Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

February 10, 1898

Christ and the Pharisees

“And when He was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto Him as He was teaching, and said, By what authority doest Thou these things? and who gave Thee this authority? This took place soon after Christ had driven from the temple those that were defiling it by unholy traffic. At that time divinity had flashed through humanity. Christ had said, “Take these things hence.” “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves;” and the priests and rulers fled as if pursued by an armed band of soldiers, or by the presence of an offended God.

After fleeing thus, they saw no marks of divine judgment upon them, and they felt ashamed of their hasty retreat at the command of a humble Galilean. What could they answer to those who would inquire why they had fled? We will return, they said, and resume our position in the temple. We will challenge this Man as to His authority. But the very fact that they had fled from Him was sufficient evidence of His divinity.

Now they came to Christ with the question, “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave Thee this authority?” They hoped that He would say something that they could construe for the advancement of their evil work. But Christ made His reply conditionally on their answering a question He put to them. “The baptism of John, whence was it?” He asked, “from heaven, or of men?”

The priests saw that they were in a dilemma from which no sophistry could extricate them. If they said that John's baptism was from heaven, their inconsistency would be made apparent. Christ would say, Why then have you not believed on John? After the baptism of Christ, John had seen the glory of God, like a dove of burnished gold, resting upon Him, while the voice of the Infinite One proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And John had testified of Christ, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Why, then, if the Pharisees believed on John, did they deny the Messiahship of Christ?

If the Pharisees stated their true belief, and affirmed John's baptism to have been of men, the wrath of the people would be turned against them, instead of against Christ; for they believed John to be a prophet.

With intense interest the multitude waited to hear the decision of the Pharisees. Hypocritically professing ignorance, they said, “We can not tell.” “Neither tell I you,” said Christ, “by what authority I do these things.”

The Pharisees were silenced. Baffled and disappointed, they stood with lowering brows, not daring to press further questions upon Christ, while the people stood by, amused to see these proud, self-righteous men defeated.

Christ's purpose was not to humiliate His opponents. He did not wish to give the impression that He was glad to see them in a hard place. He had an important lesson to teach. He had mortified His enemies by allowing them to become entangled in the net they had spread for Him. Their acknowledged ignorance in regard to the character of John's baptism gave Him an opportunity to speak, and He improved the opportunity by presenting before them their true position, adding another warning to the many already given. It was His custom to let circumstances furnish opportunity for His lessons.

“What think ye?” He said. “A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir; and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”

The priests and rulers could not but give a correct answer to Christ's questions; and thus He obtained their opinion in favor of the first son. This son represented the publicans, those who were despised and hated by the Pharisees, who held no intercourse with them. The publicans were grossly immoral. They were indeed transgressors of the law of God, showing in their lives an absolute resistance to His requirements. They were unthankful and unholy, and when told to go and work in the Lord's vineyard, they gave a contemptuous refusal. But appearances are deceiving. Christ did not judge from appearances, but from the fruit borne. When John came, preaching repentance and baptism, the publicans received His message and were baptized.

The second son represented the leading men of the Jewish nation. Some of the Pharisees had repented and received the baptism of John, but the leaders among them would not acknowledge that He came from God. His warning and denunciation did not lead them to make amendment. They “rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of Him.” They treated His message with disdain. Like the second son, who, when called, said, “I go, sir,” but went not, the Pharisees professed obedience, but acted disobedience.

The priests and elders made great professions of piety. They claimed to be looking eagerly for the promised Messiah, and apparently they were waiting with anxious expectancy for the call to the great supper, when they would immediately go in. They were proclaiming everywhere the great events that were to take place when the King of the Jews should come. They boasted constantly of how He was to conquer their enemies, and set up His own kingdom. But they applied to His first advent the prophecies relating to His second coming, and when He did come, they knew Him not.

They claimed to be obeying the law of God, but they were so exacting in their requirements that they made it impossible for any one to keep it. They themselves were constantly disobeying it. The law is holy, just, and good, but the Jewish leaders only rendered it a false obedience.

Before the Pharisees, Christ, who knew their hearts, held up their religious pretensions as God viewed them. He stripped from them their robe of apparent righteousness, laying bare their hypocrisy. The very people they despised and ignored believed in John. His preaching sent conviction to their hearts, and showed them the sinfulness of sin. And, altho at first they refused to obey the call, “Go, work today in My vineyard,” yet when John's words fell upon their ears, calling them to repentance, they received his message. They had before made no profession of obedience, but after they heard his words, they saw their error, repented of their neglect, and obeyed. They were denounced and cursed by the Pharisees as infidels, but they showed by their faith and works that they were going into the kingdom of heaven before the self-righteous Pharisees, who had been given great light, but whose works did not correspond to their profession.

Mrs. E. G. White

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