The Roman Empire
The Universal Expectation of the Messiah
Having been freed from the empire of the Greek kings, the Jews did not have long to make use of their freedom. The Romans, having conquered the whole known world, also subjugated the Jews (64 B.C.). They placed over Palestine the procurator Antipater from the tribe of Esau, an Idumean (or Edomite). He very cleverly secured the confidence of the Romans, but was soon poisoned.
After him, his son Herod, called Herod the Great, was appointed governor of Galilee. He was a suspicious, brutal and cunning man. He also, like his father, skillfully gained the confidence of the Roman authorities and was declared King of the Jews. In order to find favor among the Jews, King Herod restored the Jerusalem Temple. Having received the title of King, he was still subordinate to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. From the time that the Jews came under Roman power, they were always subject to a Roman ruler, a deputy of the Roman Emperor. The Jews were allowed to keep their Sanhedrin, their council of high priests and elders of the people; but the power of the Sanhedrin was strictly limited. The Sanhedrin, for example, could not impose the death penalty without the permission of the Roman ruler, to whom belonged the highest authority in Israel.
The worldwide control of the Roman empire shook paganism to its foundations. Rome was the capital of the world and there gathered the scholars, writers, merchants and other representatives of all the nations. Each one brought with him his own pagan faith. These people, seeing the endless variety of pagan idol-deities, became convinced that all these pagan gods were devised by the people themselves.
Many of the pagans began to lose faith and hope in the future. In order to seek blissful oblivion, they began to indulge in every sort of amusement. Some, falling into despondency, ended their lives by suicide.
But the best of them, observing that the world was headed toward destruction, nevertheless maintained the hope that from somewhere would come a Saviour, if not from among the people, then from above. The Jews, dispersed throughout all the world after their captivity in Babylon and other later captivities, spread the news about the imminent coming of the Saviour of the world. Therefore, the gaze of the best people in the pagan world began to turn to the east, to Palestine.
Among the Romans and other pagan people there arose the general belief that in the East there would soon appear a powerful king who would subjugate the entire world.
In Palestine itself, among the Jews, the expectation of the Messiah was especially intense. Everyone felt that the time was coming for the fulfillment of the prophecies and the salvation of Israel.
The prophecies of the Prophet Daniel about the date of the appearance of Christ were especially precise. He foretold that after a period of seventy weeks of years came to an end, a fourth great kingdom would arise during which the Saviour would arrive. This was the exact specification of the time of the advent of Christ.
Upon the appearance of every prominent preacher, everyone involuntarily asked if he were the Christ. Even the semi-pagan Samaritans hoped that soon would come Christ the Saviour, Who would resolve all the quarrelsome questions between them and the Jews concerning the faith. Unfortunately, not only the pagans, but also the Jews themselves mistakenly imagined what Christ would be like. They did not picture Him as the Prophet Isaiah and other prophets represented Him, as one that would bear our sins, suffer for us and, though innocent, be condemned to death. The Jews had no idea that Christ the Saviour would come to earth for the purpose of teaching people, through His example, word, deeds, and suffering, to love God and each other. They desired to see Christ not like this, but rather with worldly power and glory. Therefore, they thought that Christ would come in worldly glory and would be the earthly king over the Jewish people. He would free the Jews from the power of Rome and would subjugate the whole world, and the Jews would reign over all the peoples of the earth.
Only a few devout and righteous people awaited Christ with humility, faith and love. They expected the true Saviour of the world, Who would come to deliver people from enslavement to sin and the power of the Devil. He would "trample on the head of the serpent," as God said to the first people in Paradise, to save people from eternal death and to open the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven for eternal blessed life with God.
When the time came, God gave the promised Saviour of the world, His Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The Son of God dwelt in the Holy Virgin Mary, and by the action of the Holy Spirit, received from her a human body and soul; that is, He was born from the Most-holy Virgin Mary and became God Incarnate.
The birth of Jesus Christ occurred in the days when Herod the Great, the Edomite, reigned over the Jews, in the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus.
(from: The Law of God by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy)