The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3


Chapter 4—Denouncing the Pharisees

The common people heard Jesus gladly and gathered about him in the temple to receive his teachings. Never before had such a scene been enacted. There stood the young Galilean, bearing no earthly honor nor royal badge. His dress was coarse and travel-stained. Surrounding him were priests in their gorgeous apparel, rulers with robes and badges significant of their exalted position, and scribes with scrolls in their hands to which they made repeated reference. Yet Jesus stood calmly with the dignity of a king invested with the authority of Heaven looking unflinchingly upon his adversaries, who had rejected and despised his teachings and had long thirsted for his life. On this occasion they had assailed him in great numbers with a determination to provoke him to utter words which would ensnare him and serve as means by which they might condemn him. But their questions only opened the way for him to set before them their real condition, and the fearful retribution that awaited them if they continued to provoke God by their many and grievous sins. 3SP 56.1

The interest of the people steadily increased as Jesus boldly met challenge after challenge of the Pharisees and presented the pure, bright truth in contrast with their darkness and error. They were charmed with the doctrine he taught, but were sadly perplexed. They had respected their acknowledged teachers for their intelligence and apparent piety. They had ever yielded implicit obedience to their authority in all religious matters. Yet they now saw these very men trying to bring Jesus into disrepute, a teacher whose virtue and knowledge shone forth brighter than before from every assault of his adversaries. They looked upon the lowering countenances of the priests and elders, and there saw discomfiture and confusion. They marveled that the rulers would not believe on Jesus, when his teachings were so plain and simple. They themselves knew not what course to take, and watched with eager anxiety the movements of those whose counsel they had always followed. 3SP 56.2

The parables of Jesus were spoken to warn and condemn the rulers, and also to instruct the inquiring minds of those present. But, in order to break the chain which bound the people to customs and traditions, and unquestioning faith in a corrupt priesthood, he exposed more fully than ever before the character of the rulers and elders. It was his last day of teaching in the temple, and his words were not only to reach the audience before him, but were to go down through ages to the close of time, in every tongue and unto every people. 3SP 57.1

The gems of truth that fell from his lips on that eventful day were hidden in the hearts of many who were present. For them a new history commenced, new thoughts started into life, and new aspirations were awakened. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ these persons came to the front, and fulfilled their divine commission with a wisdom and zeal corresponding with the greatness of the work. They bore a message that appealed to the hearts and minds of men, and weakened old superstitions that had long dwarfed the lives of thousands. Theories, philosophies, and human reasonings before their testimonies became as idle fables. Mighty were the results springing from the words of the humble Galilean to that wondering, awe-struck crowd, in the great temple of Jerusalem. 3SP 57.2

Reading the conflicting emotions of the people, and the anxiety with which they regarded their leaders and teachers, Jesus proceeded to further enlighten their minds, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.” The scribes and Pharisees claimed to be invested with divine authority similar to that of Moses. They assumed to take his place as expounders of the law and judges of the people. As such they claimed all deference and obedience from the people. But Jesus admonished his hearers to do that which the priests taught according to the law; but not to follow their example; for they neglected the duties which they taught others to observe. 3SP 58.1

Said he, “They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” The Pharisees enjoined a multitude of minute regulations having their foundation in tradition, and unreasonably restraining personal liberty of action. They strictly expounded certain portions of the law, exacting from the people rigorous observances and ceremonies, which they themselves secretly ignored, and actually claimed exemption from if detected in their omission. 3SP 58.2

The severest denunciations that ever fell from the Saviour's lips were directed against those who, while making high pretensions to piety, secretly practiced iniquity. The religion of the priests, scribes, and rulers, like that of the modern Roman Church, consisted mainly in outward ceremonies, and was destitute of spiritual and practical godliness. God said unto Moses, Thou shalt bind these commandments of the Lord for a sign upon thy hand; and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. The Jews construed these words into a command that the precepts of scripture should be worn upon the person. They were accordingly lettered on cloth in a very conspicuous manner and bound about their heads and wrists. But wearing these precepts thus did not cause the law of God to take firmer hold of their minds and hearts, as God had designed. The precepts which should have purified their lives, and prompted them to righteous deeds, and acts of kindness and mercy, were worn as badges to attract observation, and give the wearers an air of piety and devotion which would excite the veneration of all beholders. Jesus struck a heavy blow at all this vain show of religion in these words:— 3SP 58.3

