To help you better understand the historical-cultural context of the Acts of Faith series (The Centurion’s Wife, The Hidden Flame, and The Damascus Way), I’d like to introduce you to the primary Judean authorities at the early part of Acts. This is Part 7 of 10.
Between World War Two and the founding of Israel in 1948, a group known as the Haganah operated in Israel. Some of these men and women were religious Jews and some were not, but all were united by the goal of a free Jewish state. They in turn were opposed by some religious Jews who protested that Israel should be restored only by the miraculous hand of God and the coming of the Messiah.
The parallels between the Haganah and the Zealots of two thousand years ago are nothing short of astounding.
The Zealots’ single-minded determination to overthrow Rome put them totally at odds with the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council. As their popularity grew and their reach extended, they vied with the Pharisees as being the Sadducees’ most hated foe.
Since the Maccabeus revolt of three hundred years earlier, numerous groups had been talking rebellion. But the Zealots were different. They were organized. They were disciplined. And their numbers were growing.
Twenty-eight years after the death of our Lord, the Zealots actually managed to defeat three Roman legions and rule all of Israel for six years. Then Valerian and his son Titus, both of whom would go on to become emperors, arrived with three legions from Rome and another six from Africa. After defeating the Zealot armies, they laid siege to Jerusalem.
The Zealots held out for almost two years, slaughtering the Sadducees when they wanted to surrender. In 72 ad the Romans finally broke into the city and burned Jerusalem to the ground, destroying the Temple utterly. The Romans then literally salted the earth so the Jews would never again use Jerusalem as a rallying point, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that no two stones would remain atop one another.
The Zealots initially were attracted to Jesus, hoping he would prove to be the leader they yearned for. The Scriptures do not tell us their response when Jesus told them this was not his purpose on earth. But we can safely assume they were bitterly disappointed. Even so, we know at least one of them was among our Lord’s closest followers. Simon the Zealot was paired with Judas Iscariot when they were sent out on their first evangelism mission.
Here are links to each of the books in the Acts of Faith Series. I believe it will enhance your understanding of first-century power players to read the novels as we progress through this series.
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Coming next: The Sadducees and Jesus