Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 31: Between the Testaments
September 5, 2010
Scripture reading: Daniel 7:1-7 (genea)
Q Enjoyed first week of autumn? (Supposed to be 9/21)
Q Vote: Glad for autumn?
Bridging the Gap
Starting next time I preach, we will take a break from the OT and go through Matthew and Mark. But first I want to give the “in-between-qual”:
The OT ends with:
Malachi 4:5-6 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
As I said last week, Jesus tells us John was this Elijah. Then Mark (the earliest of the Gospels) begins:
Mark 1:1-4 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”-- 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
It is really cool how the OT dovetails into the NT. The thing is that there is a little bit of a gap between the two: 400 years.
This is called “The Silent Years” because there was no revelation from God; he seemed to be distant and silent.
· Four hundred years is a long time – that’s how far Galileo and Shakespeare are from us.
So what was God doing all this time, taking a nap, baking cookies? Why the long break? We are going to see that he was very, very busy preparing the entire world for Jesus.
· Ever since Adam and Eve fell, God was working feverishly to restore the broken relationship, and it was almost time.
Galatians 4:4-6 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father
· Jesus came at just the right time, literally – there was an ideal window of 100 years, not repeated until 20th century.
This sermon will be different from the vast majority of my sermons, it is more of a history lesson. But as I said last week, history is just telling stories, and good stories apply to our modern lives, as we will see here.
This period is pretty much ignored:
Q How many of you have ever heard a sermon on this?
Q How many you didn’t really realize there was a 400 year break?
There are a lot of reasons we should we should know at least a little bit about this time:
1. We get to see how God is always in control, directing history for his purpose.
2. It helps us understand the NT:
Q Why does the OT say that we will be blessed financially and personally if we obey God, but the NT expects suffering?
Q Why is the biggest problem of the OT idolatry and immorality, but in the NT it’s self-righteousness?
Q Why does the OT seldom talk about the afterlife, but it’s all over the place in the NT?
3. We get to see how accurate OT prophecy is – this has been the fun part for me!
Daniel was written about 500 years before Jesus, yet it accurately describes events up nearly up until his coming, sometimes with great clarity.
It’s so clear that liberal scholars (presupposing miracles can’t happen) assume it was written in 164 BC, but it’s inclusion in the Dead Sea Scrolls (171 BC) make that hard to believe.
· Because it’s accuracy (and hence validation of Scripture) is so cool, we will use the opening Scripture as our road map:
Daniel 7:4 The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.
From Dan. 2:31-45, we know the first beast was the Babylonians. They were the nation that exiled Judah and destroyed the temple in 586 BC. As a result, two important things happened:
1. The Jewish people were dispersed throughout the ancient world (“Diaspora”). By the time of Jesus they were in cities from India to Spain.
2. Because the temple had been destroyed, worship went from being based around sacrifices at the temple to study of the Torah in Synagogues (which were also cultural centers).
· The word basically means “Gathering Place,” we are named after synagogues!
Significance: At the end of the OT, Israel was small country in the world scene, only important because some major roads went through it. Almost no one outside of Israel had even heard of Yahweh, and had no interest in a Messiah or redeemer.
· The Diaspora allowed Judaism and the Bible to become internationally known and accepted.
Paul made a point of always starting his ministry in a new city in the synagogue.
Daniel 7:5 And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, “Get up and eat your fill of flesh!”
Babylon was conquered by Persia during Daniel’s lifetime (539 BC), Life under the Persian actually improved for Jews – they were allowed to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
· This was prudent on their part – as they faced threats from the Greeks to the west, they had a friendly buffer.
Significance: This allowed there to be a temple and ongoing sacrifices when Jesus sacrificed himself. About 40 years later (73 AD), the temple would be destroyed, never to be rebuilt.
Daniel 7:6 After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.
This beast represents Greece, Alexander the Great. The image of a leopard is especially fitting because the speed with which Greece conquered the ancient world. In about 10 years, he conquered from Greece to India.
According to Josephus, (a historian from shortly after Christ), in 332 BC the high priests went out to greet Alexander as he came to conquer Jerusalem, welcomed him in, and showed him the places in Daniel where his coming was predicted.
· He was so impressed that he basically left Israel alone.
As Alexander conquered the ancient world, he brought Greek culture to the world, “Hellenization.” Most importantly, he brought the Greek language to the world. It became the international language, exactly like English today.
· Eventually, many Jews couldn’t even read Hebrew, so the OT was translated into Greek, the Septuagint (“sept” meaning 7).
Significance: Now there was a common language that the Gospel could be shared in. And there was also a Bible available to all. Christians made such great use of it that the Jews basically replaced it with a newer versions, less friendly to Christians.
As you may remember from history, Alexander died at a young age (32), and this empire was divided up into four kingdoms among his leading generals. This was also prophesied:
Daniel 8:21-22 21 The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.
Even still, things were going well for Jews, their new masters were content to leave them alone. But around 175 BC, a new king took over by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes.
