Part 3 Kingdom in Turmoil
John and Jesus were born in a whirlwind of political intrigues and conspiracies. Joseph and Mary, who were both of the House of king David, fled to Egypt, in order to keep Jesus safe, because Herod knew Jesus was the rightful King. After He began His mission to seize the Kingdom in Judea, Jesus became very popular with the people, but was still in danger. His own family warned him that it was dangerous to go to Jerusalem where his enemies would seize him at the first opportunity and kill him or whisk him away to the secret fortress at Hyrcania, never to return.
Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill? John 7:25
Herod the Great had been ruthless, but not as ruthless as others before him. Whereas the Hasmoneans had tried to expel heathens, Herod realized that heathens were good for business, which, of course, made the Romans happy and wealthy or, in some cases, wealthier. In true politician style, Herod gave the appearance of a moral leader. Then, as now, his efforts could not fool anyone but the immoral.
He tried to give an aspect of religious fervor by rebuilding the spectacular temple which became the center of Judea’s social welfare state. He built other buildings that some Jews would find offensive, but was careful in what areas they were constructed. He tried to avoid overt acts that might enrage the people. Even the money he issued was careful not to include an image that might cost him his own head.
Herod was Idumean and, therefore, also in violation of the constitution of Israel. Idumeans were a tribe living in the Negev desert, south of Judea. They were opportunistic converts to Judaism about 100 years earlier. They could be citizens, but not king.
The Jews’ desire to be separate often led to mistrust and resentment. Beside the special treatment they received from Rome, in Alexandria, the Jews had obtained a privileged legal position. They had their own separate citizenship called, politeuma, with their own elders sitting at council, their own assemblies, and, most of all, their own courts and magistrates (elohiym). This special treatment was not without cost and the Jews were often victims of hate and violence, segregation and expulsion, due to envy and jealousy.
The Romans were also having problems with the dissipation of their own nation. A strong family had been the backbone of Roman society and success. But now, the state filled the role of Father, something forbidden by Jesus’ doctrines in Matthew 23:9.
Like the Romans, the Hellenized Jews centralized power, compelled charity, equitably converted private property, franchised rights, enticed the slothful to apathy, and appealed to the avarice of every sort. Religious orders became abstract philosophies mixed with entertainment, superstition, and pride, rather than ministrative service within God’s kingdom. The state took on the role of benefactor. Sanctioned religions became institutions to divert, distract, and appease the people, while the state usurped their rights, subdued their virtue, and picked their pockets through ambuscade.
“The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.”1
Rome was a religious state itself. Believing in religious freedom, it did not require any particular form of worship. Rome knew that the superstitious worship of divinity should be left in the hands of the preaching priests or priestesses where, if anything went wrong, there was a pious scapegoat to blame. Pragmatic Sadducees seldom indulged in superstition.
What Rome did was incorporate the temples, first, the pragmatic commercial temples and, then, the pietistic. Both might care for the sick, the aged, the poor, and the needy through Corban and corvee' systems of finance. Rome stood as protectors of the trust and faith of the people and became moral judges, exercising authority over the people when they failed to meet their charitable responsibility, as the legislators and magistrates saw it.
The religious altars were no longer institutions like those of Abraham and Moses. They were not designed to keep men free under God, but had become the opiate of the people. Government steadily moved from being public servants to being masters who were served by the public. Men were edaciously devoured in mind, body, and soul by the fornicating participation in these man-made institutions. While robed Pharisees sang their songs of self-righteousness, the people were steadily delivered into bondage under the guise of modernizing ancient systems of charitable welfare with guaranteed entitlements of socialism.
God’s governmental plan for man was designed to make him stronger as an individual within the family, community, and, of course, nationally. It was intended to function by the perfect law of liberty. These ideas of free bread and the guaranteed public dole weakened the people who became a seed ground for wantonness and sloth, which led to fear, allowing control, bringing suffering and dissipation, as power centralized in the hands of the elite.
People in Rome lived in the “greatest nation on earth”; However, in abundance, they did not strengthen the poor, but weakened them with benefits. They were the freest country in the world, but every man oppressed his neighbors with taxes, regulations, and democratic rule of the minority by the majority. They were the richest country in the world, but their wealth was dissipated in debt and usury. They had a system of law, science, and morality, but had become ignorant of the nature of God. They were educated and confident, with few in history that could match their accomplishments, but they were destined for destruction.
Both Rome and Israel, then called Judea, had strayed from their origins. They had forgotten the mystery of their kingdoms' successes and the importance of maintaining a free society. They rationalized their departure, denied their decay, and indulged in their decadence. Once overcome by vanity, they were no longer a strong and viable nation, but rapidly became a scourge to liberty, a barricade against freedom.
Anyone coming along saying, ”Repent, for there is a better way, a better system, a better government or Kingdom at hand designed by God,” was in danger of receiving the brunt of their vain patriotism and wrathful pride. To tell these contemporary, progressive, and arrogant elitists that the ancient paths were better than the modern ones devised by men for themselves was as dangerous as entering a den of vipers.
It was then that John the Washer and Jesus the Anointed began preaching Repent the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Paraphrased from Matthew 3:2, 4:17
1Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chapter 2