Posted by & filed under Apocalypse, Birth of Christ, Christmas, Christmas Story, Good and Evil, Jesus, Judea, Messiah, Palestine, Religious Persecution.


In yesterday’s post, I talked about the religious and political divisiveness in ancient Palestine that had to do with various groups of Jewish citizens: The Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes.

Another source of seething hostility in Palestine was a strange and completely new experience of the times, the phenomenon called ‘Religious Persecution’. People had often wondered why God allowed good people to suffer despite their being good. But now, as the Jews found themselves being persecuted simply because of their religious practices, they began to wonder why it was that God would allow people to suffer because they were good! Such persecution seemed the very essence of evil. 

Fortunately, the belief in a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil carried with it a growing conviction that Good would ultimately triumph. Therefore, the experience of religious persecution, according to Julie Galambush in “The Reluctant Parting”, “proved to be the catalyst for a developing belief that those who died for their faith in this world would be rewarded in another world – life after death through resurrection.” Rather than being seen as unfortunate wretches who had been unaccountably forgotten by God, such people began to be seen as martyrs – religious heroes whom God would reward in the afterlife for their goodness and their faithfulness. The philosophical belief that God – and Good – would ultimately triumph over Evil, coupled with rising political tension with Rome and the anticipation of inevitable war, led to an increasingly ‘Apocalyptic‘ view of the world: in other words, many Jews in Palestine began to believe that the ‘End of the World’ (at least as we know it) was rapidly approaching. God was about to triumph over Evil, He would judge the wicked, He would reward the just, and a New Order would dawn.

To lead God’s legions to victory against hopelessly adverse political conditions, and to establish a new kingdom of God, a leader with divine power would be necessary. And thus, a Messianic hope was kindled in the heart of Judaism. God had promised Samuel that an anointed son of David would rule over the Israelites forever. Where was he? Now, after centuries of Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman oppression, faith in God and hope for the future merged with the new belief that God was finally going to send Moshiach, “the anointed one”, the Messiah, to rescue Israel and lead them to a new world.

As Galambush writes: “Messianic expectations, cosmic dualism, martyrdom, and resurrection – an entire constellation of beliefs absent from ancient Israelite religion – suddenly took center stage. In some respects Jewish life continued as it had done for centuries: the rituals in the Jerusalem temple followed forms set down in Leviticus, and the rhythm of Sabbath and the festivals went on as always. But in the final centuries before the Common Era, Jewish popular imagination had come to occupy a far more colorful religious landscape, one in which history was fast approaching its end.”

It was into this colorful, dangerous, and hopeful world that a child called Jesus, of the Tribe of Judah and the House of David, was born in Bethlehem.