Preaching the Maccabean Revolt

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?

22 thoughts on “Preaching the Maccabean Revolt

  1. My wife enjoyed your presentation as she already was reading through 1 and 2 Maccabees. I have yet to read it- perhaps in the near future.

  2. I known that Tamara was really interested and has done a bit of reading in the Apocrypha. The Second Temple Period is my “specialty” so it is always gratifying to have people what to hear more…!

  3. The design and purpose of the Church has, since the writing of the biblical texts, been fatally wounded in America. The Church has not yet died, but its purpose has been wrung out from it like the water from a bath towel. The Church’s role is to worship, teach, and support (as demonstrated by the example of the newly saved in Acts 2:42). Instead, the Church focuses on being a place of comfort. People no longer come to give God the glory he deserves (despite what they say), but instead they come to get something for themselves, be it a free concert, coffee, doughnuts, some nice conversations, or a reputation as a good Christian.

    That being said, Churches will often not teach what their congregation (or should we refer to them as an audience?) does not want to hear. After all, the audience members give offerings and tithes to be soothed by the message, not challenged. Churchgoers want to be assured that God loves them despite their sins; that they do not need to be morally strict to gain entrance into Heaven.

    In the struggle to make Churches comfortable instead of challenging, there is an overwhelming amount of important information that gets completely left behind by Sunday morning preachers. Smaller books, lesser characters, challenging verses, history, and apologetics are ignored by the pastors and left for speakers and authors. These things are ignored in favor of repetitive sermons on grace, love, and peace. These are all wonderful things, and there are many well-known biblical passages regarding these topics that should be taught on, but repetition is less effective for building the Kingdom than presenting new, interesting, and challenging ideas.

    The intertestamental period and its subsequent literature are great examples of the Church’s “great purge” of non-mainstream teachings. Since the books are not canonical, they are left for historians to write long books on so the libraries and pastor’s offices can have enough nice, big books sitting untouched on their shelves. However, as this article demonstrates, there is much to be learned from literature outside of the canonical scriptures. As was said, the Maccabean books can teach Christians how to cope with a world and a country that is encouraging and embracing syncretism, even in pop culture.

    If one were to learn from the Jews in the intertestamental period, they would be more likely to embrace challenging passages like Deuteronomy 13:6-10. This passage teaches believers to deal harshly and directly with those (even family and friends) who encourage them toward idolatry and syncretism. However, as the passage is merely biblical and not kind, it finds no place in the Church of the 21st Century.

  4. I am not typically a history fan, but reading chapter four of “Four Portraits, One Jesus” made me realize the significance of knowing the history that was taking place during the Bible. In the past, I have just skimmed through history thinking it was less relevant. As I was reading chapter four I had a light bulb moment of understanding the significance of the rulers and those in authority during the time of the New Testament. Many factors go into the history of the Bible. One factor is the period gaps like the intertestamental period. There is a lot that happens between the time of the Old Testament and the New Testament, as new leaders are in place. When we change those in power, the laws and social norms change as well. This factor leads to changes in how individuals were to live, act, and speak in this period. This leads to divisions among individuals (Strauss, 2007). We all have values and morals that we do not compromise, during this time these values were challenged and influenced to change. As rulers continued to change and make new rules, it was difficult to live and be free to believe, it was a trying time for individuals. There are many similarities to be made of the Maccabean time and today. We live in a world of division among beliefs and practices. As Christians, we have to stand strong in our beliefs and morals that the Bible set for us. It is easy to get away from those things as societal norms tell us to live differently. We know that we have to work not to get entangled by what society tells us, but to stand firm and move forward even when it gets difficult (Hebrews 12:1). Also, that church sounds really cool, I think I might want to try it out!

