Summary: This is an historical look at the conditions in Palestine when Jesus was born.
The World That Christ Entered
1. At the birth of Christ the world was united under one scepter.
a. From the Euphrates to the Atlantic; from the mouths of the Rhine to the slopes of the Atlas, the Roman Emperor was the sole lord.
b. There might be war on the far eastern frontier, beyond the Euphrates, or with the rude tribes in the German forests on the north, but the vast Roman world enjoyed peace and security
c. The merchant or the traveler might alike pass freely from land to land; trading vessels might ship to any port, for all lands and all coasts were under the same laws, and all mankind, for the time, were citizens of a common State
d. At the head of this stupendous empire a single man, Octavianus Caesar -- now better known by his imposing title, Augustus – who ruled as absolute lord. i. All nations bowed before him, all kingdoms served him.
e. It was in such a unique era that Jesus Christ was born.
f. Roman peace enabled all lands to be open to the message of mercy and love which He came to announce.
g. However for the last 50 years, Augustus. Sulla and Marius, Pompey and Caesar, had led their legions against each other, alike in Italy and the Provinces, and had drenched the earth with blood.
h. The world was exhausted by the prolonged agony of such a strife; it sighed for rest, and perhaps never felt a more universal joy than when the closing of the Temple of Janus (the God of War) symbolizing that for the present, the world was at peace.
i. Morality was entirely divorced from religion, as may be readily judged by the fact, that the most licentious rites had their temples, and male and female attendants.
2. To understand the condition of things in the Holy Land in the lifetime of Jesus, it is necessary to notice the history of the region and how the religious and political affairs acted and reacted on the spirit of the nation
a. The Roman general Pompey, commanding in the East, appeared on the scene, in the year 63 B.C.; got possession of the country by craft; stormed the Temple, and inaugurated a new era in Palestine.
b. The country was redistributed in arbitrary political divisions; the defences of Jerusalem thrown down, and the nation subjected to tribute to Rome.
c. This itself would have been enough to kindle a deep hatred to their new masters, but the seeds of a still more profound hatred were sown, even at this first step in Roman occupation, by Pompey and his staff insisting on entering the Holy of Holies, and thus committing what seemed to the Jew the worst profanity of his religion.
d. For the next 20 years, wars between Roman generals, and wars between Herod and the militant Maccabaeans put Jerusalem under seige at least 3 times.
e. There were plots and subplots within the priesthood and within the royal family of Idumites, set up in power by the Romans. i. This was marked by murder, poisonings, beheadings, and every crime imaginable
f. By going to Rome and pleading his case, Herod a half Jew at best, was finally appointed King of Judea
g. To get money, forty-five of Herod’s richest opponents were put to death, and their property confiscated so ruthlessly, that even their coffins were searched at the city gates for jewels or money.
h. To feel secure in power, Herod murdered his brother-in-law Aristobulus, his wife Mariamne and his own two sons who he thought were vying for power
3. There was a constant tension in the land that Jesus came to.
a. Jehovah was no longer the sole God
b. There were heathen temples, with their attendant priests, pompous ritual, and imposing sacrifices,
c. Temples abounded to the worship of Apollo, the goddesses: Fortune, Io, Diana, Juno, and Venus. Jupiter, Neptune, Minerva, Mercury, Castor and Pollux, and the Syrian Moon goddess Astarte
d. Herod built a temple for the worship of Augustus, but the leading divinity was the god Pan
e. Towards the end of his life, the most appalling reports respecting Herod spread from mouth to mouth.
f. He had preserved the murdered body of his murdered wife Mariamne for seven years in honey for the most hideous ends
g. He had strangled all the great Rabbis, except Baba-ben-Boutra, and him he had blinded.
h. The most intense hatred of him prevailed and it was with the extremest mistrust, therefore, that the Rabbis heard in the year B.C. 20 that Herod intended replacing the humble temple of the Exile by one unspeakably more splendid.
i. At last, on the regal day of Herod, in the year B.C. 14, the unfinished structure was consecrated, and the lowing of 300 oxen at the Great Altar announced to Jerusalem that the first sacrifice in it was offered.