The Zealots and the Essenes (Matthew 10)

The Zealots were radical Jews who sought the violent overthrow of the Roman regime in Judea under the rallying cry “No king but God!” They came to prominence during the Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66-73, but the roots of violent rebellion stretch back much further. While scholars debate whether there was a continuous, organized movement of insurrection throughout the first century A.D., it is at least interesting to note that some of the leaders of the uprising in A.D. 66 were direct descendants of men who had fought against Rome during the first century B.C. When Jesus advocated nonviolent resistance to enemies, He may have been directly opposing this kind of armed revolution.

The Essenes were another protest group in early Judaism. This faction most likely grew out of mid-second-century B.C. reform movements that arose during the Maccabean revolt. By the first century A.D. the Essenes were a significant force for renewal in Judaism. Like the Pharisees, they were concerned with purity and called for a strict adherence to the Law, although the two groups disagreed on particular points of interpretation and practice. The Essenes were noted for their ascetic tendencies, their nonparticipation in temple worship and their desire to isolate themselves in tight-knit communities. Some of the most radical Essenes who followed the so-called Teacher of Righteousness eventually gave up hope of renewal through normal channels and withdrew to the Judaen wilderness to live together near the Dead Sea.

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