By Lance Lambert.. This last short period we will consider began with Pompey’s conquest of the Promised Land in 63 BC and ends with the birth of Christ in 6 BC approximately. Although short this period is noteworthy in that it saw the people of God come under Roman law and government, the rise of the Herod’s; the rebuilding of the Temple; the quickening anticipation of the coming Messiah; and the preparation of a tiny but faithful remnant. All this in less than 60 years.
By the end of the actual Maccabean period most of the original Land of Israel had been recovered, and the Gentile Hellenising forces checked though not eliminated. Nevertheless, the close of that era was marked by decline and deterioration of spiritual life and character, by civil war, and continual internal discussion and corruption. This invited Roman interest and Pompey finally took the region for Rome in 63 BC.
The decline and determination continued throughout these 60 years, the forces standing against it either becoming, as the Pharisees, more and more formal and legalistic; or as the Essenes, more divorced from life and extremist.
About twenty years after the Roman conquest in 40 BC, through much intrigue and diplomacy Herod was recognized by Augustus as King of Judea. He was a ruthless, cruel and brilliant man. Thus began the rule of the Herods. His reign was to last until the Birth of Christ, and his greatest feat was the rebuilding of the Temple into a building of magnificent proportions. The rest of his reign was a story of cruelty, compromise, murder and intrigue.
Thus by the time of Christ’s birth, God’s people were fully under the Roman yoke, ruled by Edomite-Arab Herods. The Pharisees, the majority party in the Sanhedrin, wielded tremendous power amongst the people, but were utterly servile to Rome. The aristocratic Sadducees were wedded to both Hellenism and Rome. The Essenes were separatists and exclusives, but with more real spiritual life than any other group, and finally the common people longing for the mysterious person of the Messiah who would restore Israel and rid them of their Gentile yoke and influence, bringing in the Kingdom of God on earth.
The greatest move of all was perhaps the most silent and hidden, simply put it was God’s preparation of the faithful remnant. Little did they know that all the ages hinged upon them and that their eyes would behold the ancient prophecies fulfilled. Indeed, they would be the witnesses of God made man! The very history of God’s people had narrowed down to them!! There was Zecharias and Elisabeth and John (Luke 1); Joseph and Mary (Matt 1:18); Simeon (Luke 2:25); Anna (Luke 2:36); the Shepherds (Luke 2:8, 9); the Wiseman (Matt 2:1) and others. They were prepared, and they knew their Builder!
Indeed they were the literal fulfillment of Mal 3:16. They were not people with big ideas but knew the fear of the Lord and were faithful and devoted. So the Lord would prepare in our day and generation such a remnant, faithful, devoted, looking for and waiting upon His coming.
So as we look back over these so called 400 silent years we see God at work in history preparing everything for the appearing of the Messiah. Indeed by the time of Christ’s birth there has been forged an amazing and until that time unique combination.
The Greeks gave the world their language, culture and a deep discontent with things as they were, both life and religion, along with an eager hunger for something new. Thus God, though they knew it not unified the ancient world in language and culture from Spain to India, Greek was understood everywhere. For the first time since Babel almost a 100,000,000 people could be reached by one tongue.
The Romans gave the world their unparalleled law and administration; a transport system unknown before; and an overall military security in an empire embracing estimated to be about 56,800,000. Thus by Christ’s coming, the world was as a place of rest as it had not been for millenniums, embraced by an Empire of all races, nations, free to exchange ideas within certain limits, governed by law, and defended by military might
The Jews gave to the world the Word of God, the knowledge and experience of the Living God; the revelation of God’s Eternal Purpose, the Promise and anticipation of the Messiah. Through the Hellenists there were synagogues throughout the whole Roman Empire and beyond, centres of Bible study and prayer and fellowship through which the Living God could make Himself known. The Word of God they translated into Greek; and their services heard of the promise of the coming Messiah. Numbers of Gentile converts tired of the depravity and corruption of Gentile’s religion were attached to these synagogues.
So we find a secure and mighty empire with a common language and culture; a common law and overall government; centres of Bible study and prayer, Greek speaking everywhere from which the truth is disseminated. We find a discontent with things as they were; an eager anticipation of a coming Messiah; and highways along which the good news could be spread. Had there ever been such a combination of factors before? Surely it was the “fullness of time” when God sent forth His Son. (Gal 4:4.)
For one quiet night a rough and simple cave used for cattle and sheep just outside a little known town among the Judean hills in the great Roman Empire became the scene of the greatest event in history. Christ was born.
The fact is that in spite of Anti Christ, the compromise of God’s people, the form of godliness but the denying of the power thereof, and in spite of all the energy and cunning of Satan, even though he is the Prince of this world, Christ appears! God’s purpose is fulfilled.
The last great act of this period to nullify the Purpose of God was the massacre of the innocents at Christ’s birth (Matt 2:16-18,) it failed! And so it will be with us! In spite of everything CHRIST WILL APPEAR and all will be FULFILLED.
As we look back over these many years, few of us I am sure, have ever realized how much was contained in, and lies behind the simple super-ascription nailed above Christ’s Head as He finished His Work – “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of The Jews” written in Hebrew, in Greek and in Latin.