Sadducees were a Jewish sect in Judea during the Second Temple period. This sect controlled the priesthood and was highly involved in political responsibilities, like controlling the Sanhedrin. They were also fond of Roman Hellenistic thinking. This way of thinking brought order and structure into the sect.

Hellenistic thinking also brought up theological conversations and a new way of teaching The Torah. This separated the Sadducees from the Pharisees because they denied the oral traditional teaching of the time and relied on the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses) for teaching. They would also separate themselves from the beliefs of the Pharisees by denying the idea of predestination and the immortality of the soul.



Of the various religious Jewish groups or sects that came to be at the time of the New Testament, the Pharisees were arguably the most separated and distinct from the rest. In fact, the word “Pharisee” itself is thought to be from the Hebrew “perushim” meaning separatists, as many Pharisees were known to detach themselves from many such as those who interpreted the Law differently than they, as well as from Gentiles or Jews who embraced the Hellenistic culture or other foreign influences invading Judaism (Strauss, 132).

Thought to be descendants of the Hasidic Movement, the Pharisees emerged sometime after the Maccabean revolt (Strauss, 132). While the Sadducees possessed great political power, the Pharisees had a great support among the people who were primarily middle-class merchants and craftsman quite involved in synagogues. They believed in resurrection of the dead, the prophesied coming of the Messiah, as well as the afterlife.


Their extremely devout and strict attitude and approach they had to the to the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) is another main characteristic of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were experts on the Law, believing that the gift for interpreting the law, also known as oral law, had been given by God Himself along with the written law to Moses on Mount Sinai. According to the Pharisees, the written law could not be understood without the oral, and therefore the oral law was more important. This approach to the laws made holiness or sanctification possible outside of the temple through following the law.


In fear of infringing on any of these rules they found so important, the Jewish leaders would build a “fence around the law” by developing a system of rules and interpretations that would keep people as far from sin as possible (Strauss, 132). For example, if the law said not to work on the Sabbath day, they would make up volumes of rules that indicated exactly what actions constituted work.

While the New Testament paints a fairly negative picture of the hypocritical and legalistic nature of the Pharisees, this was not their intention. The Pharisees’ main goal was to live a life of “purity and obedience to God’s law” (Strauss, 133). However, they fell short in understanding the true beauty and promise of the Gospels and the love of God. Jesus’ main criticism with the Pharisees was not that they fought to uphold the Law, but that they failed to live out their beliefs in front of a watching world.


Messianic Expectation

Similar to the expectation modern Christians have of Jesus returning to Earth to fulfill the promises He made, there was a longing of first century Jews for the coming of a savior or “messiah.” This longing or hope was known as messianic expectation. The expectation was that this God-sent person would establish a kingdom or world here on Earth that is similar to the one in heaven.


When it comes to messianic expectations of the first century, the most popular messianic hope was for the Davidic Messiah (Strauss, 139). It was thought that this savior would come from David’s lineage and that this person would help defeat the enemies Israel was facing which would allow it to once again gain back it’s independence. Numerous references to the Davidic Messiah can be found in various books of the Bible such as Luke and also in some Old Testament books like 2 Samuel and Isaiah.


Although the thought of the Davidic Messiah was the most common, there were other groups of first century Jews who had differing thoughts about who this coming messiah would be. For example, the Sadducees were perfectly fine with the authority being held by the priests (Strauss, 140). Other groups of Jews at the time expected this savior to come as a person similar to Moses (Samaritans) or they expected two messiahs, one from David’s lineage and one from Aaron’s lineage (Qumran sectarians). Along with these differences, there were also differing thoughts regarding what the messianic figure would be like. Some groups thought that it would be a person a little more powerful than a typical king and others expected this figure to be more like a superhero. All in all, it was evident that there were multiple beliefs and opinions regarding messianic expectation that depended on the certain sect or group of first century Jews being examined.



Radicals: Zealots and other Revolutionaries

Intro on the Zealots

In first-century Israel there were many groups and revolutionaries, which were people who sought to bring about political or social change. A broad term for many of these groups was a zealot. A zealot is fairly similar to a revolutionary, except for their increased passion and belief in their cause. A zealot would typically then share their beliefs with others, and convince them to share their same feelings.


Social Bandits

Some of these revolutionary movements focused on a form of “social banditry”. These Social bandits were basically like a first-century Israel version of the hero, Robin Hood, who would steal from the rich and give to the poor. They would attack the elite and powerful upper classes within Israel, along with the Roman troops who protected them. From doing this they gained popular support from the poor and common people. Of course the Romans were not in favor of their practices, viewing them as just criminals.



Another of these Zealot like movements, was one called the “messianic”. They were given this title due to their political aims to overthrow the Roman rulers. From that they would then establish an independent Jewish state. The people originally believed that the messiah would be one who would come and overthrow the Roman rule and oppression, so that is where the name messiah came from.



Prophetic Zealots were people who gained support of the people by proclaiming that God was planing on delivering Israel soon. These movements often had one central leader.There was one movement which held similar beliefs to the Pharisees but they believed in no other leadership than God.



The Sicarii were a dangerous and deadly group. They would kill people in broad day light. They would carry concealed daggers and stab roman sympathizers in crowded areas. after killing someone they would quickly re-conceal their weapon and blend back in with the crowed and leave unnoticed.


Zealots in the Bible

Zealots are mentioned in the the new testament. Acts talks about a man named Theudas who lead a group of 400 but who was killed. It also talks about someone named Judas the Galilean. Judas the one who tried to overthrow the romans claiming that only God could be the leader of Israel. Also in the book of Acts there is a spot that mentions and Egyptian who lead a group of 4000 into the wilderness. Barabbas the one the people freed instead of Jesus was likely a Zealot. The same greek word used to describe Barabbas is used for the two criminals next to Jesus. They very well could have been Zealot like people as well.




