This period has been rightly called the “400 Silent Years.” The Old Testament closed with these solemn words in Malachi 4:5-6, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”  Israel had been restored to the land after being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years, but it didn’t take long for them to once again fall into spiritual declension (which the book of Malachi bears witness to).  They were now living under Persian rule and were allowed to rebuild their temple and resume their sacrificial system, but it was all superficial, for their hearts were far from God. For the next 400 years God remained silent, though He was surely “working behind the scenes” to restore His chosen people.

In 333 B.C. the Grecian Empire conquered the Persians and Israel came under their rule. It was during their rule, in 171 B.C., that the temple was defiled by a Syrian General named Antiochus Epiphanes. Daniel prophesied of this in Daniel 8:11, “He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host; and by him the daily sacrifices were taken away, and the place of His sanctuary was cast down” (NKJV). This wicked man foreshadows the future “Antichrist” who will also desecrate a future temple in Jerusalem. You can read of that in Daniel 12:11; Matthew 24:15; and Revelation 13:14-15.

In Daniel 8:13-14 we learn that God would limit the days of defilement: “How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot? And he said to me, ‘For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed’.” God in His mercy raised up a godly family led by Judas Maccabeus and in 165 B.C. they recaptured Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. A Jewish feast called Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, is still celebrated today in memory of this victory gained by the Maccabee family and their rededication of the holy temple.

In 63 B.C. the Roman Empire gained control over Palestine and a puppet government was set up with Herod the Great as king. The temporary “spiritual revival” under the Maccabees had been replaced by two major sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were more “orthodox” but in their zeal for the Law they became very strict and replaced the Law with their human traditions. When Jesus came He rebuked them for this in Matthew 15:1-9. The Sadducees were more “liberal” and denied the supernatural, including the resurrection and an afterlife. Jesus rebuked this error in Matthew 22:23-33.

When God’s “silence” was broken with the New Testament the teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees dominated the land of Israel and its people. In other words, Israel was in an even greater “spiritual slumber” than in the days of Malachi. God’s dealings with them in the “400 Silent Years,” which should have prepared them for the coming of their Messiah, resulted in an utter rejection of God and His Word. John the Baptist, who came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (compare Malachi 4:5-6 with Luke 1:17), was ultimately killed. And Israel’s true Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, was rejected and crucified. As a result of this, Israel has been set aside by God and God’s message of grace is going out to the Gentiles. But this is NOT the end of the story! For once the last Gentile is saved (and the church is completed); God will work among His earthly people once again and they will repent and receive Christ as their true Messiah. Romans 11:25-27 confirms this: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’ (NASB).  (204.5)  (DO)