“But all their works they do for to be seen of men; they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in Heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your Master, even Christ.” In such plain words the Saviour revealed the selfish ambition of the Pharisees, ever reaching for power and place, displaying a mock humility, while their hearts were filled with envy and avarice. When persons were invited to a feast the guests were seated according to their rank and station; and those who were given the most honorable places received the first attention, and most special favors. The Pharisees were ever eager and scheming to receive these honors. 3SP 59.1

Jesus also revealed their vanity in loving to be called of men Rabbi, meaning master. He declared that such a title did not belong to men, but only to Christ. Priests, scribes and rulers, expounders of the law and administrators of it, were all brethren, children of one God. Jesus would impress upon the minds of the people that they were to give no man a title of honor, indicating that he had any control of their conscience or faith. 3SP 60.1

If Christ were on earth today, surrounded by the religious teachers of the age who bear the titles of Reverend and Right Reverend, would he not repeat his saying to the Pharisees: “Neither be ye called master; for one is your Master, even Christ”? Many who assume these honorary titles are utterly devoid of the wisdom and true righteousness which they indicate. Too many hide worldly ambition, despotism, and the basest sins beneath the broidered garment of a high and holy office. The Saviour continued:— 3SP 60.2

“But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” True greatness is measured by moral worth. Greatness of character in the estimation of Heaven consists in living for the welfare of our fellow-men, in doing works of love and benevolence. Christ was a servant to fallen man; yet he was the King of Glory. He still continued his denunciations of the rich and powerful men before him:— 3SP 60.3

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” By perverting the meaning of the Scriptures the priests blinded the understanding of those who would otherwise have seen the nature of Christ's kingdom, and that inward, divine life which is essential to true holiness. By their endless round of forms they fastened the minds of the people upon external services to the neglect of true religion. 3SP 61.1

They not only rejected Christ themselves but took the most unfair means to prejudice the people against him, deceiving them by false reports and gross misrepresentations. In all ages of the world truth has been unpopular; its doctrines are not congenial to the natural mind; for it searches the heart, and reproves its hidden sin. Those who persecute the advocates of God's truth have ever, like the Pharisees, misrepresented their words and motives. Jesus resumed:— 3SP 61.2

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” The Pharisees so wrought upon the minds of many conscientious widows that they believed it a duty to devote their entire property to religious purposes. These deluded women would trust the appropriation of their money to the scribes and priests, in whom they placed implicit confidence; and those wily men would use it for their own benefit. To cover their dishonesty they made long prayers in public, and a great show of piety. Jesus declared that this hypocrisy would bring them the greater damnation. Many professors of exalted piety in our day come under the same ban. Selfishness and avarice stain their lives; yet they throw over all this a garment of seeming purity, and deceive honest souls; but they cannot deceive God; he reads every purpose of the heart and will mete out to every person according to his works. The Saviour continued his denunciations:— 3SP 61.3

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, who say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind; for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind; for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” The priests interpreted the requirements of God to meet their false and narrow standard. They presumed to make nice distinctions between the comparative guilt of various sins, passing over some lightly, and treating others of perhaps less consequence as unpardonable. They accepted money from persons in return for excusing them from their vows; and in some cases crimes of an aggravated character were passed over in consideration of large sums of money paid to the authorities by the transgressor. At the same time these priests and rulers would pronounce severe judgment against others for trivial offenses. 3SP 62.1

