Between the Testaments
The Jews in the time of Jesus were products of their history
and environment. For over 500 years they had been ruled by the
four world rulers that the prophet Daniel foretold in his vision
or four beasts in Dan. chap.7. These were Babylon under king
Nebuchadnezzar, and his son Belshazzar, After 50 years of
captivity, Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Median took the
The Jews were under the rule of the Medes and Persians for
the next 205 years. The Persians established the Jews in
colonies, and let them prosper to the point that some became very
wealthy. It was under Persian captivity that the synagogue was
established as a substitute for the temple in Jerusalem. In 516
B.C. Zerubbabel was allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild
the temple. In 448-445 B.C. under Ezra and Nehemiah the walls of
Jerusalem were rebuilt, and temple worship reestablished.
Nehemiah was the appointed governor of Judea, and upon his death
the office of governor was invested in the high priest. This
naturally led to abuse of power, and these abuses had reached
their peak, when the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple of the
From 331-167 B.C. Palestine was ruled by the Greeks.
Alexander the Great marched into Jerusalem in 331 B.C. and was met
by a torchlight parade led by the High Priest. Alexander conquered
Egypt, and proclaimed himself Pharaoh. He built the city of
Alexandria in Egypt, and invited the Jews to live there. This city
became a center of Jewish worship and learning, which was heavily
influenced by the Greek culture of the day.
There was a Hellenistic Jew in Alexandria named Philo who developed the original
Logos doctrine. However, Philo saw the Logos or Word as an impersonal agent between
God and man. The apostle John took this doctrine, and in the first chapter of his gospel
made the Word very personal, showing that the Word was none other than Eternal God.
It is interesting to note that Philo developed a system of allegorical teaching, which denied
the literal interpretation of God's word, while striving for spiritual truth. He believed that
much of the creation account in Genesis was a myth, used only to show some higher
principal. The allegorical school of thought is still with us today.
Alexander the Great died in.323 B.C. and his kingdom was
divided between four of his generals. Two dynasties emerged from
this split. One was the Ptolemaic dynasty which ruled from Egypt,
which was south of Judea. The other was the Seleucid empire which
was based in Antioch Syria to the North of Judea. Palestine was
caught in the middle of these two warring groups of Greeks. For
the sake of survival their loyalty was given to the one who seemed
to have the upper hand. Under the Ptolemies the Jews fared well.
They were allowed a great degree of freedom, and allowed to
practice their religion.
The Ptolemies were replaced by the harsher Seleucid Dynasty of
Syria. The worst of their rulers was Antiochus IV (Epiphanies)
who forbade the practice of circumcision, and also the observance
of the Sabbath, and 'the dietary laws. He desecrated the temple
by sacrificing a pig on the altar, dedicating the temple to the
worship of the supreme deity of the Greeks, Zeus. During this time
40,000 Jews were killed in Jerusalem, so that the blood literally
ran in the streets. The Jews revolted under the leadership of
a high priest named Mattathias. His son Judas Maccabaeus (the
Hammer) led a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Syrian
rulers. These Syrian Greeks had other flanks to cover, and were
eventually worn down so that the Jews finally had independance. The
house of Mattathias established a Jewish dynasty known as the
Hasmonean dynasty. In 154 B.C. the temple was cleansed and
rededicated. This is still commemorated in the Jewish feast of
The area of Jewish influence was enlarged, trade routes were
established, and the areas of Samaria and Idumea were annexed. It
was during this time that the competing factions of Judaism were
born. The Pharisees (separatist) who were zealous to preserve the
law revolted in 90 B.C. and 6000 were slain. The Sadducees were
made up wealthy and educated men who held the vested interest of
the Jews in Jerusalem. They held the presidency of the Sanhedrin,
and controlled the office of high priest. Later they would be
friendly to the Romans. They were survivors, more interested in
politics than religion. Another group was the Essenes, who
separated themselves to the desert. Their doctrines which
originated under Persian influence laid the foundation for the
first century heresy of the Gnostics.
This period of independence which was marked by much bloodshed
came to an end in BC when the Roman general Pompey besieged
Jerusalem. Pompey reduced and divided the kingdom into five
regions. Worship was again allowed, and as long as the people paid
the heavy taxes, they were allowed some degree of self government.
Antipater from the region of Idumea, ruled all Palestine by
Roman grant. He placed his sons over the different regions, the
most notorious of whom was Herod the Great, Procurator of Judea.
Herod brought an end to civil war which had raged for 26 years,
since Pompey had first entered Jerusalem. He enlarged the kingdom,
built roads, and instituted a massive building program. He built
a great palace, and rebuilt the temple on a much grander scale.
Herod executed his wife for suspected adultery, his mother- in-law
for an attempted coup, two sons for plotting, and another for
treason. Caesar Augustus said that he would have a better chance to
live if he were Herod's pig rather than his son. Herod died in 4
BC, but not before the King of all the ages, clothed Himself in the
flesh of a baby, and was born of a virgin in Bethlehem.
Jesus Christ was born at a time of extreme moral degeneracy.
There were 6,0OO,OOO slaves in the Roman empire. In the Roman arena
human life was sacrificed for the sake of sport. This was a time of
either extreme luxury, or extreme poverty. There had not been a
prophet for over 400 years, until John the Baptist came as the
forerunner of the Lord. Jewish thought and worship was influenced
by Greek philosophy and culture, and also the culture of Rome.
Roman orators and writers ridiculed the Jews for worshiping an
unseen God and for observing the Sabbath.
During this time two other factions arose. The Zealots, who
had started in opposition to Rome, but had degenerated into a band
of robbers. The Herodians were a faction loyal to king Herod.
Palestine was divided into territory under Jewish control and
influence, and cities with Greek names and culture, as well as
cities built by king Herod where Greek and Syrian worship
prevailed. In all this there was a prevailing hope of a Messiah
who would rule with all the glory of David and Solomon. Only a
faithful few recognized Him when He came.
HE WAS IN THE WORLD, AND THE WORLD WAS MADE BY HIM, AND THE
WORLD KNEW HIM NOT (JN.l:lO).
The purpose of About-Him.Com is to glorify the Lord Jesus
Christ whom we preach as the Almighty God manifest in the flesh.
It is our desire that everything presented on these pages increases your
faith in our God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
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Last modified: 08-06-2007
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