I think each generation must ask this question. Why did Jesus come when He did and not today? Each generation would seem to have reasons why it would be better if Jesus came in their day. Particularly in the present, though, it would seem that Jesus coming now would be better. After all, Jesus could bring truth and peace to our day where truth seems so much in doubt and there is so much hurt. So why not now?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God communicates Himself to us gradually to prepare us for the coming of His definitive revelation, Jesus (CCC No. 53). This preparation begins right after the first sin. After Adam and Eve turn away from God, He promises to them that He will save them (Genesis 3:15). God reveals Himself to Noah to save a portion of creation from the great flood. Also, God confuses the speech of the human race at Babel to prevent us from believing that we are gods.
These interventions pave the way for God to reveal Himself to Abraham. What God revealed to Abraham and to his descendants was so revolutionary, it would take hundreds of years for people to fully understand it. God revealed that He was not one of many gods, but the one, true and only God. Further, God desires that we not make a multiplicity of sacrifices to Him, but instead desires that we turn away from sin and embrace His love.
Then God seemed to go silent. The people were oppressed and prayed in great longing for the coming of the Messiah, the one who would save them and inaugurate His Kingdom. This longing matched the timing the Father had chosen before time began. God’s gradual revelation of Himself culminated at a particular moment, necessitating God to complete His revelation in Christ.
As God revealed Himself to a particular people, He also chose to give to them a particular land. God calls Abraham from Ur to go to the promised land. He promises to Abraham that his descendants will inherit this land (Genesis 12:7). As Scripture unfolds, God increasingly ties Himself to this land. He promises that His Son will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The center of the Jewish faith, the temple, would be built in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21:22). Jesus Himself says that His death cannot happen outside of Jerusalem (Luke 13:33).
If God had not promised these things, He could have been born and lived outside of the Holy Land, but would the people have understood Him? Even after thousands of years of preparation, Jesus was a divisive figure in His day among the people prepared to meet Him. God’s plan thus provides that Jesus came at the right moment to the right people so that the nations would come to believe in Him.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in St. Louis.