26 As they led Him away, they seized Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, and laid the cross on him to carry behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd of people followed Him, including women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28 But turning to them, Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children. 29 Look, the days are coming when they will say, ‘The women without children, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed, are fortunate!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” — Luke 23:26-31
What Is the Historical Context (New Testament)?
by Roger Severino
This week we are taking a break from our normal devotionals to equip all of us to be better students of reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Next week’s devotionals will go back to reading a specific Scripture passage which relates to our new study, “God’s Unfolding Story.”
NEW TESTAMENT TIMELINE
The timeline below relates the historical setting of the New Testament. One would expect Jesus’ birth to be at 0 or 1 A.D. (anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord” in Latin), but because of a slight miscalculation by an early medieval scholar, most historians believe the date was around 4-6 B.C.
We have one incident in Jesus’ life during His early adolescence where He interacts with the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:41-50) around 7 A.D. Jesus was known as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and a carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55). Many historians speculate that His public ministry occurred around 27-30 A.D., with His crucifixion and death occurring around 30 A.D. Others opt for a later date of 30-33 A.D.
The story of the church continues in Acts, and various New Testament letters also give witness to the Christian movement. Peter and the other disciples dominate the early story, but soon the apostle Paul becomes the focus for the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. Saul/Paul is converted around 35 A.D. and about 10 years later goes on his first missionary journey with Barnabas, sent out by their church in Antioch (see Acts 13:1-5).
The pivotal Jerusalem Council which begins to address and settle the issue of whether or not Gentiles must first become Jews before becoming Christians (see Acts 15) occurs around 49 A.D., followed by Paul’s second missionary journey about a year later. Paul’s third missionary journey would have launched in the early-to- mid-50s, followed by Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea and then later in Rome.
It is likely that both Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome in the mid-60s under Nero. The first Jewish-Roman war began in 66 A.D. culminating with the defeat of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. (not directly recorded in the New Testament).
The setting for Revelation was likely around 90 A.D., when the apostle John—by then an old man—recorded this prophecy while exiled on the Island of Patmos (see Revelation 1:9).
CLICK HERE to view the New Testatment Timeline
Sometimes it’s important to look for historical and cultural context beyond that which is directly addressed in Scripture. A good place to start would be to consult a commentary such as the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.
READ Luke 23:26-31
Historical Context: The “days are coming” and the subsequent description probably relates to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. Our background commentary offers the following insights from the Jewish historian Josephus about the seige of Jerusalem:
“The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; and so great was their number, that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies.”
Cultural Context: “Blessed are the barren women. . . .”
Bible Background Commentary: “In a culture where childlessness was the cause of great shame . . . Jesus’ words represent a shocking reversal. It is the barren who are blessed because they will not watch their children suffer and die before their eyes.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.