  5. Studying the Maccabean Revolt has led me to be able to piece some of my preconceived notions about the New Testament together. One of the biggest breakthroughs in understanding this time period is a general awareness of the political climate. Knowing that the tension that Jews where experiencing in the New Testament comes on the heels of a rebellion helps to understand moments like Matthew 22 when the Pharisees approach Jesus to ask him questions regarding the Roman and taxation. Pharisees expected the Messiah to start a rebellion similar to the Maccabean Revolt. This period set the general climate for the Jews leading into Jesus’ time of ministry.

    I applaud you for teaching this at your Sunday class. That sounds like a great topic to discuss and one we don’t hear preached often. It takes a group that is willing to study something to better understand biblical texts but recognizes that the text is not scripture, and a group like that is hard to come by!

  6. Personally, I have not researched too much into the Maccabean Revolt and am still a little confused to understanding it completely. However, I feel that I have a good enough knowledge of the history during 166-135 BC to understand the Pharisees’ perspective in the New Testament. This revolt set the stage for the land of Israel and the children of God after that period of time. One of your three points that stood out to me was the point you made on the struggles of the Jews under the oppression by the Gentiles. I think that it is crazy that the Jews were not able to practice their religion even during the time of the Gentiles and foreign dominion. Not only did the Jews live in oppression alongside/beneath the Gentiles, but the Jews also lived in oppression during the time of Hitler and his Nazis. To my understanding, Jews have a strong faith in God, and His law (the Torah), so I think that the parallel of the Jews in oppression is significant, not only in the New Testament, and not even during the time of Hitler, but also in today’s day in age. As a Christian, a relationship with God is more than important, so experiencing “oppression” can seem to happen often.

    I think that understanding the parallel between the challenges Jews faced and Christians face today, is a significant point in reference to the fact that following Christ is not easy. The Exodus (technically the wandering in the desert after the Exodus took place), and even the Maccabean Revolt, are just two examples of challenges God’s children have faced. I personally enjoy learning history, but it has definitely been challenging to me to create real-life interpretations and applications from specifically the time of the Maccabean Revolt.

  7. I believe Christians will be intentional on accepting God and getting his word out. It’s going to come down to if you choose your life over your belief. Which in the end not choosing God you’re going to be dead anyway. It also comes down to if you are willing to stand up for your belief. Just talking to people about your faith could change them but when it comes to being confronted about your faith is when it comes out. If you were asked if you would die for your faith would you just say yes cause you don’t want to die? Or would you stand up for what you believe and do it without hesitation on where you are going after the fact? Putting this into perspective can change how you go about your day and talking with people you see and meet. There seems to be an urgency to get people to understand and believe because you want them to be in Heaven one day with God and everyone else who believes. This makes you want to be better and follow the bible closely so that you are able to talk to different people and live your life as a Christian should.

  8. Starting off, I think that’s actually very commendable to peach about the Second Temple period to a traditional Christian group. I think it was even more shocking to me that they enjoyed it / wanted to know more. I agree with you that essentially the Second Temple Period including the Maccabean set the setting for the New Testament giving multiple hints of what could happen in the future to come. I have always viewed the intertestamental period in general as something that isn’t we can learn much from. But after studying this section it has made me take a second look at how I was understanding the Intertestamental Period as a whole. I now feel as though when studying things like the Maccabean Revolt, it can help us as Christians grasp a better understanding of the New Testament.

    When you mentioned that we encounter hope in a messianic being because of the Jewish people facing oppression from multiple aspects in the Second Temple period is something I never even considered. Though it does make sense, as a people group who are longing for someone to save them from political oppression it makes sense to have a hope for something. But I feel as though this is what set the criteria as for what the Jews were looking for. Jews were looking for a savior to deliver them from a government agenda since the start of time and when Christ came and delivered people from sin / wrong doings it wasn’t something they accepted as their own. In my opinion I think that during this time is when the Jews set their heart on a political savior.

