There Will Be False Teachers: The Sadducees – Luke 1:8-25
“There Will Be False Teachers: The Sadducees” Luke 1:8-25 Senior Pastor, Robert Dennison, preached this message on January 21, 2024.
These were the Jewish aristocrats of their day, known as much for their wealth and corruption as for their religious devotion. These were the chief priests. These were the leaders that were the majority in the Sanhedrin that led over the Jewish people.
What we find about them is they were a religious faction, meaning they weren’t the only priests. There were also priests that were Pharisees. There were also priests that were Essenes. They all read the same Bible, the same Old Testament, but they were like different denominations. They had different interpretations and practices of that.
But keep in mind, the Sadducees were the high priests. They were in charge of the temple. So this day when Zechariah was there, all the high priests, the Sadducees, were aware of what was going on. They were watching And it was to them that they should have seen that what Zechariah heard was an announcement that the Messiah was coming. In the Old Testament, you have to also understand that Israel was a theocracy, meaning that their religion and their government were one and the same.
If you needed religious teaching, you went to the priest, you went to the temple. If you had a problem with your neighbor over boundary lines, or you felt like they had done something to harm you, you didn’t go to the government, you went to the temple, you went to the priest, and they settled everything. And so in this time, Rome was ruling over everything, but they were allowing the Sadducees to still be having this control over the Jewish people.
So they were a religious faction, but they weren’t very well liked because their benefactors were the enemy. It’s because the Sadducees were some of the wealthiest people. When they’ve excavated the homes of Sadducees in this area from this period, they had the most opulent homes.
But in their midst, there was a great deal of corruption. Jesus cast out the money changers in the temple. Who was in charge of the temple?
The Sadducees were, because they were involved in gaining riches there. But still in the midst of their wealth and corruption and being involved with the enemy, they had a very strong religious devotion to them. You know, in modern terms, it would be as if our church was also the place that people came to solve problems that they would normally go to the courts. So these men had a great deal of power. They also had some practices that were unusual and different.
There were four of them that I want to point out today, that they considered what they were doing to be a profession. In other words, they were professional priests. They had lost the idea that we’re doing this as a ministry to people. And as we look at the Sadducees today, we need to understand that the way they were behaving is the same way that false teachers lead their lives in our midst today. That there are many that they are in what they call the ministry, but they’re doing it as a profession, as just a job.
The Sadducees also weren’t so concerned about God, but they were most concerned about themselves. So whatever happened in town, whatever happened in the temple, as long as it didn’t keep them from making money and didn’t threaten to remove them from their work, then they were okay with it. But when Jesus came along, what he was preaching and he was teaching was a threat to their jobs. They were looking out for self, but not God. They did their work or their job at the temple for compensation, not out of obedience, not out of seeking a reward from the Lord.
But they were also concerned with the performance and activity, but not people in the heart. In other words, they made sure the sacrifices were done at exactly the right time. The sacrifices were done in the right way. The temple was run according to the first five books in the Old Testament, but they weren’t interested in the people that they were supposed to be serving. They weren’t interested in people having changed hearts.
And so it was the Sadducees were not very popular with the people. The Pharisees were the ones that the people looked more to, or the Essenes if they went out into the wilderness. But the Sadducees were not well liked. So in today’s vernacular, this would be a pastor that sees his work as a profession, but not a ministry. It would be a pastor or a teacher who is working to benefit themselves instead of working for God.
They’re going to consider their compensation instead of obedience to God and the reward, the reason to be a pastor. And they’re going to emphasize doing things, the performance and the activity of ministry, instead of being concerned about the individual people and their congregation and their heart. A person with this mindset would cease to be a pastor if there’s no longer a means for them to make any money as being a pastor or a teacher in the religious realm. And so it was with the Sadducees. When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, they were out of a job.
And within three years, by 73 AD, there is no longer any mention of any Sadducees being anywhere. They didn’t leave any writings about their teachings because they were just living for the day, to be in power, to have prestige, and to be wealthy. What were some of their doctrines? We’re going to look at five doctrines that they had today that are similar to what Satan is trying to teach in the world today. And we’re going to see, when we go back to the text, how God was displaying to them that each of these views that they had about God and His Word were wrong.
The first doctrine that we’re going to look at is they believed in selective emphasis of God’s Word. In other words, they only had certain books of the Bible that they focused on, and those were what we call the Torah, the books of Moses. We know them as the first five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They were only concerned with those five books. They weren’t concerned with the prophets that told about the coming Messiah.
They weren’t concerned about the Psalms that showed the heart relationship that believers have with God. The second thing is that they believed in is unrestrained free will. And what this says is that God has no role in our lives. What happens to us on this earth and this life, it’s all up to us. Our destiny is in our hands.
God is not a personal being. The third thing that they believed in is a rejection of the supernatural. They didn’t believe in demons. They didn’t believe in angels. Therefore, they didn’t believe in heaven.
They didn’t believe in hell, because after this life, nothing was going to happen. They also had an emphasis on ritual external purity. They made sure that their hands were clean when they came to do the sacrifice. They made sure that the temple was all in order. But they weren’t concerned about what was going on in their heart.
They weren’t concerned with their attitudes and what was most important to the Lord. And the last thing that they believed in was they had a rejection of a resurrection and life after death. Once again, you lived and that was it. You know, this is the basic philosophy of much of the world today. The first thing is that people, if they believe in the Bible, tend to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to believe.
They’ll read one thing, oh yes, that’s about the love of God, and I like that, and I believe that. But then when they read about his justice and his judgment, they’re like, well, I don’t like that God, so I’m not going to even pay attention to that. In the same way when it says, you’re supposed to do something, and they think, yes, I want to do that, but then scripture commands something else, and they’re like, no, I don’t want to do that. People pick and choose. And so what was with the Sadducees, they only went by the first five books.
The second thing is that people today don’t believe God, if he does exist, has any concern or control over us. Some people will say, yes, God created the world, but he just left us here. He doesn’t care about us, he’s not involved in my daily life. The third thing is that many people say there’s really no heaven, there’s no hell, there’s no Satan, there are no demons, there are no angels, because they believe that after they die, this is all there is. The fourth thing is, people tend to think, you know, what people see me do is all that really matters, because I don’t have to be concerned about my heart.
I don’t have to be concerned about what I do in private. I can do anything there because nobody sees. They don’t acknowledge that God is watching. And the last thing, many people again reject resurrection and life after death. They say there is not life after death, so I don’t have to be concerned about that.
I can live the way I want to. So how does this live out in the lives of people today? How did it live out for the Sadducees? Well, they adhered strictly to the Torah, they neglected the prophets and other books, they didn’t have a personal relationship with God. As God, they just said he lives separated from them and he was uninvolved in their lives.
They said there is nothing outside our physical world other than God that should concern us. We should only focus on this life because there is nothing after it. We should enjoy it as much as possible, pursuing power, prestige, pleasure, and wealth.
And we’re going to follow the law exactly as long as it maintains our jobs as priests. And we have no need to be concerned with, we don’t have to have any fear how our present lives are going to affect our eternal life after death. All of these things, Satan continues to try to bring them into the church and into the world. Jesus had a not-so-friendly relationship with the Sadducees. We read in Matthew 16, 4.
Let me begin reading in verse 1. The Pharisees and Sadducees approached and tested him as asking him to show them a sign from heaven. And he replied, when evening comes, you say, it will be good weather because the sky is red. And in the morning, today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening. Jesus told them, you know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times.
In other words, these religious leaders, they knew how to tell what the weather was going to be, but they didn’t understand God’s Word and that the Messiah had come. Therefore, Jesus says that they’re evil, and he says they’re adulterous. They’re a generation that’s demanding a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. And he’s referring to his death, burial, and resurrection. He will be in the grave for three days and arise just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and came back.
Religious leaders, described as evil, described as adulterous, they were false teachers in the world of Jesus’ time. And Jesus warned his disciples in Matthew 16, 11, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Leaven referring to the sin that they taught, because it’s like yeast. You put a little bit in it, and it continues to grow and to grow, even if it sneaks in in a small amount. You know, what we’re trying to get at today is that the battleground for truth in Jesus’ day, it was in the temple among the religious leaders.
It wasn’t out in the Roman world, and so it is today. The battleground for truth, it’s not in the world. It is in the, what’s the word there? It’s in the church. And that’s where we need to be concerned about to make sure that we are teaching all of God’s Word, and we’re teaching it accurately.
Let’s go back to the text in verse 5, and we’re gonna begin seeing how what happened here in the temple is a refutation of what the Pharisees, I mean the Sadducees, were teaching. It tells us there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. When his division was on duty, and he was serving as priest before God, it happened that he was chosen by lot according to the custom of the priesthood.
King David had divided all the priests into different groups, so that they only had to come to Jerusalem and serve twice a year, one week each time. You could say, well they didn’t work the rest of the year. No, they did. Back in all the communities, they were supposed to be there teaching the Word. They were supposed to be telling people the Messiah is coming, and so we have Zechariah.
It’s one of his weeks to be there, and there were so many priests that came. Not all of them could offer one of the two sacrifices that day, and not all of them could offer the incense those two times that day, so they cast lots to determine. And so it was here in the very sanctuary of the Lord, in the very building that the Sadducees are overseeing, Zechariah was chosen that day to go in and to burn incense on the altar. And it was at the hour of incense. The whole assembly of the people was praying outside.
There was this large group of people, and while he was there, an angel of the Lord appeared to him standing to the rights of the altar of incense. And what I wanted to point out to you again is just to see that God is proclaiming that his Messiah is coming right here in the very midst of the religion of Israel, where all the Sadducees should have seen it and understood. If you look at the picture up here we have of the temple, just to make sure you understand, he’s not in the temple mount, he’s not in that smaller area, but he’s just right in front of the Holy of Holies, where that altar of incense was. And while Zechariah was standing there, the angel appeared to his right. And outside, there were all of these witnesses.
They couldn’t see what happened, but when he came out and he couldn’t speak, and he played this great game of charades, they understood that he was the Messiah. And they understood that he was the Messiah. 400 years since God had sent anyone to his people to reveal anything to them, so after 400 years of silence, all the times that they went into the temple, no one had seen, no one had heard anything, but God chose to reveal himself again there in the midst of the religion of Israel, where all of the teachers of Israel could see. We’re proclaiming that John is coming as a forebearer of the Messiah. The battleground for truth is not in the world, it is in the church as it was in the temple among the priests, so it’s in the church today.
Matthew 7, 15, Jesus gave this warning, be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravaging wolves. Jesus said they’re going to come in, they’re going to look just like you, they’re going to look like prophets, they’re going to act like prophets, but they’re going to deceive you. In 2 Corinthians 11, for such people are false apostles, they’re deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, so it is no great surprise if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, their end will be according to their works. So the warning here is they’re going to look like apostles, they’re going to come as teachers in the church, but not all of them are going to be teachers, they’re going to be some that are workers.
Maybe not teaching directly, but they’re doing lots of good things around the church and within it, but their intent is to bring false doctrine in. And just as Satan disguised himself in the Garden of Eden to be a serpent that didn’t cause any fear for Eve, so it is these men, women, anybody that comes in, they’re going to pretend to be servants of righteousness. And if we’re not on guard, if we’re not following God’s word, we’re going to miss that what they’re saying is not true.
Second Peters 2, 1 through 3, there were false teachers in the Old Testament, there were false teachers in the New Testament, there are false teachers today, there are going to be false teachers in the future. Peter says, there were indeed false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers, and they’re not outside of you, but they are among you in the church. They will bring in destructive heresies, they’re going to even deny the master who bought them. And so it was the Sadducees denied that Jesus was God in the flesh. They’re going to bring swift destruction on themselves, and the sad thing is that not a few will follow them, but we read there that many will follow their depraved ways.
And the way of truth will be maligned because of them. The way that they behave and the way that they teach eventually hurts the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ outside of the church. And the reason for this is their reason for doing this. They will exploit you in their greed. It’s all about earning money, earning power, or earning prestige.
And that’s what gives a bad name to the church in the work of Christ. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep, meaning that the time will come that they will be judged. But in the present time, they’re deceiving people.
They’re hurting the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s not outside of the church, but it’s inside of the Christian religion that they are doing this. Now there’s a way to fight this, and we find this in Acts chapter 17 verse 11, where we’re told how noble the Bereans were. The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica since they received the word. They listened to what was being preached to them, and they did that with eagerness. They wanted to hear, but they didn’t just come to church on Sunday and listen for 30 minutes and say, oh, it’s all truth, and leave.
They left, and then they examined the scriptures for five minutes over dinner. Is that what it says? No, they examined the scriptures every day to see if these things were so. If we’re to be like Berean Christians whom Paul admired because they studied the word of God daily to see if Paul’s teaching aligned with God’s word, we have to do the same. We have to listen eagerly, but we have to spend time in God’s word on a daily basis because Satan’s deceptions look so good.
They’re so tempting. They can even seem better than what God says in his word. That’s why we have to stick to the scriptures regularly on a daily basis. It’s our responsibility. Let’s look at the specific false doctrines that the Sadducees held that we see in the text is proven untruthful.
The first thing is a selective emphasis of God’s word, meaning that they didn’t emphasize the entire Old Testament. They said the first five books are important. We’ve got the rest, but we’re not going to pay attention to them.
If they’d been paying attention, they would see here in the text how we’re going to see that what the angel says connects with what the prophets said in the Old Testament. And if they’d been reading the prophets, they would have seen the connection. Going back to Luke chapter 1, the angel said about their child John that he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous to make ready for the Lord a prepared people. The angel is repeating much of what Malachi wrote in chapter 4 verses 5 and 6. Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.
If they hadn’t been selective in reading God’s word and studying it, if they had kept all of it, if they’d studied all of it, they would have seen that this exciting news is that the Messiah, the day of the Lord, is coming soon because this Elijah that was proclaimed in the prophets is now coming among you. Again in Malachi 3.1, see I am going to send my messenger a prophecy about John and he will clear the way before me and after John does that then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple as Jesus did. The messenger of the covenant that you delight in, see he is coming, says the Lord of armies. Don’t fall for the trap that selective emphasis in God’s word is sufficient for your Christian living. You need to be studying all of it.
The next false doctrine that they taught was one of unrestrained free will. That God has no role in the personal lives of human, that we master our own destiny and when life is over whatever we did that’s all that’s important. But if we study all of scripture we learn that our God is a person. Our God is personal and our God is relational because he cares for us and he wants to have a relationship.
Let’s go back to the text in Luke chapter 1. Do not be afraid Zechariah because your prayer has been heard. Who had heard Zechariah’s prayer? It was God. God was listening because he was interested in this couple that did not have a child.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. God is going to give them what they’ve asked for because he’s personal and he cares for them. God even is so interested that he says you’re going to name him John and because of him there’s going to be joy and delight for you and many will rejoice at his birth. This isn’t a distant God that was interested in Zechariah and Elizabeth. He was listening to them.
He answered their prayer. He gave them what they desired and he was concerned that they would have joy and delight in their life. But Satan wants to teach us all the day God doesn’t care. He’s not involved and so it was for the Sadducees too. They weren’t interested in a personal relationship with the Lord.
Even the psalmist if we read many of them talk about this personal relationship that we can have on the Lord that they all expected. Let’s go back to Psalm chapter 17 and as I read through this think how personal this talk or conversation is that the psalmist is having with God. He says, I call on you God because you will answer me. Listen closely to me. Hear what I say.
The psalmist says, God I’m talking to you because I know you’re hearing me. I know that you’re not just going to hear me a little bit but you’re listening very closely to what I say. And then he goes on to say, display the wonders of your faithful love. A distant uncaring God isn’t going to have faithful love. He says, you’re the savior of all who seek refuge from those who rebel against your right hand.
We can go to you for protection. Therefore he says, protect me as the pupil of your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who treat me violently. My deadly enemies who surround me. Y’all protect your eyes.
I mean something comes at it. You close them. You try to cover them. If you get the smallest speck in your eye, you immediately stop and go to a mirror to try to get it out. You are super concerned about what’s going on with your eyes.
And so it is that God’s concern is just as close as that. He also talks about him shadowing us under his wings. And the picture here is of a mother bird that if danger is coming that she’s going to surround her chicks around her and cover the chicks with her wings so that she takes the brunt of anything that’s going against them in order to protect them. We don’t believe in unrestrained free will. We believe that God is involved.
He’s personal. He wants to have a relationship with us. And not only did the psalmist declare it, but God himself tells us this in Isaiah 65 verse 24. God says, even before they call, I will answer. And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
Jeremiah 33, two through three, the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who forms it to establish it. The Lord is his name says this, the creator of the world, the almighty God. It’s amazing to Jeremiah that God says, call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.
The sovereign Lord desires a personal relationship with us. We don’t have unrestrained free will, what’s all up to us. Our hope is in him. Unrestrained free will, an emphasis only on part of God’s word. The third thing is rejection of the supernatural.
Remember, they didn’t believe in angels. They didn’t believe in demons in heaven or hell. Well, who is it that delivers the message in verse 11?
It’s an angel. The Lord actually appeared to Zechariah standing at the right of the altar, but he didn’t just stand there and leave Zechariah wondering, am I seeing something? The angel then spoke to him.
He said, do not be afraid, Zechariah. And then not only did the angel speak to him, but there’s this conversation that’s going on between them. Everything to show you that this angel is a real being, that he was really there. There is a supernatural realm outside of ours that we believe in as believers. There was also this emphasis on ritual external purity.
Instead of examining the heart, instead of wanting a change on the inside, and we see this here when he tells what John’s life is going to be like. It’s going to be about the external, but there’s also going to be about an internal change in him. For he, John, will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will never drink wine or beer.
