Every day in Advent 2016 we will be sharing short reflections from authors, Christian charities and Eden team members.
In Galatians 4, 4, the apostle Paul wrote ‘When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.’ Paul was convinced that that the birth of the Jesus of Nazareth came at just the right time in God’s plan. Factors that were favourable to the rapid spread of the Christian message included a single Roman empire enabling travel to be undertaken fairly easily and safely across Europe, North Africa, and much of the Middle East. The Greek language was also widely spoken as a common trade language.
But the circumstances of the birth of Jesus also suggested that not everything, from the human perspective, was going to be easy for the Christian movement. Jesus was born in squalid and obscure surroundings in Bethlehem in Palestine, a turbulent client state of the Roman Empire. News of his birth brought only a few joyful visitors, some local, some from afar. It then provoked a horrific episode of infanticide at the hands of a possessively jealous local king.
Because of mistakes in dating calculations made by Christian writers in the third and sixth centuries, the birth of Jesus is unlikely to have taken place in the year 0 BC / AD. Instead, a date closer to 4 or 6 B.C is more likely. Herod the Great died in 3 or 4 BC. Yet, this should not be allowed to cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus. The New Testament, written soon after the events it records, is a strong historical record, but there are other sources. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing in the late first century AD, reports Jesus as a ‘wise man... who did remarkable deeds and was a teacher’. Writing in around 115 AD, the Roman historian Tacitus, who had no time for the beliefs of Christians, still recorded that Jesus had been a historical person. He referred to him as Christus, who ‘suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hand of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate’. Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth of one of the most important figures in human history. In the 2000 years since that historic event, the lives of more than two billion people have been transformed by faith in Jesus Christ.
Ian Shaw is the author of multiple books on the history of evangelism, served as a lecturer in Church History at International Christian College, Glasgow, and is currently Director Langham Scholarship programme. His latest book, Christianity: The Biography, was published by IVP and is an insightful look at the history of the Church.
December 11th, 2016 - Posted & Written by The Editor