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Between the Testaments

The Jews in the time of Jesus were products of their historyand environment. For over 500 years they had been ruled by thefour world rulers that the prophet Daniel foretold in his visionor four beasts in Dan. chap.7. These were Babylon under kingNebuchadnezzar, and his son Belshazzar, After 50 years ofcaptivity, Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Median took thekingdom (Dan.5:30,31). The Jews were under the rule of the Medes and Persians forthe next 205 years. The Persians established the Jews incolonies, and let them prosper to the point that some became verywealthy. It was under Persian captivity that the synagogue wasestablished as a substitute for the temple in Jerusalem. In 516B.C. Zerubbabel was allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuildthe 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 deaththe office of governor was invested in the high priest. Thisnaturally led to abuse of power, and these abuses had reachedtheir peak, when the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple of themoneychangers. From 331-167 B.C. Palestine was ruled by the Greeks. Alexander the Great marched into Jerusalem in 331 B.C. and was metby a torchlight parade led by the High Priest. Alexander conqueredEgypt, and proclaimed himself Pharaoh. He built the city ofAlexandria in Egypt, and invited the Jews to live there. This citybecame a center of Jewish worship and learning, which was heavilyinfluenced by the Greek culture of the day.

There was a Hellenistic Jew in Alexandria named Philo who developed the originalLogos 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 thatmuch 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 wasdivided between four of his generals. Two dynasties emerged fromthis split. One was the Ptolemaic dynasty which ruled from Egypt,which was south of Judea. The other was the Seleucid empire whichwas based in Antioch Syria to the North of Judea. Palestine wascaught in the middle of these two warring groups of Greeks. Forthe sake of survival their loyalty was given to the one who seemedto have the upper hand. Under the Ptolemies the Jews fared well.They were allowed a great degree of freedom, and allowed topractice their religion.

The Ptolemies were replaced by the harsher Seleucid Dynasty ofSyria. The worst of their rulers was Antiochus IV (Epiphanies)who forbade the practice of circumcision, and also the observanceof the Sabbath, and 'the dietary laws. He desecrated the templeby sacrificing a pig on the altar, dedicating the temple to theworship of the supreme deity of the Greeks, Zeus. During this time40,000 Jews were killed in Jerusalem, so that the blood literallyran in the streets. The Jews revolted under the leadership ofa high priest named Mattathias. His son Judas Maccabaeus (theHammer) led a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Syrianrulers. These Syrian Greeks had other flanks to cover, and wereeventually worn down so that the Jews finally had independance. Thehouse of Mattathias established a Jewish dynasty known as theHasmonean dynasty. In 154 B.C. the temple was cleansed andrededicated. This is still commemorated in the Jewish feast ofHanukkah.

The area of Jewish influence was enlarged, trade routes wereestablished, and the areas of Samaria and Idumea were annexed. Itwas during this time that the competing factions of Judaism wereborn. The Pharisees (separatist) who were zealous to preserve thelaw revolted in 90 B.C. and 6000 were slain. The Sadducees weremade up wealthy and educated men who held the vested interest ofthe Jews in Jerusalem. They held the presidency of the Sanhedrin,and controlled the office of high priest. Later they would befriendly to the Romans. They were survivors, more interested inpolitics than religion. Another group was the Essenes, whoseparated themselves to the desert. Their doctrines whichoriginated under Persian influence laid the foundation for thefirst century heresy of the Gnostics.

This period of independence which was marked by much bloodshedcame to an end in BC when the Roman general Pompey besiegedJerusalem. Pompey reduced and divided the kingdom into fiveregions. Worship was again allowed, and as long as the people paidthe heavy taxes, they were allowed some degree of self government. Antipater from the region of Idumea, ruled all Palestine byRoman grant. He placed his sons over the different regions, themost 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 builta great palace, and rebuilt the temple on a much grander scale.Herod executed his wife for suspected adultery, his mother- in-lawfor an attempted coup, two sons for plotting, and another fortreason. Caesar Augustus said that he would have a better chance tolive if he were Herod's pig rather than his son. Herod died in 4BC, but not before the King of all the ages, clothed Himself in theflesh 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 arenahuman life was sacrificed for the sake of sport. This was a time ofeither extreme luxury, or extreme poverty. There had not been aprophet for over 400 years, until John the Baptist came as theforerunner of the Lord. Jewish thought and worship was influencedby Greek philosophy and culture, and also the culture of Rome. Roman orators and writers ridiculed the Jews for worshiping anunseen God and for observing the Sabbath.

During this time two other factions arose. The Zealots, whohad started in opposition to Rome, but had degenerated into a bandof robbers. The Herodians were a faction loyal to king Herod. Palestine was divided into territory under Jewish control andinfluence, and cities with Greek names and culture, as well ascities built by king Herod where Greek and Syrian worshipprevailed. In all this there was a prevailing hope of a Messiahwho would rule with all the glory of David and Solomon. Only afaithful few recognized Him when He came. HE WAS IN THE WORLD, AND THE WORLD WAS MADE BY HIM, AND THEWORLD KNEW HIM NOT (JN.l:lO).

Don Spooner

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.

Last modified: 02-01-2017
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