  9. Within the past few weeks of this class, I didn’t realize how important it is to learn all that has happened and also how much it affected the Jews significantly within their faith. The struggle of power within the nations and the event within the power struggle of the Jews. I feel the question at the end of the blog is actually very relevant to most of the prompts. We just went through a major election that cause a lot of chaos and a shift in power as a nation and as believers. There was a lot of divide that happened not only with the nation, but also within the church, much like the Jews. “There must have been a variety of Jewish responses to the oppression, running a whole spectrum” (Tomasino, 137). Also like the Jews, we had different “parties” that people associated with that caused a bit of confusion within the Jewish realm. The other prompt that I feel speaks to the church now is the longing for the Lord to intervene. We may not hope for a messiah to come necessarily (although that wasn’t out of the question for some), but we do hope that the Lord would move in some way with how we as a people can’t change the hearts or circumstances of most.

  10. History is a very interesting thing in and of itself on so many levels. However, I have never liked history and for the most part always thought it was dumb we had to learn about what happened in the past when we could develop the future. But on the other hand I have come to realize especially lately that we can learn from the past and grow and change the future by respecting what has happened prior and building up to where we are now. looking at the past we can figure out what will work with the future and alter how we go about things based on how the past did, and see what worked for them. Although we will need to adjust it so that the solution fits the current state in our times. I think I need to do better with looking at the past as a help instead of just an annoyance. Such as the effect of this having on the Jews I think that we can see this happening in our world today. Some Jews rebelled, and some Jews just followed out of fear or lack of caring for their world. I know that we can see this very clear in our world today with the election that has just happened. I see Christians becoming broken apart and not staying unified through Christ and rather would like to fight due to political issues. Some Christians are fighting for what is right and correct, and I also see many Christians following the media out of fear of being called out for standing up for what they believe in.

  11. It is not a question that the church of America has drastically changed/mended biblical texts. It needs to be made new and one way to do that is by teaching the history between the two testaments. Maybe when people begin to gain a deeper understanding of biblical times will people wake up. Like this bus I am on right now, 45 out of the 50 people sleep through the journey. They only care about what is on the other side. It is when you go back and look at the WHOLE ride, that you understand how you truly got from “Michigan” (Old Testament) to “West Virginia” (New Testament).

    However, people do not want to hear that… that is why people ask “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?” instead of how far have we come to get to where we are at. Christians do not like to dwell in the past, so many churches will not tell them that. Instead, they will preach how good the life ahead of them can be if they “believe”. That is good and all, but you learn by looking back. Why do you think the Bible talks about a wise man countless times? Proverbs 14:16 says, “A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless”. Our churches today do not stress enough the importance of shunning evil. We are sinful people, so it is okay if we repent. So Christians will go their whole life living like that. However, if we understand that when we take that step into Faith, our whole life should change! Going away from those temptations that dragged you down and the pass and being set free by the one who gave His life for you.

  12. I would agree with the significance and importance of studying the context and history of what was going on politically in the world at the time of the Bible. I think it helps us to better understand the work of Jesus when we know the culture. I think it also adds to an appreciation for his work, both in the Old and New Testaments. Culture is always changing and being reshaped even today. Our culture in America has changed even every decade, four hundred years ago America was even more different of a place than today, I am sure the same is true of Israel, Greece, Persia, and all the other Bible settings. The second point regarding Jews and Gentiles is a huge shift from Old to New Testament. There was a shift from law to gospel, from do to done, from works to grace. This was something that proved extremely difficult for the people of that time to understand. Their lives were based on their religious beliefs. Their identity was being flipped entirely. Of course, this would cause some type of reaction of crisis and chaos which in this case resulted in riots. Everything they knew was changing to be “wrong”. The Jews were very easy to distinguish from the rest of the world because of their strict rules and lifestyles. Christians today are supposed to be salt and light in the world as the Scriptures say in Matthew 5:13-16. Christians are supposed to be the light in the darkness of the world. If we blend into the secularism of the world, all that is left is darkness. How will anyone be able to taste and see the goodness of God (Psalm 34:8)? We should be just as passionate about the truth of the grace of God and the gospel. The truth will offend, we will suffer for Christ, but the end result will be worth it.

