So, in the fullness of time, Christ came!
That signal happening is the most outstanding event of human history. It was a direct Divine intervention in the affairs of mankind; the greatest example of Divine intervention the world had known, for although in times past there had been communication between the spiritual and the material worlds by means of messengers from God, sent to earth to execute some Divine commission toward men, never before had there been anything like this. One proceeding from the Father’s right hand appeared on earth in the form of man. More than that, He was man. Many times previously had angels assumed human form in order to make themselves visible to, and hold converse with, men upon earth, but Jesus Christ was more than that. He became true man. He took human nature upon Himself and for thirty-odd years lived the life of man, only resuming His spiritual being, the “glory” He had with the Father “before the world was”, after His death and resurrection. (John 17.5)
He was born of a virgin—it is essential to accept that fact. It may well be that we do not understand how such a thing can take place; that no other instance of such a happening is credibly recorded; that we do not perceive why such a mode of entrance into this world is necessary. It is essential to accept the fact because Jesus, in order to be the Saviour of men, must trace his father-hood directly to God and not through Adam, sin-stricken and imperfect. His manner of coming into the world was not that of men; He came from God the Father and in that affirmed His heavenly origin; He came by Mary the Galilean maiden and in that affirmed His humanity. While He was upon earth He was perfect man, complete and perfect in his humanity, as was Adam before he sinned. After His resurrection, He was re-invested with the glory that He had with the Father before the world was. There need be no mysticism or deep theology about that. His humanity was left behind at the Cross, and the Christ Who ascended into the presence of the Father was the “Lord the Spirit” Who comes again in the full glory of that spiritual nature at His Second Advent.
There was a dual purpose in the First Advent of Jesus. He came to provide the means of redeeming mankind from the curse of sin, and he came to preach in plain terms, and to demonstrate in the sight of men, the way to life. As to the first purpose, and despite all the philosophy that has been woven about it, we still do not understand it fully. In just what way the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth redeemed all mankind from sin we are almost as ignorant as were the first believers; but we can be no less dogmatic than were they that it did redeem men. The Apostle Paul says that the man Christ Jesus gave Himself “a ransom, (a corresponding price), for all”, (1 Tim.2.6) and in the use of that word he linked the act by which Jesus saved mankind with the process by means of which Roman slaves gained their freedom. The slave could be released only by being bought by the god, and the purchase price, the ransom or “antilutron” or “corresponding price” had to be paid into the temple treasury, and from thence was applied to the purchase of the slave from his former owner. Technically, the slave became the property of the god, and in that situation found his freedom. So Jesus gave His humanity as the price to purchase all mankind. They had all been condemned in Ad-am; in purchasing or redeeming Adam, Jesus redeemed them also.
But having purchased them from the power of sin He must do something for them, for the purchase of itself does not make new men and women of them; they have still to be shown the better way and given a full opportunity to accept and follow the better way. The preaching and ministry of Jesus was after all but a prelude and a foretaste, on a miniature scale of His Kingdom, to be set up at His Second Advent, when all men will learn of His ways and eventually exercise their prerogative of free, unfettered choice between good and evil, life and death. But something else has to come first.
Before Jesus initiates this new world of righteousness in which all men are to hear of His principles and be helped to overcome their weaknesses and sins, it has been decreed in the Divine counsels that a body of teachers and leaders should be prepared. After all, the wholesale conversion of a world of human beings, to include not only the living nations but all the restored dead, is a task of immense magnitude and it is not surprising to learn that God has arranged for it to be achieved along quite familiar lines by the employment of a great number of previously qualified missionaries. The interval of time elapsing between the First and Second Advents is designed for the training and preparation of these missionaries, and the collective name given to them is the “Christian Church”.
This is where the distinction between the spiritual and earthly phases of the Divine Plan came to light. Prior to the time of Jesus, the Jewish people, looking for the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, had visualised an earthly kingdom of righteousness and peace presided over by their Messiah, they themselves to be the ruling class exercising jurisdiction over a world of righteous and submissive Gentiles—all the wicked Gentiles and the enemies of God and of Israel having been destroyed! Their conception of a future life and of everlasting life was restricted to this earth. Jesus showed His disciples that although God certainly does plan an everlasting home on the earth for the perfected human race in general, He has also provided for a heavenly salvation in the celestial realms for those of the Christian Church who are faithful to their calling and are found worthy at the end to be thus used in the Divine purposes. It is this spiritual company, the members of the Church, changed after death to be made like their Lord, Himself in His glorious celestial life not perceptible by human sense and not perceived by human sight, that is to exercise authority over the earth during the Millennial Age and restore mankind to righteousness.
It has been the work of the past two thousand years, ever since the Day of Pentecost, to select and gather the individual members of this body. God has “visited the nations”, as James the leader of the first Jerusalem Church declared at the Council whose proceedings are recorded in Acts 15.14, “to take out of them a people for His name”. It is after this, James continues—and he supports his position by a quotation from the prophet Amos—that God will turn His attention to the natural House of Israel, which is broken down, and in building it up and restoring its nationality and independence, open the way for all mankind to turn again to Him and call upon His name. For these last twenty centuries, therefore, the fulfilling purpose of God has been diverted to the calling, the training, teaching, preparation and perfecting of these who have given their hearts and lives to God in whole-hearted consecration, that they might be used by Him in the next Age for the conversion of the world.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren” says Paul in Rom. 12.1-2 that you “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “If anyone desires to come after Me” said Jesus “let him…take up his cross, and follow Me”. (Matt. 16. 24 NKJV). The call of this Age is one of absolute surrender and devotion to the will and the service of God; that is the Christian call now. God seeks those who are prepared, not merely to express belief and faith in Christ and endeavour to conform their lives in a general way to His teachings, but who are prepared to set aside, or relegate to second place, every other conceivable interest and attraction, that they might be the better able to grow up in God-likeness, manifest His character and proclaim His plan in life now, be His ambassadors in this world, and at life’s end be fitted by reason of their growth in grace and character, and their lives’ experience, for His future purpose.
For this reason, the period of time between the First and Second Advents is sometimes called the “Gospel Age”. It is a period during which the Gospel is preached—Jesus said it would be preached in all the world before the end should come (Matt. 24. 14) and so it has—but relatively few have fully accepted that Gospel and made it a power in their lives. Those who have accepted it have found that a great stride forward in understanding has been taken. In this Age the emphasis is on the love of God rather than on His justice. The old law, of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, is abrogated and replaced by the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Selfishness is replaced by self-sacrifice. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15. 13 NKJV.) Stress is laid upon moral persuasion rather than ritualistic compulsion. “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3. 20 NKJV) was a revolutionary idea in the days of the First Advent, but it was a necessary advance in man’s conception of God and it came to stay. A completely new scale of standards for Christians was set out. Whereas Israel in the B.C. centuries was consecrated to God in a national sense, as a nation, consecration now became an individual matter and each man stood by himself before God. So, as the Age progressed, men and women of the calibre God is seeking, lived out their lives with more or less persecution and sorrow, or commendation and triumph, according to the manner in which they were received by their generation, and were laid aside to wait the day when God should gather them together into one glorious all-powerful company qualified and ready to come forth and convert the world. “God…did visit ..to take out of them a people for His Name.” (Acts 15.14)