An inquisitive student of mine came to ask me a string of questions one day after class. He led with this: Why did Jesus come to earth when he did? Isn’t it convenient that Jesus came 2,000 years ago when there was no technology to record him? Wouldn’t it have been much easier for us (and other generations) to believe in him if he came when someone could take a picture or a video of him that could be uploaded to social media and the internet? His questions came directly after our discussion on God being omniscient (all-knowing). This sharp student wondered God’s reasoning for sending his Son when he knew that other time periods would be more conducive to bringing about belief.
St. Paul states that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption (Galatians 4:4-5). The Christian understanding of Jesus’ coming revolves around this “fullness” of time which St. Paul references. The Incarnation completes something; Christ’s birth, life, mission, teachings, miracles, suffering, death and resurrection bring God’s rescue mission to completion. They fulfill countless promises and foreshadowings from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Without the Old Testament Jesus’ coming and mission does not add up. He is merely the son of a carpenter who gained renown as a rabbi and was convicted and executed as guilty of a capital offense. He was simply a famous death row inmate whose following continued after his death. The history and writings of the Hebrew people show us something different, that the coming of Jesus is what the people of Israel needed and were waiting for all along. God chooses Israel to be his own for the sake of incorporating all nations and peoples into his love (Genesis 22:17).
Everything starts “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1).The first three chapters of Genesis set the stage. God creates humanity as the pinnacle of his creation, but they choose themselves over him. Directly after their sin of selfishness, greed and lack of trust, God walks in the garden in pursuit of Adam and Eve while they take cover to hide in the shame of their sin (Genesis 3:8). Their decision has eternal consequences, but before God can even finish explaining the results of their disobedience he says to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15).
This promise of God’s renewal is the first foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus. Theologians have coined the term protoevanglium to describe this verse. Here, we have the “first gospel or good news.” We receive the message that God will set things right. Jesus will be the offspring of the woman (The Blessed Mother) who will be struck by evil’s strongest weapon, but will come about victorious. The weakness of the crucifixion is the achilles heel of faith for so many while Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that he crushes the powers of evil definitively. This verse is the foundation for all conversations on the coming of a Messiah (anointed one) who will save the people from their sins.
The rest of the Bible recounts how God draws near to Israel, forgives them mercifully, and highlights how the Israelites consistently reject, deny, and ignore God. Some of the major figures from the Old Testament history provide the details for Jesus’ birth, life and mission. Moses is sent to save Israel from slavery and death in Egypt (Exodus 3:10) as Christ is sent into the world to rescue us. David is chosen to be king and later promised that his kingdom and reign will have no end (2 Samuel 7:12-14) while we know that Joseph is of the house of David (Luke 2:4). Isaiah the prophet foretold that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he will be called Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) while we know that Mary conceived her son when she had no relations with a man (Luke 1:34).
The prophet Micah foretold that Bethlehem will be blessed because: “From you (the city) shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:1). “Origin of old” refers to the one having no beginning or end, and this is where Jesus will be born because of the census taken at the time of his birth (Luke 2:1-4). The prophet Isaiah tells the people that God is coming to them in power and glory. That the time of the God’s reign will be established by the one who gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf as well as the ability for the lame to walk and the mute to sing (Isaiah 35:4-6a).
Christ performs miracles in all these categories included in the oracle of Isaiah (John 9:1-12; Mark 7:31-37; Luke 5:17-26). Perhaps, the most important and striking example foretelling Jesus’ death and final victory is the Suffering Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53). The servant of the Lord was one who had a face like us who would be beaten, mocked, scourged, and killed for our sake. “He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Despite the pain inflicted on him, he was found to be blameless and would see the light which death cannot quench. Jesus’ brutal suffering, mockery, death, and resurrection are undoubtedly being called to mind.
These passages, and countless others, spanning across the entirety of the Old Testament portray the logic of Christ’s work and entrance into time. They show the fact that he was born, the manner in which he lived, and the way in which he died and rose from the dead are not the result of random circumstances, but part of a plan that God was preparing the world to encounter in a particular time and place. While these passages give insight into how Jesus’ identity is in line with Sacred Scripture, they do not necessarily answer my student’s question. God could have simply waited longer in order to send Christ, so that it would be easier for us to believe in him after witnessing the hard evidence of photography or video surveillance, but he chooses not to do it that way.
The answer may be a paradox. The truth is that Jesus makes his age the fullness of time because that is when he comes. Things are not squared away until his Incarnation, life, and salvific work is accomplished. The question from my student is a great one, and a novel one in many ways. However, it is partially flawed. Faith is not meant to be an easy exercise of viewing evidence but a dramatic, dynamic and transformative encounter with Chrsist as a real living person who we can meet today.
Jesus comes in a certain time and place because this is the age that God deemed was most perfect to inject his lifeblood into. Christianity has an abundance of evidence which makes it reasonable to believe that Jesus is God. Could all of the above Scripture references to Jesus, which literally span thousands of years, simply be a coincidence? Galilee two thousand years ago was the place and time for God’s historical arrival in a fashion unlike ever before. The timing does count, but the person and what the person accomplished matters more. Because his arrival was no accident, Jesus Christ places the finishing touches on God’s love letter to the world — nothing will impede his search for and victory over your heart.