We speak of his appearing 1,850 years ago. Why did he appear then, and not later or sooner? The general answer is plain, leading to one not so plain, but which is pleasing in its speculative interest. The general answer is, that the time appointed had come. This is what Paul says: "When the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law" (Gal. iv. 4). Jesus himself referred similarly to the matter: "The time is fulfilled" (Mark i. 15.) The vision shewn to Daniel necessitates this conclusion: for to him it was said by the angel who enlightened him, "From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince shall be," such and such a time which expired in the days of Christ
The next question would introduce a more difficult topic: "Why was such a time appointed?" We might well leave this. We might well be satisfied that the appointment of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will, must needs have its basis in perfect wisdom, even if our poor blind eyes could not see it. But it is not presumption to scan His work in the spirit of enquiring reverence. On the contrary, it is well pleasing to God that we do so: "The works of the Lord are great: sought out of all them that have pleasure therein." Christ is His greatest work upon earth hitherto: and those who love him most will find the most pleasure in seeking out all the divine "whys and wherefores" related to him that may be attainable.
One clue we get simply, when we look back and see that 1,850 years ago the time for the ending of the Mosaic system of things had come. The ending of if, then, is beyond all controversy. Both the law-worshipping Jew and the divinity-of-Moses-denying Gentile are compelled to recognise the historical fact (whatever their interpretation of it may be) that since that time the law of Moses has ceased to be a nationally operative thing in the earth. It has had neither the land nor the nation essential to its operation. The land has been in the hands of strangers and in a state of desolation: and the race on whom alone it was enjoined, have been scattered, down-trodden, and denationalised in the lands of "the heathen," as all Gentile nations are called in scripture.
Now, considering that the end of the system as a divinely operative system in the earth did actually, as a matter-of-fact not to be contradicted, arrive 1,850 years ago, we may easily see one reason why Christ should appear then, and not before or since. It is an apostolic declaration that Christ is "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" on him (Rom. x. 4). It is another declaration, already quoted, that in becoming "the end of the law," he was "made under the law." He could not have been "made under the law," if he had appeared after the law had passed out of operation; and he could not have become "the end of the law," had he been born while it was in the full career of its national mission. His appearance at the exact time chosen was a necessity from this point of view.
But why, and in what sense, and how, did he become the end of the law? We will not enter largely into the field of contemplation to which these questions invite. Yet a glance at general outlines is necessary. The "why" requires us to remember that the law was of God's appointing, and that Christ was of God's sending, and that the one and the other were associated in God's plan of things upon the earth. They were not disconnected. The Mission of the law could not be completed till it ended in Christ. It had to be fulfilled in him, as he said: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil," and again, that "not one jot or tittle should pass from the law till all was fulfilled" (Matt. v. 17-18). Paul declared Christ to be substance of the things contained in the law (Col. ii. 17).
To us, the righteousness of God is manifested "without the law," and made available by faith in Christ outside the law altogether (Rom. iii. 21); but though preached "without the law," it was not developed "without the law." It was generated under the law, in so far as Christ was born under the law, and obedient under the law, and died under the law. Paul denies that the faith of Christ made void the law; he contends it established it (Rom. iii. 31). The correctness of his contention we can see when we realise that the Christ who is offered for our faith is a Christ in whom all the excellence and virtue of the law became, as it were, personally incorporate. It was under it that he was "made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. i. 30). That is, he was in all things obedient while in that position, and therefore the rightful heir of whatever blessedness it was in the power of the law to confer upon those who "continued in all things written in the book of the law to do them," which none else did but he. But this heirship was inaccessible to others so long as the law continued in force. It was needful the law should be taken out of the way, before those who were cursed by it (because of sin) could partake of the blessings secured in the sinless Christ alone. And it was taken out of the way -- not arbitrarily -- not in caprice; for it is not in God to change. It was taken out of the way in a manner that preserved the continuity and harmony and majesty of the divine action, while opening the way for forgiveness and favour to those believing in Christ. It was taken away by Christ dying, which placed him beyond its operation. "The law hath dominion over a man so long as he liveth" (Rom. vii. 1). When he is dead, it has no further jurisdiction. It was only ordained for living mortals. When Christ hung lifeless on the cross, it had no further hold on him. When he rose from the dead, he was a flee man. This is Paul's argument: "Ye (who have been baptised into the risen Christ) are become dead to the law by the body of Christ (in his death) that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead" (Rom. vii. 4). It is in this connection that the force is apparent of Paul's declaration that Christ, in his death, "blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross" (Col. ii. 14); and further, that those who are in Christ are "no longer under the law, but under grace" and are to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Gal. v. 1).
