What happened in Israel between the time of the end of the Old Testament, and the coming of John the Baptist in the New Testament?
Many Christians, primarily of an evangelical Protestant conviction, know very little about the so-called “time between the testaments,” the 400-ish-year period after the Book of Malachi and before the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. Sometimes this period is also called “the silent years,” in that we have no recognized biblical prophet speaking for those roughly 400 years, before John the Baptist.
By the end of our Old Testament, the Jews were back in their homeland, after being sent into exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE. They were struggling to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem, along with the city itself, as we learn from Ezra and Nehemiah, but things finally came together. The narrative of Jewish history pretty much stops at this point.
Then all of the sudden, we get to the New Testament, and we run into groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees, and King Herod, and an occupation by the Romans. It seems like all of these people just come from out of nowhere!
Author Anthony J. Tomasino, in his Judaism Before Jesus, gives us a helpful analogy: Imagine you are watching a thrilling movie one night. Then you get a phone call, let us say, from your boss, a baby-sitter, or whomever, and you need to deal with a situation right away, so you step out from watching the movie. You get the issue resolved, and then 20-30 minutes later walk back in and watch the rest of the movie.
But you have missed at least 20 minutes from a story told over a 2-hour period! All of these new characters pop up out of nowhere. You struggle with trying to figure out what is going on, as you have lost the continuity of the story line.
That is pretty much what happens to most Christians when they try to study the Bible, and yet completely ignore the story of what happened between the times of the Old and New Testaments, what others call the “intertestamental period.”