Jesus and the Pharisees

Many Christians may not be aware that the Pharisees were actually accusing Jesus of not following the Scripture. In this post, we will explore how Pharisees want to enforce Scripture and how Jesus rejects it to show the true meaning of what God wants.

Jesus and the sinners

BLESSED [is] the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful … I have not sat with idolatrous mortals, Nor will I go in with hypocrites … I have hated the assembly of evildoers, And will not sit with the wicked

Ps 1:1-2; Ps 26:4; Ps 26:5

Scripture teaches us to not associate with sinners. This concept is repeatedly echoed in Psalms.

And when the Pharisees saw [it,] they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Matt 9:11

As we can see, the Pharisees were simply following the Scripture and questioned why Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. What
Pharisees missed out is, Scripture warns us not to associate ourselves with sinners on their act of sinning and evil doing. Scripture did not ask anyone to make sure the person sitting next to us on a train or bus is a saint. The
Pharisees took the passages of Scripture so literally that they miss out the true meaning of it. Further, Jesus did not go after sinners to sit with them but rather, the sinners and tax collectors came and sat with Him. Nor did He call Himself as a friend of sinners but the people did (Matt 11:19). For Jesus, only those who do the will of the Father are His friends (John 15:14). Hence, the desire of Pharisees to strictly follow the Scripture made them miss the true intention.

Jesus and the Sabbath

Then he said to them, “This [is what] the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow [is] a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake [today,] and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’ ” … Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today [is] a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. … See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”

Exod 16:23,25,29

The law is clear that no one must go to field to find food on the Sabbath. The person who disobeyed was put to death (Num 15:35). The law is also clear that no one must travel on Sabbath but remain in his place.

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God [in the days] of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28

Jesus, however, was doing against what was written in the law and even justified using those who did contrary to the law. This He did, not with any intent to degrade the law but to show the scribes and Pharisees the true intent of the law. He also used this situation to declare Him to be Lord of the Sabbath.

And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”–that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift [it] out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched [it] out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Matt 12:10-14

In another occasion, Jesus healed the person on Sabbath even though the Scriptures mention not to do any work. Jesus did this to show the true intent of the law, that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

Jesus and Signs

And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’– when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that [is] the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

Deut 18:21-22

To test any prophet, according to the law, what He spoke must come to pass. This means the prophet who speaks in God’s name must give a sign that must come to pass. The above passage occurs exactly on the Messianic prophecy about Jesus in the law. Hence, there is nothing wrong as per the law for scribes and Pharisees to ask for a sign to check if He is truly speaking on God’s behalf.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah [is] here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon [is] here.

Matt 12:38-42

But Jesus did not give any signs to the scribes and Pharisees except mentioning the sign of Jonah, which they probably never understood. He also declared them as an evil and adulterous generation because they were blind to see His healing a demon-possessed, blind and mute as a sign but declared Him as demon possessed and casting out demons by the ruler of demons (Matt 12:22-24). Hence, scribes and Pharisees will never accept any sign and Jesus already knew their heart as evil and adulterous.

Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, [‘It will be] fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, [‘It will be] foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot [discern] the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.

Matt 16:1-4

In another occasion, Jesus calls Pharisees and Sadducees as hypocrites for not knowing the signs of the times (Matt 16:1-4). This was right after feeding the four thousand with just seven loaves and a few fish (Matt 15:32-39). What the Pharisees and Sadducees really want from Jesus is for Him to behave like a street magician, to perform a sign at their will. Here too, Jesus rejects giving signs to them.


We saw three instances where confrontations between Jesus and Pharisees were actually based on Scripture. Like Pharisees, many Christians today follow the Bible even to the point of rejecting the words of Jesus Christ using the Bible.

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. … If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

John 5:39-40; Luke 9:23

Are you searching the Bible for eternal life but not willing to come to Jesus by denying yourself, taking up your cross and follow Him?

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