God's Preparation of the Political, Religious, Socio and Moral Scenario of the World for the First Christmas
Pr. Binoy Eapen Philip
The Fullness of Time
Paul in his letter to the Galatians (4:4,5) wrote thus “But when the time has fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law” and the purpose is “to redeem those under law that we might receive the full right of sons.” Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry said this “The time has come; the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News: The meaning of this is that the appointed time of God for the incarnation of Jesus has come. The preparation of the world by God was in such a way that the situation was ripe for the birth of the Son of God and the spread of His good news.
The World Situation
“God is the God of History.” Events that happen in history are not mere accidents rather are pre-ordained by God He is in control of the world events. His hand moves in realms of politics, religion social and moral areas. A study of God’s preparation of the world for the birth of His son will help us to know the power and authority of God over the world powers. This writing will specifically emphasise God’s preparation of the Roman world, since the first Christmas was celebrated in the Roman scenario.
God’s Preparation of the Political Realm
About a century before the rise and spread of Christianity the whole of the civilized world in the west was united under a big umbrella called the Roman umbrella or Roman Empire. The Roman world included many nations, languages, religions and cultures but it was ultimately ruled by the Roman emperor. The emperor was the commander in chief of the army and the head of the Roman State Religion. Ultimately he was the supreme.
The empire was divided into provinces; the older states were ruled by the proconsuls and the new provinces by legates. The Roman rulers ruled intelligently and effectively. Many of the uncivilized nations were civilized by them. Roman rule propagated peace and Roman law emphasized dignity of individuals and justice for all, ultimately Roman citizenship bound up people from different races in unity.
It was at this time Christianity came in preaching peace unity, hope and justice, since the same concepts were the mandate of Roman rule. People understood the Christian message easily and thus started embracing the new movement. It was thus how God prepared the political world for the spread of Christianity.
God’s Preparation of the Religious World
Nations and people were allowed to retain their local gods and worship by the Roman empire. Roman rule respected all religions; meanwhile the old Roman religions lost its vitality and effectiveness.
In place of the ineffective old religions, emperor worship was introduced by the Romans. By BC 175 the worship of Deo-Roma began in Smyrna. In BC 129, in Pergamum a temple to emperor Augustus was erected and within a short period of time , emperor worship was developed into a Roman state religion. By the time of early Christianity this newly founded religion could not satisfy the quest or thirst of peoples' deep hunger for spirituality. It was at this due time (right) Christianity entered society offering peace, love and joy through Jesus Christ. Spiritually hungry people found their answers in Christianity and many embraced this new found religion and thus their thirst for spirituality was satisfied.
Along with emperor worship the most widespread religion of the period was the mystery religions, they were of ancient origin and were either from Greece or the orient. The most popular of the oriental mystery religions were the Magnameter, isisorsis and mithuraism. Importantly all these cults had its likeness to Christianity. In general their purpose was to free their members from the bondage of the flesh and to assure them a blissful immortality. All promised a happy future to the faithful. Most of these emphasized brotherhood and stressed on discipleship of all these religions. Mithraism highly resembled Christianity. Both had baptism, sacramental meal, and belief in immortality, resurrection, last judgement, a heaven of bliss and a hell of misery.
Even though the mystery religions offered what Christianity was about to offer the people, people found a big vacuum in the mystery religions, because they had theory; but no life in it.Whereas in Christianity people experienced what they sought and it satisfied their quest. Most of the mystery religions could offer only inquisitiveness and questions in the mind of people.Christianity came forward with answers to it. God brought the religions like emperor worship and mystery religion to the forefront and made people understand the futility in it, thus God prepared the religions scenario for the birth of Christ and His gospel.
God’s Preparation of the Social World and the Intellectual Condition
Greek philosophy was the most prominent philosophy of this period. Aristotle and Plato were the two important propagators of these philosophies.
