There is a verse in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that says:
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
In some ways, there is comfort in knowing that when the world feels crazy, we can be assured that what we are navigating has been experienced before.
A great example of this is to look at first-century Israel. It was extremely volatile politically, culturally, and religiously. Even if we just look at the Jewish sects, the only thing the various religious groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots had in common was their love for the Torah and their hatred of the Romans.
Let’s look at each of these groups because it might provide some perspective for how we navigate our own differences.
While modern Christianity may view the Pharisees as the fundamentalists of ancient Judaism, the truth is they were considered the liberals of the day. They held expanded views on how to interpret the Torah, what should be included in Scripture, and how to apply it to everyday life. Their messianic expectations centered around a righteous leader, often referred to as the “son of David,” who would bring about both moral and spiritual transformation. The Messiah would establish peace, not as a simple absence of conflict but as a perpetual state of harmony and righteousness that would permeate every aspect of life. A quick side note: Some modern scholars believe that Jesus was a Pharisee. This would mean he was accused by his own people, which is something to consider, as we have a reputation for throwing our fellow believers under the bus in public forums.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were the Zealots, a group fueled by a fervent desire for political liberation from Roman rule. They didn’t care about following any of the religious rules; and they were willing to take up arms to liberate God’s people if needed. They expected the Messiah to be a military leader who would lead a victorious uprising against anyone who had oppressed Israel.
Then there were the Essenes, who carved out an isolated existence in the wilderness near the Dead Sea. It could be argued that they were the most extreme in their religious beliefs. They lived off the grid, off from all of society in response to the corruption they saw in other religious groups. Their messianic beliefs were rooted in an understanding that there was a cosmic battle happening between good and evil. They were seeking peace that would usher in an era of righteousness.
Another group, the Sadducees, were considered the conservatives. Their goal was simple: maintain religious and political stability. For them, peace was found in avoiding disruption of any sort – especially disruption that would upset the Romans. They just wanted to keep things low-key and not rock the boat.
The intricate relationships between these sects reflect the same differences we experience today. The Pharisees clashed with the Sadducees over who was interpreting the Bible correctly. The Essenes distanced themselves from the mainstream, pursuing a more isolated prepper path. The Zealots took up arms and found themselves in constant conflict with the government. And the biggest similarity is that everyone truly believed they were doing it best.
This Advent, we can look back on the ancient world that Jesus was born into and see ourselves. Because there is nothing new under the sun. Our struggles. Our hopes. Our fears. Our expectations. All are valid. But the baby born in Bethlehem still offers us a peace that goes beyond our differences and conflicts and brings us what we truly long for. Peace.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
– Isaiah 9:6
Daily Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7