What Was the World Like Back Then?
Luke sets the stage for the story by noting who the current leader of the country was. I felt this was important in order to really understand the political/social and economic climate Jesus lived in. For instance, if we told someone, “back when Hitler was running Germany” we would understand the condition of the world; World War 2, persecution of Jews, America as a world leader, etc. Or if we said “when the Beach Boys were popular” we would understand the condition of America…hippies, the dawn of rock-n-roll, the end of a puritan view, etc.
Those living in the time this book was written would fully understand what it meant when Luke said: 1:5 “in the time of Herod, King of Judea.” and in 2:1 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire roman world.” v2 “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” v 3 “And everyone went to his own town to register.”
Normally I tend to skip over these types of references…I usually read for a “to-do” list but now I am reading for understanding as well as what I can learn I need “to-do” so I looked at the history behind these 3 verses. Now I’m not a Bible historian, I’ve never been to Bible college so this is just my curiosity and what I learned…so I’m always open to learn more.
I was surprised to learn how closely our own country’s philosophy is to the Roman philosophy, for instance:
- They practiced “syncretism” which is the belief that ALL religious beliefs, philosophies and government systems are compatible and able to peacefully “coexist”…have you seen those bumper stickers? That all these other schools of thought were simply a reflection of “The Roman System” which was superior to all others.
- “The Roman System” included for all people (you won’t believe this…)
- Religious Freedom
- Political Freedom
- Free Speech and Thought
Hmmm…wonder where America came up with those?
HOWEVER, while they PROCLAIMED those tenants, the reality was not as pretty.
The TRUTH WAS…”religious, political and philosophical freedom” AS LONG AS YOU REMAIN SUBJECT TO ROMAN RULE.
This reminded me of the way American Natives were treated when we took over the continent…”as long as you look and act like the White Man we will accept you and you can govern yourselves”.
While the Romans “ruled and controlled” Israel and most of the middle east at that time, they appointed “self governed leadership”, in other words, a Jewish leader in Israel, which was actually known as Palestine at the time. However, these “appointed national leaders” were under the Roman thumb.
I believe we know this in modern times as “colonization”, a war practice we have witnessed in the last century.
The Jews lived with this tension in an undercurrent of unrest. They had to survive in this Roman colonization but at the same time, the Old Testament prophets promised a new kingdom and freedom from their enemies. For centuries the Jews were prepared that new king and believed at any moment they would be led to battle with a victorious king they referred to as the Messiah. However, at the time Jesus came there had been no prophets for 400 years and the true Jewish believers were few and far between. Their faith had reverted to religion which eventually was just politics.
The Herod, King of Judea, Luke refers to was the first of four Herods (three were his sons) he was “king” over Palestine and Syria. He called himself “Herod The Great”…a real humble guy. So this sets the stage for the political climate when Jesus was born.
- Herod and his three sons were evil and consumed with maintaining “their rule” not the good of the Jewish people. The jews HATED Herod the Great. Here are some of the things the 4 Herods did during their “rule”:
- Herod the Great murdered some of his own sons and many of his family members including wives and in-laws
- Herod the Great defiled the Jewish Temple by putting a Roman Eagle (hmmm….again a familiarity) at the entry to the temple.
- Herod the Great’s second son murdered 3,000 jews who protested the eagle on the temple shortly after his father’s death.
- Herod the Great’s third son murdered all male infants 2 years and under trying to destroy the “potentially new king of the Jews” he heard about from the three wisemen.
I’m sure there are more horrible things they did but you get the idea…it wasn’t a pretty time for the Jewish people. They had self-absorbed, maniacal, tyrannical local leadership and were under the rule of a foreign country…Rome.
The significance for me is that in the midst of all this Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist were still waiting and seeking the redemption of Israel. Their focus was on God instead of hating the current government. I think we can learn something from them…I know I can.
I need to have the heart of Simeon…who we will meet a little later in the story…Luke 2:25 “now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (the messiah).”
Simeon was crying out to God and putting his eyes on God for deliverance rather than focusing on what they needed to be delivered from. He feared God more than man. Proverbs 25:14 tells us that “The Lord confides in those that fear Him and He will show them His covenant.”
Part of my focus this year is learning to live in the Fear of The Lord rather than the fear of man or circumstance. Simeon is a good role model.
Am I the only one who has to constantly stop looking at our current world and political situation and intentionally focus my eyes on God and His plans and purposes?