What was happening in Israel when Jesus came to earth?
Rome was ruling most of the known world, including Israel. This time in history is called the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. Yet many Roman rulers were corrupt, and they preserved peace by killing those who might threaten them. Rome was moving from being a republic to being an empire, and they were beginning to worship their emperors as gods. Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor named in Luke 2, was a ruthless dictator. Herod, mentioned in Luke 1 and 2, was the King over Judea, with Rome’s help. He was an evil envious man who killed many of his own family members.
A few Jewish people worked for the Roman government, collecting taxes from their countrymen. Rome didn’t care how they collected the money or if they collected a bit extra for themselves. Tax collectors could become quite wealthy, but they had no friends within respected or religious circles.
Some Jewish people tried to fight Rome in their own ways, becoming what we might call terrorists today. These were the Sicarii, also called Zealots.
The religious leaders in Israel came from two distinct groups: the priests and the Pharisees. Most of the priests were Sadducees, a group that accepted only the first five books of the Scriptures and didn’t believe in eternal life. They were rich and they’d made an agreement with Rome so that they could continue as priests in the temple. The Pharisees or scribes came from the working class. They urged the people to follow all the Scriptures, and they added many detailed rules to the law God gave to Moses. (I found a lot of info on this in Michael Card’s book Luke: The Gospel of Amazement.)
The Israelites were waiting for their Messiah, their Prince of Peace, the great blessing God had promised to Abraham, and they were pretty sure he would be a mighty military man who could overthrow Rome and give them true peace.
Next, let’s look at what the words for “peace” mean in Biblical language. Click here.
Photo credit: Henk Bouma