How the Pharisees Missed their Messiah

So often, we miss when God is working in our lives. We’re so bogged down in the details that we fail to step back and see the bigger picture. This is especially true when our life doesn’t look like we expected it to or think it should. We fail to step outside of ourselves and see the divine intervention of God. We look back later on and see that it was staring straight into our face. “How did I not see that?” we marvel. Well, you aren’t the only one.

Over the past year, my church’s women’s Bible study has been digging through the gospel of Matthew. Verse by verse, we’ve examined God’s Word at multiple angles. We’ve marveled at how Jesus worked in the lives around him. Jesus overcame Satan’s temptation. Jesus taught mind boggling truths. Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. Jesus raised the dead. Jesus foretold what was to come; both in his time on earth and his second coming. One theme I grabbed onto is the fact that the religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducess, Herodians and scribes) and Jesus’s disciples missed what God was doing and would do through Jesus.

In this two part series, I will discuss how the Pharisees missed their messiah and how the disciples missed the depth of Jesus’s purpose and power.

How the Pharisees Missed their Messiah

I have pulled my hair out, wanting to scream at the religious leaders, “Your messiah is right there! Why can’t you see?” Time and time again they were so focused on trying to trick Jesus into breaking their man made laws that they missed their messiah.

 “One scholar, J. Barton Payne, has found as many as 574 verses in the Old Testament that somehow point to or describe or reference the coming Messiah. Alfred Edersheim found 456 Old Testament verses referring to the Messiah or His times. Conservatively, Jesus fulfilled at least 300 prophecies in His earthly ministry.” (gotquestions.com) Many have claimed to be the messiah since Jesus’s death and resurrection and many more will claim it before Christ’s return. None have come close to filling any prophecies, if they have fulfilled any at all. While Jesus’s earthly ministry has been over for about 2,000 years, we haven’t experienced his fulfillment of the prophecies of the end of the age. Some of these prophecies were in the religious leaders’ face, and yet they, even the scribes who were supposed to know every inch of scripture, missed every one of them.

Try as they might, the religious leaders were so busy trying to find something wrong with Jesus that they missed his divine nature. They even accused him of being one of Satan’s demons, casting out demons (yeah, it doesn’t make sense and Jesus quickly pointed out their folly). 

Man Made Law

One thing that you need to understand about the religious leaders is that they’ve added to the law God gave them through Moses. Not only did they watch to make sure they followed the law of Moses, but they also made sure the Jewish people followed additional laws made up over the years. Matthew 15 calls out their hypocrisy when they called the disciples out for washing their hands in the precise way the man made laws told them. It wasn’t that the disciples didn’t wash their hands, it’s that they didn’t do it in a certain way. My five year old son even thinks the hand washing rule is silly!

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,

    but their heart is far from me;

 in vain do they worship me,

    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Matthew 15:6-9

In  Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus meets a rich young ruler. He makes it clear that the ten commandments are the most important of God’s commandments. Additionally, he goes even further in Matthew 22:34-40, stating two commandments as being most important:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:37-39

If one follows those two commandments, all the others will fall in place.

Signs and Wonders

The thing that really confuses me about the religious leaders is that they see all of the healing and casting out of demons and yet they ask Jesus for a sign that he is the messiah. Isn’t raising people from the dead enough?

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

Matthew 16:1-4

Jesus Tells it to them Straight

If the prophecies aren’t enough, and signs and wonders aren’t enough, then surely Jesus’s word isn’t enough either. When asked who they thought the Christ was, they gave him an answer from scripture that surely pointed to Jesus. He posed a question back to them and they were quieted. 

And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 22:46

In Matthew 23, Jesus gave a sermon known as the Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees, where he put a mirror in front of the religious leaders, showing them the error of their ways. He called them hypocrites and carefully detailed why. Even then, right in their face, they missed God.

The religious leaders still didn’t have any evidence against Jesus, but as Satan does, they twisted his words and found a way. And that is how good Friday came to be.


The first prophecy of Jesus comes to us in Genesis 3:15. Over the course of more than 1500 years, Adam and Eve destroy man’s relationship with God, God shows his people how desperately they need him, he gives his people at least 456 prophesies about their messiah, and he sends us Jesus Christ. Jesus clearly fulfills God’s prophecies and yet, because they are so sure of their own laws and ideas about the messiah, the religious leaders clearly miss him. He didn’t fit in their box. Jesus performs signs and wonders that cannot be explained, and yet they missed him. Not only did they miss him, but they sent him to die. This, too, is fulfillment of prophecy, but how would you like to be the one responsible for Jesus’s death? 

Being on this side of Christ’s resurrection, it’s easy to say, “How could they miss it?!” If you are a follower of Christ, it seems like the signs of our Savior would be obvious. In part two of this series I will share how Jesus’s disciples, the men who walked most closely with him, also missed his great work.