Everything led up to this moment.
For as long as Israel was a nation they hoped for a future teacher and deliverer. Moses, leader and lawgiver, himself spoke of a prophet like him whom God would raise up (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). The people entered the land of Canaan and suffered greatly from the hand of enemies during the days of the judges. Israel desired to have a king, and after the disobedient Saul, God raised up David as king over Israel. God made a covenant with David that someone would always be on his throne (2 Samuel 7).
The kingdom would divide, and the people of Israel and Judah persisted in sin. God constantly sent His messengers the prophets to warn the people regarding the consequences of their behavior. They predicted the impending exile of Israel and Judah, but they also spoke of the work that God would do afterward. They spoke of a virgin giving birth to a descendant of David in Bethlehem in the days of the fourth great world empire (Isaiah 7:14, 11:1-10; Micah 5:2, Daniel 2:36-44). One would come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way before him (Isaiah 40:3-5, Malachi 4:5-6). This child, called the anointed one– Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek– would grow up and be filled with the Spirit and power of God, bring good news to the poor, and do many wonderful works (Isaiah 11:1-2, 61:1-4). Yet He would be killed, despite not having sinned, but God would raise Him from the dead (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Hosea 6:1-2). He would be glorified in His Kingdom, an everlasting dominion with no end, into which all nations would flow (Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:1-10, 65:17-25, Daniel 2:36-44, 7:26-27).
Soon after Israel was exiled and absorbed into other nations (2 Kings 17); the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and exiled the Judahites to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36). After the Persians took over, the Jews were allowed to return to Judah; many did, rebuilding the Temple (cf. Ezra). After the Persians, Macedonians ruled: first the Ptolemies, and then the Seleucids. The Jews overthrew the Seleucids, ruled for awhile, and then the Romans came. The fourth empire was now in place.
Meanwhile, ever since man had sinned in the Garden of Eden, God demonstrated that He had a plan for restoration (Genesis 3:15, Ephesians 3:11). After the Fall, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel, God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him (cf. Genesis 12-22). Through his descendant, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18, Galatians 3:16). God gave the Law to Israel as a tutor until the appropriate time for faith came (Galatians 3:21-25). Both the hopes of Israel and the hope of redemption were coming together in the first century BCE.
We read about this time in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. It begins around 6 or 5 BCE, in the days of Herod the Great, when Zechariah is told by the angel Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth would bear him a son in his old age. The child would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, the one who coming as Elijah and preparing the way of the Lord (Luke 1:5-17). Gabriel then appeared to a virgin of about 12 or 13 years named Mary, showing her how God had chosen her to bear a Son whom she should name Jesus (Luke 1:28-31). He would be called the Son of the Most High, receive the throne of His father David, and there would be no end to His Kingdom (Luke 1:32-37). Mary consented, willing to bear the reproach and shame of pregnancy before marriage. Her fiancé, Joseph, intended to divorce her before the angel Gabriel visited him and attested to him who the Child was (Matthew 1:20-21).
Elizabeth would soon bear a son whose name would be John, and Zechariah prophesied regarding the work of the Christ and John’s preparatory work for Him (Luke 1:57-79). Joseph and Mary later traveled to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, and there she went into labor. Since there was no room in the inn, she gave birth to Jesus and laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:1-7). The angel Gabriel then announced to local shepherds that a Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-19). At some point afterward, Magi also came to see the King of the Jews, bearing gifts (Matthew 2:1-12).
On the eighth day, Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, providing the least expensive offering (Luke 2:22-24). The life, work, and death of Jesus were attested to His parents by Simeon and Anna while in the Temple (Luke 2:25-39). The time had certainly come. God’s great promises of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration were coming to pass!
Yet what God was doing was not what men were expecting or could ever expect. The Son of God– God in the flesh– was born not to kings but to a carpenter and his peasant fiancée. He was not born in a palace but in a barn, and He is first laid in a manger! He would grow up not in Jerusalem but Nazareth, a proverbial backwater in Galilee (cf. John 1:46). The humility of His earthly origins provides the foundation for all that would come to pass afterward.
The story of Jesus’ birth is well-known, yet we can only imagine the expectation, hope, and excitement felt two thousand years ago when all the prophecies were coming to pass. Let us praise God for sending His Son!
Ethan R. Longhenry