Tag Archives: Zealous

God’s People, part 131: Zealots

Read Acts 5

“‘Nazareth!’ exclaimed Nathanael. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ ‘Come and see for yourself,’ Philip replied.”  (John 1:46 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

great-revoltPart 131: Zealots. We have talked about the three main political movements in Judaea during the time of Jesus. There were the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. According to Josephus, and we see much evidence for this in the Bible as well, there was a fourth political philosophy at the time: the Zealots.

The Zealots were a theocratic political movement founded by Judas the Galilean in 6 CE. To put the timing of this into perspective. If Jesus was born in 4 BCE (at the latest), he would have been about 10 years old (at least) when Judas started the Zealot movement. It is possible Jesus was 12 years old and considered an adult at the time that the Zealots were formed.

This is significant because the memory of what Judas the Galilean did would have been etched into Jesus’ memory at a formative time in his life. In 6 CE, he led a revolt against the Roman governor Quirinius when he came into Judaea to take a census of the Jews. The census was decreed for tax purposes and we have already discussed what the Jews felt about Roman taxes.

Judas encouraged people not to register and if anyone did his followers burned their houses down and stole their cattle. He and his followers preached that God, and God alone, was true king and sovereign over Israel. Judas was hailed as the messiah; however, like all revolts against Roman power, his was crushed. Eventually, Judas was likely caught and executed. His sons were also later crucified for carrying on the cause.

What’s more, another family member ended up fleeing to the Roman fortress at Masada with an extremely militant group of Zealots known as the Sicarii. They took the fortress over; however, to make a long story short, they eventually were besieged by the Romans and, when the Romans finally succeeded, they discovered that the entire community of Sicarii had committed mass suicide to avoid being captured. This happened during the Great Jewish Revolt (lead by the Zealots) in 70 CE which also resulted in all of Jerusalem and the Temple being burned to the ground. All that remained of the Second Temple is now known as the Wailing Wall.

Important to note, this group originated in Galilee, Jesus’ home region. Also, while Judas is credited as having formed the Zealots, there were rebels who came before him from that same region. One such rebel, also named Judas, rebelled in the city of Sepphoris (only 4 miles away from Nazareth) in the year 4 BCE. Herod crushed the revolt, executed all who participated in it, and reportedly burned the entire city to the ground. This happened the around the time, or a couple of years following, Jesus’ birth.

It goes without saying that times were extremely tense in Jesus’ world. In fact, his times make ours seem like Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland! Here’s what is extremely important for us to grasp. The world’s response to oppression and injustice has always a been tit-for-tat, eye for an eye approach. False messiahs such as Judas the Galilean come and go promising what they cannot give: PEACE. In our day and age, we have false messiahs claiming the same thing. PEACE through FORCE. Sisters and brothers, be not deceived. There is only one Messiah, Jesus, and His way is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. I pray more begin to follow Him.

“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 24:4-5 NLT)

Lord, I only look to you and you alone for my salvation. Amen.