Leading up to the New Testament

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1 Leading up to the New Testament In this lesson, we will look at the history of Israel. We will also pay attention to the growing Jewish expectation for coming of a Messiah and developments in the Jewish religion. Jewish History The Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC. Nebuchadnezzer, the King of Babylon, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon. They mysterious Ark disappears from history. The people of Israel are taken as slaves to Babylon (modern day Iraq). Seventy years later, the Persians take over Babylon. The Jewish people are allowed to return to Israel. They rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple. From this time onward, the Jewish people never have problems with idolatry. They live under the rule of the Persians for a few hundred years. Some time later, the Jewish people are ruled by the Greeks. The Greeks forced the Jewish people to learn Greek, and tried to force the Jewish people to act like Greeks and worship their gods. The Jews would not conform, saying they worship only the one true God, Yahweh. When the Greeks proceeded to kill Jews, they revolted against them. Under the military leadership of Judas Maccabeus, the Jews created an independent kingdom.

2 Today, the Jewish people have a celebration known as Hanukkah, a festival of lights that celebrates the memory of the Jews who died under the oppression of the Greeks, and of the creation of a Jewish independent kingdom. This ceremony takes place in late November and December. This new kingdom, however, falls under the control of the Hasmonean Empire in only a few years. In 63 BC, Israel is invaded by Rome. The Romans create a new Jewish State with Jerusalem as the capital. Although the country is under Roman power, they place a king named Herod over the country to administrate Roman rule. Herod repaired the Jewish Temple and did many things to improve life in Jerusalem. However, the Jewish people hated him, because he worked for the Romans, and was not a descendant of David. They felt that only a true descendant of David could be the true King of Israel. Roman rule was very difficult for both the Jewish people and for the Romans. Like the Greeks, the Romans try to force the Jewish people to adopt Roman customs, religion and laws. The Jewish people, however, would not conform to Roman rules, saying they followed only Yahweh s laws in the Scriptures. There were many Jewish rebellions against the Romans, and many people were killed. It was a time of fear and hatred. Awaiting the Messiah Many of these uprisings had been started by men who claimed to be the Messiah, or Savior, of the Jewish People. In the writings of the Prophets, especially in the writings of Isaiah, it was foretold that God would send a Messiah, who would be a direct descendant of King David. This Savior would bring about a new Kingdom that would never be defeated, and would last forever.

3 The Jewish people wondered what the Messiah would be like. Some thought he would be a great military leader. Others thought he would be a spiritual being, something like an angel. Everyone thought he would be a very powerful person, and would be recognized by everyone. Development of Jewish Religion Also, by the time of the Roman invasion, the Jewish religion had become more developed. All of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Hebrew Bible, had been collected, edited, copied and distributed to synagogues, places where Jewish people would pray and listen to the reading of the scriptures by a Rabbi, or Teacher of the Jewish Religion. There were at least four different Jewish sects in Israel by the time the New Testament was written. They were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots and the Essenes. The Pharisees were a conservative group that strictly followed the Jewish Law written by Moses. They taught in the synagogues and interpreted how to be a Good Jew in an evil Roman society. Pharisees believed in life after death, angels, demons, heaven and hell. They felt that the Roman occupation was God s punishment of the Jewish people for their sinfulness, and hoped for the coming of a Messiah to save the people of Israel. The Sadducees controlled the Temple Worship. They were very rich and welleducated, and tried to adjust to Roman demands. The Sadducees did not believe in life after death, angels, demons, heaven and hell, and did not believe that a Messiah was going to come.

4 The Zealots believed in taking up the sword to fight against the Romans. They believed the Messiah would come after they started a conflict with Rome. They expected the Messiah to be a powerful military leader, like Judas Maccabeus. This group was eventually destroyed by the Roman Army. The Essenes felt that the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots were corrupt and impure. They went out into the desert to purify themselves and await the coming of the Messiah, who they felt was a powerful Spiritual being that would destroy everyone who was sinful. Their beliefs seem to be a mixture of that of the Pharisees and Zealots. Conclusion We can see that the Jewish people endured many hardships under many different empires. At the same time, their faith in Yahweh grew stronger. They believed in one God, and had holy writings that had been protected and copied for centuries. These scriptures, together with the hardships, helped the Jewish people to form a unique identity that could not be defeated by foreign empires. The Jews endured constant invasions, frequent executions by foreign dictators, but this could not kill their religious passion. By the year 3 BC, Jewish hopes for a Messiah grew even stronger under the domination of the Romans. It was about this time that Jesus was born.

5 Questions 1. What empire destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC? 2. What happened to the Jewish people after this? 3. What did the Jewish people do when they returned to Jerusalem? 4. Name the different empires that have ruled Israel up to the time of the New Testament? 5. Why did the Jews rebel against the Greeks? 6. What is the name of the Jewish celebration that remembers the uprising of Judas Maccabeus? 7. When is this celebration held? 8. What is the name of the king who the Romans put in power over the Jews? 9. What did he do for Jerusalem? 10. Why did the Jews dislike him? 11. Why was it difficult for empires to rule over the Jewish people? 12. What is the name for places where Jewish people would hear the reading of the scripture and pray? 13. What is the name of a Jewish religious teacher? 14. What does the word Messiah mean?

6 15. There were at least four different religious sects in Judaism by the time of the writing of the New Testament. What are their names?

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