Who were the Sadducees?

Daily life of Israel under Roman occupation was governed by a group of religious and political leaders known as the Sanhedrin. Rome allowed Israel to govern itself in many matters as long as they did not interfere wtih Rome’s laws or foster rebellion against the Empire. Like the American Congress today the Sanhedrin was comprised of men holding allegience with one of two ideological groups. The larger of the two groups was the Pharisees. They held a strict adherence to a broad reaching series of traditional laws that governed every part of daily living. The Pharisees endured the government of Rome but generally did little to cooperate with it.

The other group within the Sanhedrin was known as the Sadducees. The Sadducees were very different from the Pharisees in politics, theology and daily living. Sadducees were mostly wealthy men of the ruling class. They were fewer in number than the Pharisees, but they held the positions of leadership within the Sanhedrin. The Bible tells us that the High Priest in Jesus day was a Sadducee (Acts 5:17) and history indicates that most of the High Priests under the Roman occupation were Sadducees. As a result, the Sadducees were the more powerful of the two groups.

The greatest political disagreement between the groups was over the relationship of the Sanhedrin to civil government. This issue is believed to be one of the primary reasons the Sadducees split away from the Pharisees sometime around 150 BC. The Sadducees desired both political and religious authority, while the Pharisees taught that civil government and religious government should not be invested in the same individual.

Very little first hand information about the theological teachings of the Sadducees is available. History has not preserved any of their writings. What is known about their doctrine comes from a several references in the Bible, the writings of Josephus and a couple other Jewish works. The Sadducees held to the teachings of the Old Testament, particularly the writings of Moses, but rejected the authority of the traditions of the Pharisees. This caused great conflict with the Pharisees who believed the oral traditions to be as authoritative as Scripture. While the Sadducees adherence to Scripture alone appears laudable their rejection of the traditions of the Pharisees seems to have been driven by a refusal to follow the Pharisees rather than by a desire to obey God’s Word.

The Bible says the Sadducees rejected belief in the resurrection (Mark 12:18; Acts 23:8). The believed the soul died with the body and that there was no promise of a future resurrection, either to a kingdom on this earth or to a life in heaven. The Sadducees also denied the existence of a spiritual essence in man and of angelic beings. They appear to have been materialists who were most concerned with maintaining their own power and wealth. Their influence in Israel lasted a little over 200 years. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, so was their power. They fell off the pages of history in 70 AD and have not reappeared since.

Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?

The death of Jesus was entirely the plan of God. His death was not at all plan B but the eternal plan of God. Jesus did not come to earth and tried but failed so He had to go to the cross. The cross was always the plan of God. Jesus is the “Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.” As we think of this question, it is important to recognize that Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s plan.

Even though Jesus’ crucifixion was the eternal plan of God, there were those who nailed Jesus on the cross in disobedience to God. They were not accepting of God’s plan for salvation and striving to live in obedience to God. They were in rebellion against God. God holds those responsible who rebelled against Him and who in their rebellion conspired for Jesus’ destruction.

A huge body of people were directly involved in the conspiracy to kill Jesus. Judas Iscariot jumps to the forefront of the mind because of his betrayal. Judas was hired to betray Jesus by the ruling body of Israel, called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin tried Jesus and condemned Him, but they had no authority to put Jesus to death. The Jews were under Roman domination and so could not legally execute a prisoner. Only Rome could do that. The Sanhedrin had Jesus taken to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who attempted to pass the problem to the Roman governor of the next region over, Herod. Herod just wanted to see a magic trick. When Jesus refused to perform, Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate knew the injustice of the Jews schemes to have Jesus crucified and sought to have Him released. The Jews became very agitated and Pilate finally agreed with their demands. He brought out a basin of water and washed his hands in front of the Jewish leaders telling them he was not responsible for what happened to Jesus.

When Pilate washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person” the Jews willingly took the responsibility on themselves. They bear the responsibility for Jesus death. The Jews knew the promises of God. They knew the Word of God. They were waiting for their Messiah. They rejected God’s Word and God’s Savior and took on themselves the responsibility for their rebellion which sought Jesus’ crucifixion. When Pilate his hands before the Jews they said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25) The Jews said they would take responsibility for Jesus crucifixion.

This is borne out later in the Bible. After Jesus death, burial, resurrection and return to heaven, the apostles of Jesus began to preach to the Jews. The apostles preached of salvation, forgiveness and judgment. They preached to the nation the judgment for their rejection and execution of Jesus God’s Messiah. In Acts 5 the apostles were called up on charges before the Sanhedrin, the same group that a few months earlier had condemned Jesus to death. As they stood before the rulers of Israel Peter declared to the of “Jesus, whom ye slew and hung on a tree.” Peter and the apostles, under the direction of the Holy Spirit repeatedly declared it was the Jews who were responsible for Jesus death.

Even though it was Pontius Pilate who gave permission for Jesus death and it was the Roman soldiers who did the scourging, who took Jesus to Golgotha, who drove the nails through His flesh and hung him up on the cross, the responsibility falls on those Jews and their leaders who rejected Jesus. Jesus came to His own people. He was a Jew, a descendant of King David. Jesus came to bring salvation. The salvation He brought was not the salvation the Jews were wanting. They wanted deliverance from Rome and Jesus was bringing deliverance from sin. The Jews of that generation rejected their Messiah and their’s is the responsibility for refusing their promised Savior.