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?

7 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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.