The Real Reason they killed Jesus

The Jewish religious rulers received their authority from the complex traditions.  Christ transgressed the traditions—not the Law of Moses—and thereby condemned the Jewish system of authority.  This, combined with the influence Christ gained with the common people, made Christ a threat to their rule, and they sought Jesus death. 

SUMMARY

What Christ did on the Sabbath made the Pharisees so angry that they wanted to kill Him.  Some argue today that Christ cancelled the Sabbath commandment by acting and teaching contrary to it.  However, He accepted the Sabbath as binding, but also consistently refused to admit having transgressed the Sabbath.  The Sabbath laws which Jesus contravened were the Jewish traditions.  The extremely strict Jewish traditions prohibited anything that even remotely looks like work.  It is therefore not possible to argue that He revoked the Sabbath.

Israel’s rulers merely wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God.  Religion for them was merely a method for maintaining their power over the people.  They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions.  The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people.

Jesus was not accepted by the leaders in Israel, but He gained an influence with the people. But this influence made Him a threat to the authority of the religious rulers.  Furthermore, by ignoring their traditions, and by even acting publicly and deliberately contrary to their traditions, Christ challenged the basis of their authority to rule.  That is why the Pharisees sought Jesus death.

Sometimes it is said that Jesus deliberately violated the rules to liberate the Sabbath from the stranglehold of the traditions, but it is proposed here He healed on the Sabbath, as a deliberate and public violation of the traditions, to condemn the entire Jewish system of authority.

DISCUSSION

WHAT SABBATH LAWS DID JESUS CONTRAVENE?

What Christ did on the Sabbath made the Pharisees so angry that they wanted to kill Him.

Some argue today that Christ cancelled the Sabbath commandment by acting and teaching contrary to it.  However, He never acted or taught contrary to the Old Testament Sabbath laws:

Firstly, as a general principle, Christ never violated any of the Laws of Moses. 

In the Sermon on the Mount He said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mat. 5:17-19).  Whatever “fulfill” here means, it at least means that He observed the Law.

This principle is also seen in Christ’s claims that, “I have kept My Father’s commandments” (John 15:10) and “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46).  Christ was a living representative of the law. No violation of its holy precepts was found in His life.

Secondly, He admitted the Sabbath as binding, but refused to admit breaking the Sabbath.

On a number of occasions the Pharisees accused Christ of breaking the Sabbath law.  In His various defenses He never questioned or contested the binding obligation of the Sabbath commandment.  To the contrary, by debating with the Pharisees what is lawful on the Sabbath (Mark 3:4), He admitted that certain things are not lawful, and by implication admitted the Sabbath as binding.

He therefore accepted the Sabbath as binding, but He also consistently refused to admit having transgressed the Sabbath.  He consistently justified His Sabbath deeds on the basis of the Old Testament, arguing that it is the Pharisees that are inconsistent with the Old Testament (Mat. 12:4-12; Mark 3:4; John 7:22-24).

Thirdly, the things which he did on the Sabbath did not violate the Law of Moses; it violated the traditions.

He was accused of breaking the Sabbath in two ways, namely by healing and by picking and eating grain while walking through a grain field.  The Old Testament is silent on both these issues.  When one looks for specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one’s dwelling, cutting down a tree, plowing and harvesting (Ex. 16:23-30; 20:10; 25:3; 34:21; Deut. 5:14).

But healing of people that were disabled for many years is a form of liberation.  Since the Law of Moses presents the Sabbath as a symbol of liberation, (see the article on the Sabbath in the Law of Moses), healing should not only be allowed on the Sabbath; it is the very purpose of the Sabbath.

Furthermore, as Jesus pointed out in the grain-picking incident, the disciples were not just men walking through grain fields on a Sabbath; they were part of His mission.  As such they were doing God’s work, which, as Jesus argued, allowed them to do things on the Sabbath that for other people would not be lawful.

