Have you ever heard about the 400 years before Jesus came, and the significance of that? It is the time between the end of the book Malachi and the time when Jesus was born. And as far as anyone knows, God did not speak, and no scripture was written. This time in history is just one more reason that makes Christmas so wondrous, because God fulfilled promise.
What happened during the 400 years aren’t mentioned in scripture. But history gives us a picture of what happened when the Old testament ended and the New Testament began.
What happened during these 400 years?
These years began with the Jews back in Israel after they had been held in captivity Babylon. The temple had been rebuilt, and although the Law had been restored, the Jews again were not living lives to honor God.
Shortly after the silent years began, Greek influence overtook Hebrew culture (this is when Greek language was adopted, and the Old Testament was translated to Greek). At first the Jews were treated fairly well, but eventually the reading and observing the Hebrew law was outlawed, an altar was up for the Greek god, Zeus in the temple that was created for God, Himself.
The ruthless ruler who had this done even sacrificed a pig on that altar, which was basically a slap in the face to the Jews, as pigs were considered unclean. He also turned other rooms in the temple into brothels, and murdered thousands of Jewish women and children.
That was just the beginning of the darkness that those 400 years held (you can read more about what happened in the silent years here). The silent years seemed mostly hopeless, and definitely held a level of darkness that had never been experienced before.
But hope would come, just not yet.
There was a brief revolt when the Maccabees revolted, they had a cleanse and rededication of the temple that took 8 days. The Festival of Dedication. Hanukkah.
But their newfound freedom didn’t last long, and soon they were overtaken by the Romans.
When the New Testament begins, Herod the Great (The king of the Jews) was in power, and tried to appease the Jews by marrying into the Jewish bloodline and expanding and renovating the temple. He also allowed them to follow Jewish law.
That all sounds great until you realize that he had an intense desire for power. It also seemed like he only wanted to please the Jews, so that they wouldn’t turn against him.
Here begins the New Testament.
Why does all of this matter? And why does it matter to us?
I think of how many times I lack faith, or respond to God in unbelief, yet we have these people that scripture records as still being faithful and still holding on to hope that there will be redemption for God’s chosen… even after 400 years. There were still some of God’s chosen that held on to the promise. There would be rescue. Hope. Freedom. God would fulfill what was spoken years prior.
This was evident in the lives of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph.
What makes Christmas so wondrous?
Knowing a bit of the history of the 400 years, makes Mary’s response to the angel so much more profound. This promise had obviously been passed down for generations and generations through the darkest days. 400 years. I bet as the years went on and on, every day one day farther from the days the promises were spoken, more and more people started to lose hope.
Imagine being Mary hearing about this promise. Maybe she heard about it from her parents, or other family members. She had obviously believed it, and held on to the hope that someday there would be rescue again.
And then some day arrived. The angel of the Lord was sent to her. So favored that she was chosen out of everyone else to carry and birth the promised Son.
This wasn’t just any angel either. It was angel Gabriel, an angel who stood in the presence of God.
She was at first troubled by his greeting, but he assures her to not be afraid, that she had found favor with God. Then comes the news that she would conceive a son. He would be the Son of the Most High, would be given the throne of David. But His kingdom would never end.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary says right before the angel leaves her.
She believed it. She knew it was true, and she reflects a gratitude, faithfulness, and humbleness in how she hears the news that after so many years, God was going to fulfill His promise and it was going to begin with her.
Wow. Promise Fulfilled.
When you know a little bit more about the 400 years of silence, it makes Mary’s song of praise even more meaningful. She ends saying this:
From generation to generation, His mercy extends to those who fear him. He performed mighty deeds with his arm. Scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. Brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. Filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. Helped his servant Israel. Remembered to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever. Just as he promised our ancestors. Luke 1:50-55
Have you ever waited a long time for something? As you have waited has your hope lost weight? Does the confident hope that you felt in the past all of a sudden feel like it is balanced with fear and doubt?
We live in the “already, but not yet.” What makes Christmas wondrous is that it is a time we remember that promise was fulfilled. Jesus came to be near as promised, but He has yet to come again as promised.
However, we live in a time when all we have to do is look around and see all that He has given us. That His promise is true. Because of this, we can remain confident in hope that He will be with us every step of the way. We will see it, if we believe. If we keep our eyes locked on Christ, the promised Son, who was, and will come again.
If you hope is beginning to fade, as doubt begins to grow, may you remember Jesus. That He came near, and is with us. And may that give you the confidence to holdfast to hope, that His promises are true.