The time between the end of the Old Testament (400BC from the prophet Malachi) to the preaching of John the Baptist (25 AD) is known as the “intertestamental” period. Here’s an overview of what happened.
Return from Exile
The Persian King Cyrus issued an edict to return the exiles to Judah and provide for rebuilding the temple.
The temple was completed around 515 BC and the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt around 445 BC. See: Chronology of Ezra-Nehemiah
This is the state of affairs when the Old Testament ends with the prophecy of Malachi, bringing in 400 years of silence.
Alexander the Great
Persian rule was ended by Alexander the Great who “conquered the world” (England to India) at age 25 in 334 BC.
Alexander the Great died in 323 BC and left no successor, plunging the empire into a bloody civil war which eventually settled into 4 main kingdoms ruled by: Seleucus (Syria), Ptolemy (Egypt), Lysimachus (Thrace), and Antipater’s son Cassander (Macedonia, including Greece).
The Ptolemaic dynasty ruled in Egypt with their capital in Alexandria.
The Seleucid dynasty ruled in Syria and the eastern region with their capital in Antioch.
Palestine became the battleground for these two powers who both wanted to tax it and use it as a buffer zone between them.
Palestine was annexed to Egypt under Ptolemies from c 320-198 BC which brought some peace and security to the Israel.
In 198 BC the Seleucid dynasty led by Antiochus III defeated Egypt and took control of Palestine by annexing it to Syria. The Seleucids aggressively promoted the spread of Greek language and culture (Hellenization).
In 169 BC Antiochus IV sacked and burned the city of Jerusalem, plundered the temple, and massacred many people. He made keeping the Sabbath, circumcision and possessing the Torah punishable by death.
In 167 BC, in an act of great sacrilege, a pig was sacrificed on the great altar of burnt offering in the Temple. An altar of Zeus was installed in the Temple in Jerusalem, and Antichous ordered that the Temple now be called the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
The Hasmonean dynasty lasted about 80 years from about 140 to 63 BC.
The Sadducees emerged from the group of Jews that supported the drive to political independence.
The Pharisees emerged from the group of Jews that did not support that drive but were content with gaining religious freedom.
The Roman army under Pompey conquered the Seleucid empire in 63 BC and took control of Palestine, occupying Jerusalem.
The Romans appointed Herod the Great as King over the Jews in 40 BC. His sons are the ones we read about in the New Testament.
While Nero was emperor of Rome, in 66 AD the Roman governor Gessius Floras raided the Temple treasury to pay his bills and took a small sum of 17 talents. Given a background of widespread and deep hostility to Roman rule, this new sacrilege touched off a new and bloody rebellion.
In 70 AD, the Romans began a 5 month siege of Jerusalem, leading to severe famine. Eventually the city fell. The Temple was looted and totally destroyed in September of 70 AD.
Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews (Book 11-20)
Flavius Josephus: The History of the Jewish War