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” According to the requirements of God the tithing system was obligatory upon the Jews. But the priests did not leave the people to carry out their convictions of duty in giving to the Lord one-tenth of all the increase of the marketable products of the land. They carried the requirements of the tithing system to extremes, making them embrace such trifling things as anise, mint and other small herbs which were cultivated to a limited extent. This caused the tithing plan to be attended with such care and perplexity that it was a wearisome burden. While they were so exact in things which God had never required of them, and were confusing their judgment and lessening the dignity of the divine system of benevolence by their narrow views, they were making clean the outside of the platter while the inside was corrupt. Exact in matters of little consequence, Jesus accuses them of having “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” No outward service, even in that which is required by God, can be a substitute for an obedient life. The Creator desires heart service of his creatures. 3SP 63.1

The Jews read in the requirements given to Moses that nothing unclean should be eaten. God specified the beasts that were unfit for food, and forbade the use of swine's flesh and the flesh of certain other animals, as likely to fill the blood with impurities and shorten life. But the Pharisees did not leave these restrictions where God had left them. They carried them to unwarranted extremes; among other things the people were required to strain all the water used, lest it might contain the smallest insect, undiscernible to the eye, which might be classed with the unclean animals. Jesus, in contrasting these trivial exactions of external cleanliness with the magnitude of their actual sins, said to the Pharisees: “Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” 3SP 63.2

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.” All the pomp and ceremony of the priests and rulers were but a cloak to conceal their iniquity, as the white and beautifully decorated tomb covers the putrefying remains within it. Jesus also compared the Pharisees to hidden graves which, under a fair exterior, conceal the corruption of dead bodies: “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” All the high pretensions of those who claimed to have the law of God written in their hearts as well as borne upon their persons, were thus shown to be vain pretense. Jesus continued:— 3SP 64.1

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them who killed the prophets.” The Jews were very particular to beautify the tombs of the dead prophets as evidence of their esteem for them; yet they did not profit by their teachings, nor regard their reproofs and warnings. 3SP 64.2

In the days of Christ a superstitious regard was cherished for the tombs of the dead. This was frequently carried to the verge of idolatry, and vast sums of money were lavished upon their decoration. The same species of idolatry is carried to great lengths today, and especially by the Roman Church. But the Christian world at large are guilty of neglecting the widow and the fatherless, the poor and afflicted, to erect expensive monuments in honor of the dead. Time, money, and labor are not stinted for this purpose, while duties to the living are neglected. The Pharisees built the tombs of the prophets and garnished their sepulchers, and said one to another, If we had lived in those days we should not have been partakers with those who shed the blood of God's servants. Yet at the same time they were planning to destroy the Son of God, and would not have hesitated to imbrue their hands in his blood if they had not feared the people. 3SP 65.1

This condition of the Pharisees should be a lesson to the Christian world of the present day; it should open their eyes to the power of Satan to deceive human minds when they once turn from the precious light of truth, and yield to the control of the enemy. Many follow in the track of the Pharisees. They revere the martyrs who died for their faith; and declare that, had they lived in the days when Christ was upon earth, they would have gladly received his teachings and obeyed them; they would never have been partakers of the guilt of those who rejected the Saviour. But these very persons stifle their honest convictions at any cost rather than yield obedience to God when it involves self-denial and humiliation. In our day the light shines clearer than in the time of the Pharisees. Then the people were to accept Christ as revealed in prophecy, and to believe on him through the evidences which attended his mission. The Jews saw in Jesus a young Galilean without worldly honor, and, though he came as prophecy foretold he would come, they refused to accept their Messiah in poverty and humiliation, and crucified him, as prophecy foretold they would do. 3SP 65.2

The Christian world now has a Saviour who has fulfilled all the specifications of prophecy in regard to his life and death; yet many reject his teachings, they do not follow his precepts, they crucify the Saviour every day. Should they be tested as were the Jews at the first advent of Christ, they would not accept him in his humiliation and poverty. 3SP 66.1

