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The Silent Years: From Malachi to Matthew

by Stephen Davey

The New Testament opens four hundred years after the Old Testament closes. In those four centuries following the book of Malachi, there was no word from God. But God was present and working through history to prepare the world for the arrival of the promised Messiah.


The Silent Years: From Malachi to Matthew



Our Wisdom Journey now brings us to the New Testament. Since the end of the Old Testament with the book of Malachi, 400 years have now transpired. These four hundred years are often referred to as the silent years. There was no word from God—no new revelation. No prophet came on the scene to declare, “Thus says the Lord.”

The Silent Years

So, when you open the New Testament, you have traveled some 400 years from the time of Malachi to the days of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And let me tell you, a lot of things have changed in the world over those years.

The Persians are no longer the dominant empire in control of Israel; the Roman Empire is now in control. For the first time we encounter the religious leaders known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. We find Jewish life centered around synagogues, which are nowhere to be found in the Old Testament.

What in the world happened during these 400 years? Well to begin with, just as Daniel had prophesied back when the kingdom of Persia was in power, a great conqueror arose.[1] His name was Alexander the Great, and he defeated the Persians and established a Greek empire.

Alexander practiced what is called Hellenization, the systematic establishment of Greek culture in the nations he conquered. Greek became the language throughout the empire, and this explains why the New Testament was written in common, or koine, Greek.

And just as Daniel prophesied, after Alexander’s death, his vast empire was divided among four of his generals. Israel became governed by one of those generals, and one of his notorious successors tried to force Greek religion, with all its gods and goddesses, on the Jewish people. The Jewish people revolted and succeeded in gaining independence—but only for a brief period. Eventually, in 63 BC, the Romans conquered Jerusalem.

The Romans divided the land of Israel into several provinces—Judea in the south, Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle, and the province of Perea east of the Jordan River. At the time of Jesus’ birth, all these Jewish provinces were governed by a man known as Herod the Great. He was not Jewish at all; in fact, he was an Edomite—a descendant of Esau, Jacob’s brother. But he had gained the favor of the Romans, and they appointed him with the title he loved best of all—“King of the Jews.”

Herod tried his best to earn the favor of the Jewish people. He even enlarged and beautified the Jerusalem temple. But Herod was an extremely evil man. Frankly, he was paranoid. He even murdered some of his own sons because he considered them a threat to his rule. Of course, he went on a murderous rampage in Matthew 2 after some wise men arrived from old Persia, wondering where the Child was who had been born King of the Jews. Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great himself died.

One of Herod’s surviving sons followed his father and ruled over Judea and Samaria until the Romans replaced him with a procurator—that is, a governor. Some thirty years later, the governor appointed over this territory was a man named Pontius Pilate. We will run into these men later in the Gospels.

Another son of Herod the Great, called “Herod … tetrarch of Galilee” in Luke chapter 3, verse 1, ruled over that northern region of Galilee. And that was the primary area of Jesus’ ministry. This Herod was responsible for beheading John the Baptist and later on interrogated Jesus just before the crucifixion (Luke 23:7-12).[2]

But here is what I want you to understand at this point: by the time of Jesus, Israel was under Roman control and governed by appointed rulers. Detachments of the Roman army were stationed throughout the land to maintain order. But the Romans were also Hellenized. They knew the Greek language and were greatly influenced by Greek culture, architecture, and religion.

The Rise of the Pharisees and Sadducees

Frankly, you couldn’t keep count of the gods and goddesses of the Greeks and the Romans. However, the Jewish people strictly followed Yahweh, the one true and living God. The Babylonian captivity had cured them of idolatry. During their captivity, without a temple available to them, the synagogue arose as a place of instruction and prayer. During these silent 400 years, religious leaders called Pharisees and Sadducees rose up to elaborate on the law and lead the people into all sorts of applications of the law in their daily lives.

The Role of the Scribes and Rabbis

The Pharisees were the largest religious party. They laid heavy burdens on the people as they sought to apply Old Testament law to everyday life. For instance, the law forbade working on the Sabbath, and they defined work as bearing any kind of burden. But what kind of burden? They debated vigorously on whether or not you could pick up a chair and move it, or even pick up a baby. By the time of Christ, they had accumulated thousands of oral traditions and interpretations that had become more important to them than God’s Word.

The Sadducees were fewer in number but had greater political power. They dominated the Jewish Supreme court known as the Sanhedrin; it was Sadducees who served as high priests—at the pleasure of the Romans. They denied the supernatural and the resurrection of the dead.[3] They were basically more interested in politics than God’s Word, and they did everything they could to stay in favor with the Romans.

Now, the Pharisees and Sadducees resented each other, but they were united in hating Jesus Christ.

Another group of men who arose during these silent years were called scribes. They were lawyers, or recognized scholars of the law, who defended all these religious traditions. Another group of men who appeared in this period were called rabbis; they were Jewish teachers who gathered students, or disciples, around them. Jesus was referred to by this title.[4]

Now these rulers and institutions that arose between Malachi and Matthew were all part of God’s providential plan. God was not wringing His hands because Pharisees were working overtime and Herod was on the throne. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote over in Galatians 4:4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son.” God was at work through these centuries, preparing His people and the world for the arrival of the Messiah Jesus, God’s Son.  

The Birth of Jesus Christ

You may know that the New Testament opens with the biography of God’s Son—four biographies, in fact—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These four Gospels, as they’re called, emphasize different aspects of the Lord’s life.

Matthew was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, and he writes particularly to Jewish people, presenting Jesus as the promised King. Mark presents Jesus as the Servant and seems to be writing to a Roman audience. Luke writes to a broad Gentile audience, emphasizing the genuine humanity of Jesus. And John, another of Jesus’ original disciples, is writing to unbelievers—his purpose is clearly evangelistic, and He presents Jesus as God.


All four Gospel writers often look at the same event but emphasize different aspects that suit their overall purpose in writing. So when you put the Gospels together, what you have is a wonderful panoramic view of Jesus—the Suffering Servant, the promised King, the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God. 

What a blessing that the silent years are over. God has spoken again—at last. And keep in mind, that while these divinely inspired biographical accounts of God’s Son teach us about His culture and ministry and teaching, ultimately, we are given the Word of God so that we might come to know Jesus Christ personally—and claim Him as our Savior and call Him our King, our Messiah, and our Redeemer.

[1] Daniel 8:1-8, 18-21; 11:2-3.

[2] Herod Agrippa I in Acts chapter 12 and Herod Agrippa II in Acts 25 and 26 were the grandson and great-grandson, respectively, of Herod the Great and had authority in various areas.

4 See Acts 23:8.

5 See Matthew 26:25.

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