The Holy Land during the time of Jesus was formally under the supervision of the Rome.  The Roman period began in 63 B.C. and culminated with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and the establishment of Jerusalem as a pagan city in 135 A.D.

It was during this Roman period that Jesus was born, conducted his ministry, was crucified, resurrected and ascended to be at the right hand of God.  It was also during the Christian persecutions of this period that the New Testament church was established far and wide and the New Testament gospels and books were written by inspired witnesses to the events of the time.

By way of history, Roman control was established in Judea in roughly 63 B.C. when the sons of the Jewish queen Alexandra of Judea fought over the right of succession to her throne.  Her sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, sought the support of Roman general Pompey in neighboring Damascus. Hyrcanus was supported by the general of all Judea, Antipater the Idumaean (descendant of Abraham through Esau).

General Pompey supported Hyrcanus, defeated Aristobulus’ forces in Jerusalem and installed Hyrcanus as a high priest, not as king, and stripped him of authority in all Judean coastal and Greek leaning cities.

Pompey subsequently fought with Julius Caesar for control of Rome.  Both Hyrcanus and Antipater actively supported Caesar and were rewarded in his victory.  Hyrcanus became Ethnarch (ruler) of the Jews and Antipater was made chief minister of all Judea on behalf of Rome.  Antipater made his son Herod ruler of Galilee and Herod was later named ruler of Syria by the Roman Governor of the region.

With the death of Caesar in 44 B.C., Herod was made King of the Jews and ruled from Jerusalem with an iron fist.  Herod consolidated his power by killing Hyrcanus. At the birth of Christ, Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys in the region of Bethlehem under the age of two.

With the death of Herod, Rome divided the kingdom into two parts – Herod’s son Herod Antipas was made ruler of Galilee and his son Herod Archelaus was made ruler of all Judea and Samaria. Herod Archelaus began his rule by slaughtering 3,000 Jews during the Jewish Passover.  Shortly thereafter, Rome replaced Archelaus with a series of Roman governors, the most famous being Pontius Pilate who served from 26-36 A.D.

Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, ordered John the Baptist beheaded and presided over the trial of Jesus with Pontius Pilot – together they determined Jesus’ death sentence.

Over the next 100 years the Jews became increasingly rebellious. Rome first ruled, then conquered and finally destroyed the Jewish homeland, until in 135 A.D. all Jewish hold upon their promised land was at an end and Jerusalem was a pagan Roman city.  Violence, oppression, destruction were what the Jews knew at the hands of the Roman rulers and their representatives.

With this brief history as a backdrop, let us take a look at what God has to say about what our attitude should be toward our earthly powers and authorities.

Romans 13:1-7 1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.  6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Ephesians 6:10-18  10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  

16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Colossians 1:15-18  15He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18And he is the head of the body, the church.

1 Timothy 2:1-4  1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.

1 Peter 2:13-17 13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Theological Summary:

Scripture clearly describes a God so involved in our lives that even our civil governance is established by God for us – that we might live peaceful lives.  We are not called to obedience alone, rather we are called to obedience through respect for what God has established. More even than respect, we are to honor our earthly powers and authorities as God’s servants on our behalf.  When we rebel against them we rebel against the will of God.

This post is by a Cornerstone College of Virginia staff member.