Why did the Romans care about Jesus?

Why did the Romans care about Jesus?

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It is the early first century. A huge empire dominates the Mediterranean and stretches from Spain to Syria, France to Algeria and Egypt. Aqueducts, streets and wonders of architecture, combined with legions of soldiers, an extensive tax and census system, a common language and a complex system of justice and government, mark the most impressive empire the Mediterranean has ever seen.

In a backwater province on the edge of the empire, a poor hiking teacher from an obscure ethnic group roams the landscape with a small group of followers and offers religious teachings such as “love your enemy” and “do others as you would” to you. "

Three years after his service, this teacher was brutally executed by representatives of the empire.

What made a huge empire take care of a quirky rabbi?

Not much at first. But soon the tables would turn.

Rome in the time of Jesus

The days of the kings of Israel and Judah were long gone when the last monarch of Judah in 586 BC BC was blinded and kidnapped by Babylonian conquerors. Many of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. Some returned in 538 BC Back under an edict by King Cyrus of Persia that allowed them to rebuild Jerusalem, but Israel remained under the rule of Persia, then Greece, then the Seleucids, with a short period of relative freedom among the Maccabees before they were 63 BC BC conquered by Rome.

Caesar Augustus was the self-chosen title of a man named Octavian or Gaius Octavius. He was 63 BC. Born and adopted by his great uncle Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar, dictator of Rome, is known to have tried to establish himself as the supreme leader of the Roman Republic, but was stabbed by the senators. Octavian took Julius Caesar's cloak at the age of 18 and completed the transition of Rome from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire once and for all.

Octavian was a brilliant statesman and military leader. He succeeded in making Julius Caesar unable to slowly accumulate his power and to distinguish himself as the leader of the people and to call himself the "first citizen". At the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire enjoyed the "Pax Romana", a time of unity, flourishing trade and general peace and stability in the Empire.

Augustus almost doubled the size of Rome. His influence effectively extended from Great Britain to India and Italy, Greece, Spain, Gaul, North Africa, Egypt, Asia Minor and the Middle East and was an integral part of the actual Roman Empire. Rome dominated all over the Mediterranean and beyond.

Augustus ruled Rome from 27 BC BC to AD 14 before the birth and childhood of Jesus. Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius, who ruled until AD 37, during adulthood and the death of Jesus. Instead of launching large new campaigns of conquest, Tiberius strengthened the empire that Augustus had built, strengthened Rome's power and built up his wealth.

At the time of Jesus, Israel was generally considered to be a Roman province in the hinterland full of canteen people with strange religious beliefs. The Jews had very little autonomy, even though they maintained their religion and customs.

Some Jews were Roman citizens (like the apostle Paul) and therefore had certain rights and privileges, but most did not. The Jewish people paid taxes to Rome and followed Roman law. Local authorities like Herodes and Pontius Pilatus were set up by Rome.

Jesus' threat to the Jews

As was to be expected, another crazy, wandering religion teacher meant little to the Romans. Rome focused more on stamping out rebel factions that kept popping up in Palestine.

However, Jesus was seen as a major threat to the Jewish religious leaders. His apparent disregard for their religious laws was threatening enough, but this man went far beyond breaking social norms; He seemed to think he was God.

Actions such as offering forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9: 2), claiming redemption came only from him (John 14: 6), and naming God, his father, infuriated the strictly monotheistic Jewish leaders.

John 5.18 says: “For this reason, they tried all the more to kill him. He not only broke the Sabbath, but even called God his own father and made himself equal to God. "

Perhaps worst of all was that people listened to him. Thousands and thousands came to be healed and to hear Him teach. No matter how the religious leaders tried to catch him in his own words, they failed. This blasphemous man had to be stopped.

Jesus' threat to the Romans

The polytheistic Roman leaders did not care what the Jews considered blasphemy. However, they took the threat to Roman power seriously. Jesus was far from the only person who had a following in Palestine in the first century, and Rome was more than happy to brutally quell any uprisings.

