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7. Banishment of Archelaus.
1-12. Campaigns against the Germans, Pannonians, and Dalmatians, conducted by Tiberius and Germanicus. The disastrous defeat of Varus in Germany.
Final success and triumph of the Roman Generals. 14. Death of Augustus and succession of Tiberius. 15-17. Germanicus continues the war against the Germans, and triumphs.
18. Death of Ovid and of Livy.
Jews banished from Italy.
20-31. Hateful tyranny of Tiberius. Ascendancy of Sejanus. Fall of Sejanus A.D. 30.
26. Pontius Pilate appointed as the sixth Procurator of Judæa.
The Imperial Rule.
It will be seen from this summary, that while Jesus was passing a quiet childhood in the Galilæan valley, few startling events disturbed the peace of the world. But it was an epoch of the greatest historical interest. It was a crisis in the kingdoms of the world as well as in the Kingdom of God. Rome had completed her conquests-no formidable rival was left to threaten her power in any direction. But the moment when the Roman people secured the empire of the world, they resigned their own liberties into the hands of a single master.
Cæsar Octavianus, afterwards named Augustus, the successor of the great Julius Cæsar, was the first to consolidate this enormous individual power; it was he who bequeathed to the world the proudest titles of despotic rule-Emperor-Kaiser-Czar. With him the true nature of the monarchy was veiled over by the retention of Republican forms, and by a nominal re-election at intervals. The justice and clemency of his rule kept out of sight the worst abuses of unlimited power. And partly owing to the fact that the most brilliant age of Roman literature coincided with the reign of Augustus, his name is associated rather with literary culture and refinement, than with despotic sway.
When Jesus grew up to manhood, the grace and culture and
the semblance of liberty which had gilded the despotism of Augustus vanished under the dark influence of the morose and cruel Tiberius. If ever men suffered from hopeless tyranny and wrong, it was in this reign. It is a miserable history of lives surrounded by suspicion and fear, and of the best and purest citizens yielding to despair or removed by secret assassination.
It can perhaps be scarcely a matter of surprise, that a Jewish patriot, alive to the horrors of this despotism and recalling the prophetic images of a triumphant Messiah, should sometimes have dreamed that the Kingdom of God would be manifested by the overthrow of this monstrous evil, and in turn establish itself as an external power stronger and more resistless than Rome. It is this thought that gives point to the third temptation presented to our Lord. (ch. iv. 8, 9).
3. The Provincial System.
A glance at the Provincial system of Rome with especial reference to Palestine will shew how truly, in an external sense, Christ came in the fulness of time.
Under the Empire the condition of the provinces was happier than formerly. The rapacity of individual governors was checked by the imperial supervision. Moreover, great consideration was in many cases shewn to a conquered people. National customs were allowed to continue; even native princes were in several instances confirmed in their rule on condition of becoming tributary to Rome.
In accordance with this principle, the Herodian dynasty was tolerated in Palestine. Observe how the changes in that dynasty affected the life of Christ. When Jesus was born, Herod was reigning in Jerusalem; hence the events that led to the flight into Egypt. On the return of Jesus with Mary and Joseph, the kingdom was divided; hence the possibility of taking refuge from the cruelty of an Archelaus under the more tolerant Antipas in the home at Nazareth. The banishment of Archelaus a few years afterwards brought about the establishment in Judæa of the Roman government, which with its accustomed liberality left the national system represented by the Sanhedrin, not wholly unimpaired, indeed, but still influential.
Important consequences followed this precise political position. The Jewish nation was still responsible. It was Israel and not Rome that rejected the Messiah-Israel that condemned to death the Lord of Life. But it was Rome that executed the will of the Jewish people. Jesus suffered, by the law of Rome, death on the Roman cross, with all its significance, its agreement with prophecy, and its divine fitness. The point to be observed is that under no other political conditions could this event have taken place in that precise manner, which was wholly in accordance with the Scriptures that foretell the Messiah.
4. A time of Peace.
The lull of peace that pervaded the Roman world, was another element in the external preparation for the advent of Christ. In the generation which preceded and in that which followed the life of Christ on earth, Palestine, and indeed the whole empire, was disquieted by the greatest political confusion. In the generation before the Christian Era, Antony and Augustus were contending for the mastery of the world, and a disputed succession disturbed the peace of Palestine. The succeeding generation was filled with the horrors of the Jewish war, of which Galilee was the focus, and which culminated in the fall of Jerusalem. It is clear that the conditions of Christ's ministry could not have been fulfilled in either of these conjunctures.
5. The various nationalities in Palestine.
A further point of interest at the particular period when Jesus lived on earth, is the variety of nationalities which the special circumstances of the time brought together in Palestine.
A political epoch that found a Roman governor in the south (where the native ecclesiastical rule still prevailed), Idumean kings in the north and east, wild mountain and desert tribes pressing on the frontiers in one direction, peaceful Phoenicians in another, involved a mixture and gathering of populations which made Palestine an epitome of the whole world. The variety of life and thought, which must have resulted from these different social elements, is one of those external circumstances which have rendered the Gospel so fit to instruct every age and every condition of men.
6. The religious condition of the Empire.
The wider and more interesting question of the religious state of the world at this epoch, cannot be fully discussed here. In Greece and in Rome, the most civilised portions of the earth, Religion allowed, or at least was ineffectual to prevent, a state of morality which St Paul describes with terrible plainness in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. Gross immorality entered even into the ritual of worship; Religion raised no voice against the butchery of gladiatorial shows, or against infanticide, or slavery, or suicide, or even against the horrors of human sacrifice.
Little real belief in the gods and goddesses remained; and though ancient superstitions still lingered among the vulgar, and interested motives on the part of priests and communities kept alive the cult of special deities, and supported shrines and temples in various parts of the world, and though, credulity gaining ground as true religious feeling passed away, the mysterious rites of Egypt and the East, the worship of Isis and of Mithras flourished at Rome in spite of repressive edicts-all this was external and unreal, a thin cover for deep-seated and widespread scepticism.
Philosophy did but little to fill the void. Stoicism, the favourite creed with the practical Roman, though apparently nearest to Christianity in some respects, was deeply opposed to the Christian spirit by its pride, its self-sufficiency, its exclusiveness, its exaltation of human nature, its lack of love, its approval of suicide. Epicurism had degenerated from a high ideal to a mere pursuit of sensual pleasure.
It was in the midst of a world thus corrupt to the core, that the beautiful and novel conception rose of a religion, which recognizing no limits of race or language, should without distinction draw all men to itself by its appeal to the sin-stricken conscience, and by the satisfaction it brought to the deepest needs of humanity.
A GENEALOGICAL TABLE OF THE HERODIAN FAMILY, INCLUDING THOSE MEMBERS OF IT WHO ARE MENTIONED IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW.
I. MARIAMNE, grand-daughter of Hyrcanus and so connected with the Maccabees.
Herodias. ch. xiv. 3-II.
HEROD THE KING (ch. ii. 1, 16, 19) married ten wives, among whom were:
2. MARIAMNE, d. of Simon a high-priest.
Herod Philip I. Herodias. ch. xiv. 3. ch.xiv. 3-11. Salomé ch. xiv. 6-II,
Archelaus. Antipas = 1 d. of Aretas. ch. ii. 22. =2. Herodias. ch. xiv. 3.
4. CLEOPATRA of Jerusalem.
Herod Philip II. = Salome. the Tetrarch. ch. xiv. 6-11. ch. xvi. 13. Luke iii. 1.