In our previous discussions about the usurpation of the priestly roles by the Pharisees during the Second Temple period , we discussed both the manifest failures of the Aaronic priesthood during that time period as well as the different solutions to that failure on the part of authority. Those who were critical towards the corruption of the priestly elite and their Hellenism were faced with two options. As they were by the accident of birth prevented from becoming part of that elite themselves, they either had to trust that God would intervene, as He did by destroying the temple and making its priesthood irrelevant, or they had to inveigle themselves into positions of authority that would destroy the institution of the priesthood as the Pharisees did. We have seen that the opinion of the Bible towards the behavior of the Pharisees is distinctly negative and is compared to the way that Jeroboam corrupted religion by appointing whoever wanted to be a religious authority as one, and we have seen that the author of Hebrews is at considerable pains to point out that Jesus Christ as a high priest is not contrary to the Bible when taken as a whole even if it is contrary to the traditions of the time. What relevance does this issue have for us, though?
The failure of institutions and authorities in our contemporary world is well known. Wherever one looks, one finds institutions that claim a great deal of power that are ruled by people who are either known or widely believed to be corrupt. Our political leadership somehow manages to generally stay in office despite a lack of trust and respect. Our religious leadership is regularly considered to be at the level of corrupt hirelings or wicked shepherds . Likewise, the power of husbands and fathers as well as parents in general has been eroded through wicked societal trends as well as the frequent and lamentable failures of those authorities through neglect and abuse. Like the Jews and godfearers of the Second Temple period, we too are faced with a choice as to whether we will trust God to sort things out when it comes to authority or whether we will take matters in our own hands by holding imperfect leaders in contempt and seeking to supplant them as authorities by building alternative institutions with ourselves as authorities.
I will freely admit that this is an area I personally struggle with. My own personal experiences with authority have frequently been tinged with considerable awkwardness and suspicion, and I am admittedly not the easiest person to keep in line. Likewise, as a prolific blogger and voracious reader, I have perhaps more ability than most people at reaching a large audience of mostly appreciative readers, all things that can boost the ego. I have witnessed division within families as a result of the combination of failures on the part of leaders and an unwillingness to respect authority on the part of others, and also witnessed the division that can come to congregations and churches as a result of a misguided belief that authorities were heading towards doctrinal heresy and an unwillingness to accept that God is in charge. I have also witnessed how difficult it is for decent if imperfect people to gain the trust of those who are suspicious and for whom every action is merely a confirmation of one’s worst fears.
We might think that an examination of second Temple Judaism is an obscure and arcane subject of no contemporary relevance, but there are a great deal of important connections between that time and our own. For one, there was a widespread failure on the part of religious and political leadership that wanted to be viewed as benefactors but behaved in such a corrupt manner that much moral authority was wasted, leading to the proliferation of rival authorities and civil disobedience and rebellion as well as sects with their own self-appointed religious leadership. Society seemed in flux and apocalyptic hopes and fears as well as a rise of populist leaders seeking to pander to the fears and concerns of a populace that felt under siege from foreign enemies as well as domestic elites were present. Institutions like the family were under assault as well because of the proliferation of easy divorce and rampant immorality. Even language and culture seemed coarser than the noble ages of centuries before and philosophy offered few answers except either a search for pleasure or a fatalistic acceptance of life’s miseries. We see these tendencies when we look at life in world of two thousand years ago and for all of our technology, we see a similar picture when we look at the world around us today. The question is: what are we going to do about it? We have the choice as to how we will respond to the fragile nature of authority and institutional legitimacy in the present day, and it is up to us to choose which path to follow in response to the ruins around us. What will we decide to do?
 See, for example:
 See, for example: