The World Situation and God's Move, by Witness Lee


For Redemption

For these great things to be accomplished, there had to be the right situation. Take the matter of the crucifixion as an example. In the Old Testament there was the prophecy which hinted that the Lord Jesus would hang on a tree (Deut. 21:22-23; Gal. 3:13). In typology, there was the brass serpent which was lifted up on a pole (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14). The Roman Empire used crucifixion to carry out the death penalty for the lowest class of criminals and for slaves who were guilty of rebellion. By using this means to put to death the Lord Jesus, the Roman Empire was the instrument for the prophecies regarding Christ’s death to be fulfilled.

For Christ’s great accomplishments to be carried out, there was the need for the Roman Empire to be established. After I was saved I was interested in studying world history and comparing it with the Bible so that I might know more concerning the spiritual things. I learned the significance of many things from reading and studying world history. The rise of nations began after Babel. The Jews, because they offended God, lost their homeland about 600 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and carried many of them captive to Babylon. Not too long after, the supremacy of Babylon passed to Media-Persia. Persia is the present Iran. The Medo-Persian Empire controlled the lands formerly under Babylon, including the land of Israel. Then a little over 300 years B.C. Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated Media-Persia and ruled those lands. He was only about thirty when he died.

Following the death of Alexander, his kingdom broke up. In the interval before the rise of the Roman Empire, there was no world empire controlling the nations around the Mediterranean. Wars and disturbances were common. Gradually the Romans, especially under Julius Caesar, defeated all the surrounding nations. Octavian, Julius Caesar’s grandnephew, defeated Egypt. With this conquest all the lands around the Mediterranean were brought under Roman control. Octavian was the adopted heir of Julius Caesar. In 27 B.C. Octavian took the title Augustus and became the first emperor.

It was during the reign of Augustus that Christ was born. Luke 2:1 says, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” The Lord Jesus was born under the rule of the first formal Caesar of the Roman Empire. It was God’s ordination that the Roman Empire should be in control of the Mediterranean area during the time of Christ.

The order which Rome brought to that warring region made it possible for the Lord Jesus to be born peacefully into mankind. The Roman method of capital punishment, crucifixion, made possible the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning His death.

For the Spread of the Gospel

The spread of the gospel after the resurrection and ascension of Christ was greatly facilitated by the common language, the single rule, the roads, and the domestic order that Rome established.

Greek was the language of the educated classes. The New Testament, though written almost entirely by Jews—Luke was the only exception—was written in Greek, not Hebrew. Even before the rise of the Roman Empire, about three centuries before Christ, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. This version, called the Septuagint, was translated by seventy scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. When the Lord Jesus was on earth, many times the Scriptures He quoted were from the Septuagint.

Rome called its conquered lands provinces, for example, Galatia, Asia, Achaia, and Macedonia. With all these provinces being united under Rome, people were free to cross borders without restrictions. Such a situation was a great convenience to those who traveled to spread the gospel. In addition, ships were available for crossing the Mediterranean; for traveling by land the roads the Romans built crossed the whole empire.

The peace and order that prevailed further encouraged travel, thus aiding the spread of the gospel. Robbery was kept under control. It was reasonably safe to travel without fear of being robbed or killed. Roman citizens were under the full protection of the law. Paul himself claimed this right. When he was about to be scourged, he protested to the centurion, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). The chief captain was afraid “after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him” (v. 29). Later when the Jews, his own countrymen, were accusing him before Festus, he claimed his right as a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Thus he was protected.

The Roman Empire, then, was appointed by God to provide the situation in which redemption could be accomplished and the gospel spread.

(The World Situation and God's Move, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)