Religious Institutions and Sects at the Time of Jesus – Revision Notes

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Religious institutions and sects played a central role in the life and ministry of Jesus as narrated in the Synoptic Gospels.

This tutorial contains summarized revision notes on the major religious institutions and sects mentioned in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke.

THE SYNAGOGUE

  1. Meeting house for public worship on Sabbath and Jewish festival days
  2. Served as schools on week days – teaching of Torah.
  3. A court.

SIGNIFICANCE IN THE LIFE OF JESUS

  1. Pharisees and  Scribes attacked him here
  2. He taught here
  3. He performed healing miracles here e.g. the woman with the spirit of infirmity.
  4. Announced his Messiahship here.

THE TEMPLE

  1. The first temple was built by Solomon
  2. Nebuchadnezzar ransacked and destroyed it
  3. Cyrus, the Persian king helped the Jews to rebuild it (538 BC)
  4. Herod the Great rebuilt it completely later
  5. It was significant in the Ministry of Jesus
  6. At 12, he was sent there according to custom to celebrate the Passover.
  7. The young Jesus was found sitting with teachers, and asking them questions.
  8. At his temptation, Satan took him to the top of the temple and asked him to throw himself down.
  9. When confronted, he paid temple tax.
  10. He watched a widow put all her possession in the temple treasury during worship.
  11. He expressed sorrow at eventual destruction of the temple
  12. He entered Jerusalem triumphantly and deansed the temple
  13. It was a place of pilgrimage for Jewish festivals like Passover and Day of Atonement.
  14. Home for priests who performed sacrifices to God on behalf of the people.

THE SANHEDRIN

  1. Means “sitting together” or council. 71 members (elders, chief priest, scribes and High Priests).
  2. Sat as a court to decide religious, legal and civic matters.
  3. Had power to determine question of war and peace.
  4. Meeting place was Jerusalem
  5. Could try to pass death sentence was subject to approved by Rome.

SIGNIFICANCE IN THE LIFE OF JESUS

  • Judas Iscariot betrayed him to them
  • He was brought before them to face political charges
  • They then sent him to Pilate
  • When Pilate saw that they were acting with envy he decided to release him but they instigated the crowed to demand the release of Barnabas instead.

THE PHARISEES

  1. Means “separated ones”
  2. Constantly came into conflict with Jesus
  3. Constituted the economic class of Judea.
  4. Believed in the teachings of the synagogue
  5. Strict in the observance and interpretation of the Torah (the law) and the tradition of the elders.
  6. Jesus called them hypocrites
  7. Believed in the resurrection, end of time, angels, demons and hell.

THE SADDUCEES

  1. Small but very powerful group.
  2. Priestly class tracing their origin to Zadok, the high priest.
  3. Supported roman rule and served as magistrates
  4. Constituted the wealthy economic class
  5. Supported the temple and the priesthood.
  6. Accepted only the five books of Moses and rejected the oral traditions of the elders.
  7. Did not believe in the coming of a messiah, the kingdom of God, the resurrection, angels and the judgment day.

THE SCRIBES: MATT 27: 41

  1. Not a religious party but a professional class.
  2. Highly educated class of lawyers.
  3. Re-copied over-sized copies of the old testament
  4. Most were Pharisees
  5. Permanently represented in the Sanhedrin
  6. They tested Jesus e.g. “which is the greatest commandment in the law”. “What should a man do to inherit eternal life?”
  7. They teamed up with the chief priests to mock Jesus on the cross.
  8. Jesus accused them of wearing long robes, interested in having salvation at market places and taking the best seats in synagogue and at feasts.

THE ZEALOTS: MK 3:18, LK 6:15, LK 15:7, MATT 10:4

  1. Extreme, proud, nationalist movement.
  2. Hated foreign rules of God’s people.
  3. Advocated the violent overthrow of Roman rule.
  4. Simon the zealot was a disciple of Jesus.
  5. The Herodians and Pharisees tricked Jesus on the payment of taxes to take a position.
  6. Judas Iscariot might have been a Zealot who wanted Jesus to dramatically proclaim himself king. Barnabas might also be a member. Luke 15:7.

THE ESSENES

  1. Not mentioned in the synoptic gospels
  2. Religious group which strictly observed Jewish law and disciplined lifestyle.
  3. John the Baptist would have belonged to this sect.

THE HERODIANS MK. 12:13 – 17

  • Mentioned only 3 times in the synoptic gospels
  • Supported the dynasty of Herod Antipas and supported Raman rule
  • Supported payment of taxes to the Romans
  • Teamed up with the Pharisees to oppose Jesus when he healed on the Sabbath and also tried to trick him on the question of paying taxes to the Romans. Mk 22:15 – 22.

THE SAMARITANS

  1. They were the product of inter-marriages between Assyrian colonists who conquered Samaria in 721 BC and Jews.
  2. Not regarded as pure Jews
  3. Were not allowed to help in the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple
  4. Hostility between them and Jesus reached its peak at the time of Jesus
  5. Luke is the only writer who mentioned them:
  6. Jesus asked the Samaritans to meet him on his way to Jerusalem but they refused
  7. Jesus told a parable about the good Samaritan
  8. Jesus commended the faith of a healed Samaritan out of ten lepers he healed.

PONTIUS PILATE

  1. Best known prefect of Judea.
  2. Governor in the time of Emperor Tiberius Caesar.
  3. Reigned from AD 26 – 36.
  4. Cruel – never mixed up with Jesus
  5. Exercised absolute power – could appoint a high priest in Judea.
  6. Committed suicide.

HEROD THE GREAT

  1. Ruled from 37 – 4 BC
  2. Clever politician who convinced the Roman’s to appoint him king
  3. Hated by the Jews for his cruelty
  4. Had friendship with Rome
  5. He was of Jewish parentage
  6. Patronized paganism
  7. Tried to please the Jews by marrying Miriam and rebuilding the Jerusalem temple.
  8.  He rebuilt Samaria and dwelt mostly in Jericho
  9. King of Jews at the birth of Jesus (Luke and Matthew)
  10. Consulted by the three magi (wise men) who came looking for the baby Jesus
  11. Ordered killing of children to have Jesus killed.
  12. Divided his kingdom among his three sons; Archaeus, Philip and Antipas.

About Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph is a professional blogger, founder and CEO of RN Digital Media Ent. He spends his day working as an online entrepreneur, e-learning strategist and a test prep coach. If you can't locate him anywhere online doing what he knows how to do best, then check him out on his farm or in the kitchen. He lives in the Central Region of his native country, Ghana.

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