The Gospel of Luke Series
March 11, 2012 #42.4
March 25, 2012 #42.5
Charles e Whisnant, Expositor, Historian, Pastor/Teacher
Luke 1:5, 78-79, Malachi 3
Between The Testaments
The Four Hundred Silent Years[i]
What Was God Doing During the 400 Years of Silence?
God’s working behind the curtain
THE JEWISH MESSIAH IS FINALLY COMING:
Israel’s long history awaiting the coming of the Messiah.
- Starting with Abraham, a history of exile in Egypt for 400 years, wandering 40 years in the wilderness, the conquest of the land of Canaan, the occupation of the land of Canaan, the captivity, the northern kingdom taken captive in 722 BC then the southern kingdom taken into Babylon in 586 BC. The northern kingdom never returning, the southern kingdom 70 years later trying to rebuilder. Only to be oppressed by the Greeks, then the Romans. Israel has had a dark and long history.
- Its interesting in the last book of the Old Testament, a prophet named Malachi promised that the SUN if righteousness would arise with the healing of its ray.
- It had been 400 years since Malachi wrote that promise. Malachi was the last prophet and he said the Sun of Righteousness will rise. And 400 years had passed since God spoke. There was no prophet in Israel. There was no prophet in Judah. There was no revelation from God, Indeed it was dark.
- Israel was deep into depression, oppressed by the Greeks whose ruler Antiochus Epiphanes
What happened in the 400+ years between the
close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the
and see how God set the stage for Jesus to come
at just the right time.
A replica of an ancient Torah scroll at Nazareth Village, a historical re-creation of Nazareth as it would have been at the time of Christ.[iv]
THE 400 YEARS BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS [v]
by Ray C. Stedman (WORKED OVER BY CHARLES E WHISNANT, )
At the close of the book of Malachi in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is back again in the land of Palestine after the Babylonian captivity, but they are under the domination of the great world power of that day, Persia and the Medio-Persian empire.
In Jerusalem, the temple[vi] had been restored, although it was a much smaller building than the one that Solomon had built and decorated in such marvelous glory.
Within the temple the line of Aaronic priests was still worshiping and carrying on the sacred rites as they had been ordered to do by the law of Moses. There was a direct line of descendancy in the priesthood that could be traced back to Aaron.
But the royal line of David had fallen on evil days. The people knew who the rightful successor to David was, and in the book of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, his name is given to us. It was Zerubbabel,[vii] the royal prince, yet there was no king on the throne of Israel, they were a puppet nation, under the domination of Persia. Nevertheless, although they were beset with weakness and formalism as the prophets have shown us, the people were united. There were no political schisms or factions among them, nor were they divided into groups or parties.
Now when you open the New Testament to the book of Matthew, you discover an entirely different atmosphere — almost a different world.
Rome is now the dominant power of the earth. The Roman legions have spread throughout the length and breadth of the civilized world. The center of power has shifted from the East to the West, to Rome. Palestine is still a puppet state — the Jews never did regain their own sovereignty — but now there is a king on the throne.
But this king is the descendant of Esau instead of Jacob, and his name is Herod the Great. Furthermore, the high priests who now sit in the seat of religious authority in the nation are no longer from the line of Aaron. They cannot trace their descendancy back, rather, they are hired priests to whom the office is sold as political patronage.
The temple is still the center of Jewish worship, although the building has been partially destroyed and rebuilt about a half-dozen times since the close of the Old Testament. But now the synagogues that have sprung up in every Jewish city seem to be the center of Jewish life even more than the temple.
At this time the people of Israel were split into three major parties.
Two of them, the Pharisees and Sadducees, were much more prominent than the third. The smaller group, the Essenes, could hardly be designated as a party. Not long ago, however, they came into great prominence in our time and took on new significance because they had stowed away some documents in caves overlooking the Dead Sea — documents which were brought to light again by the accidental discovery of an Arab shepherd boy and are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Now, what happened in these four hundred so-called “silent” years after the last of the inspired prophets spoke and the first of the New Testament writers began to write?
You remember there is a word in Paul’s letter to the Galatians that says, “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” (Gal. 4:4) In other words, the time of our Lord’s birth was God’s appointed hour, the moment for which God had been long preparing. Some of the exciting preparations took place during that time of “silence,” however, and you will understand your New Testament much better if you understand something of the historic events during the time between the Testaments.
After Malachi had ceased his prophesying and the canon of the Old Testament closed — that is, the number of the books in the Old Testament was fulfilled and the inspired prophets ceased to speak –
God allowed a period of time for the teachings of the Old Testament to penetrate throughout the world. During this time, he rearranged the scenes of history, much as a stage crew will rearrange the stage sets after the curtain has fallen, and when the curtain rises again there is an entirely new setting.
In about 435 B.C., when the prophet Malachi ceased his writing, the center of world power began to shift from the East to the West. Up to this time, Babylon had been the major world power, but this was soon succeeded by the Medio-Persian empire, as you remember from ancient history. This shift had been predicted by the prophet Daniel, who said that there would rise up a bear who was higher on one side than the other, signifying the division between Media and Persia, with the Persians the predominant ones (Dan. 7:5).
At the height of the Persian power there arose in the country of Macedonia (which we now know as Greece), north of the Black Sea, a man by the name of Philip of Macedon, who became a leader in his own country. He united the islands of Greece and became their ruler. His son was destined to become one of the great world leaders of all time, Alexander the Great. In 330 B.C. a tremendous battle between the Persians and the Greeks entirely altered the course of history. In that battle, Alexander, as a young man only twenty years old, led the armies of Greece in victory over the Persians and completely demolished the power of Persia. The center of world power then shifted farther west into Greece, and the Grecian empire was born.
A year after that historic battle, Alexander the Great led his armies down into the Syrian world toward Egypt. On the way, he planned to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem. As the victorious armies of the Greeks approached the city, word was brought to the Jews in Jerusalem that the armies were on their way.
The high priest at that time, who was a godly old man by the name of Jaddua (who, by the way, is mentioned in the Bible in the book of Nehemiah) took the sacred writings of Daniel the prophet and, accompanied by a host of other priests dressed in white garments, went forth and met Alexander some distance outside the city.
JOSEPHUS, THE JEWISH HISTORIAN
All this is from the report of Josephus, the Jewish historian, [viii] who tells us that Alexander left his army and hurried to meet this body of priests. When he met them, he told the high priest that he had had a vision the night before in which God had shown him an old man, robed in a white garment, who would show him something of great significance to himself, according to the account, the high priest then opened the prophecies of Daniel and read them to Alexander.
In the prophecies Alexander was able to see the predictions that he would become that notable goat with the horn in his forehead, who would come from the West and smash the power of Medio-Persia and conquer the world. He was so overwhelmed by the accuracy of this prophecy and, of course, by the fact that it spoke about him, that he promised that he would save Jerusalem from siege, and sent the high priest back with honors. How true that account is, is very difficult at this distance in time to say; that, at any event, is the story.
Alexander died in 323 B.C. when he was only about thirty-three years old. He had drunk himself to death in the prime of his life, grieved because he had no more worlds to conquer. After his death, his empire was torn with dissension, because he had left no heir. His son had been murdered earlier, so there was no one to inherit the empire of Alexander.
After some time, however, the four generals that had led Alexander’s armies divided his empire between them. Two of them are particularly noteworthy to us. One was Ptolemy, who gained Egypt and the northern African countries; the other was Seleucus, who gained Syria, to the north of Palestine. During this time Palestine was annexed by Egypt, and suffered greatly at the hands of Ptolemy. In fact, for the next one hundred years, Palestine was caught in the meat-grinder of the unending conflicts between Syria on the north and Egypt on the south.
Now if you have read the prophecies of Daniel, you will recall that Daniel was able, by inspiration, to give a very accurate and detailed account of the highlights of these years of conflict between the king of the North (Syria) and the king of the South (Egypt). The eleventh chapter of Daniel gives us a most amazingly accurate account of that which has long since been fulfilled.
If you want to see just how accurate the prophecy is, I suggest you compare that chapter of Daniel with the historical record of what actually occurred during that time. H. A. Ironside’s little book, The 400 Silent Years, gathers that up in some detail.
During this time Grecian influence was becoming strong in Palestine.
A party arose among the Jews called the Hellenists, who were very eager to bring Grecian culture and thought into the nation and to liberalize some of the Jewish laws. This forced a split into two major parties.
There were those who were strong Hebrew nationalist, who wanted to preserve everything according to the Mosaic order. They resisted all the foreign influences that were coming in to disrupt the old Jewish ways. This party became known as the Pharisees, which means “to separate.” They were the separationists who insisted on preserving traditions. They grew stronger and stronger, becoming more legalistic and rigid in their requirements, until they became the target for some of the most scorching words our Lord ever spoke. They had become religious hypocrites, keeping the outward form of the law, but completely violating its spirit.
On the other hand, the Hellenists — the Greek lovers — became more and more influential in the politics of the land. They formed the party that was known in New Testament days as the Sadducees, the liberals. They turned away from the strict interpretation of the law and became the rationalists of their day, ceasing to believe in the supernatural in any way. We are told in the New Testament that they came again and again to the Lord with questions about the supernatural, like “What will happen to a woman who has been married to seven different men? In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” (Matt. 22:23-33) They did not believe in a resurrection, but in these questions they were trying to put Jesus on the spot.
Now there was also a young rebel Jewish priest who married a Samaritan, went down to Samaria, and in rebellion against the Jewish laws, built a temple on Mount Gerizim that became a rival of the temple in Jerusalem. This caused intense, fanatical rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans, and this rivalry is also reflected in the New Testament.
