Teachings By Jesus

Cultural Limitation

Temple Guards

One vexing problem that Jesus faced as He began His teaching career was that much of what He intended to teach was directly subversive of Judaism. And at that time, to speak against the prevailing religion was at least theoretically a capital crime, so Jesus had to be careful about what He said. It is impossible to know now just how much of a problem this was for Him. We do know, though, that the problem existed, and we can see some of the ways that it affected His ministry, and some of the steps that He took to get around it.

The Gospels occasionally tell us, for example, that someone listening to Jesus has spoken up and charged Him with blasphemy in some instance or other, and that He has defended Himself. We also know that He developed various verbal tricks to obscure what He was teaching, and that if He had no need to hide His message from some of His listeners, He would have said some things differently, and more plainly. We know that crowds of His faithful followers tagged along wherever He went over days of time, while the Temple guards who were assigned to listen for His potential blasphemies would change fairly frequently, so He would break up His subversive messages and thereby escape their detection. Here are some of the verbal subterfuges that He used:


Jesus would tell obscure stories that had a faintly subversive spiritual message, and then He would explain the more subversive aspects of His messages in private and out of the hearing of the Temple’s spies.


Broken Messages

Jesus would give part of a message on one day, and then on a different day and with different Temple guards listening He would give the second part of that same message. For example, this is how He explained that there is no judgment. On one day He said, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23); and then on a later day, with different Temple guards listening, He said, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (JN 12:47).

Traditional Messages
with a Twist

Jesus would on occasion say something that sounded straight-on down the line consistent with the prevailing religion, but He would add His own learned twist to it. He had a good traditional Jewish education, and He seemed as time went on to become more open and creative about throwing the Old Testament prophets’ words back in the faces of the Jewish clergy. That was how we got statements like, “Why do you yourselves also break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘The one who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or mother.’ And by this you have invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you by saying: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. And in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (MT 15:3-9). When Jesus’s disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” Jesus answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone; they are blind guides of blind people. And if a person who is blind guides another who is blind, both will fall into a pit” (MT 15:13-14).

Jesus seems to have gotten to the point where He was almost careless about what He said in these situations, and He taunted the clergy outrageously, saying things like, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one convert; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves,”  “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the Temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the Temple is obligated” (MT 23:13-16). You can see why in the end the Jewish clergy could not wait to be rid of Jesus!