The Pharisees began around the 2nd century B.C., and probably evolved from a group called the Hasidim, who were leading revolts against the evil persecutor Antiochus Epiphanes, who many believed was the antichrist.
The word “Pharisee” means “separated one”. The Pharisees separated themselves from the spirit of the law, but not the letter of it. In other words, they knew God’s Law almost word-perfect. Many, if not all of them, had the Law memorized and even much of the O.T. Unfortunately, we know their familiarity with Scripture didn’t penetrate their heart, because Jesus condemned them for loving attention (Matthew 23:5-7). It wasn’t likely that you would find a Pharisee in an obscure town; he would be in the most public place and cities known by all for the attention.
The Pharisees often performed a physical cleansing to themselves at the end of each day because of the belief in defilement around them. They pridefully thought of themselves as a holy community for their commitment to the Law. They believed they were super-spiritual and the true Israel. When you think Pharisee, think legalist. They were loyal to themselves, their traditions, and their prestige.
The Sadducees began in the days of Solomon with a group referred to as the Zadokites, who were priests. They were not a religious group in Jesus’ day but a political group. They were friendlier to the Romans than the Pharisees and were usually wealthy aristocrats. They were the high and mighty in society.
The Sadducees cared little for doctrine; they denied the resurrection, the supernatural, and the existence of angels. They viewed themselves as more pragmatic than theological. The Sadducees discouraged talked of the Messiah, because they would lose their power; they didn’t like political threats and they viewed Jesus as a political threat.
The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ claims to be a salvific redeemer; the Sadducees didn’t like Jesus’ claims to be a political redeemer. Both groups disdained Jesus.
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