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?

11 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.

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