There were two purposes in the establishing of the law, that ended in Christ. Paul informs us that one was that sinful man might be manifest to himself, and that every mouth might be stopped in the conviction of his own helplessness. "The law entered that the offence might abound" (Rom. v. 20): that sin "might appear sin, work death by that which is good" (vii. 13), "that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God" (iii. 19). The other was, that what the law could not do for man left to himself, God in His love and grace might do, in sending His own Son, who should "magnify the law and make it honourable" in its complete observance, and who should then, in further and loving obedience, remove it out of the way in surrendering to the death of the cross, by which the curse of the law should come on him, for all who should come unto God by him. The law during the time it was in force completely accomplished these two things. First, Peter declared that Israel had found it a yoke which neither his generation nor their fathers were able to bear" (Acts xv. 10). Secondly, Jesus, who could challenge the Jews on the score of his perfect fulfilment of it, saying, "which of you convinceth me of sin?" (Jno. viii. 46), appeared just before it had run its course, putting away sin by the sacrifice of himself, and in rising again, laid the foundation for the salvation of all those who have faith in him as the Lamb of God.
These things bear upon the question of why Christ should have appeared before the disappearance of the Mosaic system from the land of Israel. They may not touch other enquiries that may arise. Why should the Mosaic system have disappeared 1,850 years ago? Why should it not have continued till the time for the setting up of the kingdom of God? And why should not Christ then have emerged from the tomb to ascend at once the throne of universal power and glory? We may be sure there is wisdom in the Divine plan on all these heads. We may even, with a little reflection, be able to discover it.
Israel's transgressions required their dispersion amongst the Gentiles for double the length of time occupied by their national existence; the land had to rest unoccupied and untilled for a protracted period to make up for the years that Israel stole from the land in violation of the law that required them to let the land rest every, seventh year (Is. xl. 1; Lev. xxvi. 34nd;35). Both these evantualities were provided for in prophecy. Moses and all the prophets foretold the downtreading of the land and the scattering of the people. Both were necessities in the divine plan; and both involved the suspension of the Mosaic system. It was, therefore, impossible that that system could continue until the setting up of the kingdom under the seed promised to Abraham and the Son promised to David. A long interregnum of "many days" was inevitable, during which Israel was to be "with-out a king, without a prince, without a sacrifice, &c.," as was specifically predicted (Hos. iii. 4).
It was impossible for other reasons. It was necessary that there should be an interval between the sufferings of Christ and his exaltation as Jehovah's king in all the earth, in preparation for his effectual assumption of that position, both as regards the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were not in any sense ready to receive hint at the time of his first appearing. He was a stranger to them, who interested them for a while by his extraordinary "works," and then alienated them by his unpalatable condemnations of the national ways. All interest in him ceased with his destruction. His resurrection re-kindled that interest in the heart of a class: but had the Lord at that time ascended the throne of David, instead of departing to the Father for a season, there would have lacked the pathetic interest and the dramatic triumph that will belong to his installation in their midst after more than 18 centuries' absence and rejection. For all that time the Jews have refused him, and cursed his name. They have not been allowed to forget him. "Bye a foolish nation I will anger you," said God, by Moses. In the providence of God, the civilization of the Gentiles, among whom Israel has been scattered, has been inextricably blended, with the name of the crucified Jesus; and in all the countries of their dispersion they have been kept in a chronic state of anger by the exhibition of the mementoes and symbols of their crucifixion of Christ, and by the taunts, and insults, and persecutions on that head to which they have been subjected at the hands of their Christian neighbours. They have been kept face to face, in all the generations of their exile, with the crucified Nazarene. With what an interest, so far as they are concerned, does this long and bitter interval invest the introduction of Christ to them at his second appearing. "They shall look upon me, whom they pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one who mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him" (Zech xii. 10).
Nothing in human narrative approaches in touching pathos the story of Joseph's contact with his brethren after their sale of him into slavery, and his separation from them for over 20 years. It brings tears to the eyes of strong men who have read it many times. So nothing in history will at all come near the sublime event of the revelation of "Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews," after many centuries of scorn, to the nation whose fathers crucified him 1,850 years ago, and who in all the interval, have endorsed and justified their fathers' act. He will interfere in their behalf before they know him, and will be identified as the Crucified only after he has manifested himself as the Victorious against their foes. Who can conceive anything more superlatively interesting than such a situation -- a completer retribution, a more thrilling scene of national self-humiliation, a more eagerly willing people to serve and to glorify the man of God's right hand? All this will result from the plan by which Christ appeared and was rejected by Israel many centuries before the time appointed for the manifestation of his kingly glory in their midst. It will be a repetition, on the largest and grandest scale, of the wisdom and beauty and thrilling interest which have attached to all the arrangements in which God has had a hand in the past. They have all been characterised by perfect ripeness of result, intensity of interest, and completeness of climax.
