It was during the time known as the Pax Romana – Roman Peace – established by Caesar Augustus. Jerusalem had been under Roman rule since the fall of the Seleucids and the final end of the former Greek empire established by Alexander the Great. The Roman Senate appointed Herod as king over Jerusalem in 37 BC until his death. While Herod was a brutal man who killed a great many rabbis and suppressed all dissention with violence, he was also responsible for large-scale building projects, including the re-building of the Temple. The former temple had been desecrated and plundered. The Temple became the focus of Israelite life once again. This new, larger temple was not only the place for the Jewish worship of God, but also the place where the Holy Scriptures and other national literature were kept. Within its gates the Sanhedrin, the highest court of Jewish law, met. After Herod’s death, Roman governors were appointed over Jerusalem. Judaism was recognized by the Roman government as an approved religion and the Jews were free to practice their beliefs. While no one could argue life was a picnic under Roman rule, things had calmed down and the city prospered. Into this relative peace came the son of a priest and his wife. Born of a mother and father well advanced in years, he came out of the wilderness wearing the clothes of a prophet proclaiming the time of the promised messiah was at hand. John the Baptist, or John the Immerser as I like to call him, was preparing the people for Jesus. Things were about to get very interesting. The world was about to be shaken up. It just didn’t know it, yet.
John was a bold man. He had the courage of his beliefs and was not shy about speaking the words of GOD. When we first meet John as an adult he stands up against the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the two most influential groups within Jewish religious society. He calls them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3: 7). John did not hesitate to stand up to sin, no matter where he saw it. Herod Antipater was the son of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas (as he was known, also as Herod Tetrarch) ruled over Jerusalem by the authority of Rome. John did not hesitate to condemn Herod’s divorce of his wife so he could marry his half-brother’s wife. For this, John paid with his life.
John knew what his role was. He was to prepare the way for the messiah and then diminish (John 3: 28-30). Throughout John’s adult life, he stood for what he knew to be the will of GOD.
Jesus, the messiah, begins His work. I will not even attempt to cover all the ways Jesus stood true to the will of GOD. The inspired gospel writers have done that. I will note, however, that Jesus stood up to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and high priest without sinning. He lived his life in obedience to Roman law as long as it did not contradict the will of GOD.
As planned by GOD, Jesus died by the hands of men for the sins of all. The religious leaders thought to put an end to Jesus’ teachings by having the Roman government execute Him (the Sanhedrin lost the authority to order an execution in 30 AD). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, His apostles and other disciples carried on teaching the good news of salvation. They did not teach revolution but the world was changed by their teachings. More than wars, politicians, or anything else, the true faith in Jesus, the messiah, has fundamentally changed the course of human history and the world. When men and women of faith, grounded in the true Word of GOD, the Holy Bible, stand for the truth in all areas of their lives, the world is changed. We shake up the world when we don’t follow the teachings of this world and those who would have us compromise ourselves and our GOD.
At times it’s not easy, but it’s always worth it. C’mon, let’s go shake the up the world!
~~ George Stewart, Creekside church of Christ, Franklin, IN