Hebrew Scripture were translated for the first time: 284 B.C.
Also during this time, in Egypt, under the reign of one of the Ptolemies, the Hebrew scriptures were translated for the first time into another language, in about 284 B.C. A group of 70 scholars was called together by the Egyptian king to make a translation of the Hebrew scriptures. Book by book they translated the Old Testament into Greek. When they had finished, it was given the name of the Septuagint, which means 70, because of the number of translators. This became the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible.
From it many of the quotations in the New Testament are derived. That is why New Testament quotations of Old Testament verses are sometimes in different words — because they come from the Greek translation. The Septuagint is still in existence today, and is widely used in various parts of the world. It is still a very important document.
ANTIOCHUS THE GREAT IN 203 B.C.
A little later on, about 203 B.C., a king named Antiochus the Great came into power in Syria, to the north of Palestine. He captured Jerusalem from the Egyptians and began the reign of Syrian power over Palestine.
He had two sons, one of whom succeeded him and reigned only a few years. When he died, his brother took the throne. This man, named Antiochus Epiphanes, became one of the most vicious and violent persecutors of the Jews ever known. In fact, he is often called the Antichrist of the Old Testament, since he fulfills some of the predictions of Daniel concerning the coming of one who would be “a contemptible person” and “a vile king.” His name (which he modestly bestowed upon himself) means “Antiochus the Illustrious.” Nevertheless, some of his own courtiers evidently agreed more with the prophecies of Daniel, and they changed two letters in his title. from Epiphanes to Epipames, which means “the mad man.”
His first act was to depose the high priest in Jerusalem. thus ending the long line of succession, beginning with Aaron and his sons through the many centuries of Jewish life. Onias the Third was the last of the hereditary line of priests.
Antiochus Epiphanes sold the priesthood to Jason, who was not of the priestly line. Jason, in turn, was tricked by his younger brother Menelaus, who purchased the priesthood and then sold the golden vessels of the temple in order to make up the tribute money.
Epiphanes overthrew the God-authorized line of priests. Then, and under his reign, the city of Jerusalem and all the religious rites of the Jews began to deteriorate as they came fully under the power of the Syrian king.
In 171 B.C. Antiochus invaded Egypt and once again Palestine was caught in the nutcracker of rivalry.
Palestine is the most fought-over country in the world, and Jerusalem is the most captured city in all history. It has been pillaged, ravished, burned and destroyed more than 27 times in its history.
While Antiochus was in Egypt, it was reported that he had been killed in battle, and Jerusalem rejoiced. The people organized a revolt and overthrew Menelaus, the pseudo-priest. When report reached Antiochus (who was very much alive in Egypt) that Jerusalem was delighted at the report of his death, he organized his armies and swept like a fury back across the land, falling upon Jerusalem with terrible vengeance.
He overturned the city, regained his power, and guided by the treacherous Menelaus, intruded into the very Holy of Holies in the temple itself. Some 40,000 people were slain in three days of fighting during this terrible time. When he forced his way into the Holy of Holies, he destroyed the scrolls of the law and, to the absolute horror of the Jews, took a sow and offered it upon the sacred altar. Then with a broth made from the flesh of this unclean animal, he sprinkled everything in the temple, thus completely defiling and violating the sanctuary. It is impossible for us to grasp how horrifying this was to the Jews. They were simply appalled that anything like this could ever happen to their sacred temple.
It was that act of defiling the temple which is referred to by the Lord Jesus as the “desolating sacrilege” which Daniel had predicted (Matt. 24:15), and which also became a sign of the coming desolation of the temple when Antichrist himself will enter the temple, call himself God, and thus defile the temple in that time. As we know from the New Testament, that still lies in the future.
Daniel the prophet had said the sanctuary would be polluted for 2300 days. (Dan. 8:14)
In exact accordance with that prophecy, it was exactly 2300 days — six and a half years — before the temple was cleansed. It was cleansed under the leadership of a man now famous in Jewish history, Judas Maccabaeus.
He was one of the priestly line who, with his father and four brothers, rose up in revolt against the Syrian king. They captured the attention of the Israelites, summoned them to follow them into battle, and in a series of pitched battles in which they were always an overwhelming minority, overthrew the power of the Syrian kings, captured Jerusalem, and cleansed the temple. The day they cleansed the temple was named the Day of Dedication, and it occurred on the 25th day of December. On that date Jews still celebrate the Feast of Dedication each year.
THE MACCABEES 164 B.C.
Maccabees is the name of a priestly Jewish family which ruled Palestine in the second and first centuries B.C.E. and wrested Judea from the rule of the Seleucids and their Greek practices. They are the founders of the Hasmonean dynasty. The Jewish holiday Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees’ recapture of Jerusalem and reconsecration of the Temple in December 164 B.C.E.
The Maccabees, who were of the Asmonean family, began a line of high priests known as the Asmonean Dynasty. Their sons, for about the next three or four generations, ruled as priests in Jerusalem, all the time having to defend themselves against the constant assaults of the Syrian army who tried to recapture the city and the temple. During the days of the Maccabees there was a temporary overthrow of foreign domination, which is why the Jews look back to this time and regard it with such tremendous veneration.
THE BEGINNING OF ROMAN RULE IN THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL 63 B.C.
During this time, one of the Asmonean priests made a league with the rising power in the West, Rome. He signed a treaty with the Senate of Rome, providing for help in the event of Syrian attack. Though the treaty was made in all earnestness and sincerity, it was this pact which introduced Rome into the picture and history of Israel.
As the battles between the two opposing forces waged hotter and hotter, Rome was watchful.
Finally, the Governor of Idumea, a man named Antipater and a descendant of Esau, made a pact with two other neighboring kings and attacked Jerusalem to try to overthrow the authority of the Asmonean high priest.
POMPEY, THE ROMAN GENERAL
This battle raged so fiercely that finally Pompey, the Roman general,[ix] who happened to have an army in Damascus at the time, was besought by both parties to come and intervene. One side had a little more money than the other, and persuaded by that logical argument, Pompey came down from Damascus, entered the city of Jerusalem — again with terrible slaughter — overthrew the city and captured it for Rome. That was in 63 B.C. From that time on, Palestine was under the authority and power of Rome.
HEROD THE GREAT
Now Pompey and the Roman Senate appointed Antipater as the Procurator of Judea, and he in turn made his two sons kings of Galilee and Judea. The son who became king of Judea is known to us a Herod the Great
. (“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?'” (Matt. 2:1, 2)
Meanwhile, the pagan empires around had been deteriorating and disintegrating.
Their religions had fallen upon evil days. The people were sick of the polytheism and emptiness of their pagan faiths. The Jews had gone through times of pressure and had failed in their efforts to re-establish themselves, and had given up all hope.
There was a growing air of expectancy that the only hope they had left was the coming at last of the promised Messiah.
In the East, the oriental empires had come to the place where the wisdom and knowledge of the past had disintegrated and they too were looking for something. When the moment came when the star arose over Bethlehem, the wise men of the East who were looking for an answer to their problems saw it immediately and came out to seek the One it pointed to. Thus, “when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son.”
It is amazing how God utilizes history to work out his purposes.
Though we are living in the days that might be termed “the silence of God,” when for almost 2,000 years there has been no inspired voice from God, we must look back — even as they did during those 400 silent years — upon the inspired record and realize that God has already said all that needs to be said, through the Old and New Testaments. God’s purposes have not ended, for sure.
He is working them out as fully now as he did in those days. Just as the world had come to a place of hopelessness then, and the One who would fulfill all their hopes came into their midst, so the world again is facing a time when despair is spreading widely across the earth. Hopelessness is rampant everywhere and in this time God is moving to bring to fulfillment all the prophetic words concerning the coming of his Son again into the world to establish his kingdom. How long? How close? Who knows? But what God has done in history, he will do again as we approach the end of “the silence of God.”
The Years Between the Old and New Testaments Part One: Political Changes in the Nation of Israel[x]
During the “400 years of silence” also called the intertestimental period, God was active in world history causing major political and military events to occur as He had predicted in the book of Daniel. During this time the nation of Greece came to power and was conquered by Rome. God had predicted this
It was now count down time to the coming of Messiah. The nation of Israel was under going change. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes came to positions of influence. Israel was looking for Messiah. The stage was set for Jesus Christ to come . . .
Conclusion: During the “400 years of silence” God was fulfilling prophecy and counting down to the time for Jesus to arrive on this earth and then eventually die[xi]. God told us that Messiah would die in one year and in only one year – A.D. 33. No one who has lived before or after that year can or will qualify to be Messiah – only Jesus Christ.
Preparation for the Spread of Christianity.
In the Bible classes at Bible Baptist Seminary in Arlington Texas in 1966-69 as a students that there were three primary reasons why the Christian faith was able to spread so rapidly once it got started:
(1) A common language (Greek) across much of the world at that time;
(2) A good system of roads with government protection; and
(3) A decline in moral standards of pagan religions that made Christianity (and its high standards) attractive to many people. Two of those factors originated during the period between the two Testaments, a period known as the “Inter-Testament Period.”
In this article, I will write about the political changes that affected Israel. In another article, I will deal with the religious changes. Understanding both sets of changes will help us in our study of the Bible and its people.
External Political Influences. Palestine, because of its location on a major travel and trade route, was often invaded and ruled by other nations. Those times of invasion-and the ensuing occupation-had profound effects on the nation and its religious life.
