We often don’t have any idea of the time period between the Old Testament and the New; unless of course you have roots in the Catholic church and read your Apocrypha. Beyond that most people look at those years as the “silent years.” As if God pulled away from people he loves to leave them on their own.

What I want to do in this post is talk about some history with the help of my friend, Sue Wilson, who took some time to recap the story. This will set us up to see why Jesus came at the perfect time in history. So let’s get started!

The Jews were barely comfortable back in Jerusalem after Malachi’s passing when things in the world turned upside down. But this time the Jews had little political pull or power. They were washed back and forth by the rest of the world.

Alexander the Great’s army marched to Egypt almost within the hearing of Jerusalem. His new empire, whether they really knew it or not, included Judah and all of what was about to become Palestine. Fortunately for Jerusalem, Alexander was no Assyrian.

The city of Ephesus, for example, was destroyed by an enemy after Alexander had freed the area and began assimilating the inhabitants as allies instead of serfs.  Alexander stepped in, saved the ruined Ephesus, and forced her enemies to rebuild the city and its temples.

When he was only 33, and shortly after declaring himself a god, Alexander died while getting ready to lead his army to India. He took power at age 22 and had led his army on foot 20,000 miles in 11 years, never losing a battle.  He is also credited with initiating what would be called Hellenism, the spreading of Greek culture throughout the known world.

Greek culture flooded into the area of Jerusalem along with Alexander. The Jews were appalled. Hellenism was very man-centered. Their gods were just like men and women. The Jews rejected all of what the culture upheld.

After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. his heirs were killed and his four generals divided up the empire. Palestine fell to Ptolemy.

The Ptolemys and Jews coexisted peacefully. This continued when a second general’s family, the Selucids took over rule in 195 B.C Though  there was no actual religious persecution in these years, the silent imbedding of Greek culture went on.

Due to the influence of Greek culture, young Jewish men gave in to the popularity and promise of glory in the naked games at the gymnasiums built-in Palestine, including Jerusalem. Because they were ridiculed by their naked opponents, many young Jews had surgery done to erase the appearance of being circumcised–the symbol of the covenant erased.  Their parents were horrified not only at the destruction of the covenant symbol but at the games themselves, which were dedicated to Zeus and Apollo.

Greek settlers considered the Jews superstitious atheists since they would not erect statues of their God.

Peace ended in 175 B.C. with the coming to power of the Selucid, Antiochus Epiphanes IV (ruling 175 to 163 B.C.)  Antiochus seized control of the priesthood. High Priest became a political appointment that could lead to great power. Antiochus delighted in appointing puppet priests chosen on the basis of their politics and bribery skills.

A group of orthodox Jews joined together to fight this affront. They were the Hasidim that later developed into the Pharisees.

168 B.C.:  Antiochus sent representatives to little Modin, about 20 miles from Jerusalem, to enforce pagan worship laws. A Jew named Mattathias killed one of the king’s high officials and also a fellow Jew who had complied with the new worship laws.

This action began what is known as the Maccabean Revolt, led by Mattathias’ son, Judas Maccabaes. The Hasidim supported the revolt. In 142 B.C. Antiochus gave in and ended the war, not because the Jews won, but because he didn’t have the manpower to fight two battles.

During the following years the Jews were ruled by a group called the Hasmonean princes. Politics, materialism, and a love of the Greek culture that had overtaken Rome led the princes to thirst after any bone the Romans would toss the yet independent state.

In 109 B.C. things got worse. The Jewish faith was virtually discarded by a Hasmonean named Hyrancanus, who moved closer and closer to Rome. He obtained a paper of confirmation of independence and Roman “protection.”

This eventually resulted in civil war in 76 B.C. when a Aleander Jannaeus ruled.  It was Jannaeus’ total elimination of priestly office and Jewish faith that finally caused the war. The Pharisees (the earlier Hasidim) led the revolt but failed to dislodge Jannaeus. Eight hundred Pharisees were crucified by their own countrymen and their families killed. Another group, the Sadducees, did not lift a hand to aid the Pharisees–widening the gap between the two.

In 63 B.C., one of the warring Jewish groups went to the Roman general, Pompey, in Rome. Pompey, fearing the consequences if the inter-Jewish squabble continued any longer had the answer. Rome will rule over Palestine. Pompey then installed a puppet king in the new province of the Empire.

In 63 B.C. the Jews lost their status as a free nation for the next 2,000 years.

In 37 B.C. the soon-to-be-hated Herod the great, through manipulation of the rulers in Rome, became King of Palestine.

I hope you are still with me because this is where it makes sense that God’s timing is perfect!

It was the perfect time for Jesus birth; for God incarnate to come:

  • Times in the Empire were bad morally and spiritually
  • Travel around the empire was easy with the vast Roman road complex (easing the spread of the Gospel)
  • There was peace!  As well as religious toleration
  • Rome gave the entire known world a common language, Greek, so all could understand the Gospel
  • The Empire was so large that there were no physical or political barriers to the Gospel

Even when we could come up with a hundred reasons why that wasn’t the right time…the facts remain that there would have been no better time for Jesus to come in all of history. God’s timing is perfect!

When it comes to your life, does it always seem that God’s timing is perfect? Looking back on my life I can see the timing was perfect…but in the moment of trouble or wanting a particular plan to go right, it didn’t seem like the timing was right. I wanted God to act immediately and exactly the way I had asked. Does that sound familiar?

It is kind of scary letting God be God and not trying to take his place. Which is why our tendency is to bottle him up and treat him like a genie that we will pull out when we need it. When he doesn’t grant our request or act like we think he should, we put him off to the corner to be discarded like trash.

C.S. Lewis talks about this in his book A Grief Observed,

“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.”

Our thinking about God’s timing and ideas of the way we think He will work need to be shattered time after time. God has never promised life to be easy or pain-free, but he has promised to always be with us through it and know that Jesus Christ has overcome it for us.

When have you seen God act in perfect timing in your life? When has God shattered your perspective of him?