Born at the Right Time

Sermon #40 in “66 in 52: A One Year Journey Through the Bible” October 8, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Pastor

Good morning! If you are using one of the Pew Bibles, I invite you to turn to page 755. If you brought your own physical copy of God’s word, turn to the blank page between the Old and the New Testament. Because what I want to talk about this morning is what all happened during what Bible scholars call the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the New Testament. They call it that because we don’t have any more history after the events of Nehemiah. And we don’t have any prophetic books after Malachi. But as it turns out, it wasn’t that silent at all.

How many of you know the story of Rip Van Winkle? Guy goes off squirrel hunting, lays down to take a nap, and wakes up 20 years later and everything has changed?

Now, imagine a Jewish version of this story. There’s a guy—we’ll call him Rabbi Ben Winkle. He comes back to Jerusalem, helps Nehemiah build the wall, falls asleep during his lunch hour, wakes up four hundred years later, and everything is different. He looks across the valley at the city of Jerusalem, and the wall is completed. Not only is the wall completed, but there’s this huge temple standing on the spot where Zerubbabel’s temple had been when he fell asleep. People are calling it Herod’s temple. Who’s Herod? He’s the king. Is he a descendant of David? No, he’s an Edomite. Wait, what?

When Rabbi Ben Winkle went to sleep, the world was under Persian control, and the Jews were just beginning to resettle their homeland. Now he wakes up, the Romans are in charge. What’s up with that?

Also, there’s all these political and religious groups running around that weren’t around when he fell asleep—Pharisees. Sadducees. The. Herodians. Zealots. Essenes. Where did they come from?

The Rabbi is dumbfounded. People aren’t even speaking Hebrew anymore. They’re speaking Greek. Even the Bible is different. People are all excited about this new translation called the Septuagint.  

So much has happened during Rabbi Ben Winkle’s 400 year nap! And it’s all in that blank page.

And here’s why it matters: Paul said in Romans 5 that, “At just the right time, while we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly. What made it “just the right time?”

He wrote to the Galatians that, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might have adoption as sons.

What did Paul mean about “the fullness of time? ”That’s what we are going to talk about this morning. That’s what this blank page is all about. So let me pray for us, and then we will jump in.


Now, like I said, we don’t have history about this time. But we do have prophecy. I’d like you to turn to Daniel chapter 2 (page 690 in the pew Bible)  You’re like, wait—whay are we going backwards. I’ve been waiting for months to get to the New Testament  just hang on—I promise you this is going to help you understand the world of the New Testament better.

You remember last week we talked about the four world powers that rose and fell from the close of the old testament to the opening of the new.  What were the four? Blind Pigeons Get Runover—Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome.

In Daniel 2, the prophet Daniel is in Babylon, at the height of the Babylonian empire. Nebuchadnezzar is the king. And one night, King Nebby has a dream. Nebby can’t remember it, so he summons his wise men to tell them what the dream is. They say, “that’s impossible. No one can do that.”

 Nebby says, “If you don’t do it, I’ll cut you into little pieces and burn your house down.”

Daniel hears about it and says to the captain of the guard, put me on the king’s schedule, because I can tell him what the dream means”  Then all the wise men are like “whew.” Then Daniel comes in. Nebby says, “Can you tell me what the dream means?” Daniel says “No.” Then the wise men are like, “WHAT?!? But you said..” Daniel says, “Chill. I can’t but God can.”  And then he tells Nebby his dream. This is  Daniel 2:31-35:

31 “You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32 The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Daniel 2:31-35

Daniel says, Nebuchadnezzar, you’re the golden head of the image. So that’s Babylon, which was the world power from 605-539 BC

But in verse 39, Daniel says, But then another kingdom is going to come up, that’s inferior to yours. That’s the head and the chest of silver. And we know from what we’ve studied so far that this was Persia.

So the Persian Empire lasts for about the first hundred years of this so-called 400 years of silence. The Persians allowed the Jews to practice their religion without a lot of interference. It’s a period of relative peace.

Now, aliong the way this morning, I want to point out the most significant things that happened as they relate to the world of Jesus in the 1st century. These are the four S’s under Israel in your listening guide. And here’s the first one. During this time of exile, the Jews developed a new way to gather for worship.  

