Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.—Isaiah 7:14
For centuries, Jewish prophets spoke of a Messiah—a Savior who would unite the Jews and lead them to triumph. Isaiah, Hosea, Hagai, Ezekiel, Daniel: all spoke of the coming King of the Jews, Whose title, in Greek, was Christ.
The story of the Holy Land in the time of Jesus begins almost a century and a half before His birth, when the defeat of Ptolemy VI by the Seleucids in Palestine threatened the Jews in Judea. To save Jerusalem from certain destruction, the Hasmodean king John Hyrcanus opened the sepulcher of King David, withdrew 3,000 talents, and thus bribed the Syrian ruler to leave the city be.
When John died in 104 BC, he was succeeded by Alexander Jannaeus, who ruled as King for a peaceful quarter century. The “widow’s mites” mentioned in both Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4, on Jesus’ preaching of humility and charity, are thought to be his coins.
Home rule came to an end in 63 BC, when Pompey the Great sacked Jerusalem, claiming the city for Rome. The next 20 years were tumultuous, during which many prophets emerged, each claiming to be the promised Messiah. It was during this time that the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In 40 BC, Herod the Great, the son of one of John II’s courtiers, was crowned “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. A great builder, Herod expanded the Second Temple in Jerusalem, of which only the famed Western Wall remains. When Herod was in his 70s, he was visited by “wise men from the East” who came in search of the Messiah—the King of the Jews. Fearful of a coup, Herod divined from his priests that this Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, as prophesized in Micah 5:2. As a precautionary measure, he ordered the so-called “Massacre of the Innocents,” in which all male children in the Bethlehem area under the age of two were put to death. This was both brutal and unsuccessful.
Herod’s son Herod Archelaus, who took the throne in 6 BC, when Jesus was still an infant, was so incompetent that he was removed by Caesar Augustus, who replaced him with a series of governors, known as prefects. One of the prefects, Valerius Gratus, appointed Caiaphas as high priest of Herod’s Temple, in AD 18. It was Caiaphas who brought Jesus to trial, condemning him as a blasphemer. Fearful that this rabblerousing carpenter-turned-preacher would inspire a revolution, and thus lead to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Caiaphas sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate, demanding that He be executed. Herod Agrippa I was the ruler of the Roman province of Judæa during the crucifixion, which modern astronomers have calculated took place on Friday, 3 April AD 33. A confederate of the deranged Roman Emperor Caligula—who believed himself to be the Jewish Messiah—Agrippa vigorously persecuted followers of Jesus, imprisoning the Apostle Peter. Many of the displaced Christians found safe haven with the Nabataea’s—ancient Arab traders then living across the River Jordan.
Antonius Felix was imperial prefect when St. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem in 59 CE, and it was Porcius Festus who sent him to Rome to stand trial. Paul would spend two years in prison in the city that would become synonymous with the Christian faith. Peter and Paul were both executed in Rome circa AD 64 , two years before the First Jewish Revolt that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. By then, there was no question, at least to the rapidly expanding number of Christians in the Roman Empire, which the true Messiah was indeed Jesus Christ.
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