The Pharisees weren’t bad people per say. In a sense they were perfectionists of the old covenant. They tithed, prayed, followed God’s law, instructed the people, etc… Technically they were the very kind of people we would have dreamed of being under the old covenant.
So why did Jesus give them a hard time yet was welcoming to sinners?
Because he was moving towards the new covenant.
Hebrews 8:7-8 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people…
There comes a point where perfect justice becomes futile. That’s the point when you realize that everyone is guilty and everyone deserves death. God saw every sin and knew this all along. However man didn’t know this.
Exodus 19:8 Then all the people responded together, “We will do all that the LORD has spoken.”
Man assumed they could be perfect people. The old covenant I believe was put in place to prove them wrong. If man wanted to relate to God based on how good they were, God would be clear what being good meant.
So what’s the turning point?
God found fault with the people.
What’s that fault?
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
No one could live up to the just and righteous standard. This sets the context for Jesus’s arrival.
Friend of sinners
God was preparing to spread a gospel that instead of destroying everyone would justify everyone of all wrongdoing by faith alone. This means the people who failed the old covenant would now become the benefactors. But what happens to the people who still thought they had succeed in fulfilling the old covenant? Well, they wouldn’t like God’s new grace and wouldn’t see a need for it.
Unless people could see and realize that they were sinners they would never accept God’s grace. Remember the parable of the Pharisee who justified himself and the tax collector who begged for mercy? The Pharisee seemed to have done everything right, yet he was not justified like the tax-collector.
When Jesus came he had to reveal the law’s true colors because some people still believed they could keep the law. Jesus was showing to them what God saw, that even if on the outside they kept the law on the inside their hearts were still sinning. Was Jesus telling them to try harder? No, he was showing them their need for a new covenant, one where sins are completely forgiven.
Jesus’s heart exposed
Why did Jesus not stone the adulterous woman? According to the law he was required to.
Leviticus 20:10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.
He said something that revealed what was in God’s heart
John 8:7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
This is the revelation of the new covenant. At what point can you condemn one person without condemning everyone, if you want perfect justice? Jesus’s heart was revealed, a heart that wanted man to be forgiven and justified instead of condemned.
The law wasn’t put into place to make us better people. It was there to show us how bad of a people we are. God wants a relationship with us and it’s only possible through his unmerited favor and not our efforts to become better people.