The Assyrian Influence. Although the Assyrian influence came before the Inter-Testament period, there was an effect that lasted into the New Testament period. After conquering parts of Israel in 722 B.C., the Assyrians carried off some of the Jewish inhabitants and replaced them with other people. The resulting intermarriages resulted in the Samaritans, a half-breed people racially and religiously. The Samaritans were hated by the pure-bred Jews, a hatred that underlies a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John, chapter 4.
The Greek Influence. The Greek influence, through the conquests under Alexander the Great, had two major effects. On the one hand, Greek culture and the Greek language became prominent. When the Christians were ready to spread their message, they were able to speak to many different nations by using Greek. The New Testament books were written in Greek and some of them use Greek concepts as a way to convey the message about Jesus. On the other hand, the encroaching Greek influence led to a split among the Jewish people between the Hellenists (those who were drawn to the Greek culture) and the Nationalists (those who opposed any dilution of Jewish culture.
The Egyptian Influence. One major result of Egyptian rule was the translation of the Old Testament scriptures into the Greek language. This translation, known as the Septuagint, made Jewish ideas readily available to non-Jews and, at the same time, laid a foundation for the spread of the Christian faith.
The Roman Influence. Let me mention one more influence: the conquering of Palestine by the Roman Empire as the Caesars expanded their power and territory. In order to rule their vast empire, the Roman government constructed and maintained a system of highways. They also saw that travelers on the highways were protected. As a result, Christians were able to travel easily, freely, and safely across the empire as they preached their message.
While some of the political changes were harmful to the Jews, they proved later to be useful to the emerging Christian faith. Christians see this as God preparing the world to hear and receive Christianity. The more skeptical people will see that Christians simply took advantage of the world situation as it evolved in their day. Either way, it was good news to the followers of Jesus.
Luke 1:78-79 There is the Sun coming. The darkness is going to end.
[i] BETWEEN THE TESTAMENTS: The Four Hundred Silent Years:
In 171 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Egypt. When word reached Jerusalem that Epiphanes had been killed in the battle, there was much jubilation in Israel with celebrating in the streets. The Jason Party, the sons of Tobias, sieged this opportunity to try to again take back the priesthood and the right to collect the hated tribute. Menelaus was driven into the castle, but was able to obtain the upper hand against Jason. Jason retreated and died in a strange land, hated by all.
What the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not know was the report of Epiphanes’ death had been falsely reported. When Epiphanes returned to Jerusalem and found the people rejoicing over his death, he went into a rage, attacking the populace and killing 40,000 and an equal amount were carried away captive.
Menelaus continued his vile ways. Once again, he entered into the Holy Place and stole the Golden Candlestick, the Table of Shewbread, and the Altar of Incense. He also destroyed the Book of the Law, whereupon he set up an altar and sacrificed a “sow” hog upon it. He made a broth from the sow and sprinkled and defiled the temple.
In 169 B. C., Antiochus again made another attempt to attack Egypt, but was rebuffed. After leaving Egypt, he took out his rage again on Palestine. He sent his army, under the leadership of General Apollonius, and once again Jerusalem became a ruin. The walls were broken down and the city was burned. The people were slaughtered by the thousands. The women and children were taken captive.
Then Antiochus demanded all the people to worship his god. He made the temple a place of worship for Jupiter Olympus. His rage against the people knew no end. Mothers who circumcised their children were thrown from the city walls along with their children. Those who observed the sabbath were burned alive.
A woman, and her seven sons were taken before the king, where they were demanded to abandon their faith and serve Antiochus’s god. When she refused, her eldest son was taken, whereupon his tongue was torn out, his members cut off, and he was burned alive for his refusal to serve the king’s heathen god. The woman was forced to watch as her other six sons, in like manner, were killed. She was the last to die. This is the time Paul wrote about in his letter to the Hebrews:
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:” Hebrews 11:36-39
Mattathias the Maccabean
When Israel faced their darkest hour, God sent a deliverer. A man by the name of Mattathias from Modin who had five sons became the Maccabean .
The name Maccabee means “the hammer of God.” Mattathias was of the house of Asmonaeus. They hated the violence and corruption taking place in their beloved Israel.
At this time the king sent Apelles, his commissioner, to Modin to set up an altar to, what he termed the Maccabee’s false god. Because Apelles recognized Mattathias as leader of the people, he demanded Mattathias and his sons to worship their god. When they refused, a renegade Jew broke through the crowd to offer a sacrifice to the heathen god. This so enraged Mattathias, that he slew the Jew and proceeded to kill Apelles also.
Mattathias, who openly, disobeyed the king’s order fled to the mountains, leaving all his earthly belongings behind. He declared to the people, “Whoever is zealous of the Law and the Covenant, let them follow me.” Whereupon, the devoted men in Israel and Mattathias’s five sons followed.
A spark of life came again to Israel. To put down this rebellion, the Syrians dispatched an army who fell on the Jews on the Sabbath Day. Because the Jews would not fight on the Sabbath, thousands were unmercifully killed. A lesson was learned, and the Jews made a rule in the future to defend themselves no matter what day it was.
The Jews who joined Mattathias were known as the Assidaeans (The Pious). Mattathias and his sons led their band through the country, destroying idols, overthrowing heathen temples, and circumcising the children to keep the Law.
Mattathias died in 166 B.C. But before he died he commissioned his sons to continue the fight until the land and the temple were cleansed of the pollution of the heathen. His son, Judas, became the leader of the Maccabees after the death of his father. The second son, Simon, became a counselor to Judas. Judas led his army to great victories. He would surprise his enemies by attacking in the middle of the night. He spread terror and confusion among the enemy until he became greatly feared by all.
The governor of Syria put together a great army to come against Israel, but his army was defeated and he, himself, was killed. His army was scattered, and their weapons became the weapons of Judas and his band.
Another army was sent by Antiochus, led by Seron. The two armies met at Beth-Horon. When Judas’ army questioned how they could defeat this vast army, Judas replied, “With the God of heaven. It is all one to deliver with a great multitude or a small company.” Encouraged by Judas’ word, the small army threw themselves with seemingly reckless abandon, and defeated the great army of Antiochus.
When the news of his defeat came, Antiochus flew into a rage. Determined to annihilate the Jews, he assembled another army which he would lead himself, but the lack of money squashed any such plans.
Antiochus then sent to Persia to collect his tribute to finance his army. His army this time was sent to Palestine, headed by Lysias his most powerful general. He had 40,000 foot soldiers and 7000 horsemen to assure certain victory.
Judas with his 6000 camped at Mizpeh. They put ashes on their heads, and sackcloth on their bodies and made their appeal before God. After fasting and prayer, their battle cry became “The Help of God.” With fear conquered, and the faith of God in their hearts, they attacked the huge army. It only took a few minutes until the army of Antiochus was scattered. The battle was won decisively, and Israel gathered the spoil and rested the Sabbath Day, praising God and giving thanks.
The next year, 165 B.C., Lysias again attacked Israel. This time with 65,000 troops. Judas’ army had grown to 10,000. Again the results were the same. Antiochus died a year later, in 164 B.C. It was a humble death, raving in madness, with a foul disease that rotted his flesh. He had ruled for eleven long years.
After the death of Epiphanes, the temple at Jerusalem was cleansed, and the ancient services were reestablished, although Jerusalem was in shambles. The temple had been disfigured, the temple court was overgrown with shrubs, and the beautiful gate burned. They believed the altar was too defiled to be used again, so they built a new one. The cleansed temple was rededicated in 165 B.C. This began the celebration of “The Feast of Dedication.” The next three years were dedicated to the cleansing and rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Epiphanes was succeeded by his nine year old son, known as Antiochus Eupator. Again Lysias assembled a great army and attacked Jerusalem. Judas’ brother Eleazar was killed when he saw an elephant bedecked with jewels, thinking the elephant was ridden by the boy king, he thrust his spear into the great beast’s belly, and the elephant collapsed on Eleazar, crushing him under its weight.
Being discouraged, Israel retreated to Jerusalem. Lysias laid siege to the city, cutting of all supplies, and threatened the inhabitants with starvation. But God intervened again. Lysias was informed that a rival of Lysias named Philip had rebelled against the government of Syria and was attempting to overthrow the government. Lysias was forced to retreat. He did this after making peace with Israel and guaranteeing them protection.
The hated high priest Menelaus was still in office. He continued to hold this office through the stormy years of rebellion, but he was blamed for the rebellion and was slain by the Syrians.
In 163 B.C. Menelaus was replaced by Alcimus, who was as vile, if not more vile, then Menelaus.
Before Judas’ death, the supposedly deliverer of Israel, he formed an alliance with Rome which led to Judea becoming a Roman province. Judas negotiated a peace treaty with Rome, but the Syrian monarch raised another army and attacked Judas. Since the peace treaty with Rome, the people no longer depended on God as their defense. Now they fought, but were defeated, and Judas, the hammer of God, was killed. Jonathan, Judas brother, took his place in the same year, 161 B.C. The next year, 160 B.C., the hated and wretched high priest Alcimus died.
There was continual war between Syria and Palestine. In 158 B.C. a peace treaty was drawn up between Syria and Palestine. In 153 B.C., Jonathon the Maccabean was made high priest. Everything seemed well. The foreign power was crushed, a Roman puppet Alexander Balas was on the Syrian throne and a Jewish Roman alliance was in force.
What more could secure peace and prosperity? The only thing lacking was a simple trust in the living God. Israel completely depended on the arm of the flesh.
In 148 B.C. trouble loomed large on the horizon. An alliance was formed between Syria and Egypt. The son of the ousted king of Syria, Demetrius, known as Nicator, in order to regain his position as king, attacked Jonathon because he supported Balas the Roman puppet, but Ptolemy, King of Egypt led an army to Palestine to aid his son in law, Alexander’s cause to help the Jews against Nicator. Ptolemy learned of a plot against his life by one of Alexander’s officers, and demanded his daughter back, and the Syro-Egyptian alliance ended. Ptolemy demanded the officer be delivered up to him, but Alexander refused. Ptolemy concluded Alexander was part of the plot, and had him slain and his wife given to Demetrius.
