Question: Since the Sadducees did not believe in eternal life, what was their motivation for them being priests and also for the sacrifices, even for being Jews? It seems that it couldn't have profited them much, except for the priests having a good job.
The Sadducees were priests, as were the Pharisees. The Chief Priest in New Testament times was an office typically held by a Sadducee. However, the Sadducees were predominantly a political party that developed sometime after the Restoration of the Jews to their own land following their Babylonian captivity in 536 B.C. They represented the wealthy Jewish nobility. Their tendency was to protect their positions of power and authority both in religious matters and with the Roman government. They also encouraged the Jewish people to “fit in” with the Hellenistic culture of the Roman Empire.
It seems that their religious distinctives and influence came later than their political motivations. They were often at odds with the more popular Pharisees. In an effort to give their political views a biblical foundation, the Sadducees gradually developed some core theological beliefs that distinguished them from the Pharisees. In short, these beliefs were:
• Only the written Law (the Old Testament) had authority, not the traditions and rules of man.
• The soul of a person dies with that person. There is no immortality, no resurrection, no heaven, hell or Judgment Day.
• There is no spirit realm (i.e., angels, demons, etc.)
• There is no predestination or God acting providentially in human affairs.
How could these beliefs be supported, given their confidence in the Law of Moses as God’s authoritative rule? Their primary motivation was political, not spiritual. They exercised their political influence within Judaism’s religious circles because that’s where the power lay.
This is why the Sadducees so adamantly opposed Jesus, and why they teamed up with the Pharisees and others in order to destroy Jesus:
Matt. 21:15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
Mark 11:18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
Jesus threatened the cozy relationship the Sadducees fostered with the Roman government, so they tried to pigeonhole Jesus into implicating Himself as a traitor to Caesar:
Luke 20:22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
This fear and hatred of Jesus continued after the crucifixion and resurrection as the Sadducees turned their attention to destroying the apostles and the fledgling Church:
Acts 5:17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.
Acts 5:33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
The Sadducees are a powerful reminder of what happens when people put their politics before faith in Christ and use their political views to define their understanding of Scripture. No wonder Jesus said to them when they debated the resurrection:
Matt. 22:29 …“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
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