Having been freed from the empire of the Greek kings, the
Jews did not have long to make use of their freedom. The Romans, having
conquered the whole known world, also subjugated the Jews (64 B.C.). They
placed over Palestine the procurator Antipater from the tribe of Esau, an
Idumean (or Edomite). He very cleverly secured the confidence of the Romans,
but was soon poisoned.
After him, his son Herod, called Herod the Great,
was appointed governor of Galilee. He was a suspicious, brutal and cunning man. He also,
like his father, skillfully gained the confidence of the Roman authorities and
was declared King of the Jews. In order to find favor among the Jews, King
Herod restored the Jerusalem Temple. Having received the title of King, he was still
subordinate to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. From the time that the Jews
came under Roman power, they were always subject to a Roman ruler, a
deputy of the Roman Emperor. The Jews were allowed to keep their Sanhedrin,
their council of high priests and elders of the people; but the power of the
Sanhedrin was strictly limited. The Sanhedrin, for example, could not impose
the death penalty without the permission of the Roman ruler, to whom belonged
the highest authority in Israel.
The worldwide control of the Roman empire
shook paganism to its foundations. Rome was the capital of the world and there gathered the scholars, writers,
merchants and other representatives of all the nations. Each one brought with
him his own pagan faith. These people, seeing the endless variety of pagan
idol-deities, became convinced that all these pagan gods were devised by the people
Many of the pagans began to lose faith and hope in
the future. In order to seek blissful oblivion, they began to indulge in every
sort of amusement. Some, falling into despondency, ended their lives by
But the best of them, observing that the world was
headed toward destruction, nevertheless maintained the hope that from somewhere
would come a Saviour, if not from among the people, then from above. The
Jews, dispersed throughout all the world after their captivity in Babylon and other later captivities, spread the news about the
imminent coming of the Saviour of the world. Therefore, the gaze of the best
people in the pagan world began to turn to the east, to Palestine.
Among the Romans and other pagan people there
arose the general belief that in the East there would soon appear a powerful
king who would subjugate the entire world.
In Palestine itself, among the Jews, the expectation of the Messiah was
especially intense. Everyone felt that the time was coming for the fulfillment
of the prophecies and the salvation of Israel.
The prophecies of the Prophet Daniel about the
date of the appearance of Christ were especially precise. He foretold that
after a period of seventy weeks of years came to an end, a fourth great kingdom
would arise during which the Saviour would arrive. This was the exact
specification of the time of the advent of Christ.
Upon the appearance of every prominent preacher,
everyone involuntarily asked if he were the Christ. Even the semi-pagan
Samaritans hoped that soon would come Christ the Saviour, Who would resolve all
the quarrelsome questions between them and the Jews concerning the faith.
Unfortunately, not only the pagans, but also the Jews themselves mistakenly
imagined what Christ would be like. They did not picture Him as the Prophet
Isaiah and other prophets represented Him, as one that would bear our sins,
suffer for us and, though innocent, be condemned to death. The Jews had no idea
that Christ the Saviour would come to earth for the purpose of teaching people,
through His example, word, deeds, and suffering, to love God and each other.
They desired to see Christ not like this, but rather with worldly power and
glory. Therefore, they thought that Christ would come in worldly glory and
would be the earthly king over the Jewish people. He would free the Jews from
the power of Rome and would subjugate the whole world, and the Jews would
reign over all the peoples of the earth.
Only a few devout and righteous people awaited
Christ with humility, faith and love. They expected the true Saviour of the
world, Who would come to deliver people from enslavement to sin and the power
of the Devil. He would "trample on the head of the serpent,"
as God said to the first people in Paradise, to save people from eternal death and to open the gates
to the Kingdom of Heaven for eternal blessed life with God.
When the time came, God gave the promised Saviour
of the world, His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The Son of God dwelt in the
Holy Virgin Mary, and by the action of the Holy Spirit, received from her a
human body and soul; that is, He was born from the Most-holy Virgin Mary and
became God Incarnate.
The birth of Jesus Christ occurred in the days
when Herod the Great, the Edomite, reigned over the Jews, in the time of the
Roman Emperor Augustus.
The land of Palestine, upon whose soil our Saviour lived, is comprised of a
comparatively small strip of land, about 150 miles long and 80 miles wide,
situated along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
In the north of Palestine, on the slopes of Mt. Lebanon, lies Galilee. Picturesque hills, green pastures, and innumerable
gardens make Galilee the most beautiful part of Palestine. Its chief adornment is the Sea of Galilee, which is also known as the Lake of Gennesaret or Tiberias. It is more than twelve miles in length, and a
little more than five miles in width. At the time of the Saviour, the shores of
this sea were covered with lush vegetation. Palm trees were growing there,
along with vineyards, fig trees, almond trees, and flowering oleander.
Beautiful cities, Capernaum, Tiberias, Chorazin, and Bethsaida, situated on the banks of this sea, were not large, but
densely populated. The inhabitants led simple and industrious lives. They
cultivated every plot of land, and engaged in commerce and various trades, the
chief of which was fishing.
To the south of Galilee lies Samaria. The inhabitants of Samaria, the Samaritans, were in constant conflict with the Jews.
They even built themselves a separate temple on Mount Gerizim in order to avoid going to Jerusalem.
The largest part of Palestine, to the south of Samaria, is Palestine at the Time of the Saviour called Judea.
The western part of it is level plain, interrupted by small streams flowing
into the Mediterranean Sea. This plain gradually rises toward the east and is
bordered by the Judean hills; from ancient times it was famous for its
fertility. The slopes of the Judean hills are dressed in green, covered with
whole groves of olive trees; more distant and higher mountains become rockier
and more dismal. Among these hills is the great city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judea and of all Palestine.
The largest river in Palestine is the Jordan. The Jordan begins in the mountains of Lebanon in the form of sparkling mountain streams. Downstream in
the valley these streams form a single river which spills into and forms the Sea of Galilee.
From this sea, the Jordan flows out in the form of a fast wide river with low, green
banks; at that time this was called the Valley of the Jordan. Approaching Judea, the banks of the Jordan become higher and drier, composed of bare rocks, devoid of
any vegetation. Only the backwaters along the Jordan are thickly covered with reeds. There crocodiles swim, and
wild beasts hide. This was the Jordan desert in which John the Baptist lived and preached. At
the end of its course, the Jordan flows into a most wild and uninhabited country and empties
into the Dead Sea.
Now we call
the land of Palestine the Holy
Land, since it was sanctified
by the life of the Saviour.