The Significance of the Intertestamental Period

Jerusalem temple

The Old and New Testaments are separated by one blank page in most Bibles. But that single page represents a long interval known as the 400 years of silence, as we have no record of God speaking through the prophets or inspired writers. 

Nonetheless, God was at work orchestrating world affairs to bring about the fullness of time, his planned redemption of humanity.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,” (Galatians 4:4).

In the Old Testament, God had allowed the Assyrians and Babylonians to take the Israelites into exile because of their disobedient worship of false gods. By the time of Malachi, a remnant of the Jews had returned to Israel, then under the rule of the great Medo-Persian empire.

Israel had ceased to be an independent nation, the annexed territory of a succession of larger empires. A puppet state with no king of their own, but allowed to practice their religion.

But the Exile had left its mark on the Jews and their religion. Despite repeated warnings from the prophets, they went through a formal pretense of serving God, but inwardly blaspheming his name while living in disobedience.

Such is the atmosphere at the end of of the Old Testament (around 430 BC), which concludes with both a warning and the prophecy often considered the capstone prophecy of the OT.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction,” Malachi 4:5-6.

This ushered in the Intertestamental Period.

A dark period of Israel’s history, during which God was preparing the way for Christianity, through the rising of three major world powers: the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. A shifting which moved the center of world power gradually westward. And a crucial step in setting the stage for Christ’s arrival, in which each of the successive six eras played an important role.

The Persian era

Under Persia (397-336 BC), Israel mostly governed itself, and was allowed to rebuild the temple and restore the sacrificial system. Both were vital for preserving the Jewish religion and keeping the promise of the coming Messiah alive.

The Greek era

The Greek era (336-332 BC) had long-lasting and important influence. Alexander the Great pushed toward the Hellenization of the world: a worldwide empire united by the same customs and with one language. Ironically, it was his death which brought his plan to fruition. After his death, the empire divided into four dynasties, spread far and wide, and making Greek the common language. This was instrumental in preparing the way for the OT to be translated into Greek.

The Egyptian era

The Ptolemaic dynasty, centered in Egypt, was very tolerant of Judaism and facilitated the translation of the OT Scriptures into Greek. This Septuagint version of the OT became widespread, taking the promise of God’s soon-coming Messiah throughout the world. It was even frequently quoted in the New Testament. This was perhaps the single greatest development in preparing the world for the coming of Christ.

The Syrian era

When the Syrian based Seleucid Dynasty (198-165 BC) took over, Israel entered a period of almost uninterrupted martyrdom. Antiochus Epiphanes, determined to wipe out the Jewish religion, forced Jews to accept Greek culture, religion, and language. He even sold the priesthood, and desecrated the Holy of Holies.

The more the Jews were denied worship and separated from the temple, the more important their OT Scriptures and synagogues became to them. The synagogues, located throughout the Greek world, became the great missionary vessel for spreading Israel’s Messianic hope everywhere.

The Maccabean era

Antiochus Epiphanes’ act of sacrilege led to an uprising and civil war, led by Judas Maccabeus, resulting in Jewish independence. It is still celebrated with the eight-day Feast of Dedication, known as Hanukkah.

The Maccabean era (165-163 BC) was important because it brought about a renewal of Jewish nationalism and renewed hope for the arrival of the coming Messiah.

The Roman era (66-63 BC)

The Romans gained control of Israel in 63 BC, at which time Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies. An act which estranged every loyal Jewish heart from Rome, and created a burning desire for the Messiah’s arrival. John the Baptist stepped into this scene, announcing the Christ’s arrival, and bringing the 400 years of silence to an end.

Rome, by establishing peace, economic stability, and building roads throughout the empire, made the spread of Christianity much easier.

“And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region,” (Acts 13:49).

What can we learn from the 400 years of silence?

First, that God is never completely silent and always at work. But primarily, that he is sovereign and holds world affairs in his hands. If he can move and situate great nations and kingdoms to do his will, then he can also orchestrate the affairs of our humble lives. He is a great God, and in that we can rest.

Resources:

[Image by Lumo Project via FreeBibleImages.org; All rights reserved – Educational Use Only; used by permission.]

Author: Sheila

American born, Italian at heart. Happily married over 40 years, living in Italy almost 30. Mom of two, and nonna to 9 grandkids. Missionary with a passion for God's Word and discipling others to to walk in his ways and give their all in devotion and consecration to him. For He alone is worthy of all.

11 thoughts

    1. Thank you Matthew. I had never really done an indepth study of it before. What I discovered is that there is vast info regarding it. The post would have become thousands of words. So I finally narrowed it down to a few essentials. I may post more on it again, but need to break it down into bits and pieces! Bible study really is an endless adventure! God bless.

      Liked by 1 person

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