He wasn’t content to leave Jews alone, but forced them to act like Greeks and outlawed Jewish practice. Jews were persecuted mercilessly, being executed for even observing Sabbath.
Significance: The Torah promised if they obeyed God they would be blessed and punished if they didn’t. Now they were being persecuted for obeying God; this caused a major crisis of faith.
· Through this, God helped his people understand the afterlife – rewards and punishment went beyond this life.
This is why hear so much more about heaven and hell in the NT. Jesus himself frequently confirmed that we should live for eternity, not this life.
· The Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife, which is not surprising they were Hellenized and weren’t persecuted.
The Abomination that causes desolation
The worst thing he did was desecrate the temple, as prophesied:
Daniel 11:31 31 His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.
He came into the temple, set up an idol of Zeus, and sacrificed pigs to it. It is impossible for us to understand how utterly despicable and devastating that was for them.
· Imagine foreign troops destroying the Constitution and Declaration of Independence – that’s starting to get it.
Or imagine a native tribe, maybe on a distant planet, and a big, bad corporation tries to destroy their spirit tree, that would be the idea. [Avatar]
So one of these big, blue warrior dudes is called Judas Maccabeus, and he organizes a success rebellion, and in 164 BC they take back Jerusalem.
· Hanukkah celebrates the temple’s purification and rededication.
Long story short, Israel gains a level of independence for the next 100 years, but these new leaders quickly become as ungodly and corrupt as the Greeks.
Significance: Jews began to look for a messiah to rescue them from their enemies, as prophesied. There have been many false messiahs, but they all fail either politically or morally.
In the course of internal power struggles, one group unwittingly cooperates with the final part of Daniel’s prophecy when they ask the up and coming power for help:
Daniel 7:7 After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast-- terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
This final beast is none other than Rome. In 63 BC, Pompey marches into Jerusalem to “help out a bit,” but never leaves. Israel loses its independence and wouldn’t regain it until 1947.
· BTW: I know of no other nation to survive without a homeland for 2,000 years – evidence of God’s hand.
Rome was truly “terrifying and frightening and very powerful.” When you consider how much of the known world they ruled, they are arguably the most powerful empire to ever exist.
Their empire had two very important consequences for coming of Jesus and the spread of the Gospel:
1. relative peace throughout the known world, called Pax Romana. Rome kept peace through force, and stopped pirates.
2. Ease of travel: The Romans had 53,000 miles of maintained and patrolled roads (compare 47,000 in Interstate system).
Significance: This allowed Jesus’ followers to move freely about the known world, from Spain to India to spread the good news. Furthermore, letters (in Greek!) could be sent to encourage distant believers.
· These letters from Jesus’ apostles were collected and were recognized as authorities, becoming our NT.
In 180 AD, the Roman Empire began falling apart, and things actually went backwards. It wasn’t until the modern era that we have again the ease of travel and communication that Paul knew.
But by this time Christianity had taken root in communities around the world and was able to grow thanks to a Bible (OT and NT) written in Greek, and translated into local languages.
Putting it all together
When you first start looking at it, it can seem like the 400 year “Silent Period” seems very long, but the more you study, it is amazing how much God accomplished behind the scenes:
· Placing Jews around the world.
· Creating a common language.
· Building messianic expectation and turning our eyes heavenward.
· Providing roads and safe travel.
When Jesus showed up on the scene, it was perfect timing.
I haven’t even touched on God’s work in individual cultures. For instance, in the Greek and Roman culture the common people got tired of official religion and started to seek “Mystery Religions” in an attempt to experience the gods.
· One professor I listened used this to explain away the success of Christianity, but I think it demonstrates God’s prep work.
Maybe he can handle our lives
Hopefully you found this all interesting, and it helps you better understand the NT world. But I want to leave you with this thought:
· If God could manage 400 years of international intrigue and cultural shifts, maybe he can handle your life.
At any given point, it may seem like things are spinning out of control:
· You may look at the pain in our world – droughts, hurricanes, the damage to the environment, and wonder where God is.
· Maybe you look at our nation, at how seems to be sliding away from God, going down the tubes.
· You probably look at your own life: unable to get a job, broken relationships, sickness and suffering
You may look at all this and wonder where God could possibly be in the middle of all this.
Q Do you think the people during the silent years felt the same?
...as they suffered through Antiochus’ persecution (many of them dying), when they were let down by the Jewish rulers, when Roman rulers denied them the freedom they thought God had promised?
One point should be clear – God was in control the whole time, even working through evil circumstances. God did not desire the suffering caused by the free will of wicked men like King Herod, yet he used it to bring salvation to the entire world.
Romans 8:28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
In other words before we were born, God knew that we would choose him. Our entire life is like book before him. We can’t tell at any given point what’s free will, what God controls, and what he allows.
· But we know that our story is a not a tragedy.
This doesn’t mean that everything in our life will be happy – we may not get that job, we may not mend that relationship, we might die in a car accident.
· But God’s goal goes far beyond this life – his goal is glorification, acclimating us for heaven.
As I quoted last week: Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11)
Q & A