless fight against Pharisaic morality should capture our attention. If Jesus was very displeased with them then, Heavenly Father has the same feelings for us today. And if Jesus was not kind to the Pharisees of old, oh, how can we expect Him to be kind to us if we are like them.

Excerpt from From R.T. Kendall’s book “You’re Probably a Pharisee If…” chapter 2 (Charisma House, 2021)

Author – R.T. Kendall/charismamag.com

Source: Почему Иисус был столь суров с фарисеями? (ieshua.org)

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