This Roman devotion to suppress uprisings was not without reason. A few decades after Jesus' death, there were great uprisings in Judea, in which tens of thousands of people died and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The area was notoriously vulnerable to rebellion.

Jesus had the dangerous ability to collect a lot. Thousands immediately came to hear him speak. A particularly moving moment came when Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and filled the city with crowds.

When he rode to Jerusalem for the Passover – during which he would be betrayed and executed – people shouted praise, waved palm branches, and put their cloaks on the street.

Although not adorned with gold and spoils of war, the procession resembled the Roman triumphs for conquering Roman generals and emperors – a worrying sign that these people saw Jesus as king (Matthew 21).

Jesus then immediately went to the temple and turned the tables of the money changers and drove out all the people who bought and sold there, and angrily declared that they had turned his father's house into a "robber's cave" (Matthew 21:13). These people were quickly replaced by the blind and the lame, who came to Jesus for healing, and children who cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" (Matthew 21: 13-15). Jesus caused an uproar, as he often did.

Gathering crowds, invoking the symbolism of royalty and causing turmoil – the last nail in Jesus' proverbial coffin was his claim to the title of Messiah, the expected anointed one, who would save Israel. Most understood then that this was a military leader who would come to liberate Israel from Rome. And Rome would never allow that.

More than the Romans feared the rebellion, the Jewish leaders feared the suppression of the rebellions by the Romans. Jesus threatened the very weak peace they kept with Rome.

The Sanhedrin, the Jewish government agency, called a meeting to find out what to do with Jesus. "If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation" (John 11:48).

So they decided that the best course of action was to arrest and kill him.

The Jews and Romans work together

The story of Jesus' arrest and trial can be found in Matthew, chapters 26-27, Mark, chapters 14-15, Luke, chapters 22-23, and John, chapters 18-19. One of Jesus' disciples, Judas, betrayed him to the Jewish authorities, who surrounded and arrested him in the garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus was first brought before the Jewish government council, the Sanhedrin, where he was found guilty of blasphemy and claimed to be the son of God. For this, the Jews wanted to kill him.

However, the Jewish leaders were not authorized to carry out executions (John 18:31). So Jesus was brought to the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Interestingly, although Pilate's history has given it the reputation of being a ruthless and bloody ruler, the Bible reports that he was reluctant to have Jesus killed without criticizing him. However, the people demanded the death of Jesus, and Pilate gave him for crucifixion, the typical punishment for rebellious slaves and alleged revolutionaries.

Although Pilate hesitated to have Jesus killed, the sign that was nailed to the cross of Jesus was certainly a meaningful statement of what happened to those who dared to oppose the rule of Rome. "The King of the Jews" stood on a sign above him, a clear indication of the respect Rome had for a Jewish "King".

The Christian threat to Rome

If Jesus had stayed dead, the problem might have died there (pun intended). Instead, he came back to life and triggered a revolutionary new religion.

It was only when Christianity appeared that Jesus really threatened Rome. Christians broke the status quo with their insistence on a god who flew in the face of the Roman pantheon, including imperial worship, and the enormous economy built around the temples. Christians committed themselves to someone they thought was greater than the emperor.

Although much of the hatred of Christians was based on misunderstandings (a widespread rumor was that Christians were cannibals due to the practice of the Lord's Supper), the suspicion and fear may not be unfounded – within a few centuries, Christianity had spread throughout the Mediterranean and the Roman Empire was no longer broken up into smaller units.

Why is that important?

At that time Rome cared little about Jesus; He was just another potential revolutionary who was killed. The Jews realized more how powerful he was, but even they had no idea. None of them could have predicted that the temple would be dust only two thousand years later, the ancient history of the Roman Empire, but Jesus would be worshiped as the Lord by billions of people around the world.

© iStock / Getty Images Plus / canbedone

Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., advertising manager at Mountain Brook Ink and a freelance editor at Sherpa Editing Services. Her passions for studying the Bible and her creativity collide in her writing. Her debut novel Wraithwood will be released on November 7, 2020. She has published more than 150 bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Learn more about them here and on social media @alyssawrote.

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