In the last text, we learned how excited the ordinary people were about the coming Messiah and His kingdom. They were desperate for Him to come and this brought about several false messiahs before Jesus actually came into his own Kingdom. The ordinary people were very accepting of him, but the Rabbis had a very different opinion of Him and they were the leaders of public opinion at the time. Although a few of them accepted Jesus and His Kingdom, most of them did not identify with Him at all. In fact they were very cold and distant regarding Jesus at all. The Mishnah, which was the oldest collection of Jewish oral laws that supplemented the written laws of the Old Testament, was basically the law the Rabbis went by for everything they did. They were very legalistic as they adhered to these laws. Much of the Mishnah was un-Messianic and the facts therein were facts of legal determinations and logical sequences of doing things. The very core of this was not about doing things the way God would do them. They just had their own set of rules and followed them rigidly, with the rules even taking them away from God instead of to Him.
They also knew that their power had dwindled over the years, and they desperately did not want to lose the little power they did have left. At the time of Jesus, they were under Roman rule and Jewish laws were not recognized as they had been in previous times. The Rabbis were haunted by the fact that they had lost much of their power. They compromised themselves greatly to secure their safety with the Romans and to be in positions of great favor with them. They secretly met and decided that they needed to kill Jesus. They were afraid that if they let Him continue to teach and preach, with more and more people believing in Him, that the Romans would come and take away both their place and their nation totally.
The Rabbis basically lived in the past, and thought of their present life as carrying out the laws that had been given in the past. They thought of Judea as the only proper place where the Shekinah Glory of God had dwelled. It was also the land where Jehovah had given David the instructions for building His Temple, it was the seat of the Sanhedrinn, and “the” place for learning and cultivation in the Jewish ways. In some respects, even the legal observances were different in Judea and Galilee.
It was only in Judea that Rabbis could be ordained by the laying on of hands; only there could the Sanhedrin in solemn session declare and proclaim the commencement of each month, on which the arrangement of the festive calendar depended. The wine for use in the Temple was brought exclusively from Judea, not only because it was better, but because the transport through Samaria would have defiled it because the Jews didn’t think of the Samaritans as worthy to be Jews. The Mishnah talks about the 5 towns from which the wine came that was used in the Temple. Similarly, the oil used was derived either from Judea, or brought from Peraea and crushed in Jerusalem.
There was a real question as to what cities were considered Jewish. This question was considered an extremely important one by the Rabbis and it occupied their earnest attention. According to Josephus, Judea extended along the sea-shore as far north as Ptolemais or Acco. There was discussion about Caesarea belonging to Judea. They finally included the city itself, but the harbor was not included and none of the other land around it. They may have decided to include it because so many celebrated Rabbis had settled there.
The city of Caesarea was an important city in connection with the preaching and spreading of the gospel, the history of Paul, and the early and flourishing Christian churches that were established there. The city was very important politically, as it was a seat of the Roman power. It had a magnificent harbor and beautiful buildings, with many people of wealth and influence living there. The population consisted of a mixture of Jews, Greeks, Syrians, and Samaritans, and divisions and strife among them were the signs of the great Jewish war. Because of such a great Roman influence in the city, the Jews were despised and looked down on. The Jews complained of much unrighteousness on the part of the heathen judges.
In the eyes of the Jews, Jerusalem and Caesarea could not co-exist. This accounts for the following passage written in the antiquities: “If you are told that Jerusalem and Caesarea are both standing, or that they are both destroyed, believe it not; but if you are told that one of them is destroyed and the other standing, then believe it.”
Another interesting thing in this city was the fact that Jewish writings contain special notice of controversies there between Jews and Christians.
The Mishnah divided Judea into three parts – mountains, Shephelah, and valley. This was not including the city of Jerusalem, which was considered as a separate district. This another striking evidence of the authenticity of the New Testament, and especially the writings of St. Luke. Only one who was intimately acquainted with the state of matters at the time would have distinguished Jerusalem as a district separate from all the rest of Judea. Luke does on several occasions. (Luke 5:17,Acts 1:8,10:39) When the Rabbis speak of “the mountain,” they refer to the district northeast and north of Jerusalem which was known as the “royal mount.” The Shephelah is the country along the sea shore, and the rest is included in the term “valley.”
The map below has the main cities in it that we have talked about in the above text. Peraea is to the right of the Jordan River, so the oil for the Temple wouldn’t have had to be carried through Samaria from there and it wouldn’t be defiled. Also you can see that Caesarea was on the left side of the map and was not geographically part of Judea. That’s why the Jews had qualms about the city. Evidently there was much tension between the two cities, but Caesarea definitely plays a big role as a Biblical city where many things are written about it.