And now the Temple’s glittering roof was seen, with the buildings of Zion crowning the eminence above it, and the ridge of the Mount of Olives rising high over all. And now the city gate of Jerusalem was passed, with that thrill of the heart which none but a Jew, like Paul, could know.
"Our feet shall stand within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built like a city that is all joined together as one Where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD" (Psalm 122:2 - 4, HBFV, see also Psalm 68)
And now that this young enthusiastic Jew, Paul, is come into the land of his forefathers, and is about to receive his education in the schools of Jerusalem, the Holy City, we may pause to give some description of the state of Judea and Jerusalem. We have seen that it is impossible to fix the exact date of his arrival, but we know the general features of the period. We can easily form to ourselves some idea of the political and religious condition of Palestine.
Herod was now dead. The tyrant had been called to his last account, and that eventful reign, which had destroyed the nationality of the Jews, while it maintained their apparent independence, was over. It is most likely that Archelaus also had ceased to govern, and was already in exile. His accession to power had been attended with dreadful fighting in the streets, with bloodshed at sacred festivals, and with wholesale crucifixions. His reign of ten years was one continued season of disorder and discontent, and, at last, he was banished to Vienna on the Rhone, that Judea might be formally constituted into a Roman province.
We suppose Paul to have come from Tarsus to Jerusalem when one of the four governors, who preceded Pontius Pilate, was in power, either Coponius, or Marcus Ambivius, or Annius Rufus, or Valerius Gratus. The governor resided in the town of Caesarea. Soldiers were quartered there and at Jerusalem, and throughout Judea, wherever the turbulence of the people made garrisons necessary. Centurions were in the country towns (Luke 7:1 - 10) with soldiers on the banks of the Jordan (Luke 3:14). There was no longer even the show of independence.
The revolution, of which Herod had sown the seeds, now came to maturity. The only change since his death in the appearance of the country was that every thing became more Roman than before. Roman money was current in the markets. Roman words were incorporated in the popular language. Roman buildings were conspicuous in all the towns. Even those two independent principalities which two sons of Herod governed, between the provinces of Judea (which contained Jerusalem) and Syria, exhibited all the general character of the epoch. Philip, the tetrarch of Gaulonitis, called Bethsaida, on the north of the lake of Genesareth, by the name of Julias, in honor of the family who reigned at Rome. Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, built Tiberias on the south of the same lake, in honor of the emperor who about this time succeeded his illustrious stepfather.
These political changes had been attended with a gradual alteration in the national feelings of the Jews, like Paul, with regard to their religion. That the sentiment of political nationality was not extinguished was proved too well by all the horrors of Vespasian’s and Hadrian’s reigns, but there was a growing tendency to cling rather to their Law and Religion as the center of their unity. The great conquests of the Heathen powers may have been intended by Divine Providence to prepare this change in the Jewish mind. Even under the Maccabees, the idea of the state began to give place, in some degree, to the idea of religious life. Under Herod, the old unity was utterly broken to pieces. The high priests, who served in Jerusalem, were set up and put down at his caprice.
Under the governors, the power of the Sanhedrin was still more abridged, and high priests were raised and deposed, so that it is often a matter of great difficulty to ascertain who was high priest at Jerusalem in any given year at this period (See Acts 23:5). Thus the hearts of the Jews turned more and more towards the fulfillment of Prophecy, the practice of Religion and to the interpretation of the Law. All else was now hopeless. The Pharisees (Paul would ultimately become one of them), the Scribes, and the Lawyers were growing into a more important body even than the Priests and the Levites and that system of "Rabbinism" was beginning, which, supplanting the original religion of the Jews, became, after the ruin of the Temple and the extinction of the public worship, a new bond of national union.