Advent season is a good time to remember the scriptural background that led to the coming of the Messiah. The birth of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, in Bethlehem would matter little if not for the context of expectations and fulfillment of prophecies made before that birth. These earlier Scriptures define the coming Messiah in at least three important ways:
- What would be the purpose of the Coming One? I.e., why was a Messiah needed?
- What would be the identifying marks of this Messiah? I.e., how would he be recognized as the Promised One?
- What would be the characteristics of the Promised One? I.e., what roles would this person fulfill according to God’s plan
Clearly, these are not distinct categories without overlap and we should not expect them to be. They converge in a single person, anticipated for centuries and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
For Advent 2017, I would like to highlight references to the coming Messiah found in the book of Genesis. These reflect the oldest traditions from the people of Israel, even before there was a nation of Israel. The first one, seen by scholars as the earliest reference to a future savior, is in Genesis 3. We call it the protoevangelium, the first gospel.
This text comes at the time of the earliest and greatest crisis in all the Bible. Adam and Eve, the first human couple, have disobeyed the Lord, and this sin has led to a series of pronouncements from God given to Adam, to Eve, and to the serpent who tempted them in the Garden. The message for the serpent is a curse, demoting his to the status of the hated snake from then on. The Lord ends his curse with this prophetic word:
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)
The great drama of human history is foretold in these words. Humanity is caught in the primeval and modern triangle. In one corner is God, the Father who loves his children but wants them to love him and obey him in return. In a second corner is the serpent, Satan himself, who tempts God’s children with the allures of sin and disobedience. In the third corner is the human race, unfaithful and needing help to resist Satan’s enticements and be restored to God.
The protoevangelium addresses this dilemma. It recognizes that the generations of people coming from Eve will hate and fear the tempter, even while falling for his lies. But the text promises a deliverer, a descendant of the woman who would deliver a mortal blow to the serpent while suffering a wound in the process.
We see this as looking forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection more than his birth, but the text reminds us that God’s intention from the earliest pronouncement was to provide a human savior. Not an angel. Not a demi-god. Not a specially created being. A human being who was born like any other man and grew from a baby to be a man. He had to be human so that he could die and then be resurrected from the dead. This crushed Satan’s power forever. At Christmas, we celebrate the first stage of this journey, the Savior of the World, destined for greatness, and born in Bethlehem to a loving mother and father in unimaginably humble circumstances. As Emily Elliot wrote:
Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
This is the story of the baby of Bethlehem, the focus of Christmas who was to become the hero of humanity. May we marvel at the centuries of preparation for his coming, and the centuries of blessings we have enjoyed since his birth. May we pray the last two lines of Emily Elliot’s verse:
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.
Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College