Today’s devotionals serves as background information to help you through the next few devotionals. I think it is important to look at the hierarchy and order of the religious leaders of the time of Jesus. The order is a little complex as the religious leaders were closely tied in with the government. There are many levels to the priesthood, and they are as follows…
- The High Priest – This is the head priest. Traditionally the office of high priest was a lifetime position although there were a few exceptions. He was the supreme religious leader of his people. He wore ornate clothes and symbols to distinguish him from other priests. He wore the Urim and Thummin which were used when seeking to learn God’s will for Israel. His most important duty was offering the sacrifice in the Holiest of Holies on the Day of Atonement for the nation of Israel. He was the “big boss man” and you didn’t want to get on his bad side.
- The Priests – These people served in various duties and functions within the Temple outside of Jerusalem. They would offer sacrifices, keep the candle wicks trimmed, and ensure the candles remained lit. They performed many of the custodial duties of the temple.
- The Levites – They were the lowest ranking officials in the Temple. They served as guards, policemen, door keepers, singers, musicians and servants of the temple.
- The Sanhedrin – They were the highest judicial body in the land of Israel. They controlled Jewish internal affairs under the watch of the Romans. The High Priest oversaw the Sanhedrin. They were like a Supreme Court of Chief Priests and elders in Jerusalem. They functioned as a court to decide major cases and interpret disputed points of law. They also oversaw Temple activities and had some policing powers under watch of the Roman government.
- The Pharisees – This group was made up of religious leaders. They were extremely accurate in all matters pertaining to the Laws of Moses. They held the law up high but held morality low. They were opposed to the Roman government, namely Antiochus Epiphanes who tried to annihilate the Jewish faith many years prior, and they weren’t so fond of the Sanhedrin. They were engaged in establishing oral traditions about how laws were obeyed, and they met in fellowship groups so they could control the teaching of most synagogues around the country. Their traditions are the source of what is known as Rabbinic Judaism. They were (but not all) enemies of Jesus.
- The Sadducees – These individuals were the upper-class Jews and not partial to the teachings of the Pharisees. They held that only the written word of the Books of Moses, The Pentateuch, were the only authoritative books. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They ceased to exist after the temple destruction in 70 A.D.