The exile of the Hebrew people by the Babylonians ended when the Persians defeated the Babylonians and took over the Empire. King Cyrus was touch by the LORD and allowed the people exiled in Babylon to return to Israel. Cyrus wanted to please the God of the Hebrews that he gave money and resources to the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and especially the Temple. According to Ezra 1:7 Cyrus returned all the gold pieces that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple. Some of the exiles returned to the land of Judah. They had a lot of work to do because the land had been overrun by wild brush and animals. Eventually, the city was rebuilt, and a new Temple was built.
The people were home, but they were not independent. Cyrus and the kings of Persia who followed allowed the Hebrew people to resume the festivals of the Torah and to live under the Law of the LORD. The people stayed loyal to the Persian Empire. However, the people did anticipate the coming of the LORD’s Messiah. The Messiah was to be of the House of David. There are many prophecies about the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures and the various books of the Pseudepigrapha.
According to most historians the Ark of the Covenant was not in the Second Temple. The Ark of the Covenant disappeared after the Babylonian invasion and has not shown up since. Christians in Ethiopia claim to have it but since only one person can look upon it this is an unsubstantiated statement. Since the Ark of the Covenant was not in the Temple then the Shekinah would not have a place to rest. The Hebrew people considered the Second Temple as a sacred place to worship God and to offer their sacrifices. But this Temple did not have the presence of the Shekinah in it.
1 Maccabees tells the story of the defeat of the Persians and Medes by the Greeks led by Alexander. Before his death Alexander divided the Empire among his most honored officers (1 Macc 1:6). The land of Judah came under the rule of King Antiochus Epiphanes. He was a ruthless dictator. He came to Jerusalem and built a gymnasium and observed the ordinances of the Gentiles (1 Macc 1:10-11). This infuriated the Hebrews of the city. Then the day arrived that Antiochus entered the Holy of Holy in the Temple in Jerusalem and placed a pagan idol in it. By his actions he was declaring the Temple was no longer dedicated to the LORD but rather it was now dedicated to the pagan Gentile gods.
This action started the Hebrew revolt against the Greek overseers. The war was led by the Maccabee family. This family was a part of the Hasmonean family. The usage of this family name came after Judah won its independence. Judas Maccabee was the leader of the revolt when the final battle against the Greeks occurred. After the battle the candles were lit in the Temple. They only had enough oil for one days burning, however, the LORD showed His favor on His people by allowing the candles to burn for eight days. Thus, festival of Hanukkah was established.
The Maccabean family was from the line of King David. From 2 Samuel 7 the LORD created a covenant with King David telling him that a descendant of his would always sit on the throne of Judah. Over the years that followed the belief that the LORD’s Messiah would also be from the line of David. The Messiah was believed to be the one who would reestablish the Kingdom of Judah and would sit on the throne.
The people looked for the Messiah since the Babylonian Exile. In 167/8 BCE Judas Maccabee and his army freed the country from Greek rule. He established the nation of Judah and he sat on the throne as King. Since he was of the line of David the Messianic prophecy was believed to be in place. The nation of Judah lived independently for about 100 years. The Roman armies came to the Middle East around 70 BCE and in 68 BCE Judah fell and became a part of the Roman Empire. The nation that Judas had fought for had been destroyed and the people were in exile again. They were in exile in their own land.
Therefore, Judas could not have been the true Messiah. The people believed that the Messiah would reestablish the kingdom. It did happen, but it also disappeared. Therefore, the people began to wait for the Messiah. Since the Shekinah did not return to the Temple perhaps the protection of the LORD was not fully in place. The prophecy of Jeremiah was the one they needed to turn to. This prophecy can be found in Jeremiah 31. The LORD said that He would place a revised covenant into the hearts of the people of the House of Israel.
The darkness that came when the Shekinah left the Temple was still at work. There was glimmer of light when Cyrus returned the people to Jerusalem and a larger glimmer of light when the Maccabean revolt occurred. When the second Temple was built the people did not live in a land that solely belonged to them. They had an easy time being a part of the Persian Empire, however, they were not free. Without the Shekinah in the Temple it was impossible to prevent the darkness of evil from penetrating the world and to control so many souls.
The Light had temporarily broken through the darkness. Unfortunately, the Romans proved to be a powerful dark force that the people could not stand up to them. The Judean army had fallen to the mighty pagan Roman empire. Darkness had won the day. Living under the thumb of the Romans was not easy for the people of Judea. They longed for their Messiah.