God knew that to solve the problem of mankind – that is, the problem of sin and death – He would have to come to earth Himself. He didn’t come immediately. He took great pains to prepare the way. He decided to choose a man named Abraham and work through his descendants. When those descendants became numerous enough He made them a nation – Israel. To that nation He gave laws by which it should be governed. The nation had high points and low ones, all stemming from their obedience or lack thereof toward those laws.
By the time God was to enter the earth and become a man, which was over two thousand years after He chose Abraham (His patience staggers the human imagination), the nation was under the subjugation of Rome. Nonetheless, significant documentation of the nation’s laws and its history had been accumulated and copies distributed. God had so inspired the writers of these documents that embedded within them was a complete description of the redemptive work He was going to do. That plan, however, was shrouded in mystery for He gave it as a riddle – that is, something that only makes sense when the final answer is given. The main clue that the Israelites had was that God was sending a deliverer called “Messiah” (in Greek it would be rendered “Christ”) to effect it all.
Within that framework, Jesus was born and you know the main points of the story of His life. He grew up humbly and without fanfare. At about the age of 30 He began an itinerant teaching ministry through which He performed miracles of healing and nature such as had never been seen before. For all His kindness He was rejected by His nation, and given over to the Romans for punishment, crucifixion, and death. None of this surprised God, however, for it had all been in His plan. It also explains some of the inscrutability of the clues because the Israelites could never imagine that they themselves would reject the Messiah that God sent.
Up until that point, every human being who died – not just Israelites – descended to a place called “Sheol” (the Greeks called it “Hades”). Once He died and went to the same place, God’s plan was to take all its inhabitants with Him to heaven and then to shut its doors forever. Henceforth, everyone who died would not descend. Rather, they would ascend…to heaven. Again, not just Israelites – everyone. This did not happen immediately for God wanted to reveal the riddle and make known His plan to everyone on earth. God had not chosen Abraham and his descendants in order to exclude anyone else. On the contrary, they were His chosen instruments to effect a solution that would be as extensive as the original problem of sin and death. As everyone was affected by the problem, so everyone would benefit from the solution. Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus appointed apostles (which means “sent ones”). These apostles were also descendants of Abraham sent to spread the message of this salvation, bearing witness to Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection – using as their documentation the laws and history of Israel that we call the Old Testament. Through the story of Jesus, the answer to the riddle was made known. Jesus promised His apostles that as they were reaching the ends of the world and before they all died, He would return in glory to rule the world which would now have a very different structure.
Indeed, God shook the heavens and the earth, eliminated Sheol permanently, and established His invisible kingdom in heaven and on earth from which He has dwelt and reigned ever since. Everyone who believes, sees this kingdom. The judgments and wrath of God still occur on the earth in response to our sins and unrepentant nature. But to those who look to Him, He will provide deliverance from every evil that comes.
While He lived on earth, Jesus did not tell anyone that He was the Messiah. People came to that conclusion on their own. Once He was raised from the dead, however, He instructed His apostles to make that fact known far and wide. Similarly, throughout the New Testament age it was not made known that the Messiah was actually…God. The apostles hinted at it and came close to saying it. It is left to us to have that great fact dawn on us in a light that will shine forever and ever.
In the annals of human history, there is no story any greater…and my description is not worthy of it. Yet if it helps you catch even a glimpse of the glory of His character and His power then I will be thrilled that I told you. Even if you don’t, I loved hearing it again myself.