The group was formed after the captivity. God’s people had learned their lesson--finally! Never again did they have a problem with idolatry, and the Pharisees were one reason for that. Their original intentions were as pure as they possibly could have been. Everything they did was with the sole purpose to prevent another apostasy.
Yes, but they became all about the rules, people say. Certainly it is wrong to be ALL about the rules. The rules are only half of it. That strict obedience has to come from the heart, as the prophets said over and over and over. The problem with people who say the Pharisees were ALL about the rules, is that they usually mean, they were all about the RULES, therefore following the rules is unimportant.
So let’s see what Jesus had to say about that.
"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you…Matt 23:2,3. He told them to follow the instructions of the Pharisees. Why? Because if anyone knew the Law, they did. How would you like for the Lord to say that about you? “Whatever he says, do it, because he knows what he is talking about.” I would be thrilled for such a testimonial, especially from him.
Jesus also said they were right to be picky about the details of the law. They “tithe mint, anise, and cumin,” and “these things [they] ought to have done…” Matt 23:23. They may have done other things wrong, but closely following God’s law was not one of them, at least not in Jesus’ opinion.
If being a Pharisee were wrong, why did Paul count it an asset? More than once he mentions being a Pharisee, and his careful following of the Law as a member of that sect, Acts 23:6; 26:4,5; Phil 3:5. There were many “good” Pharisees, among them Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and yes, even Paul, for the things he did were “in all good conscience,” as someone zealous for the Law of God. He would have been a hero in Old Testament Israel along the line of Phinehas in Num 25, and many New Testament Jews counted him as such before his conversion to Christianity. Other Pharisees were also converted, truly converted, not in pretense.
The Lord condemned many things about the Pharisees, among them hypocrisy, lack of mercy, wrong motivation, greed, spiritual blindness, and arrogance. He condemned them for placing their traditions, which were far stricter than the law, above the law, but he never once condemned them en masse for believing that the law should be carefully followed. Sometimes their focus was wrong. Sometimes they missed the whole point of a law. But they kept the law and Jesus plainly told the people to obey them. Keeping the law as closely as humanly possible cannot be wrong. In fact, logic says that since Jesus praised that specifically, then failing to do so would have been wrong.
So what would Jesus say about you? Would you be lumped in with the pious, humble, righteous Pharisees who carefully kept the Law of God in obedient faith out of a sincere heart, or would you be one who “left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy and faith,” who performed to be seen of men, and whose heart failed to match the mask he wore on the outside? Or would you just ignore the law altogether, using the unrighteous Pharisees as your excuse?
Be careful when you start condemning people as “nothing but a bunch of Pharisees.” Make sure Jesus would have agreed with you.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you… Matt 28:19,20.