The Sadducees and Jesus: First-Century Power Players, Part 8

To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 8 of 10.

The Sadducees and Jesus

The Sadducees considered themselves devout Jews, though they had worked out an elaborate theology which permitted them to remain in active alliance with the pagans who ruled the land God had given the Jews. Their thinking went like this: God in his wisdom has separated himself from humans. Jews must remain devout and wait until God reinserts himself into the world.

The Scriptures foretold how this would happen in very precise terms: Elijah would be sent to earth to proclaim the Messiah’s arrival. Until this happened, until God acted, the Sadducees were free to make the best of a bad situation.

So Rome is in control? Fine. The Sadducees would make Rome their ally. In return, Rome’s governor would keep the Sadducees in control of the Sanhedrin. The Roman army would keep the oppressed Jew, in particular those pesky Pharisees and the troublemaking Zealots in Samaria and Galilee, in line.

The Romans used the Sanhedrin to keep a finger on the Jewish pulse. When the Zealots began making trouble in earnest, when so-called prophets preached about a kingdom other than Rome, the Sadducees on the ruling council told Rome about it. Anything that threatened Roman control also threatened the Sadducees’ hold on power. They used one another.

The Romans were utterly ruthless when it came to anything that threatened their power structure. On the other hand, the Romans were also masters at the art of compromise, playing one faction against the other. This is why the Romans insisted upon both Sadducees and Pharisees having places on the ruling council.

Even though the Sadducees were their allies and the Pharisees their foes, even though the Romans made sure the Sadducees held the upper hand on the council and controlled the Temple, the Pharisees played a very useful role: keeping the Sadducees from too much power. So long as both sat upon the Sanhedrin, they fought each other. So long as they were at odds, the council could not unite against the Romans. This tense and fractious balancing act lasted almost two hundred years.

Until that moment an obscure prophet entered the Judean stage and overturned the Roman power base. Alone save for a handful of disciples, armed only with his voice and with hands that reached out with miraculous power, Jesus changed everything.

When the Sadducee-controlled Sanhedrin came to Pilate and demanded the crucifixion of this pesky prophet, Pilate wanted no part of it. Yet he agreed.


Once this troublesome prophet was gone, Pilate thought, the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees would remain.

And what was more, they would owe him.

Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.

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Coming next: Back to the Pharisees

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