Previously , we discussed the legitimacy of the Aaronic priesthood and of the Levites in general as teachers of Israel, a legitimacy that was threatened by the corruption of the priesthood during a large span of Israel’s history. We must now get to the crux of the matter, though, and examine at least a couple of matters. Was the behavior of the Pharisees considered to be usurpation according to the standards of the Bible itself, and was the behavior of the Pharisees that ultimately supported by the Bible or not? In order to determine these facts we will endeavor not to wander too long, for it is late as I write this and time spent aimlessly writing is time I could spend sleeping, and so I do not desire to waste time. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to ask these questions and look at how the Bible deals with the question of who is to be a legitimate priest, because it is a matter of considerable importance, so much so that the Bible sets up the replacement of the Aaronic priesthood long before it actually happens.
Before we discuss, that, though, it is worthwhile to examine the grounds on which the Pharisees are to be seen as usurpers and illegitimate religious authorities. 1 Kings 13:33-34 tells us: “ After this event Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but again he made priests from every class of people for the high places; whoever wished, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places. And this thing was the sin of the house of Jeroboam, so as to exterminate and destroy it from the face of the earth.” Let us take a moment for this to sink in. Those who seek to usurp the position of priesthood are placed in the same place as wicked Jeroboam, who perverted the calendar for the sake of convenience and was so much a byword of sin and error that of nearly every king of Israel it is said that they sinned like him, except for those who sinned even worse.
We see that by the time of Jesus Christ the Pharisees and scribes had usurped the role of interpreting and teaching the law to the people of Judah, as it is written in Matthew 23:1-3: “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” Did the Pharisees have the right to sit in Moses’ seat? Who had appointed them to sit in that position and to make what they viewed as authoritative pronouncements and interpretations of God’s law? Had they been ordained by God to do so? Certainly not. To the extent that the Pharisees preached out of the Bible, their words were to be respected, but their conduct was itself contrary to God’s laws and so their interpretations were clearly not binding, especially because these interpretations were often so self-serving. As a result, the writings of the Pharisees carried no moral standing because they were not in the right place to pronounce halakhah for others. Because they had no standing before God, the oral Torah which the Phariseees and their successors have fraudulently claimed goes back to Sinai has no standing for those who wish to follow God.
Be that as it may, how does the Bible deal with the question of this priestly authority when it comes to the priesthood of Jesus Christ? The author of Hebrews is at considerable pains to justify Jesus Christ as a high priest, and this justification demonstrates the importance of having a biblical warrant to claim such an office. In stark contrast to the Pharisees, who gained their positions by fraud, the author of Hebrews provides a clear and open defense of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The entirety of Hebrews 7 makes a series of arguments for the superiority of Jesus Christ as High Priest that are worth discussing in detail. For the sake of brevity, though, let us consider Hebrews 7:11-19 here: “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”
In stark contrast to the way that the Pharisees and their successors deny the importance of the priesthood and seek to claim religious authority as rabbis, the author of Hebrews takes considerable pains to note that claiming Jesus Christ to be a high priest is something that requires justification. Moreover, this justification must be done on biblical grounds, and it is done on the ground that the mysterious Melchizedek was higher in religious authority than Abraham, and so those who succeed Melchizedek as priests, like Jesus Christ, are higher in religious authority than those who succeeded Abraham, like his descendant Levi and the priesthood of Aaron that comes from that tribe. Not only this, but the immortality and moral perfection of Jesus Christ make Him a superior high priest to the corrupt mortals who served as the high priests of the second temple period.
Let us, as we close this part of our discussion, note the contrast between the approach of the Bible and the approach of the Pharisees as representing two different solutions to the problems of corrupt authorities in divinely authorized institutions. When we face the reality that there are corrupt authorities who gain legitimacy they do not deserve through their character and conduct in offices  we are faced with a choice. Do we trust that God will remove those authorities and let another take their offices who are more worthy of their position, as the author of Hebrews points out, or do we seek to disparage institutions that God had formed and wink and connive at treacherous and rebellious undermining of authority simply because those that hold authority are imperfect, while seeking to seize that power ourselves? And is a dispute over the offices of religious authority two thousand years ago relevant for our time? It is this question that we will turn to as we close our discussion on the usurpation of the Pharisees.
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