Despite the fact that the Law of Moses is silent on these matters, there was no dispute among the Jewish authorities over whether healing or picking grain are allowed on the Sabbath (Luke 4:40; 13:14; Mark 3:2).  The Sabbath laws which Jesus contravened therefore must have been the Jewish traditions.  The extremely strict Jewish traditions so corrupted the seventh day that even healing of chronically ill patients was prohibited.  It prohibited anything that even remotely looks like work.  It was these traditions that interpreted picking grain as harvesting, rubbing grain in the hands as threshing and blowing the chuff away as winnowing.

It is therefore not possible to argue that He revoked the Sabbath, or even that He planted the seed for later abrogation of the Sabbath.

WHY WERE THE PHARISEES SO ANGRY?

Why were the Pharisees so angry when Jesus contravened the Sabbath traditions?  The synagogue official was annoyed when he saw that Jesus made the woman erect.  He should have been amazed.  It was not like claiming healing for some invisible illness, such as AIDS, where one can see no immediate change.  The people knew the ill people that Christ healed.  Their healings were clearly visible.  If the religious rulers were God’s children, they would have appreciated the infinite invisible Power faintly reflected in the woman’s physical healing.  They would have fallen to their knees and begged for mercy.  But these healing miracles only annoyed them (Luke 6:11; 13:14), and even more astounding, made them want to kill Jesus.

To understand this, remember that Israel had no king or civil rulers at the time.  It was governed by religious leaders.  And as with all human government systems, it is the people with dominating, strong personalities that push themselves forward to become leaders; not the meek and humble children of God.  Consequently Israel’s rulers merely wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God.  To them His voice through Christ was the voice of a stranger.  As Christ said to them, “you do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5:42) and, “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:26).

Religion for the religious rulers was merely a method for maintaining their power over the people.  They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions.  The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people.

Into this context Jesus came by the authority of God, bearing His image, fulfilling His word, and seeking His glory; yet He was not accepted by the leaders in Israel because His teaching demanded the sacrifice of self, while the Jews “receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (John 5:44).

He gained an influence with the people because they could understand His words, and because their hearts were warmed and comforted.  He spoke of God, not as an avenging Judge, but as a tender Father.  He revealed the image of God as mirrored in Himself.

The influence which Jesus gained with the people made Him a threat to the authority of the religious rulers.  Furthermore, by ignoring their traditions, and by even acting publicly and deliberately contrary to their traditions, Christ challenged the basis of their authority to rule.  In order to maintain their own power, these leaders determined to break down Christ’s influence; they sought Jesus death.

In one incident we see that they actually wanted Him to heal on the Sabbath so that they could justify His murder on the basis of the Old Testament, which requires the death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1).  When He entered into a synagogue where there was a man whose hand was withered, they watched to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  They did not ask whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10) because they were concerned for the sick man, or because they desired understanding.  They were convinced that they knew the answer to that question, and put this question to Christ to trick Him into the ‘crime’ of healing on the Sabbath, so that they could justify His murder.  After He healed the man the Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

WHY DID CHRIST DELIBERATELY HEAL ON THE SABBATH?

Sometimes it is said that Jesus deliberately violated the rules to liberate the Sabbath from the stranglehold of the traditions and to restore the Sabbath to God’s original intent, but it is proposed here that He had a greater purpose in mind.  He taught that the traditions set the commands of God aside (Mark 7:8-9; Mat 15:3) and “destroyed the authority of God’s word” (Mark 7:13).  It is therefore proposed here that He healed on the Sabbath, as a deliberate and public violation of the traditions, to condemn the entire Jewish system of authority.  The Sabbath miracle healings were therefore a natural part of His condemnation of the Jewish system of authority, and consistent with what He elsewhere said to them:

If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains”  (John 9:41).

“You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:26).

I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), “he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way (implying the Pharisees), he is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd (by implication the Pharisees), … sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees … because he … is not concerned about the sheep.” (John 10:11-13)

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Traditions of the Elders

The detailed and strict traditions of the elders were developed as a hedge against sin, but Christ described them as “precepts of men” that invalidated the word of God.  These traditions eventually served to separate the man from his God, became the basis for self-righteousness, destroyed love for God and for fellow men and represented God as a tyrant.

