It was on this day sometime in the 1st or 2nd century that Rabbi Shimon bin Shetach reorganized the Sanhedrin by eliminating it’s Sadducean members. This was viewed as a great victory for the Pharisaical sect and was accorded its own holiday in ancient times. Consequently, this victory paved the way for the Pharisees to determine the direction of Judaism at large and brought about the development of what is today’s rabbinical Judaism.
The Sadducees interpreted the Scriptures very literally and in so doing rejected the concept of an Oral Torah. They developed their own calendar which was quite different from the Pharisaical version. Furthermore they rejected the belief in immortality and the resurrection, a historical fact that is validated for us in the New Testament. The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection and accepted the concept of oral tradition, thus creating a great divide within Judaism which continues to this very day. Many of the beliefs held by the Sadducees resurfaced among a group of Jews called the Karaites, who broke away from mainstream Judaism sometime in the 8th century. Yet with all of the strife and division between these two groups, they still found something that they could come together and agree upon – their shared unbelief that Jesus was the Messiah.
“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.’” (Matthew 16:1-3)
Though the Pharisees and the Sadducees could find common ground when it came to Yeshua and His Messiahship, He didn’t differentiate between these two groups when it came to their hypocrisy. He didn’t bother to point out their theological differences but considered both of them to be in error when it came to spiritual discernment. In fact, just after this particular encounter, He warned His disciples:
“Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6)
It would be wrong for us to consider that every Pharisees and every Sadducee were hypocrites; no doubt there were some good men among these groups. However, whether we’re talking about Judaism, Christianity or any other religion, men develop their belief systems and doctrines, and based on those interpretations and opinions, divide into different groups. These groups then trumpet why they are right and the other guy is wrong. But as we see in Matthew 16, Messiah considers them both to be wrong, labeling them all as hypocrites. The point is this: if we’re not careful, in our zeal to be right, we can make the same mistake as these men did and end up being hypocrites. In other words, if we focus more on being right than doing what is right, we end up in the wrong.
Based on what we have seen in history, we have the tendency to break everything down into minute detail, theologically speaking, that we fail to discern what the Creator is actually trying to say to us. For instance, those men in Matthew 16 presumably knew the Scripture but could not or would not discern that the Messiah was standing right before them. When we take the position that we’re right and they’re wrong and break up into factions at war with one another, we start acting like Pharisees. We become blind to what God is actually doing in the earth. At that point, how does Messiah see us? Does He take note of our theological differences or does He lump us all together and say, “You can see all of these different things to argue over, but you can’t really see the big picture.”
Thankfully there were men among the Pharisees and the Sadducees who came to see the light, men like Paul who focused on what was really important. It’s certainly acceptable to have an opinion on issues and it’s okay to disagree with one another. But when we break into factions and declare war on one another because of our differences of opinion, we’re acting like hypocrites. For our sake and for the sake of others, we need to be able to discern the signs of the times and see the big picture, which boils down to this: “For God so loved the world.” Therefore, we need to walk in light of the fact that Christ came on behalf of all men and behave accordingly.