Jewish Persecutions Under Antiochus Epiphanies


Antiochus Epiphanies Was a Type of the Antichrist

The Maccabees by Wojciech Stattler 1844

The Maccabees by Wojciech Stattler 1844

The Bible gives a prophecy about the development of a world empire out of which Antiochus Epiphanies would emerge. From Daniel 7:6 we see the prophecy of the vision of the coming Hellenistic empire. One beast in this vision is leopard-like, representing the Hellenistic Empire (verse six). With leopard-like swiftness Alexander the Great conquered the Medo-Persian Empire and greatly extended the Hellenistic Empire. At his death, (323 B.C.) however the empire split into four kingdoms. The four wings in the prophecy represent the four kingdoms rising out of Alexander’s Empire and the four heads represent the four generals who took control of the four kingdoms. They were Ptolemy over Egypt, Israel and Arabia Petrea; Seleucus over Syria, Babylonia, and as far east as India; Cassander over Macedonia and Greece; and Lysimachus over Thrace and Bithinia. They fought with each other continually over the territories. Their successors are all prophecied in Daniel 10 and 11.

Alexander’s successors who exert control over the Holy Land are as follows:

323 B.C. Alexander died. He said to “leave his empire to the strongest.”

312-280 B.C. Seleucis I Nicator succeeded as ruler over the Israel region.

280-261 B.C. Antiochus II Soter assumed leadership over Israel.

261-246 B.C. Antiochus II Theos replaced Soter.

246-226 B.C. Seleucis II Callinicus assumed control.

226-223 B.C. Seleucis III Keroneos rose.

222-187 B.C. Antiochus III The Great took control.

187-175 B.C. Seleucis IV Philopator plunded the Temple and raised taxes to the Jews.

175-164 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanies was the brother of Philopator and he began a severe persecution of the Jews, which caused a revolt and a turning back to God for a short while through the Maccabeans.

Epiphanies’ name means “God made manifest.” Epiphanies sought to force Greek culture and manners on the Jews. In imposing Hellenism, Epiphanies was following the ideals of Alexander whose dream was to create a cultural empire. Because of this Hellenization, the region was speaking Greek by the time of Christ and the New Testament, which was written in Koine Greek and spread quickly.

This Hellenization had a measure of success among the non-biblical section of the priesthood, but there was a core of devout priests and people who refused to abandon the faith of their forefathers to become Hellenized. God has always left a remnant that is faithful to Him. By the introduction of Hellenistic cults, Epiphanies tried to put an end to Jewish religious practices. The events were the cause of the Maccabean struggle. Severe punitive measures merely brought the matter to a head and the revolt followed.[1]

“Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death…with their babies hung round their necks.”
(I Macc. 1:60, 61) As a result of the persecution many Jews hung on to God and His commandments.

But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die.  Very great wrath came upon Israel. (I Macc. 1:62-64)

In 170 B.C.  a law was announced requiring all citizens to present themselves four times a year to give homage to Antiochus Epiphanies as the senior god of the Seleucids. The day chosen for these periodic submissions was Shabbat, the Jewish day of prayer and they preferred not to leave their homes. A Jewish revolt and the establishment of a small state in which the high priest was the central figure met Epiphanies. (The early stage of the Hasmoneans and or Maccabeans). He launched a war of persecution against the Jews soon after that. The Maccabean revolt gained the Jews their independence for a short while. God let the Jews get out of the trouble they brought upon themselves.

In 168 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanies came to occupy Jerusalem. He entered the Holy of Holies and desecrated the sanctuary by offering unclean animals upon the alter of burnt offerings. He polluted the whole building by sprinkling it with water, contrary to the Mosaic Law, in which flesh had been boiled. He dedicated the Temple itself to Jupiter Olympus. Finally, he erected the statue of that false deity and plundered the temple treasures. It is important to realize that even though God uses evil people to carry out His will, He punishes them for their wickedness.  Here are two accounts of Antiochus’ death, from I and II Maccabees.

“Now, when the king heard these words [about the defeat of his armies by Judas Maccabeus] he was astonished and sore moved; whereupon he laid him down upon his bed, and fell sick for grief, because it had not befallen him as he looked for. And there he continued many days: for his grief was ever more and more, and he made account that he should die. Wherefore, he called for all his friends and said unto them: “The sleep is gone from mine eyes, and my heart faileth for very care. And I thought with myself into what tribulations am I come, and how great a flood of misery it is, wherein now I am! for I was bountiful and beloved in my power. But now I remember the evils that I did at Jerusalem, and that I took all the vessels of gold and silver that were therein, and sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judea without cause. I perceive, therefore, that these troubles have come upon me, and behold I perish through great grief in a strange land.” Then called he for Philip, one of his friends, whom he made ruler over all his realm, and gave him the crown, and his robe, and his signet, to the end he should bring up his son Antiochus, and nourish him up for the kingdom.” (1 Macc. 6:8-15)

But the Lord, the God of Israel, that seeth all things, struck him with an incurable and an invisible plague. For as soon as he had ended these words, a dreadful pain in his bowels came upon him, and bitter torments of the inner parts. 6 And indeed very justly, seeing he had tormented the bowels of others with many and new torments, albeit he by no means ceased from his malice. 7 Moreover, being filled with pride, breathing out fire in his rage against the Jews, and commanding the matter to be hastened, it happened as he was going with violence, that he fell from the chariot, so that his limbs were much pained by a grievous bruising of the body. 8 Thus he that seemed to himself to command even the waves of the sea, being proud above the condition of man, and to weigh the heights of the mountains in a balance, now being cast down to the ground, was carried in a litter, bearing witness to the manifest power of God in himself: 9 So that worms swarmed out of the body of this man, and whilst he lived in sorrow and pain, his flesh fell off, and the filthiness of his smell was noisome to the army. 10 And the man that thought a little before he could reach to the stars of heaven, no man could endure to carry, for the intolerable stench.11 And by this means, being brought from his great pride, he began to come to the knowledge of himself, being admonished by the scourge of God, his pains increasing every moment. 12 And when he himself could not now abide his own stench, he spoke thus: It is just to be subject to God, and that a mortal man should not equal himself to God. 13 Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord.” (II Macc. 5-13)

Just as the Jews reached out to God when they experienced high levels of persecution, so did this evil man. Following his death, at approximately 67-63 B.C, there were some struggles for power within Israel. It is never appropriate to go against God even if He is using the evil to carry out His will.

Hyrcanus II, who had been serving as High Priest and a Pharisee, ascended the throne as King. His brother, Aristobulus II, immediately led an army of Sadducees against the city of Jerusalem in an effort to take the throne by force. Hyrcanus II and the Pharisees were caught by surprise and gave up without a fight. Aristobulus II then became both King and High Priest over the people of Israel. This is a clear violation of the Mosaic Law wherein the two offices were designated as separate. Israel was in another civil war. This time the civil war was between two brothers, and also between two religious sects, Pharisees and Sadducees.

So this provided a short interruption of the Gentile Domination of Jerusalem described by Jesus in Luke 21:24

Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.


[1] Josephus, Flavius. The Works of Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987, 323.