From the time that the first innocent blood was shed, when righteous Abel fell by the hand of his brother, iniquity had increased upon the earth. From generation to generation the priests and rulers had slighted the warnings of the prophets whom God had raised up and qualified to reprove the sins of the people. There had been great need of these men, who, in every age, had lifted their voices against the sins of kings, rulers, and subjects, speaking the words God gave them to utter, and obeying the divine will at the peril of their lives. From generation to generation there had been heaping up a terrible punishment, which the enemies of Christ were now drawing down upon their own heads by their abuse and rejection of the Son of God, whose voice was raised in condemnation of the sin existing among the priests and rulers to a greater degree than at any previous time. They were filling to overflowing their cup of iniquity, which was to be emptied upon their own heads in retributive justice, making their generation responsible for the blood of all the righteous men slain from Abel to Christ. Of this, Jesus warned them:— 3SP 66.2

“That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” The Saviour, with hand uplifted toward Heaven and a divine light enshrouding his person, spoke in the character of a judge of those before him. The listening crowd shuddered as his denunciations were spoken. The impression made upon their minds by his words and looks was never to be effaced in after years. 3SP 67.1

Israel had little heeded the commands of God. While the words of warning which God had given him to speak were upon the lips of Zacharias, a satanic fury seized the apostate king, and the command was given to slay the prophet of God. The scribes and Pharisees who listened to the words of Jesus knew that they were true, and that the blood of the slain prophet imprinted itself on the very stones of the temple court and could not be erased, but remained to bear its testimony to God, in witness against apostate Israel. As long as the temple should stand, there would remain the stain of that righteous blood, crying to God to be avenged. As Jesus referred to these fearful crimes a thrill of horror ran through the hearts of the multitude. 3SP 67.2

His voice had been heard upon earth in gentleness, entreaty, and affection; but now that the occasion required it, he spoke as judge, and condemned the guilt of the Jews. The Saviour, looking forward, foretold that their future impenitence, and intolerance of God's servants, would be the same as it had been in the past:— 3SP 68.1

“Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes. And some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city.” 3SP 68.2

Prophets and wise men full of faith and the Holy Ghost, represented by Stephen, James, Paul, and many others, scribes, men of learning, who understood the Scriptures and could present them in all their bearings as revealed by God, would be scorned and persecuted, condemned and put to death. 3SP 68.3

The Saviour spoke no words of retaliation for the abuse he had received at the hands of his enemies. No unholy passion stirred that divine soul; but his indignation was directed against the hypocrites whose gross sins were an abomination in the sight of God. The conduct of Christ upon this occasion reveals the fact that the Christian can dwell in perfect harmony with God, possess all the sweet attributes of love and mercy, yet feel a righteous indignation against aggravating sin. 3SP 68.4

Divine pity marked the pale and mournful countenance of the Son of God as he cast one long, lingering look upon the temple and then upon his hearers, and with a voice choked by deep anguish of heart and bitter tears exclaimed: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” 3SP 69.1

Pharisees and Sadducees were alike silenced. Jesus called his disciples and prepared to leave the temple, not as one defeated and forced from the presence of his adversaries, but as one whose work was accomplished. He retired a victor from the contest with his bigoted and hypocritical opponents. Looking around upon the interior of the temple for the last time, he said with mournful pathos, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall no more see me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Hitherto he had called it his Father's house, but now, as the Son of God passed out from those walls, God's presence was withdrawn forever from the temple built to his glory. Henceforth its services were to be a mockery, and its ceremonies meaningless; for Jerusalem's day of probation was at an end. 3SP 69.2

Jesus had spoken clear and pointed words that day, which cut his hearers to the heart. Their effect might not be seen at once, but the seed of truth sown in the minds of the people was to spring up and bear fruit to the glory of God, and be the means of saving many souls. After the crucifixion and resurrection of the Saviour, the lessons he had given that day would be revived in the hearts of many attentive listeners, who would in turn repeat the instruction which they had heard, for the benefit of future generations to the close of time. The disciples were astonished at the bold and authoritative manner in which their Master had denounced the hypocritical Pharisees. And the priests, scribes, and rulers were never to forget the last words Jesus addressed to them in the temple: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” The words fell solemnly upon their ears, and struck a nameless terror to their hearts. They affected indifference; but the question kept rising in their minds as to what was the import of those words. An unseen danger seemed to be threatening them. Could it be possible that the magnificent temple, which was the nation's glory, was soon to be a heap of ruins? 3SP 69.3