Definition: Jewish movement beginning in the second century BC which looked to God’s imminent intervention in history to judge the wicked and reward the righteous.

Origin: Greek word for apokalypsis, meaning “revelation”


The apocalypse or the book of Revelation was written to encourage God’s people to preserve in the face of extreme adversity. In some apocalyptic works God alone appears as the deliver and in others agents of God intervenes (angles or Messiah). Imagery found comes from the Old Testament prophetic eschatology of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah and Daniel. (Strauss, pg.138)


Apocalypticism contains symbolic, bizarre imagery describing the times and leading up to the end. Olivet Discourse (Mark 13, par.) and the book of Revelation have apocalyptic imagery. Christian apocalypticism is achieved in the past, worked out in the present and completed in the future (different than Jewish apcolypticism). (Strauss, pg.139)


The interior of a fourth or fifth century synagogue in Capernaum in Galilee. The foundation walls that were excavated under the synagogue may have been part of the synagogue in which Jesus preached. (Strauss, 129)

Synagogues were Jewish meeting places for worship, education, and community gatherings. The origin of the synagogue is unknown but probably goes back to the Babylonian exile, after the temple of Solomon was destroyed and the sacrificial system ceased. (Strauss, 129)

During the second temple period, the synagogue and the temple both functioned as institutions for Jewish worship. All it took was ten Jewish males to be present, and a synagogue could be formed. The synagogues usually had a large room for prayer, and other smaller rooms for study or even a separate room for Torah study. There is no set blueprint for a synagogue, but all of them at least a at a table for the Torah to be read, and a desk for the leader to preach.


Synagogue Worship

The oldest accounts of synagogue service appear in Luke 4:14-30 and Acts 13:14-48. According to rabbinic sources, there was a relatively fixed order of service which includes prayers, readings from the Law of the Prophets, a paraphrase of the scripture reading called an oral Targum, a sermon on the text for the day, a closing benediction, and the recitation of the confession of faith known as the Shema. (Strauss, 130)


The Shema: Hear, O Isreal: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength… (Strauss, 130)

The Shema is the most important confession of faith in Judaism. Every Jewish male was required to utter it twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Shema in Hebrew means “hear”, the word which begins the confession (Strauss, 130). It’s traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words before they die, and for parents to teach their children to say it every night before they go to bed.

The synagogue ruler maintained the synagogue and organized the worship services. He was assisted by an attendant, called the hazzan, who took care of the scripture scrolls and blew the ram’s horn to announce the beginning and end of the service. (Strauss, 130)

All in all,  since Judaism was becoming more widespread, not everyone could come to the temple in Jerusalem, so communities formed in synagogues allowing them to worship and pray.




The Essenes were similar to the Pharisees, but different in the fact that they were more separatist. The Qumran community, whom made the Dead Sea Scrolls, were believed to be Essenes. This community came about when a group of priests descended from Zadok withdrew from Jerusalem priesthood and moved near the Dead Sea. The withdrawal was because of the opposition to the Hasmonean priest-kings, who they viewed as “illegitimate”. Over the years the Essenes had developed their own legal code that was highly important to them. Part of this code involved Image result for essenesanimal sacrifice. They did not offer up animal sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem because they referred to the temple as “polluted by a corrupt priesthood” (Strauss, 135).

The Essenes were also apocalyptic in their beliefs, and they viewed themselves as the “True Israel”, enduring the end of the age. They interpreted scripture in a way that was relevant to their lives. They believed that God would come to bring them up with Him to fight alongside God’s angels in a war against the Romans. They were expecting two Messiahs to come at that time. The first was a military messiah from the line of David and the second a priesthood messiah from the line of Aaron.  The Qumran/Essenes were strong rooted, but were eventually destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-73 (Strauss, 135).


Mobile Temples

In the beginning of all things temple there were Tabernacles. Tabernacles were first introduced in Exodus after Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. The tabernacle was used to house the Ark of the Covenant during the exodus from Egypt. The tabernacle was the portable House of God for the Israelites. Later the Israelites built a permanent Temple in Jerusalem. (Strauss, 126)



One Temple for One God

The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Israel’s religious life. The book of Deuteronomy says this is the only place where sacrifices may be given. (Strauss, 125) It was more than just a place of sacrifices. It was also the center for judicial, religious, and community life. The temple was used for worship, choir, festivals and sessions for the Jewish high court were held here. (Strauss, 127-128)

The first Jerusalem temple was built by king Solomon. That temple however was later burned down by the Babylonians in 587 BC. A second temple was by Zerubbabel and greatly expanded by Herod the Great. It was considered one of the most magnificent buildings of the ancient world. The beauty and layout of the temple were meant to reflect the holiness and majesty of God. (Strauss, 126)

Image result for jerusalem ancient temple

The temple was built with a series of concentric courtyards that were exclusive to certain groups. Non-Jews were not aloud to pass the outer Court of the Gentiles. Next was the Court of Women which was for all Israelites. After the Court of Women came the Court of Israel. Only ritually pure males were aloud in the Court of Israel. The deepest point of the temple was the Court of Priests for priests only. Priests offered daily burnt sacrifices upon the alter. (Strauss, 126)

The temple was divided into two chambers. The first was the Holy Place. The Holy Place contained a golden lamp stand, the table of consecrated bread, and the altar of incense. Twice a day priests would enter here to burn incense. The second chamber was the inner Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is considered the most sacred place in Judaism. This chamber was entered once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. (Strauss, 127)