Think about it: the temple’s destroyed, and you have Jews spread all over the Persian empire. They Torah forbids sacrifices to be offered to God on foreign soil, so they can’t do sacrifices anymore. So the only thing they can do is pray and study the Torah. So synagogues (which is the Greek word for “congregation” develop in Babylon. You never read about a synagogue in the Old Testament, but now little synagogues pop up all over the empire. Scholars estimate that there were over a thousand synagogues scattered throughout the Roman Empire by the time the second temple was destroyed in 70 AD. And that’s going to be huge when we get into the story of Paul’s missionary journeys.

So that’s the first two empires—Babylonia and Persia. The next was Greece.  This was the waist and thighs of bronze in the statue.

About a hundred years after the death of Xerxes, a guy named Alexander was born. In 331, he defeated the Persians, making Greece the dominant world power. Alexander required the Greek language be spoke in every land that he conquered. As a result, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, becoming the translation known as the Septuagint.  (Second S” under Israel) Most of the New Testament references to Old Testament Scripture use the Septuagint phrasing.

Now, while Alexander did allow religious freedom, he strongly promoted Greek culture. And this wasn’t great for the people of Israel. Remember, Israel had been exiled to Babylon less than 200 years before this, in part because of their idolatry. And Greece was all about idols and gods and goddesses.

So for the next several centuries, the world would speak a common language: Greek. They would have the same culture: Greek. They would have a common worldview—one that said man, not God, was the center of the universe.

And in Israel, there would be one Greek ruler that would unite the Jewish people in their hatred of any foreign king. A guy named Antiochus would given them a common enemy.

Alexander died in 323 BC without a successor. His empire was split between his four generals. General Selucus took the territory that included Israel. Sometimes you’ll hear about the Selucid dynasty in Israel. This was the next 150 years or so of Israel’s history. In 175 BC the 8th Selucid emperor was a guy named Antiochus IV. And he was pure evil.

He renamed himself Anitochus Theos Epiphanes, which means Antiochus, God manifest in the flesh. And he absolutely hated the Jewish religion. He attacked Jerusalem, killed 80,000 Jews, sold 40,000 of them as slaves. Placed guards around the temple so nobody could come in and offer sacrifices.

He made idolatry mandatory in Jerusalem. Set up a statue of Zeus in the temple, sacrificed a pig on the altar of sacrifice. And forced priests to eat that pig on the altar. He stopped the Sabbath observations. He burned scripture. He did not allow men and women to circumcise their children on the eighth day.

That’s how things were from September 6, 171 BC to December 25, 164 BC—a period of 2,300 days. By the way, in Daniel 8:13-14, the prophet wrote that there would be a period of 2,300 evenings and mornings in which the daily sacrifices would be stopped and the temple would be deserted.

Friends, let’s pause and consider the fact that Daniel, writing somewhere around 520 BC, prophesied to the exact number of days the temple would be desolate”[1]

Now, just for fun, this week I added up how long I had been at Glynwood. And as of today, I’ve been pastor for 2,212 days. So imagine someone back in 1667 saying I would be pastor for 2,212 days (Hopefully its going to be longer than that, unless you fire me today). But that is how perfect and precise God’s Word is!

It ended when a rebel named Judas Maccabeus led the Maccabean revolt and rededicated the Temple. Today we know this as the feast of Hanukkah. In Jesus’ day it’s called the Feast of Dedication. So when we read in John 10 that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, and you’re like, wait, that’s not in the Old Testament, well, that’s why.

So you have Judas Maccabeus—considered to be the greatest war hero in the history of the Jewish people, coming into Jerusalem on a war horse, and cleansing the temple (Does that sound at all familiar? What did Jesus do as soon as He came into Jerusalem?)  Because of the Maccabeean revolt, the Jews won back the right to govern themselves and worship as they pleased.

But unfortunately, this didn’t last long—only about 20 years or so. Just as God said through Daniel, there would be a fourth empire.  In 146 BC, Rome defeated the Greek city-state of Corinth, and now Rome became the dominant empire. And for a while, things were actually pretty good. Rome honored the self-governance and religious freedom Israel had established after the Maccabean revolt.

The Roman Empire managed to bring world peace, relatively speaking. They had a common currency used all over the empire. There’s also safe travel. They built 250,000 miles worth of roads around the world. 50,000 miles of those were paved roads, and some of them are still in use today. Because of their military power, it was safe to travel by sea. There’s also an emphasis on public health. Roman aqueducts brought fresh, clean water into the cities. Irrigation and sanitation both improved.

Unlike Greece, which made everybody in the world speak Greek, the Romans were like, you know what? Greek works. We’ll stick with Greek except in the capital, where we’ll speak Latin and name everyone Maximus and Sergius and stuff.

