Study Guide

The Jewish Leaders in Gospel of Luke

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The Jewish Leaders

Good stories need good villains. Voldemort. Sauron. The Trunchbull. You know the type.

Sure, villains run the risk of being flat characters, but the gain is excitement we moral creatures get out of it. Even Shakespeare would agree.

Cue Evil Laughter

In the Gospel of Luke, the classic role of villain belongs to the Jewish leaders—also known as Pharisees, lawyers, scribes, chief priests, Sadducees, and other "leaders" (19:47; 23:13, 35). They oppose Jesus from the outset (6:11), are always grumbling about him under their breath (5:30; 15:2; 19:7), and in general are looking to utterly crush him (11:53-54; 19:47-48; 22:3-6).

The feeling is mutual. Jesus says these guys are totally corrupted by greed, love of money, and desire for honors (11:37-53; 16:14; 19:45-21:4) and that they're the most pretentious prigs around (18:9-14).

On the surface, it seems like the leaders come out victorious. But Jesus has something else to say about the situation. According to J-Man, Jerusalem will be destroyed (13:34-35; 19:41-42; 20:16; 21:6), and the leaders will be removed from power (20:16). So their success in getting Jesus's death is, for Luke, only temporary. Looks like the Good Guys will take it in the end, after all.

Flattening Out

It's not hard to see that Luke paints the religious leaders with pretty large strokes of the brush. Unlike the disciples—who, granted, aren't the brightest crayons in the box—we see very little complexity or development for these guys. That means we have to be careful not to identify the Jewish leaders of this story with the historical figures. It's kind of impossible for real people to be flat characters, after all.

Plus, Luke does at least try to indicate that not all of the Jewish leaders are so bad. Examples?

  • The Jewish elders in Capernaum who advocate on behalf of Jairus (7:3).
  • The Pharisees who keep inviting Jesus to dinner (even if it usually does end badly) (7:36; 11:37; 14:1)
  • The Pharisees who warn Jesus of Herod's desire to kill him (13:31-33)
  • Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council that decreed Jesus be killed (22:66-71), who is described as a "good and just man" (23:50)

So keep your eye out for the Anakin behind these Darth Vaders. Just don't hold your breath.

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