With Egypt’s help, Balas was defeated and Balas was slain in 146 B.C. Demetrius was proclaimed King of Syria. There was a weak compact between Demetrius Nicator and Jonathan.
In 144 B.C., Antiochus, the son of Balas, arose to contest the crown of Demetrius. Jonathan severed all relationship with Demetrius, and sided with the son of Balas. Jonathan remained high priest and led his army against Demetrius and defeated him. Jonathan renewed his alliance with Rome, but Antiochus, the son of Balas’ reign was short, and a treacherous commander overthrew the son of Balas, and took the crown for his own.
The alliance Jonathan had had with, Antiochus, the son of Balas would mean his death. A traitorous commander named Tryphon desired to be king. Tryphon invited Jonathan to what was to be a friendly conference. Jonathan had less than 1000 troops with him. The troops were massacred, and Jonathan was imprisoned and was later cruelly murdered.
In 144 B.C., Jonathan’s brother Simon took his place as head of the army. The deposed King Demetrius Nicator was still alive, and raised an army to regain his crown. To Simon, it seemed Demetrius was a better choice then Tryphon, so Simon who had taken the high priesthood position, sided with Demetrius. Demetrius befriended Israel. At this same time Rome confirmed their former league with Palestine. This agreement made Israel safe from all outside forces.
Simon was made governor of Palestine, and Israel was declared a free people. This ended the 170 year rule of Syria over Palestine. This was in the year 143 B.C. Peace reigned, through Simon’s wise leadership, the cities were rebuilt, the lands tilled, and the general economy restored. The people were so pleased with Simon’s leadership that in 141 B.C. the people confirmed the priesthood and the government upon him and his heirs forever. They engraved this on brass plates and fixed them on pillars on Mount Zion.
Israel had a period of peace, but were constantly threatened by those nations around them. Simon, the last of the Maccabean brothers, was assassinated with his two sons in 135 B.C. Although the Maccabees had been valiant leaders in Israel, they had lost their godly separation and their reliance on God as their provider and defender. They turned to the heathen and the arm of the flesh for their defense. What a picture of the modern day church who no longer have a personal relationship with their God. Their fear is not of God, but of the government.
John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, succeeded his father into the high place of honor his father had held. The Syrians again tried to regain power in Israel, but they were defeated. Many were taken captive. In 126 B.C., John Hyrcanus compelled the captive people to be circumcised and follow the Jewish beliefs, thus adding to the number of the Jews. If they did not accept the Jewish faith, they were threatened with death. This only made more enemies for the Jews.
Since God was grieved, and the Jews no longer had a relationship with God, they began to rely on their past glories. How like the church system of today.
The Decline of the Macabees
It was during the reign of Hyrcanus, that the complete separation of the Pharisees and the Sadducees took place. The Pharisees, who thought all divine counsel centered in themselves, had become intolerant of anyone who disagreed with them. And the pleasure loving Sadducees were indifferent to all that was vital to having a relationship with God. This was the beginning of the decline of the Maccabees.
Hyrcanus rapidly lost power, and the Pharisees openly opposed Hyrcanus. Many troublesome years followed, and Hyrcanus died in 107 B.C. His son, Aristobulus succeeded Hyrcanus, leaving a short, but bloody record. He imprisoned and then slew his brothers. He even imprisoned his own mother and let her starve to death. He died in 106 B.C.
His eldest son Alexander Janneus took his place. All the Hyrcanus had Greek names. Alexander, as his father, embraced the Sadducee’s religion, even though the Pharisees had become the dominant party in Israel. Alexander enraged the people when he poured water from the Pool Siloam on the ground instead of on the altar at the Feast of Tabernacles, which was Jewish tradtion. Alexander called in his foreign troops to quell the riots, 6000 people died. This was only the beginning of the rebellion, and insurrection broke out. Before it was over some 50,000 people were killed. To crush the rebellious spirit, Alexander exorted to the heathen practice of crucifying and mutilating the people. His reign was 27 years and he died in 79B.C.
During his reign the husband of Anna (the prophetess in the temple when they brought Jesus to be circumcised) died. In his will, Alexander desired his wife to take his place, even though he had two sons. Alexander’s wife was declared Queen Regent. She had the title, but the Pharisees held the reins of power. Alexander’s wife made her son Hyrcanus, high priest, but the Pharisees would not accept him, and he fled the country.
Alexander had another son, Aristobulus who desired the throne for himself. He amassed an army, and was determined to overthrow the power of the Pharisees and take the crown his mother held. But she became seriously ill and died. Hyrcanus made an agreement with his brothers. Aristobulus would be king and Hyrcanus would remain high priest. This brought peace to Israel for a short time.
Another man would enter the scene to undo the peace. His name was Antipater. He was the father of Herod the Great. He was not a Jew, but was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau who sold his birthright to Jacob.
Alexander had appointed Antipater governor of Idumea. Antipater and Hyrcanus were close friends. Antipater became possessed with great power and authority. Hyrcanus and Antipater plotted with Aretas, the king of Arabia, to overthrow Aristobulus with an army of 50,000 troops. Because of this, Aristobulus fled to Jerusalem. There the Sadducees refused to open the gates to the city. Upon this refusal, Aristobulus laid siege to Jerusalem, which lasted four months. The city was in dire circumstances.
Pompey, the Roman general, sent forces under Scaurus and Gabinius into Syria to restore order there. The Sadducees sent emissaries to Pompey for help, and Pompey attacked the forces of Hyrcanus, Antipater, and Aretas, and the invading force was routed.
But Antipater contacted Pompey and was graciously received. He convinced Pompey that neither Hyrcanus or Aristobulus were worthy of their positions, and Pompey sided with Antipater. An attach was made, and Aristobulus surrendered and offered a large amount of money to Pompey for his life. He was held hostage, and an agent was sent into the city to collect the promised money. But the soldiers of the city refused to pay, and prepared the city for the siege of the Roman army.
Eventually the lower part of the city surrendered, but a band of zealots held the temple hill for over three months. Battering rams destroyed the main tower and 12,000 people perished by the sword and by fire. This brought an end to any independence Israel had, and Judea became a Roman province.
Judas Maccabeus had no idea what his allegiance with Rome would bring to his people. Pompey allowed Hyrcanus to remain high priest and the temple service to continue. He took Aristobulus and his two sons, intending to take them as prisoners, but they escaped before reaching Rome. Aristobulus tried to retake Judea, but Gabinius the Roman general in charge of Judea defeated him in 57 B.C. Aristobulus escaped and was later recaptured and taken in chains to Rome.
At this time, Galinius governed Judea. He restored order in the land. Hyrcanus submitted to the Roman rule. He became friends with Antipater, who had the confidence and goodwill of Pompey. Israel had peace and prosperity for a short time.
Crassus became co-counsel with Pompey. Needing money, he marched into Jerusalem to capture the temple treasury. An effort was made to divert Crassus’ plan, but Eleazar took the treasure, a quantity of money and jewels valued at ten million dollars. This so roused the Jews, that once again they revolted.
Crassus returned in 52 B.C. and forced the Jews to submit to his will. In 50 B.C., Julius Caesar and Pompey were at strife with each other. Caesar released Aristobulus and sent him to Judea with two legions of soldiers. It was his intention to get an advantage over Pompey, but Pompey had Aristobulus poisoned.
Aristobulus had a son by the name of Antigonus. He was the last of the Maccabeans. Julius Caesar became the dominate ruler in Rome. In 47 B.C., Caesar sent a relative, Sextus Caesar, to become president of the province. Julius Caesar returned to Rome and was made Dictator of the world.
The Beginning of the Edomite Rule
Antipater became friends with Julius Caesar, and Julius Caesar made him a free citizen of Rome, an high honor for an Edomite. Antipater was an ambitious and power hungry man, but in his quest he had grown old, and the weight of government was too heavy for him to bear. So he made his two sons, Phasael and Herod, governors of Galilee and Jerusalem – – – thus putting what is called the Holy Land under Idumean (Edomite) rule.
Looking back, John Hyrcanus had conquered Judea in 130 B.C. and had forced the people to convert to Judaism and be circumcised – – – thus the house of Esau and the hated Edomites were now religious Jews. We need to remember Esau sold his birthright in God for a bowl of lentil soup.
Israel had sold their birthright for the things of the world. They had turned their backs on God, and were now slaves under Roman rule. Their governor was a hated Edomite.
Herod was only twenty years old when he was made governor. Like his father, he was power mad. When an uprising took place in Galilee, he squashed the rebellion and put the leader to death without the Sanhedrim’s approval. For this he was called before the council. Sextus Caesar stepped in, and declared he was only acting as a faithful servant of Rome.
The aged president of the Sanhedrim spoke out as the voice of a prophet stating, “If they freed this man, he would punish them all.” The Sanhedrim sentenced Herod to death, but Herod was warned and fled for his life.
Herod, then amassed an army and persuaded them to destroy his accusers. Antipater interfered with Herod’s plans, but afterwards Herod slew the entire Sanhedrim, with the exception of Pollio and Sameas.
In 44 B.C., Julius Caesar authorized Antipater and Hyrcanus to repair the walls of Jerusalem, but the work was hindered by a variety of events. Julius Caesar was murdered by Brutus in 44 B.C. Confusion reigned, not only in Jerusalem, but in many of the Roman provinces as well.
