Friday, November 4, 2011
Since Christmas is just around the corner, I thought we could have an early look at the condition of the world:
When God sent His Son
The condition of the Jewish nation at the time of the incarnation
Writers of the Jewish Scriptures prophesied the coming of a deliverer, an anointed one, a Messiah; an individual who would be of the seed of woman; and descended from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David. Moses said he would be an anointed prophet, David said he would be a priest of the order of Melchizedek, Micah said he would rule Israel. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be that Messiah.
At the time of His birth, Israel was in captivity both nationally and spiritually. The land, promised to Abraham and his seed, was enemy held territory. The standards, symbols and activities of Rome, the unlawful occupants, were everywhere. The Jewish Temple, for all its great height, was itself overlooked by the towers of the Antonia Fortress. This was a physical illustration of the plight of the nation.
Another King of the Jews: Under Rome, there was a period when the secular rulers of the nation were the Herods. There are seven of them mentioned in the New Testament. The first was Herod the Great, the king of the nation at the time of the birth of Jesus. He was not of David’s line, not even of Jacob’s line, therefore not of ‘Israel’. He was an Idumean, a descendent of Esau, and a Jewish proselyte. Under Rome, he ruled over an area the size of which rivalled that of Solomon. He thought of himself as a new Solomon, building the Temple while overcoming all obstacles. He obtained the title, ‘King of the Jews’ and some of the Herodian party considered him a Messiah. However, he was evil, a murderer, his infamous act, the massacre of the innocents of Bethlehem, was not out of character
The Spiritual Climate
More serious than Israel’s political state was its spiritual state.
Sadducean/Boethusean High Priests
It is likely that one of the sons of Boethus was High Priest at the time of the birth of Jesus. Boethus was a pupil of Antigonus of Sokho who taught the maxim, "Be not like the servants who serve their masters for the sake of the wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages". He and another of his pupils, Zadok repeated this maxim to their pupils. In the course of time, either the two teachers or their pupils understood this to express the belief that there was neither an afterlife nor a resurrection of the dead and founded the sects of the Sadducees and the Boethusians. They lived in luxurious splendour; using silver and golden vessels all their lives.
Historical in this story is the statement that these two sects denied the immortality of the soul and resurrection. Josephus asserted their rejection of “the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades”. “Souls die with the bodies” was what they said. The practical effect of this doctrine was ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’. They were called the Epicureans of the Jews. Since their theological position did not include reward or retribution after death, they were left with no restraint in the present.
Interspersed with the High Priesthoods of the family of Boethus was the High Priesthoods of the family of Annas who were of the Sadducean persuasion. It was a son in law of Annas, Caiaphas, who was High Priest during the period of Jesus’ ministry.
The sum of all this was that for six decades around the birth, ministry and death of Christ, the Temple was controlled by those who did not believe that they would ever stand before the judgement seat of God. These doctrines opened the door to all kinds of excesses and misdeeds.
The commercial enterprises of the priesthood on the Temple Mount exposed their corruption. Items essential for ritual offerings were sold at exorbitant prices. The great religious festivals, when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from other parts of the Roman empire as well as the faithful in Israel, were used to collect vast amounts of money. A Rabbi described them not as priests but as treasurers. Jesus referred to them as ‘thieves and robbers’. The Temple ‘market’ in Rabbinical writings is referred to as ‘the Bazaars of the Sons of Annas’ (Chanuyoth beney Chanan). The priests were running a monopoly and worshippers were fleeced like the sheep they sacrificed!
More Next Time
Posted by Mountjoy at 10:00 AM