13.02.03 Mk. 11:18 (See also Lk. 19:47-48) The Temple Courts in Jerusalem
PLOT TO KILL JESUS DELAYED
Mk. 18 Then the chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to destroy Him. For they were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching.
“The chief priests and the scribes.” This phrase clearly points to the Sadducees and scribes as the instigators, who were eventually successful in the execution of Jesus. The leading Pharisees are not mentioned as they took only an accusatory role, not an active role, as they were apparently absent in the Roman trials that led to the final execution of Jesus. The population at large and some religious leaders (see Jn. 12:42) remained faithful to Jesus, listening carefully to His teaching and expecting Him to announce His Messiahship at any moment. Therefore, a heavy tension hung between them and the common people that would burst into the crucifixion.
As stated previously, amazingly, Mark refers to the Sadducees once by name and Luke refers to them five times, but only in his book of Acts. John never calls them by name at all. Yet they were the primary instigators that led to the crucifixion. Along with them, the leading Pharisees clearly challenged Jesus numerous times and even planned His death, but eventually they stepped aside and let the Sadducees do their dirty work.
13.02.03.Q1 If the Pharisees planned His death, why did they not pursue their plan?
The missing Pharisees were not there! Significant to the biblical narrative is a point that is frequently overlooked. It is important to underscore the point that not all Pharisees were the extreme legalists who attempted to kill Jesus. If so, why would some have warned Jesus that Herod Antipas wanted to kill Him (Lk. 13:31)? Why would Rabbi Gamaliel have taken a personal risk to save the lives of Peter and the apostles (Acts 5:34ff.)? In fact, many writings outside of Scripture, quoted in this text, were written by devoted Pharisees who pursued God within the framework of their knowledge. It has wrongly been assumed that since the leading Pharisees plotted to kill Him, therefore, all Pharisees were active in His execution.
But from this time forward, the leading Pharisees are no longer mentioned as having any role in the prosecution and execution of Jesus. They did not consider the motivation to kill someone a sin, but only if the act was committed. Josephus clearly indicates the Pharisees avoided severe punishments and executions (see below). A case in point was recorded by Josephus concerning a man by the name of Eleazar, who was “of ill temper and delighting in seditious practices.” In the discussion of Eleazar’s punishment for his transgressions, which were considered extremely serious, the Pharisees leaned on the side of mercy.
So the Pharisees made answer that he deserved stripes and bonds; but that it did not seem right to punish reproaches with death; and indeed the Pharisees, even upon other occasions are not apt to be severe in punishments.
Josephus, Antiquities 13.10.6 (294b)
The Pharisees, for the most part, were strongly opposed to being personally involved in any death sentence. Therefore, in light of the words of Josephus, it must be concluded that the Pharisee elite must have been extremely corrupt and out of their Pharisaic norm that they would repeatedly plot the murder of Jesus. As previously stated, once the Sadducees seized Jesus, the Pharisees are no longer mentioned in Scripture. They still hated Him and wanted to see Him dead, but in their religious legalism they felt that if they did not have an active part in the crucifixion, they remained innocent. So they handed their dirty work over to the Sadducees, who were more than willing to present a mock trial and hand Him over to the Romans.
Conflicts within the Pharisaic judicial system: While the term “Pharisees” covers a multitude of religious sects, the two leading schools of theology were the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai. Those of Hillel focused on compassion, kindness, and forgiveness while those of Shammai focused on harshness and legalism. This is highlighted in the following passage of the Babylonian Talmud.
If someone stole a beam and built it into a house—
The School of Shammai say, “Let him tear down the whole house and return the beam to its owner.”
And the School of Hillel say, “The owner has a claim only for the value of the beam alone, on account of the good order of those who repent.”
Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 18b
The entire conflict between the two schools became so intense that it caused division and conflict in the Jewish judicial system. Notice the following warning.
Abbaye said, “The caution against splintering into deviant groups applies only in the case of two courts of law, such as one deciding according to the views of Beit (meaning House of) Shammai and one according to the views of Beit Hillel, but two courts of law in separate cities would not be subject to this limitation.” Rava challenged this, “But were not the Shammaites and the Hillelites like two courts of law [and they differed freely from each other in the same locale]?” Said Rava, “The caution applies in the case of one court in the same city, with half the judges deciding according to the Beit Shammai and the other half according to the Beit Hillel.”
Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 14a
Furthermore, the Mishnah has numerous situations where the application of the Mosaic Law or Oral Law by these opposing schools led to intense arguments. There can be no question that some, if not all, of the legalistic questions presented to Jesus were from the Shammaite branch of the Pharisees. If there were any Pharisees before Pilate demanding the crucifixion of Jesus, it would have been those of this school.
. This is an excellent example of a misunderstanding of a passage that appears to be rather simple to comprehend. Throughout the gospels the writers often wrote that the religious leaders were against Jesus. Readers understand that to mean every leader of the Jews wanted to see Jesus crucified, when in fact, only those leaders, who were present with Jesus at that specific conversation, wanted to see His demise. John 12:42 gives clear evidence that some leaders became faithful followers of Jesus.
 Cited by Neusner. The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation. Vol XVIIIB: Gittin. 93.
. Cited by Boker. The Talmud: Selected Writings. 134-35; Bracketed insert by Boker; Definition in parenthesis mine.