A Complete Enemy makes an Incomplete Christ Follower
At the end of the Old Testament, Israel had returned from exile, Jerusalem had been rebuilt, and the temple had been reconstructed and was functioning again. The world power was the Median or Medo-Persian Empire. In the 400 years between the testaments, the Greek Empire rose to prominence under Alexander and then splintered upon his death. Israel was persecuted by the Seleucids, one of the splinter kingdoms of the Greek Empire based in Syria. The Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“manifest god”) was especially brutal. He enforced Hellenization of the Jews and profaned the temple. His actions led to the Maccabean revolt in which Israel expelled the Greeks and gained their independence.
During the time of revolt, the Maccabees were supported by the up-and-coming Romans (1 Maccabees 8; 15:15–24). As the power of Rome grew, it became an empire and swallowed up Israel/Palestine. The Jews were allowed to maintain their religious practices if they did not make trouble for Rome. Rome placed a series of puppet kings, the Herod family, and military governors (e.g., Pilate, Felix, Festus) over various provinces of Palestine. Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem and its surroundings by 63 BCE. The Romans deposed the ruling Hasmonean dynasty of Judaea (in power from c. 140 BCE) and the Roman Senate declared Herod the Great “King of the Jews” in c. 40 BCE. This time is called the time of diaspora or the disbursement of Jews away from the Temple and Judea.
One of the priorities of the Roman Empire was peace, which it accomplished with an iron hand. The Pax Romana or “peace of Rome” guaranteed that people could live and travel within the Roman Empire in relative safety. Roads were constructed that made travel much easier, and a common language broke down communication barriers among various ethnic groups and provided something of a common culture. This meant that many ancient languages died, and Hebrew became Aramaic. The Roman authorities demanded absolute allegiance to Rome first and foremost, and if you disagreed or fought back, the result was genocide. Because of the Jews’ longstanding “tradition” of monotheism, they were exempted from offering sacrifices to the emperor. The Roman Empire had a tremendous impact in the circumstances regarding Jesus’ birth and crucifixion, and unintentionally provided the necessary infrastructure to allow the apostles to spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world. We will talk about the wide and beautiful roads that Rome build and the narrow, rarely traveled narrow roads of the poor towns in the weeks to come.
Let’s just say, the Jews, or better understood, the Jews that were not priests, living in Samaria and Judea had a huge enemy in Rome. So, Jesus makes this unpopular statement to a group of people who have very negative opinions about Rome, except the priests, of course. If the priest behaved themselves in Jerusalem, Octavian, also known as Caesar Augustus, sent a big “tithe” to the Temple. The poor never saw any benefit of this and were still required to pay Caesar and the Temple with what little they had. They were hungry. They were sick. They were tired. And they were angry and ready to fight.
Matthew 5:43–48 (NIV): 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
᾿Ηκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη, ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου καὶ μισήσεις τὸν ἐχθρόν σου. ᾿Εγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν, εὐλογεῖτε τούς καταρωμένους ὑμᾶς, καλῶς ποιεῖτε τοῖς μισοῦσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν ἐπηρεαζόντων ὑμᾶς καὶ διωκόντων ὑμᾶς, ὅπως γένησθε υἱοὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς, ὅτι τὸν ἣλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους. ἐὰν γὰρ ἀγαπήσητε τοὺς ἀγαπῶντας ὑμᾶς, τίνα μισθὸν ἔχετε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ τελῶναι τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσι; καὶ ἐὰν ἀσπάσησθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὑμῶν μόνον, τί περισσὸν ποιεῖτε; οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ τελῶναι οὕτω ποιοῦσιν; ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι, ὥσπερ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τέλειός ἐστιν.
(Matthew 5:43-48 Greek NT)
Matthew 5:48 Greek NT INT+