Between the Covenants
Before we study the New Testament we will look at the time between the Old and the New Testaments. Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, lived about four hundred years before the time of our Lord Jesus Christ. The period between the old and new covenants is sometimes called the "quiet years" or the "silent years" because God did not send any prophets to His people. However, many events occurred that helped to set the stage for Jesus' coming to earth to save us from our sins.
In 63 B.C. Jerusalem was captured and the Roman Empire began to rule over Palestine. Herod the Great ruled Palestine at the time of Jesus' birth. Although he did some things to gain the people's favor, he was very wicked. When the Wise Men did not return to tell him where Jesus was, he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and under (Matthew 2:16).
At this time in Jewish history, the Jews were split into three main groups: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Pharisees were given their name, which means "separated ones," by the Sadducees. The Pharisees believed that God was the sovereign Creator, who expressed His will in Scripture. They also believed in life after death and very strict adherence to the Law. During the Babylonian captivity, the Jews did not have a Temple, so they formed synagogues as places of Jewish worship and instruction. The Pharisees maintained the synagogues. Jesus criticized the Pharisees because although they strictly followed the Law and traditions, they did not really know God or love people.
The Sadducees were a group of Jews who had attained positions of wealth and influence. They controlled the Temple worship. They believed in a very strict observance of the Law of Moses. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, the immortality of the soul, or angels. They believed that human actions were totally free; in other words, God did not intervene in them. In Matthew 22 Jesus spoke to the Sadducees concerning the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees died out after the destruction of the Temple.
You may have heard of the Essenes in relation to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes were a group of Jews who lived in tight-knit communities near the Dead Sea and shared most of their possessions with each other. They were concerned with purity and a strict adherence to the Law. They studied and copied Scripture. They also elected officials, carried weapons only for protection and held communal meetings. Jesus had immediate contact with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but the Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament. In contrast to the legalism and isolation of the Essenes, Jesus often associated with "publicans and sinners."
God used many people and events to set the stage for the coming of our Lord Jesus. In our next lesson we will look at the Gospels. As we study the New Testament, keep your heart open and expect the Holy Spirit to reveal things to you. The Word of God is the Rhema, which means the "Living Word." When we read God's Word the Holy Spirit works in our heart to reveal His will in our lives. We must expect the Holy Spirit to move in us each time we read God's Word.
Fill in the blanks on the worksheet, and may God open your heart and mind to His Word.
NIV Archaeological Study Bible ( Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 1600.