Once upon a time in our history, God decided to intervene in the normal workings of human life, in a way never seen before or ever since. We know he did this to rescue us from the endless cycle of sin and death that we had fallen into. But why did he arrive when he did?
Jesus came to Earth some time around 6 to 4BC. And the Bible tells us that Jesus came at the right time:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. — Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)
But why was his arrival set for that time? The Bible doesn’t seem to give us the reason specifically, but it does give some clues.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. — Luke 19:41-42
It may have been planned for that time, but the Pharisees were so far off course. Either they had either forgotten about it or had stopped believing it would ever really happen.
“The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.” — Luke 19:43-44
What was Jesus warning of here? God’s judgement?
I think that, if it had been God who was the threat here, Jesus would have said so and not used the words ‘your enemies’. But he was predicting some kind of disaster for those who did not recognise him for who he was.
Fortunately, we have the benefit of hindsight. If we now look back in history, we can understand what Jesus was referring to. We can see how things eventually turned out a few years later.
At the time of Jesus, Israel was under the occupation of Rome. The Jews had attempted countless uprisings against the Romans, all ending in failure. And Jesus knew that there would be more to come. The event that Jesus was warning of specifically was the uprising that occurred in the year 70 AD.
This wasn’t the only occasion when Jesus warned of this. In the book of Matthew, in chapter 24, we see that he warned of terrible events that would take place within that generation (40 years). He gave specific instructions on what to do and when: run to the hills when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation’.
It turned out that Jesus’ prophecy was not only correct, but the way in which events played out revealed its chilling accuracy. Over a million Jews were slaughtered in the events surrounding the uprising and subsequent put-down by the Roman army in 70 AD. The Jewish temple in Jerusalem was totally destroyed, and with it went all of the records of their priestly ancestry.
However, Christians who were in Jerusalem then, heeded Christ’s warning. They recognised the signs Jesus had described, and escaped before it was too late. The total number of Christians then was estimated to be 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8). By that time, they had preached the gospel of the kingdom to ‘all corners of the world’ (meaning the whole Roman Empire).
We can only imagine what might have become of God’s chosen people if Jesus had not come when he did. But he did come. He offered everyone the chance to be saved. Saved from not only this particular incident, but from the whole unending cycle of sin, violence and death, which we were stuck in.
And rather than take us to war with Rome and create even more bloodshed, he reconciled us with God. He preached a message of peace and love for everyone, to save us from the disaster of sin and suffering we had fallen into when we were far away from him.