Was Jesus just to the Pharisees? Probably there were some among them who deserved this castigation, many who, like numberless Christians a few centuries later, substituted outward piety for inward grace. But there were also many Pharisees who agreed that the Law should be softened and humanized. Very likely a large number of the sect were sincere men, reasonably decent and honorable, who felt that the ceremonial laws neglected by Jesus should be judged not in themselves but as part of a code that served to hold the Jews together, in pride and decency, amid a hostile world. Some of the Pharisees sympathized with Jesus, and came to warn him that plots were being made to kill him. Nicodemus, one of the defenders of Jesus, was a rich Pharisee.
The final break came from Jesus’ growing conviction and clear announcement that he was the Messiah. At first his followers had looked upon him as the successor to John the Baptist; gradually they came to believe that he was the long-awaited Redeemer who would raise Israel out of Roman bondage and establish the reign of God on earth. “Lord,” they asked him, “will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He put them off by saying, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has set”; and he gave an equally vague answer to emissaries of the Baptist who asked him, “Art thou he that was to come?” To turn his followers from their conception of him as a political Messiah, he repudiated all claim to Davidic descent. Gradually, however, the intense expectations of his followers, and his discovery of his unusual psychic powers, seem to have persuaded him that he had been sent by God, not to restore the sovereignty of Judea, but to prepare men for the reign of God on earth. He did not (in the synoptic Gospels) identify or equate himself with the Father. “Why do you call me good?” he asked; “there is none good but one, that is God.” “Not as I will,” he prayed in Gethsemane, “but as thou wilt.” He took the phrase “Son of Man,” which Daniel had made a synonym for the Messiah, used it at first without clearly meaning himself, and ended by applying it to himself in such statements as “The Son of Man is master of the Sabbath”- which seemed high blasphemy to the Pharisees. He called God “Father” at times in no exclusive sense; occasionally, however, he spoke of “my Father,” apparently signifying that he was the son of God in an especial manner or degree. For a long time he forbade the disciples to call him the Messiah; but at Caesarea Philippi he approved Peter’s recognition of him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When, on the last Monday before his death, he approached Jerusalem to make a final appeal to the people, “the whole throng of his disciples” greeted him with the words, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”; and when some Pharisees asked him to reprove this salutation, he answered, “I tell you, if they keep silence, the stones will cry out.” The Fourth Gospel reports that the crowd hailed him as “King of Israel.” Apparently his followers still thought of him as a political Messiah, who would overthrow the Roman power and make Judea supreme. It was these acclamations that doomed Christ to a revolutionist’s death.
V. DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION