As many of you know, in addition to teaching Bible in a Bible College, I am the regular Sunday Evening teacher at Rush Creek Bible Church. I have just finished a long series on the prophets, arranged chronologically, so I thought I would try something a bit unusual for a Bible church. Last weekend I taught on the Maccabean Revolt, this Sunday I am teaching on the development of “Judaisms” during the Second Temple Period. There was a great deal of interest in the Maccabean Revolt and I had several supportive comments from people who attended. There were a number of excellent questions asked after my presentation and (as far as I know) no real criticisms of spending a Sunday evening studying 1 and 2 Maccabees. I am thankful for a congregation that is interested enough in the Bible to want to know more about the history of Israel after the close of the Hebrew Bible.
Why bother with the intertestamental history if it is not biblical history? This is a good question given my teaching was in a regular Bible Study situation. As I see it, there are several reasons which make a study of the intertestamental period important for the Christian.
First, much of what we read in the New Testament assumes the four hundred years of history between the testaments. Politically, everything has changed since we left Ezra and Nehemiah as representatives of the Persian government. By the time we read the Gospels, the Land of Israel has been ruled by the Persians, Greeks and Romans.
Second, the struggle of Jews to live as Jews under foreign domination is a major factor in the New Testament. How can a Jewish person live like a Greek and maintain his identity as a Jew? What are the boundary markers between Jew and Gentile? What are the key behaviors or beliefs on which there cannot be compromise? This question alone was so volatile in the first century that the suggestion that a Gentile could be right with God without keeping the Law caused riots.
Third, much of the messianic hope we encounter in the Gospels is based on the history of the Second Temple Period. The Jewish people faced oppression from the Greeks and Romans, but also from inside Judaism itself. Many longed for a time when God would break into history and defend his people and his Land, renewing the promise he made to David in 2 Sam 7. This hope for the coming messiah grew steadily during these years, as the Gospels show.
For me, this is all very “preachable” since the Christian church in the west is moving into a period of time where we are no longer the dominant cultural force. The church will face very similar tensions to the Jews in the Maccabean period since we will have to decide what is important and non-negotiable with respect to doctrine a practice. Like the “Judaisms” which came out of the Maccabean period, some Christians will include very little in their list of essential items and become virtually indistinguishable from the dominant secular world. Others will have a lengthy detailed list of non-negotiable doctrines and practices and withdraw from secular society entirely.
On which issues will the Christian church “be zealous” when the day of persecution comes?