[Picture: 4th century synagogue at Capernaum]
The Pharisees get a bad rap. Jesus condemned them for their hypocrisy, and rightly of course.
But scholarship these days shows that of all Jewish groups in His day, Jesus had most in common theologically and culturally with the Pharisees. They rejected violence as the answer, against the Zealots. They rejected moral compromise with the culture, against the Sadduccees. And they rejected isolation from the culture, against the Essenes. They said you have to fight evil by obeying God's Word in the midst of society. The 2 greatest commandments for the Pharisee were loving God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Note Jesus' agreement with this in Mark 12:28-34.
The definition of a hypocrite is to SAY the right thing and DO the wrong thing. Do we remember often enough that the Pharisees were often saying all the right things? Even Jesus says to do what they SAY (Matthew 23:2-3).
Travelling in Israel, I learned that a primary center of Pharisaism (again, the GOOD kind as well as the bad) was Capernaum. A major school, big synagogue and population on a main road with lots of cultural interaction. Like Wheaton College in our day, you could say.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is all a setup. Now read Matthew 11:23.
"And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades..." because they didn't repent at the coming of Jesus.
Now for the shocker. My cross-references pointed me to Isaiah 14:13-15.
"You have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,...
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,...
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.'"
This is a judgment against Babylon, from which the Pharisees came out of exile, and also a reference to Satan's fall from heaven. Hmmm...
They say knowledge puffs up. It's needed to do the right thing in our lives. But it doesn't save us, either. For all their knowledge and understanding of how things should be, the Pharisees of Capernaum and other places didn't give allegiance to the King of Israel. They didn't acknowledge their sin before God. They didn't turn to the provided Savior. And in that, they are no better than (rather they are much like) Lucifer himself, who was once exalted, but through his pride in seeking to go higher, has been brought down to the Pit.
After all, even the demons "believe." The question is, which side are you on? Christians and demons both know the same, true story. But am I Frodo or Boromir? Peter or Edmund (early on)? Who am I working for?