Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Silent Years Between the Testaments

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings(Malachi 4:1–2)

Between Malachi and John the Baptist, there were four hundred long years of silence without a direct word from God to His ancient people. A number of explanations arose for this silence. Yet, the most common theme emphasized the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.

The Jews suffered under occupation as army after conquering army made their way through the well-worn paths of the Middle East. Humanly speaking, there was little reason for hope. Rabbis reprimanded the people for God’s absence from Israel. Two distinct views evolved through meditative reflection on the messianic nature of many prophecies.

The first view was that the Messiah and His kingdom would come through obedience to the Law. The second perspective taught that through Jewish nationalism all nations would be subjected to Israelite dominion under the Messiah.

These false understandings of the nature of the coming kingdom were catalysts in the demise of intertestamental Judaism. The Jews either turned inward, obsessed with the law, or they withdrew to live in “pure” communities like Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found).

However, during these years Judaism refined two items that significantly affected early Christianity. The synagogue developed while the Jews were in exile in Babylon. After the return to the land, Judaism retained the intimacy of the synagogue as the center of life. Although God never sanctioned the institution of the synagogue by special revelation, Jesus and the apostles adopted it as a primary place of ministry and evangelism.

Tragically, the majority of Jews forsook the message given them by Moses and the prophets. They replaced it with hybrid interpretations or departed after other gods. However, there was a small movement which held tightly to the true messianic hope. Appropriately, the New Testament begins with Simeon, one man who clung tightly to the orthodox faith (Luke 2:25–26).

Reflect on this past year of Old Testament studies and how we are the spiritual descendants of believers like Simeon. Be sure your hope is in the biblical God alone and not in a god of your own devising. As we close this year and start another, purpose to not depart from historic Christian orthodoxy.