“Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. ” (Malachi 3:16-17)
Some of the people feared the Lord, uniting together to serve God. The Hasmonean family of priests led a rebellion against the Hellenistic Greek influence about 168 BC. They were joined in their effort by the Hassidim or Jews who believed in keeping the Law. Today traditionalists are called Hassidic Jews.
One of their Hasmonean priests, Mattathius killed a Jewish man he found offering sacrifices to the gods of the heathen nations around them about 166 BC. In a series of battles, his son Judas Maccabee defeated the Seleucid and Syrian troops, and Syria sued for peace. Antiochus V granted religious freedom for the Jews, and the was rededicated in Jerusalem. The festival of Hanukah was ordained to celebrate the rededication of the temple.
Demetrius I appointed another high priest, and Judah resisted, making an alliance with Rome. While they successfully defeated the Selucid forces, Judah was killed, and his brother Jonathan assumed control, He was then appointed high priest by Alexander Balas, who served as a Roman proxy, and set up his own government. This led to a series of power struggles and ended with Jonathan being killed. It was during this period that the apocryphal book of Judith was written.
The last surviving Macabee brother, Jonathan led a delegation to Rome. Later, about 160 BC, he was declared to be the hereditary high priest and made governor of Israel. It was during his administration the Hassidim formed what would become known as the Pharisees. The wealthy and aristocratic Jews who had adopted the Hellenistic Greek customs became known as the Sadducees. The Essenes formed a monastic like colony, isolating themselves to worship God. Judah would be an independent state, largely devoted to God until Simon’s death around 136 BC.
“Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. “ (Malachi 3:18-4:1)
Malachi prophesied that later God would return and separate the righteous that served God from the wicked, and burn those that did wickedly like stubble left in the field. After the death of Simon Macabee, His son John, known as John Hyrcanus was ratified by the Sanhedrin, and destroyed the temple that Samaritans had build after Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem. The Samaritans wrote their own version of the Torah, or old Testament. Conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees resulted in civil strife. John Hyrcanus sided with the Sadducees, and the leader of the Sanhedrin was forced to flee to Egypt.
John was succeeded by his son Aristobulus, upon his death, his widow married his brother Alexander Jannai, who was appointed high priest. The Pharisees were offended by his appointment and rebelled about 115 BC, leading to Roman king seizing power of the region. While the Romans were generally tolerant toward other religions, Constant strife and rebellion in Ersatz-Israel, otherwise known as the nation of Judah, would result in ever increasing restrictions, and finally war and the total destruction of Jerusalem between 66 and 70 AD.
“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.
Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.” (Malachi 4:2-4 )
Those who feared the Lord would see Christ come offering salvation. The believing Jews would spread like calves released from the stall, treading over the wicked who tried to stop them. The book of Acts describes the unsuccessful efforts of those who did not believe to stop the spread of Christianity. Those who turned to Christ were the Jews who had most closely followed the teachings of the law, not falling into the camps of either the Pharisees or the Saducees.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6 )
While God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord, when Jesus came, the primary focus of this passage seems to be just before the Judgment during the tribulation. Revelation 11 describes the two witnesses who will warn Israel and turn them to God during a forty two month period, displaying the same powers Elijah exhibited during his prophecies.
“And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.”(Revelation 11:3-6)
Some believe Elijah himself will be one of those two witnesses.
Additional Historical Notes
In 102 BC. Julius Caesar would ascend to the Roman throne and keep it until 44 BC. Civil war would limit Caesar’s power in 88 BC, placing the senate in charge, Alexander Jannai quarreled with the Pharisees, and killed 800 of them. When he died his wife Alexandra Salome appointed his son Hyrcanus II as high priest.. About 76 BC, He would reinstate the Pharisees’ ordinances and their control of the temple to try get peace.
Alexandra Salome’s younger son, Aristobulus II wrested both the kingship and the priesthood from Hyrcanus II, and both brothers appealed to rome for support in their struggle. In 67 BC, Pompeii invaded Judea, placing Hyrcanus II as priest but stripping him of most of the civil power and ending the Hasmonean regime, finally bringing Judah fully under Roman control in 63 BC. In 60 BC, Julius Caesar agreed to share his power with Pompeii and Crassus forming the triumvirate. They would make Cleopatra, the last descendant of Ptolemy, Alexander the Great’s general, queen of Egypt in 51 BC.
In 48 BC Julius Caesar would be made sole ruler of the Roman Empire for life. In exchange for Jewish help in defeat of Egypt, Caesar would Hyrcanus II ethnarch of the Jews and Antipater procurator of Judea. Antipater’s son Herod would defeat and execute a Jewish army in Gallilee, almost causing a civil war. Caesar was murdered in 44 BC, and the Jews appealed to Anthony to settle the conflict. Hyrcanus was stripped of his political power and Herod and his brother Phasael were appointed tetrarchs in Judea.
In 43 BC, Antigonus, a son of Aristobulus assisted the Parthians in capturing Jerusalem. Hyrcanus II and Phasael were captured and Herod fled. Antigonus became king and high priest. The Roman senate authorized Herod to recapture Judea and he conquered and killed Antigonus, marrying a grandaughter of Hyrcanus. In 40 BC, the Roman army defeated the Parthians, and Herod was made king of Judea. About 33 BC, Herod had his wife , and all the remaining members of the Hasmonean family executed to ensure they would never try to claim the throne. About 22 BC, he had two of his own sons executed for the same reason.
Herod was a cruel and corrupt ruler, and under his reign, the priesthood was corrupted with nepotism and political abuse. In 10 BC, the Galileans revolted and were defeated and Herod executed his son Antipater. Herod died in in 7 BC after naming his son Archealus as his successor. Archalaeus was confirmed by Rome as king in 6 BC. Two years later, Caesar Augustus split the region among Herod’s three sons in an effort to prevent further revolts.
At about the same time, Hillel, one of the priests appointed by Herod proposed new rules to broaden the interpretation of the Torah or Old Testament Law. One of the changes was toallow a court to decide ownership of land to eliminate the reversion of property to the original owners during the Sabbatical year. This was touted as providing as great economic benefit that would allow them to compete more freely. It eliminated the protections of the poor provided by the Old Testament Law, and was repeatedly condemned by Christ.