  13. An issue that I believe Christians will be zealous of on the day of persecution is the topic of marriage. This is not a topic that is unfamiliar to us now because the Church and the rest of the world have very different views of marriage today. The Church believes that marriage is a special covenant between a man and woman and God. It is a promise and a covenant from the couple to God. The first issue I believe that there will be is that people do not need to get married. I believe this trend of people living together before marriage and just never getting married continues. For many, it is easier and cheaper to not get married. The second issue I see within marriage is who can get married. There is disagreement today about whether homosexual couples should be married. The third and final topic that I will be covering is the issue of divorce. I can see the world promoting society to make divorce more common. The reason for this is because it is easier to get a divorce than to instead work on issues within the marriage. People often feel that the grass is greener on the other side.

  14. I find it interesting to delve into the texts that were created and written in between the new and old testament. Growing up, my church used to look into what makes a book canon, and we never studied anything past that. There are 66 books recognized within the Bible. According to an article written by Portland Bible College, the Old Testament has “39 books, which contain 17 historical books, 5 books of Hebrew poetry, and 17 prophetic books. The New Testament begins with 5 historical books and has 21 books of doctrine or teachings and ends with the apocalyptic book of Revelation.” I find it interesting to take a look into what types of books that the Bible contains and what makes or breaks the canonization process. In this, the book must be inspired by God, have an author that is a genuine prophet of God, agree with the previous books, and be accepted as authoritative.
    However, taking a look into this blog post, its also important to take a look at what happens within the intertestamental period, even if the books written in this time are not in the Bible itself. Time did not stop and things took place during this period, and its important to take a look into the events and accounts in connection to the Scriptures we have today!

    Chapter One Bibliology and Canonization – Portland Bible College.

  15. I believe it is very important to understand the significance of the Jewish culture and religion. When the day of persecution comes, I think the Cristian Church will have issues with the differences between the old biblical beliefs vs. the new beliefs. For example, same-sex marriage has been a huge conflict within all religions. As history moves forward, we see religion progressively competing with the beliefs of others and same-sex marriage. Christianity and other religious communities may believe that this topic may be seen as “non-negotiable doctrines and practices and withdraw from secular society entirely.” (P. Long). During the second temple period when the Jewish people faced oppression from the Romans and Greeks, several people hoped for God to defend and help them. In the same way, we see many same sex couples marching for acceptance and to stand by them.

  16. In the past, I didn’t believe that history was important when studying the Scripture. My reasoning behind this was that we were living in a new time and things were different. Especially when reading the OT, the stories would be completely different in our time. I remember in my freshman year of college I had to take a hermeneutics class and it was then that I learned the importance of knowing the history behind the verses we are reading from Scripture. When I was younger I thought that the time between the book of Malachi and Matthew was short. It’s still crazy to think that the Intertestamental Period was roughly around 400 years, that’s a long time. During this time many Jews completely rebelled and turned away from God. It is right after this period that Christ is introduced following His ministry and the reason for His crucifixion. He died on the cross for every single person including the Jews and Romans. I also believe that it is important to preach about these topics because most likely people have not studied this topic. History can help you understand Scripture better during the time it was written.

  17. When you stated the “Christian church in the west is moving into a period of time where we are no longer the dominant cultural force”, it made me think we are there. As a Christian in today’s society I see how we are pressured into “adapting” our beliefs. A great example is acceptance. It has been a trend for awhile now to accept people for who they want to be whether its spiritual beliefs, gender stances or political views. As Christian culture seems to take the back burner in America we are told to “accept” which really means fully agree with others. Thus it creates a tough situation for Christians because they do not want to conform to the world(Romans 12) but we are living in a culture that is no longer God-centered. So where do we give? What do we fight tooth and nail for?

    I also see a commonality with a hope for a savior. I do not go a week without hearing something that regards a hope that Christ returns because of the stance of our world. You mentioned above that the people grew a hope for the coming Messiah. I feel as if Christians of today have this burning passion and hope of a soon returning of Christ.