Antipater’s authority was challenged and he was poisoned by an anarchist by the name of Malichus. Malichus was then killed by one of Herod’s agents.
In 42 B.C., the last heir of the Maccabees raised an army to regain the crown, but Herod easily defeated him, driving him into exile. Antigonus appealed to Mark Antony, who was a general and friend of Julius Caesar without success.
Herod had already secured Antony’s friendship with large sums of money. Antony appointed Phasael as tetrarch (governor) of Galilee and Herod, tetrarch of Judea, thus raising both their rank and authority. Antigonus fled to Parthia after his defeat where he made a league with the king of that country, who furnished him with an army. The promised payment for the army was one thousand talents and five hundred Jewish women. How far the heir of the Maccabeans had fallen.
With his army, Antigonus attacked Jerusalem. This time he was successful. He imprisoned Phasael and Hyrcanus and would have apprehended Herod, but he fled. Supported by the Parthians, Antigonus was declared king.
Phasael, Herod’s brother, committed suicide in prison. Herod went to Egypt and took a ship to Rome, where he had an audience with Antony, who commended him to Octavius Caesar and the senate. Octavius and the senate conferred the title of King of Judea upon Herod and sent him back to Palestine with Roman troops in 40 B.C.
Herod learned his mother’s sister and his betrothed Mariamne were imprisoned in Masada. Herod himself headed the army to free his relatives. He moved from place to place gaining many victories. He then laid siege to Jerusalem. This siege lasted two years, but Jerusalem fell in 37 B.C. Antigonus pleaded for mercy, but he was sent in chains to Antony in Rome where he was beheaded as an enemy of Rome.
As king of Judea, Herod became cruel and was hated by the people. It was said of him, “It would be better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”
Alexandra, the daughter of Hyrcanus had a son, Aristobulus. Alexandra sought to have her son Aristobulus made high priest. But Herod rejected him and appointed another high priest. This angered Alexandra and she appealed to Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, to exert her influence with Antony. Cleopatra succeeded, and Antony overruled Herod, and made Aristobulus the high priest. The Jews were elated, and Aristobulus was applauded and cheered.
Herod’s jealousy was aroused and immediately after the ceremony, Astrobulus was drowned in the king’s fish pond. Herod gave Aristobulus a grand funeral, and he was the chief mourner.
Alexandra again appealed to Cleopatra to speak for her to Mark Antony. Herod was cited, and had to appear before Mark Antony. But Herod left secret instruction that if he was sentenced to death, his wife Mariamne was to be assassinated.
Mariamne heard of Herod’s instructions, and an untrue rumor spread through Jerusalem that Herod was found guilty and was put to death. Alexandra used this to try to gain the throne for herself, but Herod returned completely exonerated. His bribes were more powerful, than Cleopatra’s influence on Antony. Herod imprisoned Alexandra, but she was later released.
Herod’s instruction to have Mariamne assassinated caused the home life of Herod to become a living hell. Herod’s sister accused Mariamne of being unfaithful with Herod’s uncle. Herod had his uncle killed without a trial, but he spared Mariamne.
In 29 B.C., Herod was called before Octavius to answer for his crimes. Herod left the same instructions concerning Mariamne. Again Mariamne learned of Herod’s instructions. Again Herod was cleared of his charge. Returning home in a jealous rage, Herod had Mariamne put to death.
From this time, Herod fell into a deep depression and became deranged. Being in this depressed state, Alexandra again decided to try to regain the throne. When Herod heard of the plot, he aroused from his deep depression, and had Alexandra put to death in 28 B.C. This was the last of the Maccabean family.
Mariamne had given Herod two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. Herod sent them to Rome to be educated. He had another son by a previous marriage by the name of Antipater. His two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, were put to death in 6 B.C. This was just two years before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Herod’s other son, Antipater, was found guilty of planning to poison Herod. He, too, was put to death. Herod was given the title of Magnus or Great and was referred thereafter as Herod the Great. As general of the army, he was victorious. As a diplomat, he knew no equal. As a legislator, he displayed much wisdom. He was a lover of the arts and a patron of religion. But he was still a monster.
He built the temple in Jerusalem in unparalleled grandeur and splendor. He boasted of outdoing Solomon himself. Once he set his mind on a project, nothing was allowed to hinder his success. He was considered the wealthiest king in the east. He was king when the Magi came at the birth of Jesus. He was also the one who ordered all the newborn in Bethlehem to be killed.
As we review these four hundred silent years between the testaments, it becomes clear why Jesus was rejected by those who occupied the land, which had been given to them by their ancestors. Their hearts had been hardened by all the years of hardship. Their religious leaders had been corrupted and the high priest’s office had become a political appointment sold to the highest bidder.
At then end of the four hundred silent years, the heavens split and the angel declared:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14
This was a kingdom message to all mankind. Since Jesus came to earth, there has never been peace on earth, nor has there been good will toward men. This time of peace on earth will be when God sets up His one thousand year millennial reign. This is when the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the ravenous lion will eat straw like the bullock. The leopard will lay down with the kid. Man will have beaten his swords into plow shares and his spears into pruning hooks. Then will come to pass the words of Isaiah the prophet.
“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, saith the Lord.”
When we learn the lessons of the four hundred silent years, then we can rejoice in the presence of God’s glory and peace. Praise the Lord.
Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. | MALACHI 3:1
[ii] 400 silent years:
[iv] A replica of an ancient Torah scroll at Nazareth Village, a historical re-creation of Nazareth as it would have been at the time of Christ. http://www.ryanrodrickbeiler.com/keyword/book/1/1629194927_VF6TPq5#!i=1629194927&k=VF6TPq5
[v] THE 400 YEARS BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT
THE INTER-TESTAMENT PERIOD
We would not say that a knowledge of the period between the Old and New Testaments is vital to one’s understanding of the four Gospels, but it is very desirable, and indeed quite necessary if we would fully appreciate many of the scenes and incidents on which Matthew lifts the curtain. It gives a background against which we see with clearness the connections and relevance of the sayings and doing which occupy the earlier pages of our New Testament.
THE PERIOD IN GENERAL
With the Old Testament canon closing with Malachi at about 397 B.C., we see that this period between Malachi and Matthew covers some four hundred years. This four hundred year interval has been called “the dark period” of Israel’s history in pre-Christian times, because during it there was neither prophet nor inspired writer. With this period we seem to find the sad fulfillment of Psalm 74:9 upon Israel: “We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet; neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.”
The condition of the Jews as a nation and race at the beginning of this four-hundred-year period should be kept in mind. Two hundred years earlier Jerusalem had been overthrown and the Jewish people carried into the Babylonian exile (606 B.C. – 586 B.C.) as punishment for their unfaithfulness to God. At the end of this 70 year punishment period, the Babylonian empire having been overthrown and succeeded by that of Media-Persia (536 B.C.), Cyrus, the Persian emperor, issued a decree permitting the return of the Jews to Israel. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, some fifth thousand Jews returned. Some twenty years after their return, after many setbacks, the building of the Temple was completed in 516 B.C. Then after another 58 years had past, in 458 B.C., Ezra the scribe returned to Jerusalem with a small group of Isralites and restored the Law and the ritual. Still another 13 years later, in 445 B.C., Nehemiah had come to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and become governor. Now, once again, there was a Jewish state in Judea, though of course under Persian rule.
Such, then is the picture of the Jewish people at the beginning of the four-hundred-year period between Malachi and Matthew: the Jewish Remnant back in Judea for about one hundred and forty years (536 B.C. – 397 B.C.); a small, dependent Jewish state there; Jerusalem and the temple rebuilt; The Law and the ritual restored; but with the mass of the people remaining dispersed through-out the Media-Persian empire.
THE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT\
1. THE PERSIAN PERIOD (536 – 333 B.C.)
- The Persian rule over Palestine, which commenced with the decree of Cyrus in 536 B.C. for the return of the Jewish Remnant, continued until 333 B.C., when Palestine fell under the power of Alexander the Great (the third of the Gentile world-empires foretold by Daniel). This means that at the end of Malachi the Jews were still under Persian rule, and remained so for about the first sixty years of the inter-Testament period.
- Persian rule seems to have been tolerant. The high priest form of Jewish government was respected with the high priest being given an increasing degree of civil power in addition to his religious offices, though of course he was responsible to the Persian governor of Syria.
2. THE GREEK PERIOD (333 – 323 B.C.)
- Alexander the Great is a phenomenon in history. Catapulted into leadership through the assassination of his father when he, Alexander, was but twenty years of age, he transformed the face of the world, politically, in little more that a decade. He is the “notable horn” in the “he-goat” vision of Daniel (Daniel 8:1-7).
- In his march on Jerusalem, he not only spared the city, but also offered sacrifice to Jehovah and had the prophecies of Daniel read to him concerning the overthrow of the Persian empire by a king of Grecia, (Daniel 8:21.) Thereafter he treated the Jews with respect and gave them full rights of citizenship with the Greeks in his new city, Alexandria,and in other cities. This in return, created decidedly pro-Greek sympathies among the Jews, and, along with Alexander’s spreading of the Greek language and civilization, a Hellenisstic spirit developed among the Jews which greatly affected their mental outlook afterward.
3. THE EGYPTIAN PERIOD (323 – 204 B.C.)
- This is the longest of the six periods of the inter-Testament period. The death of Alexander resulted in a period of time of confusion which was resolved by a four-fold break-up of Alexander’s empire under four generals: Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander and Selenus. These are the four “notable ones” which take the place of the “great horn,” as predicted in Daniel 8:21,22.
