What cultural preparation for the coming of Christ and the rise of the church can be seen in the Greco-Roman world?
As we saw in the last post, God used events from the intertestamental period to prepare the way for His Son. As we’ll see in the next post, He used religion and philosophy as well. In this post, we’ll look at how the Sovereign God of the Universe used the culture of the modern day to bring about His Son’s coming and ultimate death.
Many cultural preparations for the coming of Christ and the rise of the church can be seen in the Greco-Roman world, including the division of social classes, the establishment of the tax collector position, and the inferior social class of women. Yet another cultural preparation can be seen in the execution methods that were expanded upon, such as execution by crucifixion for persons other than slave criminals. A less significant, yet still important cultural preparation can be seen in the custom of wailing as an outward symbol of grief and morning. Jesus had at least one encounter with professional wailers during His ministry.
Undoubtedly, Jesus’ most loyal followers and servants were of lower class status. This lower class status was extremely prevalent during the intertestamental period and into the New Testament period because no middle class existed. The classes of socialization were the upper-class, which consisted of aristocratic land owners, politicians, government contractors and others, and the lower class, which consisted of slaves and the poor. The poor were often worse off than slaves because they were often homeless and without meals and job security. The birth of Jesus itself represents the epitome of lowliness and meekness. He was born of poor parents, and was born in a lowly manger. He was not born of high-class association or status.
In contrast to the lower class who followed Jesus, the upper-class that was formed in the Greco-Roman world paved the way for the persecution and death of the Savior. This upper echelon of society was formed from the political and religious elite. This class was concentrated around Jerusalem, and was responsible for persecuting, questioning, and challenging Jesus on many occasions. The four Gospels are filled with these accounts.
The formation of the position of tax collectors, which was a type of social class that Jesus ministered to on several occasions, helped prepare the way for the rise of the church. The tax collectors were traditionally called ‘publicans’. They collected taxes on everything from property to road use and from sales to animal use. Because of their lack of integrity and their corrupt way of doing business, they were the most hated people of their time, and were considered lower than the low-class. However, Jesus did not feel this way about them. He chose one of them to be His disciple. A chief publican named Zacchaeus, after being privileged to dine with the Master, promised to give half of all he owned to the poor.
The development of the inferior social class of women was an issue that Jesus, His disciples, and His apostles addressed. Jesus had compassion on women and often spoke about issues relating to women. Jesus showed an uncommon forgiving, compassionate spirit toward the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John. The apostle Paul wrote about the manner in which a man should love, and subsequently treat, a woman in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, commanded men to honor their wives as co-heirs in the grace of life, so that their prayers would not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).
The cruel, inhumane execution method of crucifixion was expanded upon in the Greco-Roman world by the social elite of the world, the Romans. This method was originally used to execute slaves who committed heinous crimes, but later came to be used to execute free people for an assortment of crimes, as well. The chief priests and elders in Jerusalem took advantage of this cultural method of execution by convincing a crowd to ask for the crucifixion of Jesus in Matthew chapter 27.
On a lesser, yet still important note, the cultural practice of wailing that developed during the intertestamental time can be seen in the ministry of Jesus. Upon the death of the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leader, wailers were in his house weeping over the loss of the girl. Jesus told them they should not weep, for the girl was not dead (Mark 5:39).
These and other cultural preparations for the coming of Christ and the rise of the church can be seen in the Greco-Roman world. All of these cultural practices and events were either influenced by, or gave influence to, the rise of the church. God Himself ultimately was the One who prepared the way for the Son to come and die for the atonement of our sins.
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. [Galatians 4:4-5 -King James Version]