Jews and Gentiles in the Time of Christ

When Christ appeared on the scene, it was during a time of hatred, factions, and divisions. Judaism was split into three factions: the middle class Pharisees, rich aristocratic Sadducees, and the Essenes who had taken vows of poverty. All three disliked each other and looked down on the Galileans, whom they viewed as uneducated country people. 

Yet two things united them even to these hot-headed inferior Galileans.

  1. Their intense hatred of foreigners.
  2. And their fierce nationalism.

Zealous nationalism dominated

Along with their zealous nationalism, intense hatred of foreigners dominated them one and all. Which is none too surprising, considering life under oppressive Roman rule. Crushing with its heavy taxes and restrictive laws, and controlled by soldiers everywhere. Rules which even governed Jewish religious life. Requiring the high priest to retrieve his garments from the Roman rulers before he could officiate in the Temple!

Yet even the Romans (as outright heathens) were a bit more tolerated than the Herodians: Jews who mixed Judaism with heathenism. Which was strictly forbidden under Jewish law.

The Pharisees’ walls of separation

But the Pharisees, in particular, build walls of separation. Mind-boggling laws to divide Jews and Gentiles, which made it unlawful to:

  • Have any dealings, business or otherwise, with Gentiles for 3 days before heathen festivals and private parties.
  • Pass through heathen cities, enter their buildings, or even help build them.
  • Rent or sell property or cattle to them.
  • Leave a Gentile alone in their own home, after inviting him in.
  • Let them use any of their items. (They had to destroy or purify any item Gentiles touched, even to the regrinding of knives!)
  • Eat or drink anything prepared by heathen hands. (No wonder they debated so fiercely over eating meat offered to idols in Paul’s day!)

This extreme fervor usually caused the often tolerant Gentiles to retaliate in the same way. Ridiculing Jewish religious customs and their worship of an unseen God. And in the naturally superior attitude of conquerors, they expressed their disdain of this people who dared to look down on them.

Unfortunately their zeal over keeping themselves clean even led to acts of downright unkindness and neglect. As we see through the episode Christ recounted of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). And through their strict laws which even stopped them from giving aid to Gentile neighbors giving birth!

Christ in this negative atmosphere

When Christ came, it was into this atmosphere of contempt and hatred. And much to the dismay of Pharisees and Sadducees, Christ came to dismantle this attitude of contempt and hatred. For he came not to turn Gentiles into Jews, but to make Jews and Gentiles into one family. All children of the same heavenly Father. Not to place Gentiles under the burden of the Mosaic law, but to free them from it!

For the Jewish mind, this tearing down of walls between Jews and Gentiles was a most unexpected revelation.

Their phasiaical laws gave no hint of such a thing. Nor did the times in which they lived, filled with division and hatred, prepare them for such a revolutionary change.

Paul proclaimed this revelation “the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations,” Romans 16:25, Colossians 1:26. For up to the coming of Christ, the breaking down of these walls was nearly an unheard of possibility.

But Christ is our peace who breaks down every wall. And still today, his kingdom remains the greatest revelation ever. The miracle which removes not only the law’s burden, but also its dividing wall.

Christ longs to tear down our walls too

The walls that we build, creating division, not friends and neighbors. Cultural or ethnic walls. Those built on rules not found in Scripture, or on secondary doctrines. Stones of comparison, pride, and lack of acceptance. Or barriers we form to keep us from associating with those we consider inferior, unclean, or unholy.

Yes, he has broken down every wall. And if we let it in, his peace will tear down walls that divide us from God and from our fellow-man. Christ’s peace builds bridges across barriers and differences. Making everyone a neighbor to love.

Christ came to tear down the walls we build. All the cultural, ethnic, doctrinal, and judgmental walls we allow to divide and separate. With his peace, we can bridge these barriers – making everyone a neighbor to love!

Where could you start building some bridges today?

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2:13-14 ESV

Resources: An essay/summary based on Chapter 2: Jews and Gentiles in the Land of Sketches of Jewish Social Life; in public domain.

Images: Jerusalem by Pontus Wellgraf | Bible priests from by

4 thoughts on “Jews and Gentiles in the Time of Christ

  1. “He is our peace who breaks down every wall.” What an interesting oxymoron you’ve highlighted, Simple Pilgrim! At first glance, it seems strange that a Man of peace is the One who can do the tough, powerful work of breaking down walls! But that’s his specialty–behaving in unexpected ways that lead to the abundant life. Thank you for your insights here, and for becoming a follower of my blog, From the Inside Out. I’m honored, and I pray you’ll find the posts meaningful.


    1. Wow Nancy, I love your insight! I never thought about that before, but it’s true. We don’t expect a peaceful, gentle man to tear down walls. But he does work in unexpected ways. And often tears down so that he can rebuild from scratch, and the right way! I’m delighted to have found your blog, and looking forward to what I am sure will be some great reads!! Be blessed, Sheila


    1. Yes, he does, Vanessa. Hmmm… must mean I’m hard-headed or hard of hearing. Good thing he’s willing to keep repeating until I get it! But I’ll keep looking for those walls to tear down!! Be blessed.

      Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.