BETWEEN THE TESTAMENTS - THE SILENT YEARS
This section is included in our survey only for the simple reason that we may bridge the gap between the Old and New Testaments. It is designed to give us answers to questions contemplated in the Old Testament and as a background for events leading into the New Testament age. We do not find this section in the Bible; reliance must be upon secular history and the writings of uninspired men.
What happened in the four hundred years that spanned the time between Malachi and Matthew? God had remained silent insofar as new revelation was concerned. Earlier prophecies showed that the prophecies of God were continually being fulfilled during this span of years. Daniel 11 gives us a broad outline of the period. However, in the New Testament we are introduced to "things new."
In the New we read of Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians - sects unknown in Old Testament times. Who were they? We find that Hebrew had become a dead language, Aramaic and Greek is now the language of culture, intercourse, and commerce. Palestinian cities now have Greek names. Persian power and rule has been replaced by the power and dominion of Rome. We read of the "twelve tribes scattered abroad (James 1:1) and were known as the Dispersion. We discover that a Greek version of the Scriptures is now in common usage among the Jews. We read that idolatry, the great snare of Israel in the Old Testament, is virtually rooted out of the glorious land. We read of an Idumean king reigning in Jerusalem, and of an official Jewish tribunal known as the Sanhedrin had been set up. The temple does not have the significance it once did, for we see synagogues everywhere set up as places of worship.
Old Testament history closes with Palestine under Persian domination. A remnant of Jews is in the land, but the majority is colonized as captives throughout the empire. In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great brought the land under the Macedonian (Grecian) rule. When he died, the land was a pawn bandied about back and forth between Syria and Egypt. The persecutions of the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes provoked a revolt of a people called the Maccabees in a struggle for independence (167-147 B.C.). The Hasmoneans. descending from the Maccabees, ruled until 63 B.C. when the land came under the control of Rome by the aggression of Pompey the Great.
Christ was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus, who appointed Herod the Great as ruler in Palestine in 31 B.C., after the battle of Actium, when Cleopatra and Anthony of Egypt were overthrown. Herod ruled Judea, Samaria Galilee, Persia, and Idumea. Herod was the king responsible for the murder of the babies in Bethlehem shortly after the birth of Christ. Herod began to rebuild the temple because it was not good enough to suit his taste. The temple took eighty-five years to complete in the reign of Agrippa II. Herod the Great died about 4 B.C.
We frequently read of the Scribes in the gospel accounts. These men were highly esteemed by the people as interpreters and teachers of the Scriptures. As a class, they came into prominence after the return from Babylonian captivity, Ezra himself being a priest and scribe. The scribes bitterly opposed Christ, who frequently denounced them for making the Scriptures "of none effect by their tradition" (Matt. 15:9).
The Pharisee was a very influential sect of the Jews. They arose in the time of the Maccabees. They had separated themselves from the political party. They were zealous guardians of the Law and very conservative in belief, fully accepting the ides of an after-life and of the supernatural.
The Sadducees on the other hand, were rationalists, the liberals of their day, who denied the existence of spirits, the resurrection, and the immortality of the soul. They comprised a much smaller group than the Pharisees and belonged mainly to the aristocracy, wealthy, influential, priestly parties of the nation. They also arose during the time of the Maccabees.
The Herodians were not a religious cult, but were a political party, taking their name from Herod, and their authority from Rome. To them, Christ was a revolutionary.
TheZealots were an extremist group and were fanatical defenders of the theocracy and engaged in acts of violence against the Romans. The apostle Simon may have been a member of this sect (Lk. 6:15).
The Sanhedrin Court was the supreme civil and religious body in the Jewish nation. The president was the High Priest, and twenty-three members composed a quorum. The Sanhedrin had the right to pronounce the death penalty, but could not execute it.
The concept of the synagogue may have had its roots during the Babylonian captivity. With no temple in which to worship, they probably began to assemble in small groups, wherein was instruction and worship, keeping alive the knowledge of the law. The institution of synagogues in all the lands of the Dispersion helped draw attention to the Gentiles to great truths entrusted by God to Israel.
The separation of the Jews from the homeland was originally a divine punishment for sin. By New Testament times Jews of the Dispersion were to be found in all parts of the Roman Empire, and were often influential, wealthy, and outstanding citizens. The Jews of the Dispersion, while living among pagans, were able to proselyte many to Judaism. On the whole, though, they maintained strict separation from idolatry but were more liberal-minded than the homeland Jews. With the common language of the ancient world being Greek, they felt the need for a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This translation was made at Alexandria in Egypt sometime between 285-130 B.C., and is known as the Septuagint. It afforded people the opportunity to read the Scriptures in the language of the day. It rendered a remarkable service in preparing the Greek-speaking peoples in accepting the Christ through the apostles and other Christians.
During the "silent years" God had not been inactive. These four hundred years were years of intensive preparation for the coming of His Son. The Jews of the Dispersion had spread the basic ideas on which the gospel was to be firmly founded. The Jewish Sabbath, synagogue, and Scriptures became well known. The Jewish Messianic hope was kept alive so that when the apostles began to spread the good news of Christ, many were then receptive to their teaching.
The Greeks had left a lasting mark upon the ancient world. Greek learning and the Greek language had made a cultural climate that greatly expedited the mission work of Paul and others. The Romans had brought the world into one vast empire and generally "peace" prevailed. Added to this was the decline of pagan religions, thus serving to accentuate the spiritual needs of mankind. So, "when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4,5).
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