Christ's First Coming: What Did Old Testament Believers Know - And Not Know?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
No one knew the strategic moment of Christ's first advent, or even the events immediately preceding it, until He actually came.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part three of a series. Read part two.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. - Galatians 4:4-5

Thus far in this series we have seen that "the fullness of the time" denotes the precise, strategic moment for Christ's first coming - no sooner, and no later. We have also seen, through a very small window indeed, some of the immensity and infinite wisdom of God's plan.

Understanding these things lead us to a third question: What did the Old Testament believers know about Messiah's first coming? And also the reverse of that question: What did they not know? The answer that Scripture gives us is this: No one knew the precise, strategic moment until it actually came.

Let us consider the Gospel record together.

Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, did not know until the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, did not know until the angel Gabriel appeared to her.

Joseph did not know until the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

The shepherds of Luke chapter 2 had no inkling that the decisive moment had come, or that Messiah was to be found in the most unlikely of forms and in the most unlikely of places, until an army of angels appeared to them.

Simeon did not know, until the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes. And so, we are told in Luke chapter 2, Simeon came into the temple at the precise moment when Jesus, an eight-day-old infant, was being presented to the Lord in accordance with the Law of Moses. Simeon at that moment under divine inspiration spoke the great prophecy that we find in Luke 2:34 and 35 -

"Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

The prophetess Anna did not know that the strategic moment in God's plan had come, until she herself came into the temple. In the verses that follow the account of Simeon we are told that the prophetess Anna, "coming in at that instant" as the text says - in other words, while Simeon had the child Jesus in his arms and was giving forth prophetic words - "at that instant" Anna came onto the scene, and "gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem."

Simeon and Anna understood certain things at the strategic moment, by revelation. They understood that a Savior, a deliverer, had appeared on earth.

But most Jews were, as Scripture bears out, looking for a political deliverer. They were looking for someone to free them from the rule of Caesar and Herod. The religious leaders of the day, the Pharisee and Sadducees, were looking for someone who would give them political prominence in a new government.

When the wise men came from the east seeking the One who was to be born king of the Jews, king Herod (who was not even a Jew by birth but an Edomite) had to be told where the Messiah was to be born. Even the wise men apparently knew relatively little. They did not know the importance of Bethlehem until Herod was told, and sent them there.

And even after Jesus' death and resurrection, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not understand that they had witnessed the accomplishment of the events of "the fullness of the time" in the plan of God. Jesus had to explain it to them, as we read in Luke chapter 24 beginning at verse 25:

Then He said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

And so we have the answer to our third question: No one knew the strategic moment of Christ's first advent, or even the events immediately preceding it, until He actually came.

The answers to the three questions we have considered thus far lead us to a fourth question: What about Christ's second coming? Today we see the most widespread epidemic of end-times speculations since the 1980s. In the light of what we have learned about Christ's first coming, how should we view these speculations? What are we to understand from Scripture about His second coming? We shall take up this question as we continue.


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