Jesus to the Bar Kokhba Revolt
Israel in the
Time of Christ
You only have I known of all the families of the earth.—Amos 3:2
At the time of the first advent of our Lord the nation of Israel was under ..the grip of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus had enacted a law “that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1). This occurred in the year 2 B.C. and it was collected by the Jewish authorities. Every male in Israel had to go to the city where he was born to be taxed (Luke 2:3).
The kings and governors who ruled Israel were appointed by Rome. During the time of our Lord the powerful Herod family exercised political power over the nation. The Bible mentions Herod the Great as the one who killed all “the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men” (Matthew 2:16). Herod tried to gain the confidence of the Jews by rebuilding the temple: “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” (John 2:20).
Herod’s son Archelaus succeeded him (Matthew 2:22). He was later dismissed by
the Romans. In succeeding years new revolts arose against the Roman power. One
was led by Simon, a former slave of Herod, and another by Athronges and his four
brothers. Because of these revolts, crucifixion was implemented by the Romans
for the first time in the Holy Land. It seems this was overruled by God because
it was prophesied that our Lord should die on a “tree.” Crucifixion was only
possible under the authority of the Romans: “Christ hath redeemed us from the
curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every
one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13; see also Deuteronomy 21:23).
The Sadducees and the Pharisees
The Sadducees and the Pharisees were the mighty ruling religious groups. But there were also the Essenes and Zealots. Another group was the Herodians who were political followers and supporters of the Herod family. Under Roman dominion the Jews were allowed to serve God in the Temple.
The Sadducees provided the high priest and many other priests. They claimed to be the direct descendants of Zadok, the high priest under King Solomon. We know that “the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit” (Acts 23:8). In accordance with this view Sadducees did not believe in a reward for good deeds or consequences for bad ones after death. Josephus wrote that the teachings of the Sadducees appealed to the wealthy. They claimed to cling only to the writings of Moses and they rejected all later writings of the prophets. The Temple was under their control. The high priest was the head or president of the highest Jewish court called the Sanhedrin; it consisted of seventy-one members drawn from the ranks of the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.
The Pharisees believed in a resurrection, in spirits and angels (Acts 23:8). The name Pharisee means “a separatist” and the Pharisees tried to stay separated from the common people and especially the publicans. They considered publicans as sinners, because they worked together with the Roman power (Matthew 9:11) to collect taxes. The Pharisees strictly observed the law and tried to keep it perfectly. They loved the oral traditions passed down through generations and they believed both the writings of Moses and the writings of the prophets. Acts 23:9 describes a group of the “scribes that were of the Pharisees.” Because of that, the Bible speaks often about “scribes and the Pharisees.”
The Gospels record the difficult situation of Israel in those days: “The people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not” (Luke 3:15). The oppression of the Roman Empire became worse and worse. We are told that Pilate had mingled many Galilaeans’ blood with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1).
Galilee was an agricultural area where many common people lived, including farmers, shepherds, and fishermen. The Pharisees and the Sadducees looked down on common people. Jesus himself spent much of his life in Galilee and called his disciples from that area. This is why those in Jerusalem said: “Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?” (Acts 2:7). When Jesus ascended to his Father two angels said unto the disciples: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
The Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes were afraid of revolts. They hated the thought of losing their power and influence: “Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man [Jesus] doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation.” (John 11:47-51).
“These Pharisees, posing as the leaders of religious thought in that day, were
made very angry by our Lord’s plainness of speech, and the fact that he pointed
out to the common people the general rules and principles by which a tree may be
known by its fruits—that the Pharisees were not to be esteemed according to
their professions, but to be measured by their deeds. They prided themselves
upon their strict observances of the law, but he showed that many of the things
which they did were not really the law of God, but the commandments of men, and
that the very essence of the divine law, love, justice, they largely ignored,
not only in their teachings but also in their practices. The Pharisees feared,
therefore, that the high station which they had previously held in the
estimation of non-professors was being shaken, and their pride antagonized
this—hence they hated him without a cause. … The improper spirit exemplified in
the priests and Pharisees and Scribes in our Lord’s day finds a parallel today
in the anger, malice, hatred, bitter words, which, like arrows, are shot forth
at those who serve the truth, who seek to lift up the standard to the people,
who seek to show up the errors of the ‘dark ages’ and through the truth to make
known the real character of our heavenly Father and the real meaning of his
Word.”—Reprints, p. 3786
The Trial Against Our Lord
In the trial against our Lord we see how the several groups with the power worked together. Jesus was taken to Annas, and then to Caiaphas, after he was captured in Gethesemane: “Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people” (John 18:14). In accordance with Matthew 26:57 the members of the Sanhedrin were assembled in front of Caiaphas. It was against Jewish law that a man be condemned in the night so the trial against our Lord was postponed to the early morning to condemn him formally at day-break. After this Jesus was taken to Pilate’s hall of judgment. The members of the Sanhedrin did not go in lest they should be defiled; they expected to eat the Passover that night (John 18:28). This was hypocritical. Outwardly they seemed clean but inwardly they were neither pure nor holy. “Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?” (John 18:29)
“Evidently from his previous custom they had expected that Pilate would receive any culprit that they would bring to him, and be satisfied that if they had condemned one of their own nation he must be indeed a bad man and worthy of condemnation and execution at the hands of the Romans. Their surprise is indicated in their reply: ‘If he were not an evil-doer we would not have delivered him up to thee’ … Pilate’s thrusting back the responsibility upon the Sanhedrin was very proper. The context shows us that he discerned that it was because of malice and envy that they were thus dealing with Jesus—that he was not an ordinary criminal, one whose liberty would in any wise be calculated to disturb the peace of the Roman empire.”—Reprints, p. 3554
Then the members of the Sanhedrin said Jesus “stirreth up the people” (Luke 23:5) Pilate knew such a charge would cause trouble with Caesar in Rome. Then when Pilate heard Jesus “belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:7). Herod ought to handle this matter.