SUMMARY

The Jews developed many rules as a wall of protection to prevent noncompliance with the Law of Moses.  These rules were therefore not merely interpretations of the law, but additions to the law, making the law more severe.  For example, the Law forbids using the name of God in vain.  Therefore the Jews made the rule that one should not use the name of God at all.  They referred to God as “the name”.

These rules were known as the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:2; cf. Mark 7:3-5).  The traditions were very important in the Jewish society; regarded as equally important to the Law of Moses.  But Christ described the traditions as “precepts of men” (Mat. 15:7-9; see also Mark 7:7) that invalidated the word of God (Matthew 12; See also Mark 7:3-9).

To understand why Jesus said this, one firstly needs to appreciate how extremely complex and detailed the traditions were.  For instance, with respect to the Sabbath, the Jews added thousands of rules to define “work” at an amazing level of detail.  This includes, for instance, lists of the types of knots one is allowed to tie and untie on a Sabbath.

One secondly needs to appreciate that these rules were very strict.  With respect to the Sabbath, anything that even remotely looked like work, was classified as work, and therefore disallowed.  A Jew was not even allowed to light a candle on the Sabbath.

These help us to understand the consequences of the traditions.  These rules were developed as a hedge against con-compliance with the Law of Moses, but eventually served to separate the Jews from God:

The traditions replaced the Holy Spirit, Who must guide each person individually, with rules.

The traditions became the basis for self-righteousness.  The traditions consisted of rules with respect to outward behavior.  This serves to shift the focus away from God and to self, entrenching the belief that one is justified by one’s works, leading to self-righteousness.

By focusing on man’s works the traditions destroyed love for God and for fellow men.

This multitude of very strict rules reflected the character of selfish and dominating man and represented God as a tyrant.

By disallowing even pleasurable activities, combined with harsh policing, the traditions turned the best day of the week into the worst day.

Since the church at first consisted only of Jews, the traditions spilled over into the early church.  To combat the traditions, which were understood to provide justification by the “works of the Law”, Paul shifted the focus to man’s mind by teaching that man is justified by “faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:16).

DISCUSSION

The Jews developed many rules as a wall of protection to prevent noncompliance with the Law of Moses.  These rules were therefore not merely interpretations of the law, but additions to the law, making the law more severe.  For example, the Law forbids using the name of God in vain.  Therefore the Jews made the rule that one should not use the name of God at all.  They referred to God as “the name”.

These rules were known as the traditions of the elders.

…the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders … and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. “ (Mark 7:3-4)

“Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (Matthew 15:2; cf. Mark 7:5)

The traditions were very important in the Jewish society; regarded as equally important to the Law of Moses.  Paul, for example, progressed rapidly through the ranks of the Jewish religious authorities due to his zeal for the traditions:

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1:14).

But Christ described the traditions as “precepts of men” that invalidated the word of God:

You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me, but in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Mat. 15:7-9; see also Mark 7:7)

3 “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … 6 … by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. … 9  … in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 12; See also Mark 7:3-7)

You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

To understand why Jesus said this, one firstly needs to appreciate how extremely complex and detailed the traditions were.  For instance, with respect to the Sabbath, the Jews added thousands of rules to define “work” at an amazing level of detail.  This includes, for instance, lists of the types of knots one is allowed to tie and untie on a Sabbath; the knot of the camel-drivers, the knot of the seamen, knots that can be untied with one hand, a woman may tie the slit of her chemise, the bands of her hood, the bands of her girdle, the straps of her shoes and sandals; also the bands of leather flasks (filled) with wine or oil, and of a pot of meat.  One may tie a rope in front of cattle, in order that they may not escape. One may tie a bucket (over the well) with his girdle, but not with a rope.  Click here to see more of these rules.

