Groups of people in Jesus’ time

November 3rd, 2010

When I was at Bible College one of the assignments I had to do was about the four main groups of people that were around when Jesus walked the earth. This was to give us an idea of what life was like at that time and to give us a context for Jesus’ words.

The four main groups we have to look at were the Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes and Zealots. Here’s a very brief rundown of each group…

Pharisees – very strict sect who followed the law of Moses and had over 600 laws to guide their daily lives. They spent a lot of time interpreting the laws and trying to apply them to their everyday lives. They believed Israel was a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation and thought that if all of Israel could keep the law for one day, then the Messiah would come. Jesus spoke out against them because they were more interested in keeping the law than showing compassion to those around them and looking good on the outside.

Saducees – they also followed the law of Moses but rejected many of the oral traditional laws that the Pharisees held. Their main focus was the Temple and Temple activities. They did not believe in an afterlife or future judgement. They believed that God did not intervene in the affairs of men and their motto was if it is to be, it is up to me. Because of this they survived by cooperating with the Roman authorities which gave them much power in the Jewish religion. To be a Saducee you must be of priestly heritage. The Saducees were the main teachers in the Temple.

Essenes – this group of people saw themselves as the only people who worshipped the true faith and that they were the true remnant of Israel. They believe all others had left the true teachings behind and the Temple had been corrupted. Because of this they separated themselves in their own communities and lived a very strict monastic lifestyle. They believed that God would come and judge the rest of the Jews and the world and vindicate their beliefs about God and true religion. They avoided all unnecessary contact with non-Essenes.

Zealots – they were part of the Jewish patriotic party and opposed the Roman occupation of the region at all costs. Their motto was we will have no king, but God. Their goal was a land truly free from Gentile defilement, just as God had originally intended according to them. They sometimes used violence to bring their cause to pass. Some of the community of Jews saw them as bandits, but they saw themselves freedom fighters.

The interesting thing about this assignment and it really helped me to understand life in New Testament times a little bit better. I thought I would share it so it would help you too.

God Bless,