How Jesus Responded to the Pharisees Reveals Much about Him

Lloyd Gardner
5 min readJul 22, 2021


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

We can learn much about truth by looking at how Jesus responded to those who disagreed with Him. The Jewish sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes opposed Jesus on many occasions. How He responded tells us much about Jesus and about how we too are to believe and act.

A classic example of this is in Matthew chapter 15 where the religious leaders challenged Jesus about breaking their traditions:

They asked Him, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mat. 15:2–9).

Judaism by this time had developed a myriad of traditions that went beyond the revealed scripture and demanded things of the people that God does not demand. Washing one’s hands before eating was one of those traditions. The word “tradition” expressed in the Greek means something that is given over or passed on or transmitted. It is a belief or practice that is transmitted down through generations and may or may not have a connection to God’s revealed truth. In this case there is no scriptural reference about washing one’s hands before eating but merely a “tradition of the elders” which had been transmitted through the years until it was considered a command of God.

So, what do we learn from how Jesus reacted? Simply this — our source of truth is God’s word not the religious or cultural traditions that began at some point and have been passed down to the present. The problem arises when we see those traditions as commands of God and begin to impose them on others. Much of what we do in our church circles has little or no connection to God’s word. Meeting for an hour on Sunday morning. Listening and responding to worship music. Listening to a sermon. Tithing. Revival meetings. Dressing up nicely. Sunday school. Going to a big church building. One-person leadership and much more. These things are merely traditions that developed over time and have no connection to our life in Christ and with one another.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah declaring “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” How much of what we do as Christians and, believing it comes from God, really comes from the traditions of men and results in us going through certain religious motions without honoring God with our hearts? Think about it. God wants our hearts and true devotion to Him that flows from His word not from the tradition built up and passed on by men.

Here is another great example:

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:16, 17).

So, Jesus ate with sinners and the despised tax collectors. The religious folks were judging people based on the people they associated with not caring about their needs or motives. So they mockingly asked “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Like many ultra-religious people, they spent too much time trying to find fault with others instead of simply following and loving God and teaching others to do the same. Jesus associated with these people because He cared for their spiritual lives. They were spiritually sick and needed healing like all of us. Though He was sinless He did not see Himself as someone so righteous that He could not go where they are to bless them with healing life. The Great Physician went to His patients with healing power.

In another example Jesus healed a paralyzed man by first saying to him “Man your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). Of course the Pharisees standing by began to think, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (5:21). You probably know the rest of this story. Knowing their thoughts, He said to them, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the man who was paralyzed — “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying.

What does this tell us about Jesus? First, He didn’t concern Himself with the prejudiced concerns of those around Him. He always went forward with how the Father was leading Him. Then we see that Christ saw sin and sickness as having the same origin and were in need of the same solution. He showed these religious men that God heals sin and sickness the same way. The Son of Man had authority to forgive sins and to heal sickness.

There are many examples of Jesus responding to the religious leaders. I can’t address them all but when you read them you will discover things about Jesus that perhaps you couldn’t see otherwise. It’s good to read what others say about Jesus but it is even more valuable to see what He did and hear what He said to people who opposed Him. The more we learn about Him the more we want to be part of what He is still accomplishing in the world.



Lloyd Gardner

I write to answer the worldwide move to diminish the influence of God. I write from outside the camp of organized religion to call people to come follow Christ.