The disciples shared in the general foreboding of evil, and anxiously waited for Jesus to make a more definite statement in regard to the subject. As they passed out of the temple with their Master, they called his attention to its strength and beauty and the durability of the material of which it was composed, saying, “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here.” Jesus, to make his words as impressive as possible, also called attention to the lofty structure: “See ye not all these things? Verily, I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” 3SP 70.1

This was a startling statement to the disciples. The matter was now made plain: The glorious edifice, built at immense cost, which had been the pride of the Jewish nation, was to be destroyed from its very foundation. Not one of those massive stones—some of which had borne the devastation of Nebuchadnezzar's army, and stood firmly through the storm and tempest of centuries—was to be left upon another. They did not clearly comprehend the purpose of all this ruin. They did not discern that in a few days their Saviour was to be offered up as a victim for the sins of the world. The temple and its services would then be of no more use. The blood of beasts would be of no virtue to expiate sin, for type would then have met antitype, in the Lamb of God who would have voluntarily offered his life to take away the sins of the world. Later, when all had been accomplished, the disciples understood fully the words of Jesus, and the reason of the calamity which he foretold. 3SP 71.1

Jesus lingered near the court where the women were depositing their offerings in the treasury. He observed the large donations of many of the rich, but made no comment upon their liberal offerings. He looked sadly at the comers and goers, many of whom presented large gifts in an ostentatious and self-satisfied manner. Presently his countenance lighted as he saw a poor widow approach hesitatingly, as though fearful of being observed. As the rich and haughty swept past her to deposit their offerings, she shrank back as if scarcely daring to venture farther. And yet her heart yearned to do something, little though it might be, for the cause she loved. She looked at the mite in her hand; it was very small in comparison with the gifts of those around her, yet it was her all. Watching her opportunity, she hurriedly threw in her two mites and turned to beat a hasty retreat. But in doing so she caught the eye of Jesus which was fastened earnestly upon her. 3SP 71.2

The Saviour called his disciples to him and bade them mark the widow's poverty; and as they stood looking at her, words of commendation from the Master's lips fell unexpectedly upon her ear: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all.” Tears of joy filled the poor woman's eyes as she felt that her act was understood and appreciated by Jesus. Many would have advised her to appropriate her small pittance to her own use rather than to give it into the hands of well-fed priests, to be lost among the many and costly gifts donated to the temple; but Jesus understood the motives of her heart. She believed in the service of the temple as appointed by God, and she was anxious to do her utmost to sustain it. She did what she could, and her act was destined to be as a monument to her memory through all time, and her joy in eternity. Her heart went with her gift, the amount of which was estimated, not by its intrinsic value, but by the love to God and interest in his work which had prompted the deed. 3SP 72.1

It is the motive which gives true value to our acts, and stamps them with high moral worth or with ignominy. It is not the great things which every eye can see and which every tongue praises that count to our eternal credit, but the little duties cheerfully done, the little gifts which make no show, and which human eyes regard as worthless. A heart of love and genuine faith in a worthy object is more acceptable to God than the most costly gift. The poor widow gave her living to do the little that she did. She deprived herself of food to give those two mites to the cause she loved; and she did it in faith, believing that her Heavenly Father would not overlook her great necessity. It was this unselfish spirit and unwavering faith that won the commendation of Jesus. 3SP 72.2

Many humble souls feel under so great obligations for receiving the truth of God that they greatly desire to share with their more prosperous brethren the burdens imposed by the service of God. Let them lay up their mites in the bank of Heaven. The slender offerings of the poor should not be rejected; for if given from a heart burdened with love to God, those trifles in value become consecrated gifts, priceless offerings, which God smiles upon and blesses. 3SP 73.1

Jesus said of the poor widow, “She hath given more than they all.” The rich had bestowed from their abundance, many of them merely to be seen of others and to be honored of them for their large donations. They denied themselves none of the comforts or luxuries of life in order to make their gift, and therefore it was no sacrifice and could not be compared in true value with the widow's mite. 3SP 73.2