Epicureanism was an important philosophy of this period. It taught that mental bliss or peace is the highest aim of humans. It also taught that people can be happy inspite of suffering and hardship. It also said the greatest and worst enemy of human is fear. It thoroughly repudiated superstition.
Another very prominent philosophy of the period was stoicism. It taught that all people are equal in God’s sight. It extolled the philosophy of justice, mercy and friendship. It also taught that logos is God the Life and wisdom of all, and this indwells in every human. Stoicism emphasized asceticism in its moral practice. Though noble in its moral teaching, it lacked human sympathy and neglected human weakness and sin.
Another contemporary philosophy of the time was cynicism. It thoroughly repudiated display of wealth, superstition and idol worship.
Now how did the philosophical movements prepare the ground for the birth of Christ and spread of the Gospel. They helped people to realize the futility and superstitions in religion and to turn away from idol worship to search for truth and reality. Philosophers aroused inquisitiveness in the minds of people concerning the great questions of life like eternity immortality etc. because Greek philosophies only offered this as philosophies rather it was not clearly exposed to the people it was at this due time Christianity came forward offering the same philosophy in a more simplified and much realistic way. They also drew attention to the importance of ethical and moral behavior. According to Historian E. E. Cairns.
“At the time when Christ came, men realised, as never before the insufficiency of human reason and polytheism. The individualistic philosophies of Epicurus and Zeno and the mystery religions all testify to man’s desire for a more personal relationship to God. Christianity came with the offer of this personal relationship and found that Greek authors, because of their own inadequacy had created hungry hearts”.
The moral state of the Roman world during the early day’s of Christianity was very dark. Crime and as a result confusion could be seen everywhere. People had no shame in engaging in sin. shame was rapidly declining veneration for what is pure and good was unknown. The upper class of the society was horribly corrupt. Among the middle and lower class, however many were leading virtuous and kind lives.
The social condition of the period was indeed dark. In almost every upper class homes there were slaves. Immense sum of money was spent in lavish display on entertainment and banquets. Human life was given least respect, wealth was unjustly distributed. The situation was thus that no religions or philosophies could give remedy to these conditions of mankind. The majority of people were desperate having no hope and no God and people were thus earning for peace and a deliverance from the situation.
The world sorely needed a savior and in the fullness of time when the world had been prepared for His coming. God sent forth His son Jesus Christ to save all who would accept Him from the wretched social situation.
God’s Preparation of the Jewish World
During the period of Emperor Pompey the kingdom had no peace. Later from him the kingship was taken over by Herod from 37 BC, he was a cruel and ruthless ruler. On his death in 4 BC Palestine was divided between his three sons. Archelaus became the ruler of Judea,samaria and Idunea. Herod Antipas the second son became the ruler of Galilee and Philip the third became the ruler of the places in the north east of Galilee. As a result of this division and the cruelty of rulers people lost their unity and peace of mind. Hence they were waiting for a savior who could save them from the wretched political situation in which they were. It was at this right time Jesus came as a Messiah or savior for the salvation of mankind.
Language: God also made Greek language the universal language. Gospel is a universal concept and to spread this there need a universal language. It was at this due time Greek was accepted as the universal language of the period. The New Testament was written in Greek and the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek (Septuagint). So thus this universal language helped the Gospel to be communicated without any language barrier.
As conclusion one can say that there is no history in the world without God’s hand behind it. Roman law emphasized unity peace and dignity of all but the condition of the society was indeed dark and peaceless. According Historian H. P. Hares “At such a time in the world’s history a star appeared in the east. Which directed men to Bethlehem, where they discovered a little child, recently born, who was to become the savior of the world. The world sorely needed a savior and in the fullness of time when the world had been prepared for His coming, God send forth His son, Jesus Christ to be the savior of all who would accept Him as such”. The negative side of the history in the Roman Empire was made thus by God as a part of His preparation of the Roman kingdom for His Son to enter and for the expansion of His Gospel.