When we consider the bearing of the interval on the Gentile world, it is not difficult to see, if not an exactly similar, at least an equally valuable preparation for what is coming. Had Christ proceeded to "reign over the Gentiles" at his first appearing, there would have been a want of that fitness of circumstances that makes things interesting. The principal part of European territory was in a state of native wildness. The Roman world was limited in extent and crude in condition, possessing a civilization that was more of the nature of barbarism. Had Christ been introduced to the world's notice at such a time in a political capacity, he would have found the situation in every sense unprepared. He would have been as unsuited to the situation as the situation would have been without a history and without an identity in the world's eyes, and the world would have been without a population, or an appreciation adequate to his kingly glory and power, whereas after 1,850 years of preparation, how differently the matter stands. Introduced to them as a doctrine -- "preached among the Gentiles" by apostolic and many other agencies -- talked of and debated about and wondered at -- fought over, warred about, loved and hated, belauded and condemned, -- a problem for philosophers, a theme for believers, a stumbling block for angry Jews and atheists, his name and renown have interwoven themselves with human affairs in all civilized countries. And his influence by these very means, has been made operative. His influence has altered human ways and modified human condition in many important respects. Europe of 1890 is a very different Europe from that of a.d. 34. Though the world is all dark and ungodly, there is a state of things on which the kingdom of God will more readily graft than it would have done upon the Roman society of the first century.
Above all, the world has become acquainted with his name in a way that prepares for his entrance upon universal power at his coming. Though Christ is not intelligently or savingly known in the world at large, all have heard of him, and have formed such an estimate of his greatness and worth (however distorted by superstition) that they will be predisposed to acquiesce in his authority much more readily when he comes than if they had never heard of him at all. This is the result of Christ having appeared 1,850 years ago and remaining absent for all the period since. There is a better and more developed world to inherit, and the conditions of a readier and heartier welcome existing than there would have been if the appearing of Christ as a sacrifice had happened just before his manifestation as a king.
But the principal object accomplished by having the sufferings and the glory so far apart, is doubtless that which has reference to the Lord's own brethren. These had to be developed in certain fixed numbers for the work of governing the nations with Christ upon the earth in the day of his glory. Many had been prepared for that work in the times of the law that went before Christ -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, and all that feared Yahweh's name, small and great -- who, having pleased God by faith and obedience in their several generations, went to "rest" like Daniel, in faith of the promised Messiah, and in waiting for "the end of days" when they should rise at his coming to "stand in their lot" or inheritance. But they were not nearly sufficient in number for the great world-wide work to be done in the day of Christ. It was therefore needful to send out for "guests" to the Gentiles "by-ways and hedges," that the number might be made up. And the interval of 1,850 years has proved a needful interval for this work. The interval is now nearly ended and the work nearly done. But not only the time has been needed; the doctrine associated with Christ's first appearing was a necessity in the work of their development. The brethren of Gentile times were to be developed by the preaching of the Cross in its scriptural relation to the kingdom. They were to be attracted by the offer of the forgiveness of sin through faith in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus; as of a lamb without spot, who died that they might live and reign with him. Their affections were to be drawn to him as the Purifer from sin and the Saviour from death, without whom they could do nothing. They were to be prepared to take part in the song which ascribes their deliverance "to Him who washed them from their sins in his own blood." If Christ had not "appeared at the end of the (Mosaic) world to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," this could not have been done. But it has been done. The preparation had been accomplished, as it could in no other way, by the occurrence of the death of Christ 1,850 years ago, and its proclamation, in all the interval, as God's arrangement for the reconciliation of men. Many thousands, in the apostolic age and since, have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." The true greatness of the triumph will not be manifest, however, till the thrilling moment arrive when a multitude that no man can number stands before the Lord Jesus in the day of his return, in the rapturous conviction declared in song, that they owe to him the acceptance they find, and the glory, honour, and immortality in which they rejoice.
From all these considerations, it becomes evident that it was not a matter of chance that Christ appeared 1,850 years ago, or that his manifestation in kingly glory has been far separated from the day of his rejection and shame. Both are matters of divine arrangement: and both are essential to the scheme of things which God has devised for the final deliverance of the earth from its woe.