Chapter 3: New Testament: New Testament Setting

New Testament Video Guide, (2001), 3–4


To explain the religious and political conditions during New Testament times.

Before the Video


This lesson explores the following New Testament issues:

  • Why many of the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

  • Why the Jews and the Samaritans were bitter opponents.

  • Who the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes were.

  • The difference between the law of Moses and the oral law (traditions of the elders).

  • A simple background of the Roman setting in New Testament times.

As you prepare, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the following entries from the Bible Dictionary: law of Moses, lawyer, Messiah, Pharisees, Roman empire, Sadducees, Samaritans, and scribe.


Begin your lesson by asking, “How was it possible that with all of the miracles Jesus performed, most of the Jews rejected Him as the Messiah?”

Read the following true story. “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.”

Help your students understand that many of the Jews did not recognize who Jesus was because they expected a different kind of Messiah.

Using the Video

New Testament Setting 12:45

“Look For” Activity

Ask the students to watch segment 1 and be ready to explain what kind of Messiah many of the Jews were expecting.

Show Segment 1

Segment 1 (7:15) is a “television news magazine” set in Rome at the beginning of New Testament times. It explores the Jews’ beliefs about the Messiah and includes a commercial concerning the Jews and Samaritans.


After viewing segment 1, review some of the misunderstandings the Jews had 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.

Help the students understand that those who were spiritually in tune accepted Christ when He came.

Scripture Activity

You may want to read the following scriptures with your students to illustrate the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Men like Peter and Simeon are examples of those who were spiritually in tune and accepted Him.

Matthew 16:13–17 Most people did not view Jesus as the Messiah. Peter, through the spirit of revelation, knew who Jesus was.

Luke 2:25–34 Simeon, by the power of the Holy Ghost, recognized that the baby Jesus was the Messiah. Simeon prophesied about Him.

John 1:10–12 Most people did not receive Jesus as the Messiah.

Help the students understand that as they read the New Testament this year they will see instances of humble people who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and instances of people who rejected Him.


Discuss the book commercial from segment 1. Ask the students to recall examples of the animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews. Review the questions raised in the commercial. If needed, help the students with the answers.

  • Why did the Jews and the Samaritans hate each other even though they were related? (The Samaritans were part Israelite and part Gentile, descendants of foreign colonists placed there by kings of Assyria and Babylonia. The Jews viewed them as “tainted” because of this.)

  • Why did believing Jews avoid traveling through Samaria even if it made their journey longer and more dangerous? (They felt so much animosity that they believed even touching Samaritan soil would defile them.)

  • Why did the Samaritans and the Jews accuse each other of having a corrupt religion? (During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews would not permit the Samaritans to work on the temple. The Samaritans started their own temple on Mount Gerizim. The Jews felt the Samaritan religion was mixed with pagan beliefs. The feelings between the two groups of people were deep and had been passed down for generations.)

Scripture Activity

Ask the students to read the following scripture passages and apply their new insights to the Samaritans:

Luke 10:29–37 The parable of the Good Samaritan.

John 4:3–9, 27 Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman at the 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, Samaria, and to “the uttermost part of the earth.”

“Look For” Activity

Write the words Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes on the board. Help the students understand that just as there are different beliefs among Christians (Catholics, Methodists, Baptists), there were (and still are) different beliefs among the Jews. Ask the students to watch segment 2 and be ready to answer the following questions:

  • What were some of the religious differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees?

  • What was a scribe?

  • What was the difference between the law of Moses and the oral law (traditions of the elders)?

Show Segment 2

Segment 2 (5:30) explains the differences between the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes. It also shows the difference between the written law and the oral law. A short explanation of the progress of travel throughout the Roman empire is also included.

After the Video


Discuss the answers to the questions listed above. For additional information, you may want to have the students look up the words Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribe in the Bible Dictionary.

Scripture Activity

You may wish to ask the students to read the following scripture passages and be ready to say how their new insights increase their understanding of the passages.

Mark 7:1–13 The Pharisees and scribes challenged Jesus because neither He nor His disciples followed the “tradition of the elders.” Jesus told them that through their tradition they made the word of God of no effect.

Luke 11:37–54 Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees and scribes for their works. They wanted to trap Him.

Acts 23:7–8 The Sadducees said that there is no resurrection, but the Pharisees believed in a resurrection.

Map Activity

Have the students open their Bibles to map 8 and find the names of any modern-day countries (such as Italy and Egypt). Point out the size of the Roman empire. Have them locate Jerusalem. Ask, “What difference did it make that the New Testament took place in the Roman world?” (The Jews were subject to Roman laws; travel was possible and safe, which made missionary work easier; Rome was lenient concerning religion, which allowed the spread of the gospel.)


Remind students to use the information they learned as they encounter the following in their reading of the New Testament: the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah; Samaria and the Samaritans; Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes; the law of Moses and the tradition of the elders; and the Roman setting.