Why Did Jesus Come in 5 B.C.?

Consider two facts: God does not make arbitrary decisions and Christianity is a religion whose truths are rooted in and revealed through history. Assuming those claims are both true—and I have no doubts about either—it follows that the Father had a particular reason for sending the Son to earth circa 5 b.c. But if so, what was the reason for choosing that particular historical period? Could Jesus have come any sooner?

While reading the introduction to God and Governingwritten by my friend Roger Overton—I stumbled upon what may be a clue:

All Christian hope is placed in [Christ], in what he accomplished through death by Roman execution and in what lies ahead when he finally returns with a two-edged sword. As powerful as this message is, there is a sense in which the spreading of this message depends on a certain amount of social order. Theologian Harry Blamires explains, “In a jungle, where cannibals dine on missionary stew, were men prey bestially upon another, certain preliminary steps toward minimal restraint, hygiene, and the guarantee of continuing survival have to be taken before a prayer meeting can be arranged and the gospel proclaimed.” There must be some level of common civility in order for the love of Christ to be demonstrated and good news of his work explained, and this common civility often come through political social order.

Assuming that Blamires and Overton are correct and that a certain level of social order is necessary for the spread of the Gospel, was the first century the earliest period in which the conditions were ripe for the message to spread globally? While my knowledge of Jewish history is woefully inadequate, I assume that the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his earthly ministry could have been carried out at an earlier time in the history of the Jewish people. But could the message of the Gospel have been carried to the Gentiles any sooner? Could the work documented in the Acts of the Apostles have been fulfilled without the social order established by the Roman Empire?

Christians have always recognized that the second coming of Christ would follow certain preconditions (though we may disagree whether or not all such conditions have already been met). Could it be that the Father had determined that an initial set of social and political preconditions were historically necessary before he sent his Son?

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  • Barry Arrington

    Once I met a Korean in Seoul who was over the Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo branches of Deutsch Bank. I said to him day, you speak Korean and you manage people who speak Chinese and Japanese and your superiors speak German. How in the world do you communicate with each other. “Easy, he said. We all speak English to one another.”

    Don’t underestimate the influence of language. English is the world’s lingua franca today. But the “tongue of the Franks” was not, in fact, the first “lingua franca.” As far as the Roman world was concerned, all educated people spoke Greek. Greek was the Roman empire’s lingua franca. That is why Paul could go anywhere in the empire on his missionary journeys and be assured that he would be understood. And that is also the reason that the scriptures of the New Testament (along with the Greek Septuagint) could spread so widely so quickly. You vote for culture as the reason God chose that time. I vote for language.

  • Dave Eden

    I agree with Barry that language was important in this question, but I don’t think it’s an “either/or” question between language and culture. Going back to the quote from Overton, it’s not just culture but also politics. Based on a recommendation on Alan Jacobs’ website, I recently got through Cochrane’s “Christianity and Classical Culture”, a book that really brings out the achievement of the Pax Romana, which arguably was at its peak around the time of the birth of Christ. It appears that Providence worked with all these things: Greek language and culture, Roman political order, Hebrew faith (and a cameo appearance from Persian Zoroastrians or whoever the Magi were).

  • Barry Arrington

    Dave, agreed.

  • Rain

    “and I have no doubts about either”

    You have no doubts about either, and yet here we are again, for the zillionth time, confronted with the utmost impossibly difficult difficulty in getting answers to a simple, basic, indeed important, question.