Contrary to popular belief, Jesus (PBUH) did not lead a monastic spiritual life absorbed in otherworldly matters only. Although the original teachings of Jesus are not extant, but even in the current Bible, we find statements from which it becomes clear how a revolutionary figure Jesus really was; and how great an opposition he faced from the entrenched religious priesthood of his time.
We can see some samples of Jesus’s revolutionary personality from his sermons from Bible. However, first, let us see what kind of priesthood he had to deal with and how much power the priesthood exercised in the society under the Roman rule. Except for the death penalty, the priests had all the power over the lives of the people. Jesus addressed the priests thus:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.” [Matthew 23:13-22]
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” [Matthew 23:27-28]
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” [Matthew 23:33]
These were extraordinary and bold revolutionary proclamations by Jesus against the religious priesthood of his time. Why did the religious priesthood put up such a strong opposition to all the prophets without exception? One cannot find answer to this in the popular four books of the Bible. However, there is another Bible called the Bible of Barnabas, which says that the priests were very worried with Jesus’s pronouncements. They went to their head priesthood and said to him that if this person becomes the king then what we will do?
It is clear from this that they were worried about their livelihood if Jesus came to power. Jesus was not some kind of monastic spiritual otherworldly person but a revolutionary figure who wanted to establish the rule of God on Earth. From this it is clear that the priests were worried that their freeloading will be over if this person came to power; that they would no longer remain parasites but they have to earn their livelihood by working hard just as other people did. Otherwise, they would have to beg in the streets by becoming beggars.
So, what was the real reason of priesthood’s opposition to Jesus? It is clear from the above that it was bread. The priesthood was worried about their bread if Jesus became the king.
Priests at the time of Jesus had everything worked out with the Roman governor. They were happy with this arrangement. Roman government did not interfere in their religious affairs and did not care how they practiced their religion. Nevertheless, with the arrival of Jesus and from his revolutionary sermons the priests became very worried. They told their people that, now, if we do any wrong, we are able to please our merciful God by prayers and sacrifice. However, if this person became the king then we would never be able to please him because he will enforce the sharia of Moses. At this, the head priest told all the Rabbis and priests to oppose Jesus with all their might and to make sure this person does not succeed in his mission.
We can see how priesthood works with worldly rulers, and what is the real reason of its opposition to divine order? It is the worry of livelihood. That is the driving force behind priesthood, and not religion as priesthood pretends. God, the Sustainer and Nourisher of humankind, keeps human economic needs in the forefront. The Divine system frees human beings from economic worries by establishing a universal system of nourishment and development. After Jesus, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) came and established such a system that has no parallel in human history. Nevertheless, whatever had happened with the previous Prophets the same happened with him? The priesthood of his time also opposed his revolutionary message.