    I personally am not a huge history buff but seeing these connections is fascinating and makes me curious to see what else we can relate to from the earlier Jews.

  18. First, I think hearing a sermon about the Maccabean revolt would have been very interesting, and something I would have definitely tuned in for! I also have always found the lack of context between the ending of the Old Testament and the New Testament intriguing, as we know, the canonical Bible doesn’t really cover anything between those times. Having some context, and history of that time is very important to fully understanding the political landscape of the time Jesus was born into. Also, to understand that at that point, the Jews have been ruled by different nations, and to see the progression of Hellenization put on the Jewish people is also very important. Having a basic understanding of the that time drastically helps to understand the historical context of the Gospels, and the New Testament as a whole. This time really serves well as the ignition for why the Jewish people were so ready for a Messiah to come and take rule, and even though they got the Messiah, it wasn’t how they wanted or expected.

  19. I have never really been into history and have always found it hard to really care about what happened so long ago, but in our recent lessons it has been made clear to me why it is so important. Knowing the context about what we are reading can really help in understanding. The fact that there are 400 years in between the testaments is kind of mind blowing to me, as I never really gave any thought as to what happened during this time, and it does raise some interesting questions. 400 years ago compared to now things have changed to much in the world! I also agree with you that this should be preached on, I personally have never really heard anyone talk about this time period and learning and understanding what happened and how the Jews are seeing things and what they have been through is so important, as this is the world that Jesus is now coming into.

  20. “Sola Scriptura” sounds nice, but a Christian’s journey should begin – not end – with the Bible. To truly understand Jesus’ teachings and motivations, we must understand his cultural context. The context of the New Testament is not only the Old Testament, but also the intertestamental period and all the literature which came from it. For example, a proper understanding of 1 Peter 3 and Jude would require one be familiar with 1 Enoch. But intertestamental literature is useful for more than historical context. One can – and should – preach from intertestamental books with an understanding that they are not as reliable as the biblical texts.

    In the case of 1 and 2 Maccabees, we can learn much about how the Jews struggled under foreign rule, and the lengths they took to try and restore proper temple worship. We experience a similar struggle with cultural and religious syncretism today. Most frequently, we seem to integrate our sociopolitical opinions with our faith. At what point do our sociopolitical views become a core part of our faith? More importantly, if Jesus were return and chastise our political persuasions, would we accept or reject him? I am more than confident that most western Christians would rather forsake Christ than their politics. Perhaps we have not only tied those views to our faith, but indeed tied them in with our view of the Self (which we should be doing with our faith).

    Judah Hashmonai was willing to fight for what he believed was the proper way to worship the Lord. Would we do the same? Would we be quicker to fight for our opinions, or for our Savior?

  21. There is an interesting parallel to modern-day Christians in your statement about the struggles of Jews to maintain their identity under Greek rule. In 1 Peter, the Apostle talks about living as Christians being as a “sojourner and an exile (2:9, ESV).” Peter lived under the Roman rule, the Jews of the second temple period under the Greeks, and Christians today live under the rule of a post-modern, post-Christian culture. Throughout history, true, biblical Christianity, as it was before the rise and corruption of Roman Catholicism, has always been a minority. God preserves a remnant (Romans 11:5), but a remnant is not a multitude. We have always been foreigners, created for God’s Kingdom, but hopelessly in love and attached to the kingdoms of man in this world, even before Christ. The Jews were literal foreigners, we are philosophical and ideological foreigners.

    I find myself tending more and more towards that second flavor of Christian, the one who withdraws more and more from an increasingly degenerating society (the fact that I call it a “degenerating society” should be evidence of such), and I wonder where the line should be drawn of what is worth fighting over in a more-than-ideological conflict. It’s hard to follow the Great Commission when your instinct is to withdraw to keep your head above water. I’d rather not be an Essene. I would much rather learn to trust that God will redeem the world and make it new, and that He will keep my head above water instead of me fighting to help myself.

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