Understanding Prophecy - 1st Coming of Christ
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Page 9 of  60

CHAPTER 3:
IF YOU HAD LIVED at the TIME of CHRIST

(9:1)

Even among people who are sure of the signs that will accompany the Second Coming, and to whom the prophecies of the Second Coming seem quite clear, intuitively they know that the prophecies of the First Coming were not clear. We can demonstrate this by asking a simple question: (9:2)

"If you had lived at the time of Christ, would you have recognized Him?" (9:3)

A simple question, but hardly an easy one to answer. Although some may, I personally have never heard anyone answer this question "Yes". The response is usually that one would hope to recognize Christ, but one cannot be sure. Intuitively we know that the recognition of Christ was not a simple matter of hearing His message or His words, or of even seeing Him as He moved through the streets of ancient Israel or preached in the temple. For we know that there were many who did indeed have the great blessing of living at His time, and of even meeting Him face to face, but who alas, did not follow Him. Even those who saw or heard of the wondrous acts that Christ performed doubted and even rejected Him (9:4)

This question also reveals another aspect of thinking that seems to be prevalent. In answering this question, I've not heard a response that referred to prophecies. Few regard them as tools by which they would have recognized Him. I have never heard anyone say something like "if I had had the prophecies, I would have recognized Him" or "I would have used the prophecies to find Him", or "the prophecies would have helped me". Intuitively we know also, that prophecies would not have been our guide because we can see now, through the record of Christ's life, that in many cases their apparent meaning was not only unclear, but also actually misleading (9:5)

However, if you ask someone today, "Will you recognize Christ when He returns?" You can easily get a response to the effect "Recognize? How can you miss Him!" Although nowhere does it state in the Bible that the New Testament prophecies are easier to understand than those of the Old Testament, it seems that many people assume that this is the case (9:6)

Now, if one cannot be sure that they would have recognized Him at His first Coming, how can one be sure that they can recognize Him at His Second Coming? It seems that, in the same way that the people of His time felt sure about how the Christ should come, the people of this time feel sure about how He will return (9:7)

In the Bible, story after story unfolds showing how people - even (and sometimes especially) those who thought they were following the teachings of God - have been so sure of their plans, but how God has had other plans. It is a basic need of human beings to feel secure about the world around us, and to understand what the past means and what the future holds. A sense of security is conducive to a feeling of peace and wellbeing. To insure this, we sometimes form beliefs about things, even to the point where we "know" them - even things that cannot be known. This is why today, regarding the Second Coming, there are millions who are all confidently expecting.. completely different things (9:8)

This question - If you had lived at the time of Christ would you have recognized him? - I do not ask idly, for it has profound implications. For, all those who lived at the time of Christ were, in effect, asked this question - not in so many words, of course, but by their place and time in history. And they didn't have the luxury of answering the question as follows: "One would hope to recognize Him, but one cannot be sure". They had to answer, and they did answer, "yes" or "no". Without knowing that this question was being asked, they answered it by their response to Christ (9:9)

They had no sign, no halo, no warning that their whole life - their very existence - would be judged by their response to the moment: to the message that they had heard, and to His Person. Although warned in the scriptures, they had not an inkling as to the true manner Christ would come to them. They had formed their own vision of Christ's Coming, yet God's plan was being carried out according to His own wisdom and His vision surpassed those of mortal man. Those who accepted Christ knew to some extent the role they were playing in God's plan. Those who rejected Him played a role opposite the one they had fondly imagined they would play (9:10)

Now, with His Second Coming, what assurance do we have that we will know the role we will play? To be utterly wrong, yet feel utterly righteous, is well within the capability of human beings. The Bible abundantly demonstrates this truth (9:11)

Looking back on that time, with the perspective we now have, it is all too easy to understand the things that went wrong at Christ's First Coming - the people's misunderstandings, their blindness and pride. There are certainly things which we, at this time, understand about the plan of God which simply could not have been understood by the people to whom Christ appeared. But this fact should not deceive us into thinking that we fully understand His plan, that God has blessed us with knowing what the future holds. Of course we understand those things that have gone before us and of which we have a record in the scriptures, but so did the people of Christ's time. At any point in time, God has given to His people a sacred record of the past, and promises of the future. The past is understood; the promises of the future are not. Yes, we understand the prophecies referring to Christ's First Coming because their meaning was revealed through His First Coming, but how can we presume to understand those referring to His Second Coming until we witness it? (9:12)

Seeking the Christ in His Time Without Our Present Knowledge (9:13)

Consider this: If you had lived at the time of Christ, you no doubt would have been given all the blessings that the people of His time were given. To aid you to recognize the Promised Messiah, you would have been given God's guidance through scripture and prayer, and His assurance that He would always be with those who love Him (9:14)

But you would have also been given all the distractions, all the cares and troubles with which God, in His wisdom, endows life on this planet. Your culture would have been the culture into which Christ was born; your thinking, the thinking of His time. Your mind would have been biased by the same erroneous interpretations that were circulated by the religious leaders of His age. With all this, you would have had to seek out the Promised One (9:15)

There would have been no one to whom you could have turned for true guidance; no one who could have led you. All those who were regarded with respect, who were noted for their wisdom and faith, and who seemed to understand the scriptures, nevertheless, would have had the wrong "picture" of the coming Messiah. These same people who completely misunderstood the meaning of the scriptures, however, would have been the very people you would have been brought up to obey and revere (9:16)

Furthermore, although the religious leaders of Christ's time were completely wrong in their understanding of the scriptures, still they did not cease to pray for the Messiah to come. They continued to long for the peace, justice, and victory promised them in their sacred scripture. These same people who ignored, rejected, and even persecuted Christ, in their hearts beseeched God to send the Messiah to fulfill the ancient prophecies which their ancestors had longed to see. If you had asked those at the time of Christ, "Will you accept the Messiah when he comes?", no doubt they would have replied, "Accept? We'll lay down our very lives for so Holy a One!" (9:17)

But how would they have identified the Holy One? Prophecies are words, not pictures. The "picture" comes from the mind of those trying to understand the prophecy, not from the prophecy itself. At the time of Christ, there was no infallible authority that could interpret the words or provide the key that would explain their secrets and inner meanings, and thus lead the people to identify the Christ. Since there was no infallible authority, the seeker could not rely on his fellow men for guidance (9:18)

So who could the seeker have relied on? The only answer that makes sense to me is God, alone. For the seeker at the time of Christ, only an attitude of humble supplication to God and acceptance of His Will could have ensured that he would have recognized Him (9:19)

The conditions at the time of Christ were certainly perplexing, and the choices facing seekers of truth formidable. What greater predicament, in fact, could be imagined than the one that faced the people living at the time of Christ. Their choices were bewildering, never simple, and they were fraught with sacrifice. The choices of those who witnessed the birth of Christianity involved ultimately the severing of many ties - ties both of blood and of faith. Choices, however, made in humility and purity of heart held the promise, not only of forging new ties, transcending both blood and faith and all human limitations, but also of leading the seekers themselves to the one everlasting tie with God's Beloved Son (9:20)

This story of Christ's Coming into the world, moreover, continues in our time; it did not end in first century Israel. We too have choices to make. Until we recognize Christ at His Return, we, like those who lived at the time of His First Coming, cannot claim to understand the meaning of prophecies about our own time. We likewise have no one to whom we can turn for guidance except God. And for us too, only decisions made in humility and purity of heart can lead us to recognize the Christ at His Second Coming (9:21)

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Understanding Prophecy - 1st Coming of Christ - David Yamartino