Despite the opposition, the apostles continued to teach and perform miracles, the followers of Jesus continued to multiply, and their assemblies, now referred to as the church, continued to meet and make an impact upon the community. Not surprisingly, it was not long before Peter and John were arrested and thrown into jail again. On this occasion however, an angel of the Lord came to them in the middle of the night and set them free. The guards and chief priests were perplexed when they found them preaching the next day at the Temple. They immediately had them arrested a second time and were now determined to put them to death. One of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel, stepped forward in their midst and offered some inspired wisdom that gave them pause. “I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39 NIV). Hearing this, the Sanhedrin thought it best not to execute them, but decided instead to have them flogged and released.
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In the late night rush to judgment they brought Jesus first to the court of Annas, head of the preeminent priestly family of the time in Jerusalem. Five of his sons would be high priests and Caiaphas the current high priest was his son-in-law. Annas questioned Jesus and then sent Him on to the house of Caiaphas where the scribes and elders were gathered. There He was again interrogated and when Jesus admitted to being “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One” Caiaphas tore his robe crying “blasphemy!” Those assembled declared “He is deserving of death!” and began spitting on him, pummeling Him with their fists and slapping Him (Matthew 25:65-68). In the morning, after being mocked and beaten throughout the night, Jesus was taken to the council chambers of the Sanhedrin. It was now Friday. The questioning continued. “’If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But He said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe.’” …. “’Are you the Son of God, then?’ and He said to them, “Yes, I am” (Luke 22:66-70). Hearing the testimony from Jesus’ own lips, the religious courts of the Jewish hierarchy concluded their inquiry. Convinced of His guilt, but requiring a Roman death sentence to do away with Jesus, the Sanhedrin now had Him bound and brought to the Roman court of Governor Pontius Pilate.
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21 NIV). . . . In the whirlwind of destiny He would appear before all the top religious and Roman leaders of the time. The high priests Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and even “that fox” Herod Antipas would all have their say and seal their fate as they confronted Jesus.
It took nearly twenty-five years after Pompey’s triumph in Jerusalem for the Romans to finally establish a stable government in Judea. Pompey returned almost immediately to Rome where he was vying with Caesar for supreme rule of the Empire. In his absence he appointed two men to govern from Jerusalem, his minister Antipater, who was the son of an Edomite convert to Judaism, and a High Priest named Hyrcanus, who was of Maccabean descent. In 48 BC Pompey was defeated by Caesar in Italy and he fled to Egypt. Caesar gave hot pursuit but two days before he arrived, the Egyptians had already put Pompey to death. Egypt was in the midst of a civil war between King Ptolemy XIII and his deposed queen Cleopatra. During Caesar’s brief stay in Alexandria he threw his lot in with the enchanting young queen. Meanwhile in Jerusalem Antipater, Pompey’s former ally, seeing an opportunity to ingratiate himself with Caesar raised an army to 3,000 local Jews, rallied sympathetic Egyptian Jews, attacked, and defeated Caesar’s opponents. Before returning to Rome, Caesar restored Cleopatra to the throne and then gratefully turned his attention to Judea. He confirmed the high priestly rule of the Jews to Hyrcanus and gave permission for the walls of Jerusalem to be repaired. He granted the governmental power over Judea to Antipater as procurator. In addition, Antipater’s older son, Phasael, and younger son, Herod, were appointed tetrarchs of Jerusalem and Galilee respectively.
The restoration of the Temple in 516 BC and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem seventy two years later in 444 BC once again secured the Jewish identity in their relationship with God. It established a focal point for their worship, prayer and sacrifices. Even those Jews yet scattered among the surrounding nations in the diaspora, first dating from 700 BC, found solace in being able to pray toward the Temple in Jerusalem as Solomon had prescribed in his dedication prayer (1 Kings 8:29-30, 35,38,42, 44, & 48). With successive generations of Persian kings, plagued by internal power struggles, the influence of their empire began to wane. This gave opportunity for a period of Jewish self-rule by a dynasty of high priests claiming to have descended from the Davidic priest Zadok. Unfortunately these priests, like the secular rulers of the empire of which they were a part, fell prey to infighting and division themselves. Peace and stability in Jerusalem under their rule could not be sustained and sedition within their ranks eventually led to the murder of a high priest over contention as to who should control the riches of the Temple treasury. News of the unrest in Jerusalem gave incentive for the Persian governor to attack Jerusalem and loot its wealth.