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New Testament Survey

Background



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God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
Hebrews 1:1-4

Background and History

Abraham lived around 2,100 B.C. His great-grandson Joseph lived around 1,900 to 1850 B.C. It was at this time that the Nation of Israel “moved” to Egypt. The great Exodus under Moses occurred around 1,450 B.C. From then until 721 B.C., the history of the Nation is a series of spiritual ups and downs – mostly downs!

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In response to a complete lack of faith on the part of Israel, God sent the Assyrian nation against the ten Northern tribes. The Assyrians carried the Northern tribes into captivity in about 721 B.C. Later, God allowed the Babylonians to conquer the Assyrians. Then, in the period of 605-to-586 B.C., the Babylonians made a series of invasions against the remaining two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, carrying them into captivity. In the process, the Jewish Temple was destroyed. This is the story of 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel.

In 539 B.C., the Persians under Cyrus defeated the Babylonians. Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Palestine. The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah are about this return, while the books of Haggai and Zechariah are about the rebuilding of the Temple. Still, some of the Jews remained in Persia (Esther) and the Nation acted no differently under Persian rule than they had under God’s rule. They still fell away and worshiped other gods, breaking the “rules” God had set for them.

 

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Fullness of Time

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But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
Galatians 4:4

Certainly, the fullness of time means the time when God invaded earth as man to bring to fruition the plan of salvation. But God is a God who works in history. So another way of looking at the fullness of time is to see how God structured history for the coming of Christ.

As set forth above, the Old Testament is the story of the Jewish Nation. The Old Testament ends with the prophet Malachi (c. 400-350 B.C.) exhorting the people to return to God. His closing verses hold forth the promise that God will return to them.

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5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Malachi 4:5-6

And then, there followed “400 years of silence” during which time the voice of God was not heard in the land of Israel.

But as Paul says in Galatians, God was not silent. He was merely preparing the earth and its people for the next step. The fullness of time was being shaped.

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In about 335/333 B.C. twenty-some year old Alexander started his amazing accomplishments. Alexander the Great took his Greek army and swiftly defeated the Persians in 331 B.C. In ten short years, Alexander conquered the world. Palestine and the Jews fell under a new master, one who treated them well.

Alexander’s rapid conquest caused the equally rapid spread of Greek culture, Hellenism. The world not only had a new master, the world became Greek. And it would stay this way for a long time.

Alexander left no heir. Upon his untimely death at the age of thirty-three his four generals divided the territories. Two of these, Ptolemy and Seleucus, are important for our discussion. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt and Seleucus ruled the region around Syria. Notice that Palestine lies between the two and the Holy Land became the pawn in the efforts of these two families to rule the world around them. Frequent wars and skirmishes were fought on the Jewish homeland.

Although the Ptolemies ruled Egypt for a considerable time period, our real interest lies in their reign only so far as it influences or affects Israel. For example, you all know one “great” Ptolemy – Cleopatra! But her reign around 55 B.C. had little or no effect on Israel.

 

The Ptolemies ruled the promised land from 321 to 198 B.C. In general, the Jews were treated favorably during this period. One major event occurred which would have lasting influence.

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During this time, there were a large number of Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt. Many had been born and raised there and understood Greek much better than Hebrew. Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.) brought Jewish scholars and rabbis from Jerusalem to Alexandria and had the Old Testament translated into the Greek language. This is the first translation of the Bible. This translation is called the Septuagint. It became a significant document for the Jewish community living outside of Palestine. It is frequently the source of Old Testament quotes in the New Testament and was the Bible of the early church.

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Septuagint means 70. The legend exists that the translation received this name because the number of scholars involved in the translations was 72 and that the translation was completed in 72 days. They rounded these numbers down to 70 in order to give the translation a name.

In 198 B.C., Antiochus III, a Seleucid, defeated the Ptolemies and took over rule of Palestine. This victory by Antiochus brought the true spread of Hellenism to the Holy Land. His son, Antiochus IV or Antiochus Epiphanes, promoted Hellenism and attacked the Jewish religion. In 168 B.C., after a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Egyptians, Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by offering a pig on the holy altar and by erecting a shrine of Zeus in the Temple. This is a picture of the actions of the anti-Christ (cf Matt 24:15).

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For those with a good study Bible, the history of these two families, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, may be reviewed in Daniel chapter 11. The family stories, in very abbreviated version, are set against the backdrop of Scripture proving that God truly is a God of history. The New Schofield, Ryrie, and NIV Study Bibles (among others) all relate Scripture to the actual persons of the Ptolemies and Seleucids.

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Epiphanes’ actions were more than some Jews could take. Mattathias, a priest in the town of Modein, defied the Syrians’ requirements to offer sacrifices to pagan Gods. The revolt began. Mattathias fled to the hills with his five sons, where the old priest soon died. His son Judas took over the fight. His nickname became “the hammer” or in the Hebrew, Maccabeus. The revolt takes its name after Judas, the Maccabean revolt. In December 165 B.C., the Maccabees defeated Epiphanes and recaptured Jerusalem. Their Temple cleansing/dedication ceremony became known as the Festival of Lights and is still celebrated annually by the Jews. You might know it better as Hanukkah..

In 143 B.C. peace was achieved with Syria and the Maccabees became the rulers of the Nation of Israel. Judas’s brother Simon became the first ruler of the Nation. Their rule became known as the Hasmonean rule after the family name of Mattathias, Hashmon. Much of this period was characterized by strife and power struggles, so it was not a time of peace for Israel. Simon and his two sons were murdered, leaving the door open for another of the sons, John Hyrcanus, to become ruler. He was a successful leader and won many battles. He also negotiated a peace with Rome leaving the Nation independent of Roman rule.

By this time in history, the Edomites (the children of Esau) are known as Idumeans. One of Hyrcanus’ missteps was the forcing of the Jewish religion upon the Idumeans. Since they were not of Jewish blood, this was viewed as a desecration of the covenant relationship with God. Further, the Hasmonean’s served as priests even though they were not descendants of Aaron.

Finally, in 63 B.C., a threatened Hasmonean civil war was more than Rome could stomach. An Idumean, Antipater, found favor with Rome and he was able to get one of his sons placed in a position of power in Palestine. This son, Herod the Great, would become king of the region. Antipater’s family plays an ongoing role in Biblical history during the life of Christ and the early church. Herod, three of his sons, a grandson, and a great grandson are all named in Scripture. The family was less than ideal and moral, as may be seen by the inter-marriages and relationships shown on the chart on the next page.

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Have you found God?

What rules do you break? And, how often?

                                             Why?

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Who is your master?

 

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December 14, 2017

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