So now there’s a common language, letters can be sent freely. People can move safely on the roads and across the sea. There’s a common currency throughout the Roman empire. The spread of disease is less likely than it used to be. All this came together into what’s called the Pax Romana, a period of worldwide peace (at least the western world) that would last for over 200 years.

But while the world saw this as a time of great peace, the Jews in Israel saw this as a time of increasing oppression. There was peace, but it was coming at a price. You remember that the Maccabean revolt came about because Antiochus IV set himself up as a god?

Well, in 42 BC. After Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, he is declared to be a god in 42 BC. They even named a month after him—July. He was succeeded by Caesar Augustus, and he said, you know what, I’m not gonna wait till I’m dead to be declared god, I’m gonna do it myself. So in 9 BC, he issued what is now called the Edict of Priene because of an inscription that was found in the ruins of a city called Priene in modern Turkey. The edict of Priene said,

” Divine Providence has bestowed upon us Augustus Caesar as Savior of the World, for he has put an end to war and brought perfect peace. By the epiphany of his birth, he brought the gospel of peace to all mankind. For that reason, the Greeks of Asia have on this day declared that the New Year should begin from now on, on the 23rd of September, the day of the birth of this god. Never will another gospel surpass the gospel that was announced at his birth. He is not only Lord of the Empire, but Lord of the Earth and of the calendar and of time itself.”

By the way, Augustus decided he wanted his own month, too, and so after July comes… [August]. And up to that point, months alternated between 30 days and 31 days, but Augustus didn’t want his month to have fewer days than July did, so he took a day away from February just so August would have 31 days too.

Wow. Narcissistic, much?

Some of y’all remember the Who song—meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Well, with all these caesars running around proclaiming to be God, now the Jews are saying, hey, we won’t get fooled again. So they start searching (that’s the third S).for someone or some way they could be delivered.  for the next Judas Maccabbeus.

And so a lot of sects developed in Israel. Some of y’all just woke up. Sects—S-E-C-T-S! That’s the fourth  S

There was a group that believed the Kingdom of God would come only through complete devotion to God’s path and completely resisting and rejecting the Hellenistic world. So they separated themselves from Hellenistic society. The Hebrew word for separate is pharushim, and so this group became known as the Pharisees. They have a bad reputation for us because of how much they opposed Jesus, but in the first century, they were some of the most revered and respected religious leaders in the country. If you were a Pharisee, you could go into any synagogue in the world and the ruler of the synagogue would just hand you the microphone (Put a pin in that for later).

Then there was a group that believed everything the Pharisees did– the Kingdom of God would come through total devotion to God’s path, and a complete rejection of the Greek culture. But they added to this a belief in using violence to usher in the Kingdom of God. They became known as the Zealots.

There was a third group the Essenes. You don’t read about them as much in Scripture, but they’re around. They were also strictly devoted to the Law, but they separated themselves completely. Moved out into the desert—what’s called the Judean wilderness, near the Dead Sea (Dead Sea Scrolls)

On the other side was a party called the Sadducees. The word Sadducee comes from the Hebrew word tzadiq which means righteous. And they started off pretty well. They oversaw the temple sacrifices. The High Priest was usually a Sadducee. But by the time of Jesus, they had been corrupted by the wealth that was pouring into the temple treasury, and they were terrified that the Romans would take that away from them. So they were all about accommodating the Romans so their wealth wouldn’t be taken away. Politically, they became the religious group most closely aligned with the Roman empire.

Finally, there were the Herodians. Not really a sect, because they weren’t really about religion. They were more about accommodation. Going along to get along. Not wanting to interrupt the status quo.

So by the time Jesus are searching for a deliverer.

Maybe he would be a military leader like Judas Maccabee, who would come into Jerusalem and cleanse the temple. Maybe he would call for people to be separate, like the Pharisees, or would emphasize the temple sacrifices, like the Sadducees. Naybe he would call everyone to go live in the desert, like the Essense.

But no one expected Jesus to be the Messiah He was.

Today, people are still searching for answers. But they aren’t going to find it in religion. They aren’t going to find it in being culturally relevant. They aren’t going to find it through political or military power.

I want us to go back to Daniel’s vision, because it really shows the only way we will find it. Look again at Daniel 2. If you don’t have your bible still open,

34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Salvation isn’t going to come by any human hand. But only through Jesus.  

[1] What is the Prophecy of 2,300 days in Daniel? https://www.gotquestions.org/prophecy-2300-days-Daniel.html

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