Between Malachi and Matthew, four hundred years passed in the Holy Land for which we have no prophetic record. Much happened during this period that affects our understanding of the New Testament, so it is important to be familiar with at least the major events that occurred in this intertestamental period. After the Babylonian captivity Judea was ruled in turn by the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Syrians, and the Romans, with a brief period of self-rule under the Hasmoneans. The Old Testament was translated into a Greek version called the Septuagint, which is the version most often quoted in the New Testament. Also, this period saw the rise of the Pharisees and Sadducees and an increase in the influence of the scribes.
Prayerfully study “The Intertestamental Period” (pp. 283–85) and consider the following principles before preparing your lessons.
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
Knowing the background of the intertestamental period helps us better understand the New Testament.
Although many still yearned for the coming of the Messiah during this period, apostasy and misunderstanding caused many Jews to “look beyond the mark” and reject Jesus Christ as the Messiah (see Matthew 16:13–16; Jacob 4:14).
Although many Jews greatly disliked Samaritans and Gentiles, the gospel of Jesus Christ brings all people together as children of God (see Acts 10:34–35).
Just as in our day, there were many religious groups in the Holy Land in New Testament times. Jesus reproved many of these groups. Some good people, however, belonged to them (see John 3:1–12; 7:50–51; 19:38–40; Acts 21:40–22:3; 23:6).
“The Intertestamental Period,” 283–85 in this manual.
Suggestions for Teaching
Choose from the following ideas, or use some of your own, as you prepare lessons on the intertestamental period.
New Testament Video presentation 3, “New Testament Setting” (12:45), can be used in teaching the religious and political climate at the time of Christ (see New Testament Video Guide for teaching suggestions).
Intertestamental Period. Knowing the background of the intertestamental period helps us better understand the New Testament.
The period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament is known as the “intertestamental period.” The following activity is designed to help students understand the significance of this period to their study of the New Testament. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of this chart with the items rearranged (they are now in chronological order). Have them look up each item in the Bible Dictionary and then identify or describe it briefly. (The words in quotation marks are the titles of relevant entries in the Bible Dictionary.)
Discuss each item with the class to help them understand its importance to the New Testament. With the students’ help, write each on the board in its correct historical order (refer students to the chronology tables on pages 635–45 of their Bible Dictionaries).
Intertestamental Period. Although many Jews yearned for the coming of the Messiah, apostasy and misunderstanding caused others to “look beyond the mark” and reject Jesus Christ (see Matthew 16:13–16; Jacob 4:14).
Have students read “Messiah” in the Bible Dictionary (p. 731), and ask:
What does the word Messiah mean?
Who prophesied concerning the Messiah? (see Jacob 7:11).
How is it that many Jews, who had long awaited the Messiah, overlooked Him and rejected Him when He came? (see Jacob 4:14–15).
Read the following true incident or share a similar one of your own:
“I’ll never forget what happened the day I returned from my mission. When I left for my mission to Norway my younger brother was in ninth grade. When I arrived at the airport I walked right past him. What I expected him to look like was so completely different from what he looked like that I didn’t recognize him at all.”
Explain that this incident helps us partly understand why the Jews did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Centuries had passed since the last recorded prophet of the Old Testament had declared, “Thus saith the Lord” (Malachi 1:4).
Ask students: Which is the last book of the Old Testament? Invite them to find when Malachi was written by looking up “Malachi” in the Bible Dictionary (430 B.C.; see p. 728). What happened between then and the birth of Jesus Christ?
Help students understand that we do not have record of a true prophet in the Holy Land between the time of Malachi and the period of the New Testament. Many of the Jews believed in and lived by that portion of the gospel they had, but many doctrinal truths had become lost or mixed with the philosophies of men. Write the following on the board:
Some Misunderstandings of the Jews Concerning the Coming Messiah
They thought He would be a powerful military leader.
They thought His first coming would be in glory.
They thought He would free them from their earthly enemies.
Read the following scriptures with your students to show how, even though many rejected Jesus as the Messiah, others who were spiritually in tune accepted Him.
John 1:10–12(Most people did not receive Jesus as the Messiah.)
Matthew 16:13–17(By the spirit of revelation, Peter knew who Jesus was.)
Tell students that as they read the New Testament this year they will learn of humble people who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and instances of people who rejected Him.
Intertestamental Period. “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
Write the words German, Mexican, American, Japanese, Syrian, Iraqi, and Korean on the board.
Which of these nationalities are invited to become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
How does the gospel unite all nationalities, races, tribes, and cultures?
Tell your students the following incident, retold by Elder James M. Paramore, a member of the Seventy:
“I remember a story recounted during World War II, when a German Latter-day Saint soldier was struck by an American bullet and lay perilously ill. He told his leader, ‘Please take a white flag and go to the other side and see if there is a Mormon elder who could administer to me.’ What a bizarre request in a war of two mortal enemies. But seeing his condition, and anxious to satisfy what appeared to be a last request, the leader took the white flag, went across the enemy line, and asked for a Mormon elder. One was found and he, with the German, crossed the enemy line, laid his hands upon that brother’s head, and commanded in the name of the Lord that he remain alive until help could be had. There is a sense of belonging that is fulfilled by the gospel of Jesus Christ—first to our Father in Heaven; then to our family, which can be an eternal unit; and then to members everywhere upon this earth” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1983, 37; or Ensign, May 1983, 28).
Have students read 2 Nephi 26:33, and ask:
Who is invited to come unto Jesus Christ?
How can the gospel help break down barriers of hatred and prejudice?
Can you think of examples from the scriptures showing how racial hatred and cultural differences can be overcome? (One example is the mission of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites; see Alma 17–24.)
Have students find Samaria on Bible map 11. Have them read the entries for “Samaria” and “Samaritans” in the Bible Dictionary (p. 768). Ask: Why was there such intense dislike between Jews and Samaritans?
Ask the students to read the following scripture passages and tell how they apply to the discussion:
Luke 10:29–37(In the parable of the good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite pass by a man who has been beaten and robbed, but a Samaritan stops and helps.)
John 4:3–10, 27(Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. His disciples were surprised that He talked with her.)
Acts 1:8(Jesus told His disciples that they would preach the gospel in Judea, in Samaria, and to “the uttermost part of the earth.”)
Help students understand how Jesus Christ provides the way and the example for overcoming divisions between people.
Intertestamental Period. As in our time, there were many religious groups in the Holy Land in Jesus Christ’s day.
Ask: Why are there so many different churches and religious beliefs in the world today? Explain that this was the case among the Jews of Jesus Christ’s day as well.
Among the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. To help students understand the differences between these groups, give each student a copy of the following handout with the answers blank. Have them use their Bible Dictionaries to identify which group each definition describes. Then have them write “S” for Sadducees, “P” for Pharisees, or “Sc” for scribes in the blanks.
Discuss the various religious groups as you go over the answers.
What examples can you find of members of some of these groups who were good and honorable? (Paul, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Gamaliel were all Pharisees.)
Testify that a similar situation exists in our own day.