Author: Ron Graham
Time ~ 9. Prophecy Unfolding
Span ~ 400 years
Books ~ Secular history only, except some mention in prophetic books eg Daniel 2
Figures ~ None in Bible
Begins with ~ Completion of OT scriptures
Ascendant empire ~ Greece
In the four centuries between the Bible’s two Testaments, Persia gave way to Greece, and Greece to Rome. World empires rise and fall, but God’s unfolding plan approached its climax: God was about to set up "a kingdom which cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:28) — a worldwide, powerful, spiritual empire.
Rome, the kingdom represented by the legs and feet of iron and clay in the image of Daniel 2, came to power in the century before Christ. Antiochus Epiphanes failed to maintain Greece's power. Rome by its iron rule brought peace across the world, and made "the fields white unto harvest" for the coming of the Son of God, the preaching of the gospel, and the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, Rome was a beast, and would bring tribulation to the promised kingdom of heaven just as former empires had brought it to the Jews. The book of Revelation depicts Rome as the archetypal enemy of God's people.
The desolation of the temple by Antiocus Epiphanes, (see previous lesson) and attempts to force the Jews to defile themselves, eventually led to a revolt. Mattathias the priest began it. After him, Judas Maccabeus carried on the wars of rebellion. Seeking God's help he gained victory. In 164 BC the Jews were able to cleanse their temple, reinstate true worship, and celebrate with a Feast of Dedication which, like the Purim of Esther's time, was added to the Jewish calendar of feasts (John 10:22). The promise that "the holy place will be properly restored" was fulfilled (Daniel 8:14).
In the time between the two Testaments, certain writings were made which some people regard as inspired holy scripture, and which some versions of the Bible include. One example is, the 1st and 2nd books of Maccabees. These record the adventures of Judas Maccabeus (mentioned above) and his brothers.
Herod the Great, the son of Antipater, was made king of the Jews by the Romans, and reigned from 37 BC to just after the birth of Jesus. This Herod rebuilt Zerubbabel's temple —bigger and more beautiful (Matthew 24:1,2, John 2:20). This Herod tried to eliminate Christ by infanticide (Matthew 21-23, Luke 1:5). There were other Herods following him. For example, Herod Antipas who killed John the Baptist (Matthew 14), Herod Agrippa I who was eaten by worms (Acts 12), and his son Herod Agrippa II before whom Paul made his defense (Acts 25-26).
In the century before Christ, Cleopatra, Julias Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Mark Antony, and so on, were doing the things they are famous for. Incidentally, our calendars today have two months, July and August, named after two Roman Caesars of the time —Julias and Augustus (the latter is mentioned in Luke 2:1).
The Roman empire was in power during the life of Christ and the days of the early church. Rome is an outstanding example of what is represented in the Book of Revelation as the Dragon, the Beasts, the False Prophet, and the Mother of Harlots (Revelation 12:17). Before the empire was 100 years old it had crucified the Son of God and was persecuting the Christians, putting many to death because they would not worship Caesar. Toward the end, the Roman empire became "Christian". But this state religion was a travesty full of hypocrisy and corruption. That false church lived on after the political empire died.
The famous number 666 (Revelation 13:18), may be recognised as representing Rome and its Caesar. The number 666, when written the Roman way, DCLXVI, forms a pattern. It is the set of numerals under 1000 in descending order: D=500, C=100, L=50, X=10, V=5, I=1 (they add up to 666). Because 666 converts to a significant Roman numeral, it cleverly identifies the Beast as Roman. [More on this]
The Roman empire fell, but its spirit of antichrist that drove it (1John 2:18) is still present in the world. Thus prophecy about antichrist is relevant to the entire Christian era right up to the second coming of Christ.