Herod Antipas was the ruler over Galilee. In Luke 23 we read: “He [Herod] questioned with him [Jesus] in many words; but he answered him nothing.” Then Herod with his men of war “set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate” (Luke 23:11). In the meantime Pilate’s wife had had a dream: “[Pilate’s] wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19). When Jesus returned, Pilate asked: “Ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover” (John 18:39). The multitude was persuaded “that they should ask [for] Barabbas and destroy Jesus” (Matthew 27:20).
The apostle Peter tells us why God permitted these events: “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.” (Acts 3:17-22).
Jesus’ sacrifice guarantees the forgiveness of sins and a full opportunity for
reconciliation with God during the Messianic kingdom. The apostle Paul asked:
“Hath God cast away his people?” Then he answered: “God forbid. … God hath not
cast away his people which he foreknew” (Romans 11:1,2). The rulers in Israel
did it in ignorance. And Jesus himself said about himself: “No man taketh it [my
life] from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18) The time will come when
all Israel will repent and be converted (Romans 11:26). The prophet Zechariah
prophesied about this time: “I will pour out upon the house of David and upon
the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of favour and of supplications, and
they will look unto me whom they have pierced, and will wail over him, as one
waileth over an only son, and will make bitter outcry over him, as one maketh
bitter outcry over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10, Rotherham). The apostle
Paul explains: “For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now
obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed,
that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them
all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and
his ways past finding out! … To whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans
Christ’s Ascension and Pentecost
Paul also said: “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). After his resurrection Jesus was forty days with his disciples, even though he was invisible and only materialized a few times. Then he ascended up on high “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24), presenting the merit of his sacrifice to make atonement for the Church class.
The same apostles who witnessed our Lord’s ascension were in the upper room waiting in an attitude of prayer and expectation, ready to begin their mission. At Pentecost the holy spirit was poured upon them as visible evidence that the merit of our Lord Jesus had been accepted by God. At this time three thousand Jews “that gladly received his [Peter’s] word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). Soon the number increased: “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand” because “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 4:4; 2:47). Even Pharisees believed and became followers of the Lord (Acts 15:5).
Acts describes the beginning of the church and the miracles the apostles performed. “Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest” conferred among themselves “saying, What shall we do to these men [the apostles]? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:6,16). The chief priest and elders threatened them, then let them go (Acts 4:21). Later the high priest and the Sadducees “laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison” (Acts 5:18). God miraculously delivered them and they were called again by the high priest and Sadducees, were beaten, and were commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus: “They [the apostles] departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his [Jesus’] name” (Acts 5:41).
The Apostle Paul
Stephen was the first Christian martyr, put to death by stoning (Acts 7:58-60). Saul was a leader in his prosecution and was influential in the Sanhedrin (Acts 8:1,3). This Saul became the apostle Paul (Acts 9). Saul had been a bitter enemy of the Lord and his followers. He had trained under Gamaliel, one of the great teachers of that time. In his heart Saul was honest, sincere, and loyal to his understanding of the Law and God. This man became a chosen vessel unto the Lord to bear his name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15). What a great miracle in his transformation was observed by the brethren and people of Israel! He suffered much for Christ’s sake. It is reasonable to assume he experienced the burning of the city of Rome in 64 A.D. and the persecution of the Christians in Rome that followed.
In Israel a new revolt arose in the years 70-73 A. D. As a result the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Many lost their lives and others were scattered throughout the world. Only a few fled to Massada where they eventually killed themselves to prevent becoming prisoners of Rome.
In 132 A. D. another revolt arose, the so-called Bar-Kokhba revolution. But it failed and Jerusalem was trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled.
The lesson of the apostle Paul is that we must guard our words, motives, heart intentions, feelings, actions, and deeds so they are a true reflection of a pure heart. We must be motivated by a pure heart as was Paul. We must be perfect in our heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
If 144,000 faithful Jews would have been found to be Israelites indeed in whom there is no guile (John 1:47), then only Jews would have constituted the body of Christ. Although some were faithful, most did not take the opportunity offered to them. Consequently we Gentiles have obtained this grace to “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1:24).
The lesson natural Israel teaches us is to be careful, humble, faithful, and obedient to the word of God: “For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee [us]” (Romans 11:21). The 144,000 are virgins, that “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth … [They are] the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb … they are without fault” (Revelation 14:4,5).