- After severe fighting, Judea, along with the rest of Syria fell to Ptolemy Soter, the first of the Greek kings to rule over Egypt. The beginning of the Ptolematic dynasty.
- For a time Ptolemy Soter dealt harshly with the Jews, but afterwards became just as friendly. His successor, Ptolemy Philadelphus, continued this favorable attitude. His reign is notable in that the famous Septuagint translation of the Old Testament Scriptures was made from the Hebrew onto the Greek language. We see the importance of this when we realize that the Greek language had now become the language of the civilized world. The Jews were so numerous in Egypt and North Africa that such a translation had become a necessity. The Septuagint came into general use well before the birth of Jesus and was still in use during the time Jesus was on earth and was quoted by Jesus.
4. THE SYRIAN PERIOD (204 – 165 B.C.)
When Ptolemy Philopater (fourth Ptolemy) died, his successor, Ptolemy Epiphanes, was only five years old. Antiochus the Great seized his opportunity and in 204 B.C. invaded Egypt. Judea, with other territories, soon after became annexed to Syria and so passed under the rule of the Seleucidae.
There are two points of special note about this period. First, it was at this time that Palestine was divided into the five sections which we find in the New Testament. (Sometimes the first three of these collectively are called Judea.) These different provinces are:
Secondly, this Syrian period was the most tragic part of the inter-Testament era for the Jews of Judea. Antiochus the Great was harsh toward the Jews. So was his successor. Yet the Jews in Judea were still permitted to live under their own laws, administered by the high priest and his council. But with the accession of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) a “reign of terror” fell upon the Jews. In 170 B.C. Jerusalem was plundered, the wall torn down, the temple desecrated, temple sacrifices were abolished, the Holy of Holies was stripped of its costly furniture, Jewish religion was banned, a pig was sacrifices on the altar and the Temple at Jerusalem was redeicated to Jupiter Olympius with a statue of Jupiter Olympius erected on the altar and the people were subjected to monstrous cruelties.
5. THE MACCABEAN PERIOD (165-63 B.C.)
- This excessiveness by Antiochus provoked the Jews to revolt and resist.
- Judas, known as Judas (Hebrew word for hammer), gathered around him a large army of guerilla fighters and after several victories assumed the offensive. Jerusalem was captured, the temple refurnished, and on 25th December, the anniversary of its being polluted three years earlier, the orthodox sacrifices were reinstituted (which date the Jews still observed as the Feast of the Dedication: see John 10:22). Judas Maccabeus, also captured the chief posts up and down the land.
- Antiochus contemplated revenge against Judas, but a defeat in Persia, in addition to the successive defeats in Judea seemed to have brought upon him a superstitious dread which developed into a fatal sickness. He is said to have died in a state of raving madness.
- What seems a deliverance, proved to be the deadliest crisis to come. Antiochus’s son was very young. Lysias was the self-appointed Syrian regent. He now invades Judea with an army of 120,000 and defeats Judas and his army at Bethsura. Judas and his men retreat to Jerusalem which is placed under siege. But just when it seemed hopeless because of a rival regent at the Syrian capital, Lysias suddenly persuaded the young son of Antiochus to make peace with Judea – promising them the restoration of all their religious liberties. Thus the Maccabean revolt was crowned with success.
Further troubles arose later, however, from a lapse, this continued until Judea became a Roman province, in 63 B.C.
6.THE ROMAN PERIOD (63 B.C. onward)
The Herod family now appears on the scene. Antipater, the father of the Herod who reigned at the time of our Lord’s birth, managed to secure the support of Roman general Pompey to gain control of Judea. The result was a siege of Jerusalem which lasted three months with Pompey taking the city. Pompey with disregard for the Temple strolled into the Holy of Holies – an action which at once estranged all loyal Jewish hearts toward the Roman. That was 63 B.C.
Pompey’s subjugation of Jerusalem ended the period of Judea’s regained independence. Judea now became a province of the Roman empire. The high priest was completely deprived of any royal status, and retained priestly function only. The governing power was exercised by Antipater, who was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Cesar in 47 B.C.
Antipater appointed Herod (his own son by marriage with Cypros, and Abrabian women) as governor of Galilee, when Herod was only fifteen years old. In about 40 B.C.,after appealing to Rome, Herod was appointed king of the Jews.
Herod seeking to ingratiate himself with the Jews married Marianne, the granddaughter of a former high priest, and by making her brother Aristobulus high priest. He also greatly increased the splendor of Jerusalem, building the elaborate temple which was the center of Jewish worship in the time of our Lord.
However, he was as cruel and sinister as he was able and ambitious. He stained his hands with many murders. He slew all three of his wife’s brothers – Antigonus, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus. Later he murdered even his wife. Again, later, he murdered his mother-in-law. And still later he murdered his own sons by Marianne. This is that ‘Herod the Great” who was king when our Lord was born.
Such, then, in brief, is the political history of the Jews in Palestine during the four-hundred-year period between Malachi and Matthew. Now we shall review the period from a religious and spiritual viewpoint.
THE RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
You do not have to read far into the pages of the New Testament until you realize that some great changes have come upon the Jews and the Jewish nation in Judea, since the last writer of the Old Testament laid down his pen. It is not simply that Palestine has changed hands half a dozen times. There are new sects or parties:
There are new institutions:
These changes – the rise of these new sects and institutions, and the evolutions of Judaism (the evolving of the people and their religion around the Old Testament Scriptures into one and the same- one implying the other) have come about during those four hundred years between the Old Testament and the New. This in itself shows the importance attached to the inter-Testament period. Let us now briefly look at these religious developments.
To begin with, if we are to understand in general the spirit and trend of the Jewish community during that stretch of centuries we must appreciate the profound impact made upon the nation by the Babylonian exile. The Jews went into that exile with what seemed a hopelessly incurable infatuation for idolatry; they emerged from it and have remained so to this day the most monotheistic people in the world with their belief in the one true God.
It is an extraordinary fact, that after the Babylonian exile the Jewish people are totally and for ever converted from idolatry into convinced worshippers of the one true God.
What happened to bring about this change? The Babylonian exile startled them into the realization that the gods of the heathen were lying vanities, and that Jehovah was the one true God, the Creator of all things, the sovereign Ruler of the universe, whose will alone is sovereign over the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. With realization they were once and forever cured of idolatry and thus they became confirmed worships of their covenant God Jehovah.
Now this system of Jewish religion which originated just after the Exile and developed during the inter-Testament period was founded on a new zeal for the Law (the sacred Scriptures) and the Messianic hope which came forth from those Scriptures – the hope concerning the coming Messiah who should permanently re-gather and exalt the chosen people, and under whose glorious reign all the promised blessings of the covenant made with Abraham would burst forth into fulfillment.
- The Law now became the standard of holiness and the symbol of nationality. Thus the rise of the local synagogue. For here the Scriptures were read and expounded by the scribes.
The basic idea of the synagogue was instruction in the Scriptures, not worship, even though an elaborate liturgical service developed later, with public prayers read by appointed persons, and responses made by the congregation. Also, since the public reading of the Law had now to be by translation into the Aramaic tongue which the people learned in Babylonia (see Neh. 8:8, where such translation is implied), the transition from translation to exposition and even to discourses was easy, though no doubt it took place gradually.
That such synagogue discourses were common in our Lord’s time is seen in such references as Matthew 4:23, 9:35; Luke 4:15, 44; Acts 5:15, 14:1, 17:10, 18:19.
However, from that time, also, there began to form that elaborate system of interpretations, amplifications and additional regulations of which the Judaism of our Lord’s time was the result.
Who and what were the “scribes” the none-too-attractive figures who appear so frequently in the Gospel narratives? We read of scribes away back in Old Testament times, but they must be distinguished from that further order of scribes which developed during the inter-Testament period and had acquired such important status in our Lord’s time.
It is not difficult to see how, when once this new order of scribes came in, it rapidly gained great power. The very nature of this new Judaism was to make every Jew personally responsible for the keeping of the whole Law. Therefore, “a definite rule” had somehow to be extracted from the Law to cover practically every activity of daily life. This endeavor to make the Law such a detailed code created a complex and sometimes acute problem. To accomplish this, there had to be a body of trained experts, who made the study of the Law the great business of their lives.
Thus the scribes who we meet in the Gospel narratives were a class of professional experts in the interpretation and application of the Law and the other Old Testament Scriptures. In the Greek of the New Testament their usual title is the plural, grammateis, translated as “scribes.” Less frequently they are called “lawyers”, nomikoi, as in Luke 7:30
It is with Ezra that the office of the scribe reaches a new dignity. In Nehemiah 8:1-8 we see Ezra elevated in a pulpit, reading and expounding and applying the Law and with Levite assistants, “causing the people to understand the Law.”
- The Pharisees must be distinguished from the scribes. Again and again in the Gospel narratives they are mentioned in conjunction with the scribes (Matthew 5:20, 12:38, 15:1, 23:2, Mark 2:16, Luke 5:21,30, etc.), but although this reveals closeness of affinity it does not imply oneness of identity. The Pharisees were an ecclesiastical party, held together by their peculiar aims and views, whereas the scribes were a body of experts in a scholastic sense. Certainly a man might be both a Pharisee and a scribe; and the fact is, that practically all the scribes were Pharisees in out look and association; yet the two fraternities were different from each other
It was inevitable that the Pharisees should have much in common with the scribes, those specialist in the Written Law, and in the ever enlarging Oral Law (The Oral Law was that complex code of application of the Written Law to every area of one’s life and activities). Indeed, as mentioned earlier, most of those who were scribes by vocation would be Pharisees in conviction.
