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The History of Jerusalem (part 4)


After the close of the Old Testament, Persia remained a world power for another 100 years and Jerusalem was relatively peaceful. During the period of the Greek Empire, Jerusalem continued to prosper. It was only under the last king that Jerusalem's peace was shattered. This led to the Maccabean uprising which brought in a time of independence. When the Romans conquered the area, they appointed Edomite rulers who murdered the descendants of the Maccabeans. This was the situation in Jerusalem when Jesus started His ministry. The Jews were longing for their Messiah to appear and to rid them of Roman rule. They ignored the prophecies regarding a suffering Messiah who would redeem them and bring in the kingdom of God. This resulted in the complete destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70.

Jerusalem under the Greek Empire

Alexander the Great established the Greek Empire in about 332 B.C. He treated the Jews well and spared Jerusalem. Greek culture, language and philosophy were promoted. Alexander founded Greek cities everywhere, notably Alexandria in Egypt.

After his death, his empire was divided among four of his generals: Ptolemy obtained Egypt and Seleucus Syria. Judea was ruled by the Ptolemies until about 198 B.C. and Jerusalem fared well. Ptolemy I encouraged many Jews to settle in Alexandria, and to accept Greek culture. Ptolemy II initiated the translation of the Old Testament into Greek (Septuagint). The Alexandrian Jews became more and more Hellenistic, while those of Jerusalem remained traditional.

Antiochus III, the Great, a descendant of Seleucus of Syria, reconquered Judea and expelled the Egyptians. He was well disposed towards the Jews, and the Septuagint was finished during this time.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes succeeded in 167 B.C. He was violently opposed to the Jews and made a determined effort to destroy their religion. He ransacked Jerusalem, defiled the temple, offered a pig on the altar and erected another for Jupiter. He forbade temple worship and circumcision, sold many Jewish families into slavery, and tried to eradicate Scripture. This led to the Maccabaean revolt of the next year, engineered by the old priest Mattathias and his five sons.

Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolt

When Mattathias died, his son Judas became the leader of the army. After his first victory, the commander of the Syrian army attacked him with a vast number of soldiers. Judas encouraged his handful of men with the words, "Victory does not depend on numbers; strength is from Heaven alone."[1] He defeated his enemy with a surprise attack, and his fame started spreading. Antiochus assembled the whole of his immense army with the intention of obliterating the Jews. Judas and his men fasted and prayed and called on the Lord for deliverance. In a series of brilliant manoeuvres, he totally defeated the Syrian army and reconquered Jerusalem in 165 B.C.

Judas repaired and purified the temple, built a new altar and sanctified the temple courts. Then all the people celebrated the dedication of the temple and altar for 8 days. He also built high walls and strong towers all around Mount Zion, and set a garrison there to protect the temple from the Gentiles.[2] He fought many wars against the Edomites, Ammonites, Philistines and apostate Israelites, but defeated them all.[3]

After Judas's death, his younger brothers Jonathan and Simon succeeded him as priest-rulers. Jonathan still had war from all sides, but during Simon's reign peace and independence was finally achieved (143-63 B.C.)[4] Simon's sons continued to rule over Judea as the Hasmonian kings until the Romans under Pompey conquered it in 63 B.C.

New institutions of Judaism during this time

The synagogue (from the Gr.synagogue, 'a gathering' or 'assembly') originated in Babylon because the people were deprived of their temple. After the exile the synagogue developed into more formal congregations for worship and instruction. Every town in the Graeco-Roman world of 300B.C.-A.D.300 had its synagogue. Jesus preached in synagogues during His early ministry.

The Sanhedrin (from the Gr. synedrion, 'a sitting together' or 'assembly'), a 70-member supreme court, originated about 250 B.C. It consisted of chief priests and other rulers having civil and religious powers, and was presided over by the high priests. It was the Sanhedrin that handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be crucified.

The Pharisees formed a political religious party, opposed to the Sadduccees. They were the successors to the Hasidim ('the pious') who stood true to the law when persecuted. From a good beginning, they degenerated into rigid, legalistic and unprinscipled religionists in the time of Jesus, who referred to them as "whitewashed tombs."[5]

The Sadducees were mostly worldly-minded priests who insisted on observing the law but denied resurrection and future retribution. They became thoroughly Hellenized. Jesus referred to them as a "brood of vipers." [6]

The Scribes were copyists and interpreters of the Scriptures and thus knew Mosaic law very well. Also known as 'lawyers', they were influential in New Testament times. Jesus saw them as "hypocrites", who could not "interpret the signs of the times."[7]

Jerusalem under the Roman Empire

Pompey carried the last Hasmonean king off to Rome, and appointed Antipater the Idumean (Edomite) as ruler over Judea. His son, Herod the Great, succeeded him. The Jews of Jerusalem resented having a foreigner as king over them, even though he married into the Hasmonean family. Feeling threatened by the Hasmonean survivors, he killed them one by one. He rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem as a magnificent structure, but was never accepted by the Jews.

Just before his death, he was visited by the Magi of the East, who told him of the birth of a Jewish king. After consultation with the chief priests and scribes, he sent them to Bethlehem in Judea. When they failed to report on finding the king, he had all the boys of Bethlehem under the age of two killed.[8]

His kingdom was divided between three of his sons: Archelaus in Judea, Antipas in Galilee, and Philip in the NE territories.

Herod Archelaus [9] was such a repressive ruler, that the Jews of Judea threatened revolt in A.D.6. Caesar Augustus banished him and Judea became a Roman province ruled by procurators, of which Pontius Pilate was the fifth.

Herod Antipas (the 'tetrach' of Lk 3:19) was denounced by John the Baptist for having married the wife of Herod Philip. Antipas responded by having John imprisoned and eventually executed.[10] When Pontius Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, but the Jews persisted in calling for a crucifixion, Pilate sent Jesus to Antipas for judgement. [11]

Herod Agrippa, the nephew of Antipas, caused his uncle to be deposed and exiled in A.D.39, and became king instead. Two years later the emperor added Judea to his territory. Because of his Hasmonean descent through his grandmother, his Jewish subjects accepted him. His attack on the apostles [12] was also tolerated, perhaps because the apostles befriended the Gentiles.[13]

Agrippa, the son of Herod Agrippa, appointed the Jewish high priests from A.D.48 to A.D.66. He tried to prevent the start of the Jewish war against Rome in A.D.66 but when he failed, he remained loyal to Rome. He was the King Agrippa of Paul's trial.[14]

Jerusalem in the time of Jesus

Jerusalem was essential to God's redemptive plan for the ages. God chose it specifically,[15] defended it,[16] and restored it from ruin,[17] in preparation of Christ's first coming into the world. Jesus was sent to Jerusalem to minister there and eventually to die there. [18] There He revealed His messiahship, [19] suffered His trial and crucifixion, [20] and accomplished His resurrection and ascension. [21]

The scribes and pharisees knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah, and even knew to expect Him at that time. [22] However, they were looking for a political liberator who will "reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice....forever." [23] They did not want the sinless servant of God with His healing ministry; the suffering Lamb of God who was afflicted for their transgressions. And so they "considered him stricken by God" and despised and rejected Him. [24]

Close to the end of His ministry, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, "Because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you....your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you." They will kill all the people within the walls and "will not leave one stone on another...." [25] Furthermore, the destruction of the city and the temple will come upon that generation which rejected God's final appeal. [26]

The destruction of Jerusalem

The Roman procurators ruling over Judea had to guard constantly against uprisings among the Jewish and non-Jewish populations. At Festival times extra Roman soldiers were stationed around the temple for fear of riots. By A.D.55 revolution was in the air and treason was preached on every streetcorner. The Jews had not recognized their real Messiah when He came, but now they followed every false messiah proclaiming the impending arrival of the Kingdom of God.

After the incident of the 'Egyptian' messiah referred to in the New Testament,[27] open rebellion developed. In May of A.D.66 after an unresolved dispute between Jews and non-Jews, the Roman procurator demanded tax money from the temple. When the Jews refused he sent in his troops and a battle ensued through the streets of Jerusalem. Thus the Jewish war of liberation had started.

By the spring of A.D.68 Vespasian, general of the Roman army, had suppressed the revolt throughout Judea. After a three month siege against Jerusalem, Titus and the Romans broke through the wall to the Antonia fortress and from there into the temple area. The holy place was burnt to the ground and the entire city finally overpowered in A.D. 70.


1. 1 Maccabees 3:19

2. 1 Maccabees 3:25-4:61

3. 1 Maccabees 5-7

4. 1 Maccabees 14:4-15

5. Matthew 23:27

6. Matthew 3:7

7. Matthew 23:13; 16:3

8. Matthew 2

9. Matthew 2:22

10. Matthew 6:14-28

11. Luke 23:7ff

12. Acts 12:2f

13. Acts 10:1-11:18

14. Acts 25:13-26:32

15. Psalm 132:13-14

16. 2 Kings 19:34

17. Isaiah 52:7-12

18. Luke 13:31-35

19. John 5:19f; 7:14-28; 8:1-20,23

20. Matthew 25-27

21. Luke 24; Acts 1:9-11

22. Daniel 9:25-26

23. Isaiah 9:7

24. Isaiah 53:3-7

25. Luke 19:41-44

26. Matthew 23:36

27. Matthew 24:23ff; Acts 21:38


1. Allegro, J.M. The Chosen People, London, England : Hodder and Stoughton, 1971

2. Coggan, D. (chairman of the Joint Committee) The Revised English Bible with Apocrypha, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1989

3. Douglas, J.D. (ed) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press,1962

4. Halley, H.H. Halley's Bible Handbook, Michigan, U.S.A.: Regency Reference Library, 1965

5. Josephus, Josephus 37 B.C. - A.D. 70, Ohio, U.S.A.: Barbour and Co., 1988

6. Lahaye, T. and Hindson, E. (ed) The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, Oregon, U.S.A.: Harvest House Publishers,2004


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Posted in: Bible by on May 28, 2010 @ 12:54 am

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