By Lance Lambert.. The period between the end of the O.T. canon and the beginning of the N.T. has been called “the four hundred silent years.” They may indeed have been silent insofar as there was no great prophetic voice, or any appearance of directly inspired Scripture. If, however, we were to think of Divine Activity, these four hundred years were anything but silent.
Tremendous and far-reaching changes took place in every sphere of human life. Great world empires vanished, and others appeared. The Jews were scattered throughout the inhabited earth, and wherever they went they gathered together for worship and study, and became a testimony of the living God to the Gentiles. The Word of God, the very revelation of God Himself, was translated in its entirety into Greek, and thus millions became aware of something before hidden.
The Promised Land itself was prepared, as were the nations – culturally, politically, and religiously – for the coming of the Messiah. The canon of the O.T. was finally recognized as complete – the witness to the coming Saviour of the world. In view of all this, it is then of real importance that we should investigate this period.
The Gentile Background
Let us first look at the Gentile background. During this period three successive world empires operated: namely Persia, Greece, and Rome. And the course of these empires as they touched the people and work of God had been remarkably foretold in the Book of Daniel. From each of these empires we can learn a tremendous amount. Let us take a look at their successive order.
The Persian Government
The Persian system of government was enlightened and humane on the whole. They had allowed the return of deported peoples to their own lands and the reconstruction of their life, under a limited form of home rule. The fact that the Persians were Zoroastrians, worshipping the one invisible God, who they believed was Spirit and whose symbol was fire, meant that they felt a kinship with the Jews as with no other. They had, therefore, on the whole favoured the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Gradually, however, internal divisions and rebellion weakened them until they were finally swept away by Alexander the Great in 335 BC. Thus God used Persia for the fulfilling of His Purpose: the rebuilding of the Temple and the City, reinstitution of the priesthood and true worship, repopulation of the land, and the study of the Word of God. This was all in preparation for the coming Messiah.
In 334 B.C. another great world power arose, Greece. Greece already had a culture and civilization famed for its brilliance long before this. It was, however, Alexander the Great, one of the most remarkable men in world history, who led Greece into its greatest era, in an empire that extended from the Dardanelles to India. Its rise to supreme power began with Alexander’s father, Philip of Macedon, when he had united Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece. He then started on an offensive to free Greek areas under Persian domination. He was assassinated in 236 BC and was succeeded by his 20 year old son Alexander. When he was only 25 he conquered Persia and went on from triumph to triumph until he headed the greatest empire of that day.
Death and Development
Alexander died at Babylon in 323 BC of fever aged 31 years. Although his life was short, and the unity of his empire did not last long, he imposed upon the ancient world a cultural unity, which was to last one thousand years. From then on Hellenism permeated every part of the old empire. Greek became the common and universal language, and the old Semitic languages fell slowly into a kind of disuse. Greek thought, customs and traditions were everywhere adopted. Upper class society became Hellenized. Great changes came in the fields of art, philosophy, and science, as well as religion. So Hellenized did the ancient world become, that to the true Jews all Gentiles were “Greeks”!!
Great cities arose like Alexandria – magnificent in its properties and architecture. Its seaport and harbour were unrivalled in antiquity; it became one of the greatest intellectual centres of the known world. Public libraries, zoos, gardens, and museums all added to its fame. It was here that Greek-speaking Jews, called Hellenist Jews, found their centre and it was from here that the Greek translation of the Hebrew O.T. was translated: the Septuagint (LXX.)
Preparation for the Messiah
Great Greek philosophers – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Epicurus, Zeno – all in some way prepared the Gentile world for Christ, the Messiah. Alongside all that was good and commendable in Hellenistic society, corruption, immorality, and a pursuit of pleasure developed which has become proverbial. It was during this period, toward the end, that one of the darkest and most sinister characters predicted in Daniel appeared. It was one of Jewry’s darkest hours. That man was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose attempt to Hellenize the Temple led to severe persecution. He became the arch type of Anti-Christ. The trademark and legacy of Hellenism is humanist philosophy – everything begins with man and ends with man; even the gods are human with all the failings of human beings. Everything is the projection of the human mind.
Greece’s contribution to the coming of the Messiah was undoubtedly the cultural unity it created over a large area; the liberalizing attitude and tendency of Greek thought and culture; and supremely the Greek language which became both in writing and in speech the means of the gospel reaching the whole empire.
The Rise of Rome
In 66 B.C. the last great world empire rose to its zenith. For some centuries Rome’s sun had been slowly rising. Under the able leadership of Pompey in the Eastern Mediterranean and Julius Caesar in the West, it came to its supreme power. Rome was different to all that preceded it, in its democratic form of government, already known in individual Greek city-states. Its genius lay in the way it bound territory after territory to itself with bilateral agreements, giving much local independence, while taking on overall administrative and military responsibility. While in theory government was democratic, in practice it soon became autocratic. The Emperor being looked upon as divine. In fact the army and its allegiance to Caesar became the central and definitive factor.
At its greatest point, the Empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, from the British Isles to African deserts, the Nile cataracts and the Arabian Desert: Only Germany and Parthia remained outside. The Roman Empire was divided by provinces responsible to the Roman Senate, and governed by a proconsul for a year; and imperial provinces responsible directly to the Emperor and governed by legates and procurators appointed by him.
Roman citizenship was something greatly sought after because of its privileges; colonies (as Philippi) were peopled by such citizens, who were originally sent out from Rome; other cities (as Athens) were granted Roman citizenship. By these means Rome insured itself against rebellion. Rome gave to the world justice, the rule of law, which has become the basis of all justice to this day. It created an administrative machine from Babylon to Scotland unequalled in world history; whilst its roads, public buildings, and works have become world famous.
Rome’s Roads of God’s Purpose
Rome combined military might and strength with justice and public order. Its system of roads (many of which have lasted until today) gave to the empire a transport system never before known. The Roman army was divided into legions. Each legion numbered about 10,000 men. A legion was divided into 10 cohorts of infantry, each numbering 480 men. It had also a cavalry company and an artillery unit. Many times in the N.T. “centurions” are mentioned. They were officers who commanded a company of 100 men.
The contribution of Rome to God’s purpose was that at Christ’s coming the world was strongly and harmoniously governed; law protected religions; the Roman network of roads protected from brigands, meant that the Gospel could be speeded from Spain to Russia, from Babylon to Scotland.
To be continued…
 See 1 Cor. 1:22-24, Gal 3:28, Col 3:4