Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | March 15, 2008

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 3)

The Culture from which the Church emerges (Lesson 2: Part 3) 

In the midst of an intense competition between the Judaism and Christianity during ancient period Judaism possessed a civil advantage over the Christians from about 50 AD – 250 AD.  It should be noted that this was a long period of time, in which the Jews were powerful enemies over the Christian church.  Thus, during this period habits begin to develop among the church community that classify the Jews as powerful, influential and dangerous enemies.  They were feared due to their influence over the Romans used to oppress the church during this period resulting in periodic yet fierce persecution.  This advantage did not begin to change until after 300 AD when the Emperor Constantine ascending to power.  Constantine who will later discuss was the first Roman emperor to be converted to Christianity.  His coming to power marks the turning point in the competition between church and synagogue where the advantage begins to favor the Christianity instead of the Jews.  The loss of their advantage results in the Jews coming out of favor politically, which leads to a decline in their missionary efforts and success.  Unfortunately, after the Jews lost the political advantage over the church, Christians did not lose their habits of characterizing them as powerful and dangerous enemies.  This irrational fear that continued characterize the Jews negatively, appears to be the source of much the anti-Semitism that was prevalent during the Middle Ages in Europe. 

Although, Judaism was influential during the initial ancient period, they still possessed factions that were zealously Messianic in their view and anti-Roman in their actions.  This explains the strange reality of Judaism possessing power and influence during this period, yet some segments engaging in wars with the Romans in Palestine.  The first Jewish war with the Romans began in 66 AD and culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem including the temple in 70 AD.  Many Christians in the ancient period believed that this was prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24 and fled from Jerusalem anticipating the city’s destruction.   This was a calamitous event that many Jews considered unthinkable to happen to them.  Nonetheless, for the zealous it led to a stricter observance of the law viewing the event as a judgment from God for their disobedience.  Moreover, many Christians also viewed this event as a severe judgment from God and proof that the resurrection of Christ made the temple obsolete.  This harsh rhetoric continued to fan the flames of alienation between the church and the synagogue.     

The agitation, amongst Jewish radicals with hyper-Messianic anticipation, persisted further into the second century. This results in another Jewish war against Rome in 132 – 135 AD.  In the midst of this rebellion, the great Rabbi Akiba declared that the leader in the revolt against Rome, Simeon Bar Kokhba (“son of star” Numbers 24:17), was the promised Messiah.  The Jewish defeat in this war was terrible, since the Romans were essentially fed up with these radical sentiments in the region. Unable to tolerate Jerusalem as a religious center any more they forced the Jews into exile and changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina (a goddess of Rome).  This response in the second century was intended to de-sacrilegize the city mitigating any future outbreaks by this radical sect.  It is important to note that since the Roman devastation of Jerusalem, the temple has never been re-built since that time.  There were some efforts invested in the middle of the fourth century, under the direction of Julian the Apostate, to rebuild the temple.  However, these efforts never materialized after Julian was removed from power in an untimely manner after a few years.  Turretin cites Theodoret who states that Julian’s final words were “Thou hast conquered, O Galiliean.”2 Julian was the nephew of Constantine who initially professed to be a Christian, however apostatized from the faith and sought to reinvigorate paganism.  A significant element he sought to reintroduce paganism to the empire was through a resurgence of Mithraism.  Mithraism evolved from Persia and was an amalgamation of Near Eastern astrology and mystery religion that underwent Helllenization in forms practiced under Julian.3 In his efforts to revitalize paganism another part of his strategy to defeat Christianity was to restore the status of Judaism as a competitor.  This brief moment of interest in the re-building of the temple has been the only attempt in history since its destruction in 70 AD.   

2 Francis Turretin Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume I (Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1992) p 650
3 Everett Ferguson Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI; WB Eerdmans, Third Edition 2003) p 290

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