The religious kingdom. Concerning the “kingdom” of the Jewish leaders, Jesus’ confrontation was the harsher side of truth. It was this kingdom that provoked His greatest passion and garnered His deepest indignation. This is somewhat surprising – and illuminating.It is surprising in the fact that these Jewish leaders were the moral stalwarts of society. When it came to issues of observable morality and righteousness, the Jewish leaders set the standard. Of all people on this earth, it would seem that these would be the people who would be the most pleasing to God. But, through the words and actions of Jesus, we see that this was definitely not the case.
It is illuminating in the fact that Jesus was so often observed in direct disagreement with most of what these leaders did – in spite of their apparent “right standing” with God. This tells us a great deal about how God is unimpressed by moral piety that does not resonate from a heart desiring to lovingly please God, and willingly serve others. In this, we discover that righteousness is not really right actions – it is actions that imitate and exhibit God’s own character, from a heart in love with God.
So why was Jesus so confrontational with the Jewish leaders?
It was because they had been entrusted with upholding the truth and the purpose of being God’s people. They were assigned the responsibility of perpetuating the spirit of the Law, of portraying God’s nature accurately, and of keeping the heart of God ever before the people who were under their charge. At this, they failed miserably.
Through their actions and their leadership, they turned the One True God into a false god, by making Him out to be a god intent only on enforcing a plethora of moral obligations. They used the Law to beat God’s people into submission and to coerce the people’s obedience (often to seek their own personal “honor” and benefit; see Matthew 23:2-7!). Their offense was even greater because they virtually controlled the life (and religious practice) of every person within the Jewish community and culture. To be “Jewish” came to mean that you were required to “play the game” by the leaders’ demanding rules – or face the consequences of being an outcast from your own people.
It was primarily this system, and this kingdom, that The Christ came to confront… and to be the catalyst for conflict and division. In the Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim, the rules of the King are not meant to enslave subjects to the tiniest nuances of the Law, but to provide an enlightening guide into all the things which please God, and to provide revelation and insight into God’s Own heart and character.
The Jewish Leaders were so diligently dedicated to the Law of God that they had actually lost sight of the God Who gave them the Law. They had become blind to the One Whom they thought they were seeing so clearly (Matthew 15:12-14; 23:16-26). It should be no surprise that Jesus’ harshest words and actions were directed toward those who should have known better (see Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; John 2:13-17). In Jesus, we are seeing The One Who is Truth taking the battle to everything that is religiously false, hypocritical, and misleading.
The Kingdom of God is the proverbial line drawn in the sand. In Jesus’ day, those who would cross that line, and come to The Savior, would find themselves chastised, ridiculed, and outcast to most of what they had previously known and embraced. Jesus came to draw that line, and to be the One waiting with open arms on the other side.