There was a vow that they could take in the Old Testament called the Nazarite vow, that they would never drink wine. They would never touch any type of grapes because it was this external purity, but that wasn’t enough unless something was going on on the inside. So John is going to have this external purity, but also he is going to be filled internally with the Holy Spirit, even that while still in his mother’s womb. Psalm 51. Psalmist talks about how God desires this inward purity in our life.
Yes, it’s important how we live and what we do, but what’s on the inside, in our heart, that is what’s most important. Psalm 51, verse 6. Surely you desire integrity in the inner self, and you teach me wisdom deep within. It’s in the heart that God is most concerned with. Verse 10.
It doesn’t say, God, create a clean body for me, but create a clean heart for me, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. And then verse 16, it says, you, speaking to God, do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it. You are not pleased with a burnt offering. Now they were offering these offerings. God had commanded that, but what he’s trying to say, that’s not what is most important.
What’s most important in verse 17 is that the sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit, and you will not despise a broken and humble heart, God. The Satchezees were just concerned about the external. They weren’t concerned about what goes on on the inside. So it is, we find in the church today that many people, the way they look on the outside, what people see, they make sure that that’s all clean and iron and starched and spiffy, but there’s evil in their heart because they don’t have a right relationship with the Lord. The next false doctrine was a rejection of a resurrection and life after death.
I go back and I read from Luke 1, verse 16. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous to make ready for the Lord a prepared people. Now why in the Lord would world would God go to so much trouble to send someone before his son to make them ready for him? Why would he send Jesus Christ to live among us, to be scorned and rejected, to suffer, to die on the cross and be buried and raised from the dead if there was nothing after this life? It would be completely unnecessary for God to have done that, but the fact that he did send Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we could be cleansed from everything that we’ve done wrong and have a right relationship with the Lord, he’s cleansing us because there is something after this life that he is cleansing us for, and we see that when the very fact that John was the harbinger of Jesus coming.
We go to Hebrews 9, 27 through 28. Just as it is appointed for people to die once, the Sadducees believe that, but this and after this there will be judgment. So also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. If he isn’t going to bring us something better than judgment, why would we be waiting for him? That’s because we are looking forward to his return.
We’re looking forward, as Drusy was, that if we die before that happens, we will be in God’s presence. But the Sadducees, they weren’t waiting for the Savior. They weren’t looking for him.
They only were interested in the next paycheck and to the day that they died, and after that they weren’t concerned about anything. But according to Scripture, death is certain. According to Scripture, life after death is certain. According to Scripture, there’s going to be judgment for everyone, but there’s going to be salvation for those who are waiting for Jesus’ return. So it is we come to how do we respond to this message today?
How do we not be like the Sadducees? How do we make sure that we recognize if there are any of these false teachers in our midst? And I ask you to think about what you need to mark today. It may be that you need to say, I will be on watch for false teachers and false doctrine. That’s just an awareness that any preacher or teacher or book or article that you read that you always approach that with, I have to examine what this person is saying according to God’s Word because they might be a false teacher.
They might look great and awesome on the outside. They might have a beautiful voice. They might sound very convincing. Those are all attributes of how Satan was and continues to be, but you still have to question are they true prophets or are they false? The second thing is you may need to mark that you’re going to decide to be more like the Bereans and you’re going to spend more time in Bible study because that’s what Paul says that we’re supposed to be doing not once a week but daily.
We’re supposed to be in God’s Word and it’s through being in God’s Word that we are able to detect when something doesn’t fit with God’s Word and we can identify someone as a false prophet. The last thing is you may need to make a decision that to accept God’s gift of salvation and to begin to look for the return of Jesus. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is all about. We remember what he did for us on the cross, but it also says we’re looking forward to his return. And so it is with true believers, with true teachers of God’s Word, they keep emphasizing you’ve got to place your faith in Jesus Christ because he’s returning one day and you need to be right with the Lord.
Would you bow with me as we pray? Heavenly Father, we thank you for the warning that you give us in your Word. And Father, we thank you that the answers are there so that we can see where false teaching may be arising and help us to realize, Father, that it could be in our church, it could be in other churches, Father, it can be in speakers of the Word. But Father, make us a people of the Word that study it daily, that spend time in it so that we can recognize these errors and say away them that we might continue to be a true beacon of light in this world that increasingly is more and more dark. Father, we ask if there are any among us today that have not accepted the gift of salvation that you will work in their hearts to draw them in faith to you, that they might come to believe that Jesus died on the cross, he was buried, and he rose from the dead, that their sins might be forgiven, and that they can now have a right relationship with him, and that they will joyfully proclaim to others that they now serve the Lord.
In his name we pray.