What Happened Between the Old and the New Testaments?

by Ryan Leasure

Pick up an Old Testament and turn to the end, you’ll find Israel under Persian domain. Fortunately, after years of exile, king Cyrus gave the Israelites permission to return to their land to rebuild it and worship as they pleased. You can read about this rebuilding period in Ezra and Nehemiah. But then the Old Testament comes to an abrupt end. Israel, a mere shadow of its former self, trying to reestablish their nation.

Yet when you turn to the New Testament, which begins 400 years later, Israel looks drastically different. It’s no longer under the domain of Persia, but the Romans. Furthermore, it has a massive temple — something it didn’t have at the end of the Old Testament. A lot must have transpired during those four hundred years — often called the intertestimental period.

Despite the Bible’s silence, it’s important for Christians to have some basic knowledge of this era because it sheds light on the New Testament. For example, it answers questions such as where did synagogues and Pharisees come from? Why is the New Testament written in Greek? Why do the Jews celebrate Hanukkah? How did that massive temple get there? etc.

To provide answers for the questions, I’ve given a summary intertestimental period below.

PERSIAN PERIOD (424-331 BC)

For the Israelites, life continued in much the same way as we see it at the end of the Old Testament. Persian rulers from Cyrus to Artaxerxes and beyond, more or less, gave the Jews space to rebuild and worship as they pleased.

During this period, however, it appears the Jewish people recognized God’s punishment on them for their failure to follow the law (Deut. 28). For this reason, they appear to recommit to more rigorously follow the Torah. Furthermore, they established what’s called the oral law — applications of the written law. For example, the Torah commanded that they keep the Sabbath holy. The oral law outlawed walking a certain number of steps on the Sabbath. Turn to the Gospels, and you see the Pharisees strictly adhering to the oral law, while at the same time condemning Jesus for ignoring it.

Also during this period we see the rise of the synagogue since the Babylonians had destroyed their temple. The synagogue, therefore, became their new place of worship. The emphasis shifted from blood sacrifices to prayer, repentance, and good works. It was their belief that only after the nation had repented of their idolatry and turned to Yahweh would he deliver them from their oppressors and restore their kingdom…

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What Happened Between the Old and the New Testaments?