After the prophet Malachi, the people of Israel lived a long time without a single prophet of God. There are no Scriptures inspired during that time. Therefore, this interval of 400 years is sometimes called "Years of Silence."
As envisaged by the prophets of the Old Testament, world empires succeeded and the people of Israel lost their sovereignty because of their disloyalty to their God. The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (Israel) in 722 BC and Babylon conquered the southern kingdom (Judah) in 587 BC. After that, the Persians conquered Babylon (537 BC) and the Greeks conquered the Medo-Persian Empire (333 BC.) However, near the time of the birth of Christ, the Romans conquered the Greeks around the year 63 BC. This empire controlled the world in New Testament days.
The so-called "Maccabees" arose in 166 BC, under the dominion of Syria, which followed that of Greece, resulting in the liberation of the province of Judea until the arrival of the Romans. Still at the time of the Maccabees the Zealots appeared, who managed the law of Moses with zeal and hated all foreigners, even using violence and murder against them (one of Jesus' disciples, Simon, belonged to this group - Luke 6:15).
The Romans, in order to prevent rebellions and revolts of the Jews, used a policy of giving them a relative independence in civil and religious matters. They designated an Edomite, descendant of Esau, called Herod, as king over the provinces of the land of Israel (Judea, Samaria and Galilee), and a Roman Governor (Pilate). As both were foreigners, they also delegated relative political authority to the High Priest approved by them, recognizing the importance of the Temple and ceremonial, with its leaders, in people's lives.
With the revival experienced in the first post-exilic time, under the leadership of Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, the priest Joshua and Nehemiah, and years later, Malachi, the Jews apparently abandoned the tendency of their ancestors to idolatry. However, they began to give more value to the external aspects of the law, formalism and religiosity, without true spiritual essence. The result was equally disastrous.
The people turned away from God, even though they ceremonially worshipped Him and fanaticism existed among them about the letter of His law and ordinances. There arose various movements and groups, as they departed from the spirit of the Law of Moses and added their own precepts, or with incredulity denied the reality of the contents of some parts of Scripture. In the Gospels, these stand out:
There was also a sect of the Essenes, not mentioned in the Bible, who professed an austere life of separation from people, and left traces in the caves of the Dead Sea where many of their writings have been found, as well as portions of the Scriptures.
The scribes, of the tribe of Levi like the priests, had formerly occupied prominent positions in public administration of the nation of Israel, as secretaries of State, responsible for preparing and issuing decrees on behalf of the king. They were the teachers of the people, especially teaching the law, and also clerks and writers. At the time of Christ they were known as the "doctors of the law," accepted as authorities in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law. They belonged to the sect of the Pharisees, but were a class apart.
The synagogue, a Greek word meaning "assembly", is of unknown origin, but it is supposed that buildings or tents for the meeting of godly Jews have existed since ancient times. A system of worship was probably adopted in synagogues during the Babylonian captivity, when the exiles gathered for the reading of the "law and the prophets", i.e. the Old Testament, and after their return from exile they established themselves over their land.
Even after the rebuilding of the temple, the synagogue remained an essential element in people's lives. Synagogues kept alive the hope of Israel of the coming of the Messiah, and also served to pave the way for the proclamation of the Gospel in other nations, and were the model for the administration and worship of the early Christian churches. To be "expelled from the synagogue" was tantamount to being "put out of fellowship" in a Christian church.
The "tradition of the elders" was a set of oral interpretations of the Law of Moses, and became more important than the law itself. It was called by them the Oral Law, or Mishna, and was placed on paper (Talmud) at the end of the second century AD. The Lord Jesus mentioned this arbitrary supplement (Mark 7:3, 9, 13), stating “laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8). Paul later cautions us "beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
But the "sun of justice" and "Light of the world," the Son of God, was born to shine and dispel the darkness that prevailed, bringing the Gospel, which is the good news for the world, surpassing the law of Moses and all its illegal additions with the knowledge of the amazing grace of God, which is the salvation of the repentant sinner through faith in the person of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. A new era opens. A New Testament of God for man.