One secondly needs to appreciate that these rules were also very strict.  With respect to the Sabbath, anything that even remotely looked like work was classified as work, and therefore disallowed.  A Jew was not even allowed to light a candle on the Sabbath.  One can also illustrate the Pharisees’ extremely strict application of the Sabbath with the incident where Christ’s disciples picked and ate grain while walking through grain fields on the Sabbath:

On a certain Sabbath day His disciples became hungry.  While walking through a grain-field, they were “picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating” (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5).  Some Pharisees saw this and immediately complained to Jesus: “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”

For us today it is difficult to understand how the Jews could consider the mere picking and eating of grains, while one is walking through a grain field, to be “work”, but this teaches us how harshly the Jews applied the Sabbath law.

These help us to understand the consequences of the traditions.  These rules were developed as a hedge against con-compliance with the Law of Moses, but eventually served to separate the Jews from God:

The traditions replaced the Holy Spirit with rules.  The requirements of the Law of Moses for the Sabbath is simple, namely no work.  The Holy Spirit must guide each person individually to understand what work is and what to do when exceptional circumstances require work on the Sabbath.  This spiritual connection has been replaced with “precepts of men”.

The traditions became the basis for self-righteousness.  The idea that man must earn redemption always leads men to develop rules to force themselves to obey; at least outwardly.  The traditions consisted of rules with respect to outward behavior.  This serves to shift the focus away from God and to self, entrenching the belief that one is justified by one’s works, leading to self-righteousness. Like the Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men, rapacious, unrighteous, adulterers … I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all things–as many as I possess”.  This Pharisee went away without being “declared righteous” (Luke 18:11-14).

The traditions destroyed love.  The focus on man’s works destroys love for God, and when love for God is destroyed, love for fellow men also disappears, leading men to be critical of one another.

The traditions represented God as a tyrant.  This multitude of very strict rules allowed very little space for compassion.  Thus the traditions eventually reflected the character of selfish and dominating man, rather than the character of the loving and caring God.

The traditions turned the best day of the week into the worst day.  God prohibited work on the Sabbath to make it a joyous day; the best day of the week, providing rest from the toil of human existence.  But by disallowing anything that even remotely looks like work, even pleasurable activities such as picking and eating grain, the Jews made it into a boring day of complete inactivity.  This, combined with harsh policing by the proud and fearsome religious rulers, made it the worst day of the week.  The life-giving power of rest was corrupted into a life-destroying burden; an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves.  It was because the traditions turned people into slaves of the Sabbath that Jesus objected by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Since the church at first consisted only of Jews, the traditions spilled over into the early church.  For instance, Paul instructed Titus not to pay attention to “Jewish myths and commandments of men” (Titus 1:14).  To combat the traditions, that focused on external deeds, and the Jewish emphasis on justification by the “works of the Law”, Paul shifted the focus to man’s mind by teaching that man is justified by “faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:16).  “Faith” knows that we are unable to meet God’s infinite standards, and throws itself at His feet, trusting in His mercy, like the tax collector in Christ’s story, who “was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13).  “This man went to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).

The traditions were not developed by evil people with ill intent.  But it is not human nature to go to one’s knees and ask for the Lord’s guidance.  Human nature always asks for rules.  Leaders responded to the demand for rules and initially developed simple definitions of work, but over the many centuries the definitions were extended into more and more detail.  This is what humans always do when they are subject to rules from higher authorities; they add more detail, but always make the laws more severe.

Many people still today keep the Sabbath; either on Saturday or on Sunday, but make the same mistake.  In their eagerness to ensure that they comply with the law they disallow even pleasurable activities, such as swimming or hiking.  The poor children suffer the most.  The purpose of the Jewish Sabbath was to be a day of joy.  There were some animal sacrifices prescribed for the Sabbath, but it was not prescribed as a day for religious activities.  It was a day to cease the hard work of the other days and to rest and enjoy.  If it is you view that you must keep the Sabbath, please ensure that you make keep it as the best day of the week for yourself and for your family.

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