Galilee and Judaea were the only ones left who strictly adhered to the Jewish views and manners that God had taught them. We will talk about these two regions in detail.
Upper Galilee was for the most part inhabited by Gentiles – Phoenicians, Syrians, Arabs, and Greeks, whence the name “Galilee of the Gentiles”. Many of the cities that we are so familiar with had many heathens who lived there and influenced the government and daily workings of the people who lived there. The city of Tiberius, which stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, was a relatively new city at the time of Christ. The city had been built by Herod Antipas( of gospel history), and was named in honor of the Emperor Tiberius.
Although the city was endowed with many privileges, such as houses and land, and was free from taxation; Herod had to colonize it by force. The reason so many Gentiles ended up there was because the site on which the city stood was an ancient place of burial, and the Jews considered it to be unclean. It took some years before there was much of a Jewish population in the city. It eventually became the final and great seat of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
Just about all the cities had a huge amount of heathen gods and deities. The new Christians had a large work before them in order to spread the truth about the one true God. The worship of heathen gods was very widespread, and when the Christians went to a city, they were surrounded by idols and idol worship. The four cities of Gaza, Ascalon, Joppa, and Caesarea were all cities on the Mediterranean Sea and were formerly in the area which was inhabited by the Philistines. This area was part of the original land of Canaan, but the Israelites never drove the heathen people out because they were so big. Their lack of faith never enabled them to possess all of the land that God intended for them to have.
Gaza had its local deity and was full of heathen worship.
Ascalon worshipped Astarte, the goddess of the ancient near east, and chief deity of many of the Mediterranean seaports.
Joppa was where Peter had his vision about what was clean and unclean, with the Holy Spirit telling him to tell the Good News to the Gentiles. At Joppa during this time, they still showed on the marks of the shore the marks of the chains by which Andromeda, the heathen goddess, was said to have been held when Perseus came to set her free. Joppa, along with most of the other towns was full of heathen worship.
Caesarea was inhabited by many Jews, but was essentially a heathen city. One of the most beautiful sites of the city was the temple to Augustus that was built on a hill opposite the entrance to the harbor. It was visible from far out to sea, and sailors used it for a landmark.
As bad as all these heathen cities were, Herod himself had built in the Holy City of Jerusalem a magnificent theatre and amphitheatre. Gladiators were brought here from all over the world to fight, and many different kinds of games were held here. All these things were thoroughly anti-Jewish and heathen in their spirit and tendency.
The monarchs at this time professed to be Jews, but the people who were their counselors and advisors were heathens. They reared heathen temples at every possible chance and greatly promoted the spread of the views of the Greeks. They gave the Jews their beautiful and magnificent Temple so that they could be appeased and wouldn’t boycott the building of all the heathen temples. All they did was use the Jews as their pawns to promote their further agendas.
By this time Greek was already spoken and understood by all the educated classes in the country and was necessary to do any kind of business with the Roman authorities. There was much business to do with the civil and military officials of Rome. In order to humor the Jews, none of the Herods had their images impressed on the official Greek coins, that is, until Herod Agrippa I, who murdered St. James and possibly St. Peter. Up until this time, the Romans had just used the Jews and humored them to keep them quiet, while all the while they were advancing their own interests and plans.
Judaism at this time was miserably divided, even though no outward separation had actually taken place. The Pharisees and Sadducees held opposite principles and actually hated each other. The Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, looked down upon both of the other two sects. Satan was in the process of totally dividing, conquering and trying to destroy the whole Jewish race. As much as the three learned sects hated each other, they hated “the country people” even worse. Those were the people who had no traditional learning, and could not share in an intelligent Jewish conversation. Satan had divided them even further into high and low, rich and poor, learned and unlearned; but even with these divisions the one thing that they hated more than each other was the foreigner. At any sign of a foreigner trying to take over, they would ban together and gladly go to war to save their land.
Even though the Jews had let certain areas of their religion go and had compromised greatly in those areas, there were other areas where they would not budge as far as accepting heathen practices. If a heathen festival was going on in a city, they would try to avoid going there if at all possible. They would not go in the shops if they knew that they were taking part in the festival. The Jewish workmen would not assist in building anything that would be used for heathen worship or heathen rule. If they even entered the house of a heathen, they were defiled until the evening, and really were not supposed to have any personal dealings with Gentiles. Their rules and regulations had gotten so intense in certain areas that a Jewish woman could not even help a heathen woman even if she was in desperate need, such as needing help in the birthing of a child. They had just sort of chosen the areas that they would keep holy and had compromised on the other areas.
Another area that they were very strict in was the meat and other foods that they ate. They could not drink milk that had been drawn from a cow by heathen hands. The same was true for eating bread or using oil that came from Gentiles. If a heathen person was invited to a Jewish house he could not be left alone in the room, or every article of food or drink on the table would be considered unclean. If the heathens brought cooking utensils, they had to be purified with fire by the Jews. They could not sell a house, field, or any cattle to a Gentile. Any article that was even distantly related to heathenism must be destroyed. An example would be that if they found out that their weaving loom had been made from wood grown in a grove devoted to idols, then every piece of fabric that was made by it had to be destroyed.
Their feelings invaded every walk of their life. The heathens often retaliated with making fun of them about their ideas of circumcision, the Sabbath-rest, the worship of an invisible God, and their abstinence from pork and other unclean foods.
In view of all the extremely difficult laws that they had come up with over the years, it is easier to see why they simply could not believe that Jesus could ever really include the Gentiles in anything that would come from Him. They couldn’t see how they had fallen away from the truth of what he had told them years before that.
They must have been astonished at the fact that Jesus did not want to make the Gentiles Jews, but that he wanted to make them all his children alike and equal in the Heavenly Father. He wanted to make one universal church where everyone would be under the Father. In God’s eyes, no one sect or person would be better than another anymore. His chosen people had rejected him and he now wanted to make all people equal. The Pharisees and Sadducees were so immersed in their laws that they could not grasp what it was that Jesus was trying to tell them. There had been years of hate and vengeance on each other, and now Jesus was telling them that they were equal with each other. They did not want to change after thinking themselves superior for years.
This was the situation that the early church found itself in. The “mystery hidden from ages and generations” had come to pass and the foundation for one universal church was set up when Jesus came.