Prophet Jesus' Struggle
As we saw earlier, during Jesus' lifetime there were a number of Jewish sects, each of which interpreted religion in its own way. The Jews had strayed from the true religion brought by Moses, and therefore false beliefs and superstitious traditions had taken root. Furthermore, the pagan Hellenistic culture was being promoted and encouraged, and some Jewish sects had forsaken their monotheistic faith for the symbols and statues of this false belief.
Jesus was sent to his people as a guide, and so had to fight many groups to realize the ultimate goal of bringing his people back to God. We can deduce from the Holy Qur'an that he was providing guidance to people who were engaged in disputes over religion. From the New Testament, we gather that he primarily called upon false priests, those who denied God by ascribing partners to Him and who misled people by religious pretence, to abandon their wrongdoing and believe wholeheartedly in God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, who are often mentioned in the New Testament, are therefore of relevance in this respect. These two opposing sects agreed on one thing only: Their strong discontent with the revelation with which God had entrusted to Jesus for his people. According to Jesus' true religion, the Sadducees had gone astray because of their materialistic worldview, and the Pharisees were on the wrong path because they had lost their faith by getting bogged down in myths and pretence. These groups turned against Jesus as soon as they realized where they stood with him. God says in the Qur'an:
And when Jesus came with the Clear Signs, he said: "I have come to you with Wisdom and to clarify for you some of the things about which you have differed. Therefore, heed God and obey me." (Holy Qur'an, 43:63)
As both the Pharisees and the Sadducees had a vested interest in the existing system, and so would not obey Jesus. They had great authority over the Jewish people and, as priests, enjoyed great respect among them. The false religion that they had created had become an institution that was making them rich. They had entered into a close working relationship with the Roman governor, and the Sadducees in particular sought to reduce the tensions between Rome and the people of Judea, and thus were granted many privileges in return. Bearing these circumstances in mind, it becomes quite understandable why Jesus' teachings caused these priests such discomfort: Jesus, like all other Prophets, targeted the wrongness of the established order, which considered all kinds of evil legitimate. He wanted people to abandon injustice, unfairness, immorality, and idolatrous religious beliefs and to replace them with a life dedicated to serving God. He advised people to fear and love God in equal measures, to submit to Him, to distance themselves from superstitious rules and dogmatic practices, to worship God alone, and to turn only to Him for success in their undertakings. The miracles he performed by God's will showed clearly that he was a valued Prophet chosen above all people by God, Who supported him with power and superior knowledge. His depth of faith, high morality, superior awareness, and explanations full of insight were greatly admired by the people.
According to the New Testament, Jesus was teaching and rekindling people's faith at the same time by saying that deliverance was nigh for the people and that God's rule was imminent. Meanwhile, the news of his descent from David spread among the people, and the belief that he was the Messiah began to spread like wildfire (Matthew 9:27-35). All of this was disturbing news for those who had adopted the pagan culture introduced by Rome and the priests, who had a vested interest in the established order.
The New Testament says that these circles never missed an opportunity to hinder Jesus' message, but that they were disappointed each time. The priests became increasingly irritated by his subtle answers, which invalidated their claims, and also by his insightful teachings. His statements about them were their biggest concern, and this became one of the decisive factors that led them to scheme against him. According the Gospel of Luke, Jesus exposed their frauds to the public:
"Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Luke 20:46-47)
Some Jewish priests in the past had altered Torah's commandments and added new ones to serve their own interest. Jesus invalidated these false commandments in his quest to eradicate the erroneous traditions, myths, and man-made rules and laws that had, in effect, caused Moses' commandments to be ignored. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus specifically mentioned this to the Pharisees:
He replied [to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law]: "...You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. ...Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." (Mark 7:6-13)
The Pharisees believed that they had to pledge one-tenth of their income to God and abided by this rule. But it had become a tradition, whereas before it had been an act of worship. The Gospel of Luke records Jesus' reprimand:
"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it." (Luke 11:42-44)
"... And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them." (Luke 11:46)
"Woe to you experts in law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering." (Luke 11:52)
Such public warnings and the priests' public humiliation because of their immorality increased their hostility toward Jesus. According to Luke, the Pharisees and the religious scholars began to oppose him fiercely after Jesus said the words recorded above (Luke 11:53-54).
As the Qur'an also makes clear, Jesus called the Children of Israel to return to the Mosaic law and to believe in God wholeheartedly. The Gospel of Matthew and the Qur'an contain some strikingly similar words about the unbelievers, "They have hearts with which they do not understand. They have eyes with which they do not see. They have ears with which they do not hear" (Qur'an, 7:179). In the Gospel of Matthew, we read the following words that Jesus said about the Jews:
"You will be ever hearing but never understanding;you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused;they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." (Matthew 13:14-15)
Prophets fulfilled their God-given duty in the best possible way and used all of their resources and energy to invite their people to the path of guidance. Jesus displayed extraordinary patience in the face of all the conspiracies and attacks directed against him. He merely trusted in God and continued communicating His message and, even though he had only a few supporters, he defeated his opponents every time. He tried many things in order to return religion to its original purity, to rid it of all the myths and false practices that had entered it over time. Thanks to his God-given insight and superior understanding, he was a very effective public speaker and was able to give guiding examples.
Jesus called his people to worship God alone; brought the good news of the rule of religious morality; fought against false beliefs, myths, and idolatry; and explained that this worldly life is a test. He made every conceivable effort to correct his people's flawed sense of morality and was himself a role model of high character. However, these activities only made his enemies fiercer and led them to plot his death.