THE GOSPEL AGE OF FREEDOM
The most significant obstacle that faced Jesus during His earthly ministry was the “Jews’ religion” (Judaism) that was propagated by the Jewish religious leadership. It is impossible to understand the setting of the ministry of Jesus without understanding the nature of the religious world of Judaism in the first century. God used the misguided religiosity of the religious leaders of Israel to take Jesus to the cross and reveal the gospel. This occurred because the gospel of grace that Jesus brought into the world was entirely different from the legal system of religion that was promoted by the Jewish religious leaders. In defending their legal religiosity, the antagonism of the religious leaders against Jesus became so tense that they eventually schemed, and subsequently were successful in having Him crucified. All of this was in the eternal plan of God to bring the gospel into the world.
Jesus was sent forth into the world at a predetermined time. God knew that the religion of Israel would digress to a legal system of meritorious religiosity. Men have a tremendous urge to meritoriously self-sanctify themselves before God. This is exactly where the religious leaders of Israel had led the people. Jesus came this people at a time when this system of religion had developed to its fullest in Israel.
Israel’s digression into legalistic and institutional religion was no different from the thousands of similar religions throughout the world today. Therefore, when we study the confrontation of the religious leadership of Israel against Jesus throughout His ministry, we discover how the gospel conflicts with the religious world today that is built on the foundation of meritorious religiosity. Our study of Jesus’ ministry is our preparation for the conflict that we face when dealing with the religions of the world in which we live today. Jesus’ conflict with meritorious religion gives us an insight into how the religions of men conflict with the gospel.
Understanding this conflict begins by understanding that we were created religious beings. God created us with a spiritual yearning so that we “should seek the Lord” (At 17:27). Paul stated to the Athenians that the instinct of man should be that he would “grope for God” (At 17:27). Man is thus a religious being. Regardless of his selfish wanderings in order to satisfy the lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes and pride of life, he must eventually satisfy his religious cravings to worship God.