The origin of the Pharisees as a movement may be compared to a river which flows underground for some distance before coming to the surface and flowing visibly onwards. The spirit and attitudes of the Pharisees were present in post-exile Judaism long before the sect took its historical form under the name “Pharisees.”
We see the spirit of Phariseeism in the aim of Ezra and leaders of the Jewish remnant as expressed in Nehemiah 10:28,29. It is a spirit of “separatism” from all others to Jehovah through a strict observance of His Law. By common consent all mixed marriages were dissolved, and other irregularities corrected. In a mass meeting, and by signed covenant, the book of the Law was acclaimed as the binding standard for both state and individual. Separation to Jehovah was the controlling Idea. Separatism based on the Law (Written and Oral) was the ideology of the Pharisees.
The thing, however, that eventually crystallized them into a clique or sect was a body of Jews, primarily made up of the priests, whose goal and interest was the worldly aspects of religion and politics. These two groups provoked each other into existence. Thus we have the Pharisees on one side and the Sadducees on the other.
The Pharisees as a body were influential way beyond their numbers. According to Josephus the number of Pharisees in Herod’s time was only about 6,000. Yet, despite their small number, they had in fact such a hold on the popular mind that no governing power could afford to disregard them. We need only read the four Gospels to see what sway they had in our Lord’s days on earth – and what influence they had in bringing about His crucifixion.
The mark of the Pharisee – the ritualist – is that he is always ADDING TO- He is not content with the written Word of God, and with the plain truth of the Gospel. He must start adding his own ideas and ordinances, until religion and salvation are a highly complicated matter. This is just what the Pharisees did, until, with the weight of their accumulated religious ceremonies and observances, they made religion a burden too heavy for men to bear.
- The Sadducees seem to have been in the first instance neither a religious sect nor a political party, but a social clique. Numerically they were a much smaller body that the Pharisees, and belonged for the most part to the wealthy and influential priestly families who were the aristocrats of the Jewish nation.
The leaders of the party were the elders with seats in the council, the military officers, the statesmen, and officials who took part in the management of public affairs. With the mass of the people they never had much influence; like true aristocrats, they did not greatly care for it.
Their one ambition was to make themselves indispensable to the reigning prince, that they might conduct the government of the country according to their own views. The Sadducees held, like most modern politicians, that the law of God had no application to politics. If Israel was to be made great and prosperous it must be by well-filled treasuries, strong armies, skillful diplomacy, and all the resources of human abilities. To expect a Divine deliverance merely by making the people holy, they accounted as sheer and dangerous fatalism.
As a body they rejected totally the Oral Law accumulated by the scribes and held to by the Pharisees, and professed to stand by the Written Law alone; though, even their stand on the Written Law alone was done so with great skepticism. Matthew 22:23 and Acts 23:8 show how skeptical was their attitude to the Written Law, for we are told that they denied the bodily resurrection, and did not believe either in angels or spirits.
Thus, we can understand how intolerable to such a group were the teaching of Jesus and His Messianic claims. Their hatred is measured by their readiness to consort even with the detested Pharisees in order to kill Him. It was they, in fact, who were directly responsible for His crucifixion (compare Luke 3:2; John 11:49, 18:13,14,24, 19:15; Mark 15:11).
The mark of the Sadducee – the rationalist – is that he is always TAKING FROM. He cannot accept the written Word of God in its entirety, nor the truth of the Gospel as it stands without drastic deletions. Everything must be tried at the bar of human reason. This, that, and the other thing must be cut out to make faith reasonable and tenable. This was precisely the attitude of the Sadducee. He could not or rather would not, believe either in angels or demons, either in the resurrection of the dead or in any other miracle.
In Matthew 22:16, Mark 3:6 and 12:13 we find yet another Jewish clique, namely, the Herodians. Who were they? There is no explicit information as to their original banding together, but their very name, of course, speaks of the role. Whatever the religious preferences of its members may have been, the group as such was in no sense a religious cult or union. This is a political group and the leading aim of its members was to further the cause of the Herod government. Whether they were directly connected to the Herod household or throne is mere conjecture, but obviously the ready seal of royal approval would be theirs.
We can well imagine that many would consider it sound policy to strengthen the hold of the Herod house on Jewish leaders and public. What could be wiser than to back the Herodian throne, which enjoyed the favor of Rome, and thus giving Judea the protection of that mighty empire? Many would see in the Herods the one Jewish hope of separate national continuance; the one alternative to direct heathen rule. Others would be inclined to favor a blend of the ancient faith and Roman culture such as the first Herod and his successors had sought to effect as the highest consummation of Jewish hopes.
This group was hated by the Pharisees. The two parties were bitterly intolerant of each other, which makes the consorting of the Pharisees with the Herodians against our Lord all the more astonishing.
The mark of the Herodian – the secularist – he cared neither for adding to nor taking away from. Like the careless Gallio, he “cared for none of these things.” The written Word of God, the message of the Gospel were far from his first concern. His prime consideration was the life that now is. What does it matter that a heathen Herod reigns on a throne made crimson with crime so long as material interests are furthered? While the ritualist Pharisee was busy adding to, and the rationalist Sadducee was skeptically taking away from, the secularist Herodian was heedlessly passing by.
There is one further Jewish institution which had its beginning during the inter-Testament period, which plays a big role in the Four Gospels: that is the Sanhedrin, quite often translated as “council”. The Sanhedrin was the supreme civil and religious tribunal of the Jewish nation. The supreme judicial and administrative council of the Jewish people. With that representative body must lie forever the real responsibility for the crucifying of Israel’s Messiah, the incarnate Son of God.
The Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-one members, made up, so it would seem, of:
The high priest;
Twenty-four “chief priests” who represented all twenty-four orders of the whole priesthood (I Chronicles 24:4,6);
Twenty-four “elders,” who represented the laity, often called “elders of the people,” as in Matthew 21:23, 24:3; Acts 4:8 – reminding us of Revelation 4:4;
Twenty-two “scribes,” who were the expert interpreters of the law in matters both religious and civil.
When the word Sanhedrin is used, as in Mark 14:55, it denotes this fourfold assembly; and vice versa, where “chief priests and elders and scribes” are mentioned together, as in Matthew 16:21 it is referring to the Sanhedrin. An alternate name for the elders is “rulers.” In some places we find just “chief priests and rulers” (Luke 23:13 or simply “rulers” (Acts 3:17).”
Our Lord presumably had in mind the president and seventy senators of the Sanhedrin when He chose His seventy representatives and co-workers, as recorded in Luke 10., just as He had the twelve tribes of Israel in mind when He appointed the twelve apostles. His choice of those seventy was prophetic perhaps, among other significances, that the authority of that old-time Jewish court was indeed now passing away in favor of a new “seventy” under His own presidency
THE COMMON PEOPLE
There is, yet, one very important aspect of the old-time Judaism which we must not on any account overlook. It is not only courts and schools and leaders and parties which compose a nation, but those thousands and thousands of individuals who are only known anonymously and collectively as “the common people.”
These common people, far removed from the pomp of earthly courts and the strife of factions and the heated atmosphere of political and religious fanaticism were waiting for the consolation of Israel. And now at last as we enter into the New testament times, to such as these, the long expected Messiah had been revealed. In the hour of Israel’s deepest degradation, when Herod’s kingdom seemed to mock the aspirations of all faithful Israelites with its counterfeit resemblance of Messianic glory, their eyes beheld the Lord’s Anointed, the true King of the kingdom of God, the Ruler, whose goings forth were from of old, from everlasting.
[vi] THE JERSUALME TEMPLES
The Second Temple
[vii] Zerubbabel (Zorobabbel) (“the one sown of Babylon), Prince of Judah, was released from Babylonian captivity (c. 536 BCE). (If the name is not Hebrew but Assyrian-Babylonian, it may contract, Z?ru B?bel, meaning, “Seed of Babylon”, i.e., the one conceived in Babylon.)
According to Wikipedia, Zerubbabel had been determined to be among the wisest men in Persia. To this end, he took up the challenge of presenting to Cyrus, King of Persia, a dissertation on women and truth [I’d love to see that one!]. Thereafter, he was allowed to lead the first band of Jews, numbering 42,360, in returning from the Babylonian Captivity to Judah. He had also been given sanction to rebuild the Temple and return the sacred Temple vessels that Darius had preserved after the conquest of Babylon. He is thereafter credited with laying the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem the year after their return He was likely responsible for the recovery of the Torah and the Books of the Prophets (and not Ezra). Zerubbabel achieved legendary status in Post-Exilic times, and is mentioned among the famous men of Israel [Who’s Who in Where ever]. He is announced as the Prince of Judah upon his return to the Holy Land. Zerubbabel is one of the firm and long-standing followers and friends of the Prophet Isaiah, and a descendant of the Davidic Dynasty.
[ix] Wars between the Jews and Romans: the subjugation of Judaea (63 BCE)
There have been several military engagements between the Jews and the Romans:
- the Roman general Pompey subdued Judaea in 63 BCE (after which it became a client kingdom)
- in 6 CE, the emperor Augustus deposed king Archelaus, and his governor of Syria, Quirinius, established the province of Judaea (which became a prefecture)
- in 66, a serious rebellion started, which led to the destruction of the Temple (September 70); this war was described by Flavius Josephus in his Jewish War
- a little later, the Romans took the fortress Masada (in 74)
- in 115, the Levantine Jews revolted against emperor Trajan
- when the emperor Hadrian forbade circumcision, Simon bar Kochba started a Messianic war, which lasted until 136. It meant the end of the multiform Judaism of the first century.
This is the first of seven documents, dealing with the first of the above mentioned engagements.
Subjugation of Judaea (63)
(4 BCE-6 CE)
Establishment of the province Judaea (6)
Pontius Pilate (26-36)
Agrippa I (37-44)
Province Judaea (6-66)
Sack of the Temple (66-70)
Fall of Masada (74)
Revolt against Trajan
Bar Kochba revolt
Pompey the Great (Louvre)
The Roman politician Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106-48 BCE), better known as Pompey, was one of the greatest generals of his age. In the seventies, he had pacified Hispania, and on his return to Italy, he had put an end to the slave revolt led by Spartacus. In 67, the Senate had ordered him to make an end to the menace of the pirates of Cilicia (the south of modern Turkey): in order to do this, he was given an extraordinary command that was to last three years. In three months, Pompey forced the pirates to surrender, and he decided to use the remaining thirty-three months to pacify the eastern Mediterranean.
There were several wars in which he could intervene. The kingdoms of Pontus (northern Turkey) and Armenia had joined forces against the Romans; and although the Roman commander Lucullus had been successful, he had not brought the war to an end. On Crete and in Syria, there was no recognized authority. And the Jewish queen Alexandra-Salome had died, after which their sons Hyrcanus and Aristobulus had started a bloody civil war, which was ruining Judaea. To an ambitious man like Pompey, the situation offered opportunities he could not afford to miss. He invaded and annexed Pontus in 66, went on to attack the Armenians, added several hitherto unknown Caucasian tribes to his battle roll of victories (65), almost reached the shores of the Caspian Sea, and then turned his attention to Syria, which he annexed in 64.
Meanwhile, the conflict between the two Jewish princes had escalated. The Pharisees sided with Hyrcanus, the Sadducees with Aristobulus. During the festival of Passover of 63, Aristobulus and the Sadducees were besieged in the Temple of Jerusalem by Hyrcanus and his ally, the Arabian sheik Aretas of Petra. However, Aristobulus managed to send an envoy to Pompey’s representative in Syria, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus. The Jewish leader promised 8,000 kg of silver, an offer that Aemilius could not refuse: he immediately ordered Aretas to leave. When Pompey arrived on the scene, he received an even larger present: Aristobulus sent him a golden vine of no less than 800 kg, which the Roman commander forwarded to the temple of Jupiter in Rome.
Jerusalem in 63 BCE
Having gained Pompey’s favor, Aristobulus was safe from his brother. Unfortunately, he had made a mistake. He sent an envoy to Pompey, asking him to punish Aemilius, who -according to Aristobulus- had extorted from him 8,000 kg of silver. Pompey decided to come to Jerusalem to see for himself what was going on; there, he sided with Hyrcanus and had Aristobulus arrested.
Hyrcanus’ followers, the Pharisees, allowed Pompey to enter the lower town of Jerusalem, but Aristobulus’ adherents, the Sadducees, still occupied the Temple. In the west, there was a bridge between the Temple and the city, but this had been destroyed; in the south and east, there were deep valleys. Therefore, Pompey decided to attack from the north. His soldiers could be seen constructing a large dam; they attacked on every day, except for the sabbath. When the dam was completed, siege towers were rolled towards the wall of the Temple. Catapults kept up a continuous pressure by hurling heavy stones; a battering ram broke the wall, and Pompey’s soldiers entered the Temple terrace, where they started to kill the defenders. Many Jewish soldiers committed suicide, because they did want to see the profanation of the sanctuary (June/July 63).
When the Romans controlled the Temple, Pompey and his officers entered the Holy of Holies – according to the Jews a blasphemous act, because only the high priest was allowed to enter this room. The conqueror saw the Menorah, the treasure and all sacred vessels. His soldiers seem to have sacrificed to their standards (Dead Sea Scrolls, 1QpHab 6.1-6). Next day, he ordered the cleansing of the Temple, and he appointed Hyrcanus as high priest.
Meanwhile, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus attacked Aretas of Petra, but allowed himself to be bribed for another 6,000 kg of silver. Soon afterwards, he was killed (an event mentioned in one of the Dead Sea scrolls). At that moment, Pompey had already left Judaea, and after pacifying Crete, he returned to Rome, where he had become the most influential politician of his age. He took many prisoners with him, who were later released and settled in the large section of Rome beyond the river Tiber (Philo of Alexandria, Embassy to Caligula 155; go here for description).
The Roman annexation
Large parts of the Jewish kingdom -essentially the most hellenized regions- were annexed by the Romans. From now on, Judaea and Galilee were just one of Rome’s client kingdoms in the east.
Hyrcanus was high priest and received the title ethnarch (‘national leader’). His position was safe, although Aristobulus tried to come back from Rome in 57-55 BCE. In 49, however, there appeared a dark cloud on the horizon: a civil war broke out in the Roman Empire. Pompey was defeated by Julius Caesar, who pursued his enemy to the East. Caesar chose to co-operate with Hyrcanus, but appointed the latter’s courtier Antipater epitropos (‘regent’). When war broke out with the Parthians, Hyrcanus was taken prisoner (40 BCE). Antipater’s son Herod managed to bring him home, but Hyrcanus was no longer high priest and Herod, who became king, had him executed in 31 BCE.
[x] The Yearshttp://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLEOverview.htm Between the Old and New Testaments Part One: Political Changes in the Nation of Israel
The Years Between the Old and New Testaments Part Two: Religious Changes in the Nation of Israel
As I wrote in an earlier article, there was a period of approximately 400 years between the date of the last Old Testament book (Malachi) and the date of the first book in the New Testament (Matthew). During these 400 years, known as the “Four Hundred Silent Years,” “the Dark Period” of Israel’s history, or the “Inter-Testament Period,” major events were taking place in the nation of Israel. My earlier article discussed the political changes. This article will explore the religious changes that transformed Judaism.
Changes in the Jewish Religion. Between the Old Testament and the New, some changes have taken place in Judaism. The most obvious change is the appearance of new groups that are not mentioned in the Old Testament: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. Alongside the new groups are new institutions: the Synagogue, the Scribes, and the Sanhedrin. Something has happened to transform the makeup of the faith.
The Influence of the Babylonian Captivity. The changes during the Inter-Testament period have their origin in the conquest of Israel in 586 B.C. by the nation of Babylon. Many Jews were carried off to Babylon where they would live-most of them for the rest of their lives. Others would live to return to their homeland. The most critical effect of the Babylonian conquest was not the captivity of the people, however, but the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the center of their worship.
J. Sidlow Baxter, in his book, Explore the Book (see details below), notes that Israel, as they went into captivity, were a people who had what he calls “a hopelessly incurable infatuation” for idolatry (page 28). Time after time, they turned away from the one true God and worshiped the idols and gods of other nations. Despite Babylon being a hotbed of pagan religion, the Jews returned from captivity seemingly done with idolatry and deeply devoted to God. What happened? The destruction of the Temple had some profound effects.
The Crucial Role of the Temple. The Temple was not only the center of worship, it was the only place where the sacrifices to God could be offered. Without a temple and having been moved to a new land, the Jews were without the means of carrying out their normal religious rites. Sacrifices intended to cover over the sins of the people had to be abandoned. The result was that the Jews in captivity became more and more a people of the Book (the Old Testament).
What Happened with the Turn toward the Scriptures. The Jews have always had an important place for the scriptures, but when they pondered the fact of their captivity, they began to realize that everything that had happened to them, including their captivity, had been predicted ahead of time by God speaking through the prophets. God, the Jews, discovered, was faithful and true. There was no need for worthless idols and the gods they represented. This discovery moved the Jews to a deeper study of their scriptures in which they found predictions of the end of their captivity and, in the long run, the coming of a special person (or Messiah) from God who would free the people. From the Christian perspective, that Messiah is Jesus.
The New Groups and Institutions within Judaism. This renewed emphasis on the scriptures explains the appearance of groups or institutions such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and the Synagogue. The scriptures needed to be studied, understood, and applied to daily life. The Synagogue was the place for Jews to study the scriptures. The Scribes were the experts in translating and understanding the scriptures. The Pharisees were the religious group most concerned with obeying the scriptures. The Sadducees tended toward a more liberal application of the scriptures to daily life. The Sanhedrin served as a court overseeing the religious life of the nation and imposing penalties where appropriate for lapses from the Jewish faith.
The Herodians. That leaves one group: the Herodians. The Herodians are not so much a product of the captivity as they are the result of the rule of Israel by King Herod and his successors. The Herods were not Jews, but were placed in power by the Roman Empire. While most Jews were unhappy with the “foreign” rule of the Herods, there were those who approved them or at least could see some personal benefit from supporting them.
As the New Testament opens, we see that the Temple has been rebuilt and is being used for sacrifices, but Judaism has been transformed to such an extent that the old days are gone forever. Out of the mix of interpretations and prophecies, Jesus will emerge and leave his mark on the faith and on the world.
Source: For a helpful and more in-depth study of the Inter-Testament period, see:
J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House), 9-86.
[xi] Conclusion: During the “400 years of silence” God was fulfilling prophecy and counting down to the time for Jesus to arrive on this earth and then eventually die. God told us that Messiah would die in one year and in only one year – A.D. 33. No one who has lived before or after that year can or will qualify to be Messiah – only Jesus Christ.
Overview: Daniel 9:24-25 indicates that 483 prophetic years (69 weeks = 70 x 7 years) would occur between a decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the death of Messiah. These 483 prophetic years correspond to 476.067 of our years (Julian years). If we count 476 years from 444 B.C. we arrive at Nisan 10, A.D. 33. Please note that there is only one year from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1. Daniel predicted that after that date the Messiah would die, and Jesus did. He died on 14 Nissan, A.D. 33.