Many today consider the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and, by extension, the New Testament as a whole, to be somehow separate from the Old Testament, which precedes them. They consider the story of God’s people following the birth of Christ to be somehow disconnected from the story of God’s people throughout the ~4,000 years preceding the birth of Christ. This could not be further from the truth. The Gospels are the fulfillment—the grand finale, if you will—of a story which encompasses in its scope the entirety of human history.
This story began in a perfect world: The Garden of Eden. Mere hours had passed since Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, plunging the infantile human race into a crisis of eternal magnitude. However, unbeknownst to them, their actions that day would set in motion an unprecedented yet unstoppable train of events–a plan conceived in the selfless mind of a loving God throughout the ages of eternity past, a plan which would ultimately lead to an all but inconceivable crescendo: the death of the Son of God.
Genesis 3:15 recounts the fateful encounter in which this plan of salvation, the promise of Divine redemption, was first laid before humanity:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.
Echoing the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr. spoken millennia later, out of the forbidding mountain of despair which sin had wrought, God had hewed out a stone of hope–a promise that restoration was not simply possible, but assured through the sacrifice of Christ. In Education, reflecting on the promise given in Eden, Ellen White ponders the vast magnitude of this marvelous Divine gift:
This sentence, spoken in the hearing of our first parents, was to them a promise. Before they heard of the thorn and the thistle, of the toil and sorrow that must be their portion, or of the dust to which they must return, they listened to words that could not fail of giving them hope. All that had been lost by yielding to Satan could be regained through Christ. (Education, pg. 27)
This promise of Divine redemption and restoration, of a coming redeemer, was passed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, from patriarch to patriarch. It became an indivisible tie, binding God’s people to a destiny infinitely more powerful than trial, adversity, or even death itself.
The first patriarch, Abraham, began his march towards destiny in Ur of the Chaldees. At the age of seventy-five, as recorded in Genesis 12:1-3, God came to Abraham and bestowed upon him a unique responsibility:
Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
What foretaste of pleasure, what hope of reward, would entice a man of Abraham’s stature to leave his home, his friends, his life as he knew it, to venture into a strange and forbidding land? Hebrews 11:13-16 sheds light on the motivations which lay behind this man’s ostensibly quixotic journey:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Abraham chose to leave Ur because he held as absolute fact that the promises of God were of greater value than the temptations and pleasures of this world. He died in faith, not having received that which he had been promised. But having seen it from afar, he embraced it with his heart, mind, and soul; his life stands as a testament to one man’s impregnable faith in the eternal promises of God.
Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, endured his fair share of tragedy and triumph. He began his life as the son of a wealthy and prosperous patriarch, was sold into slavery by his own brothers, rose to the position of trusted advisor to one of the most powerful men in Egypt, became a prisoner, and, in a final whiplash turn of events, became second-in-command to the Egyptian Pharaoh, a position which he held for the remainder of his working life.
One might presume that, given the prosperous finale to Joseph’s storied life, he would have given up the faith of his fathers. After all, had he not achieved all that might be considered success, in human terms? What more was there to work for, to hope for? In Genesis 50:24-35, we find recorded Joseph’s last words–a window into his thoughts as his life drew to a close:
And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”
In Hebrews 11:22, Joseph’s dying request is recorded as follows: “By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.”
Just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before him, Joseph lived his life as a pilgrim in pursuit of the promises of God. His dying request that he be buried, not in Egypt, but in the promised land, confirmed his faith in Israel’s destiny. Nothing could shake his confidence in the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham.
Decades later, Moses would find himself in circumstances similar to that of Joseph. Thrust into unfamiliar surroundings by the providence of God, he found himself heir to the throne of the most powerful nation on Earth. Faced with an opportunity as grand and far-reaching as this, what aspiring, ambitious young man or woman would not immediately forget their past, reject their upbringing, and reach for the golden scepter of power?
But Moses rejected it all. His decision is chronicled in Hebrews 11:24-26:
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
In like manner to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph before him, Moses reckoned that the promises of God were of greater value than all the world could offer him. He chose to place his destiny with the people of God, subjugated and afflicted as they were, in favor of enjoying all the power and pleasure which the world could offer him.
This story of God’s people throughout history, echoed by Paul in Hebrews 11, is fundamentally a narrative of humanity’s faith in the eternal promises of God—trust in a God who cannot lie, a God who cannot but selflessly love His creation, at any cost to Himself. Throughout millennia, God’s people have lived out their lives as strangers and pilgrims on this Earth–a people continually existing in a state of anticipation, awaiting the fulfilment of the promises of their God.
The prophet Daniel serves as a familiar example of the anticipatory longing of God’s people. Carried into Babylonian exile as a teenager, he lived out his life as an Israelite in captivity to the secular empires of his day. His prayer over the desolation of Jerusalem, recorded in Daniel 9:4-19, well captures the heartache and longing of a people who, while languishing in foreign exile, remained prisoners of hope–bound together by the sure and certain promises of God regarding their final deliverance. Irrespective of war, turmoil, desolation, or captivity, God’s people endured through the promise of redemption to come.
As the unstoppable train of human history moved onward, the seat of global power shifted from Babylon to Medo-Persia. Empires waxed and waned, kings rose and fell, yet God’s people remained in bondage. But not all felt the yoke equally. In an unprecedented turn of events, a young Jewish girl, Hadassah by name, became Queen Esther, the wife of Ahasuerus, the most powerful man on Earth.
With her nation in bondage, an empire at her feet, her natural impulse would be to reject her history, ignore her people, and claim the power which had been bestowed upon her. However, Esther regarded the purpose of her life as being more than a personal agenda for gain and pleasure; the destiny of her people, the promise of her God, was so deeply embedded in her mind and her heart that it was beyond her ability to fathom shunning her people in their time of need. Thus, through what must go down in history as one of the greatest interventions of all time, she saved her people from certain genocide at the hands of the Persians.
As history continued its inevitable progress, King Artaxerxes rose to power as supreme ruler of the Medo-Persian empire. At this time, another Jew, Nehemiah, rose to power as the king’s cupbearer. But inside his soul, there raged a distress and anxiety which no earthly power nor acclaim could alleviate. No material advantage could obscure the fact that Jerusalem, the city of God’s people, was desolate, broken down, and burned with fire.
His despair and sorrow became so great that it manifested itself in his complexion, leading the king to take notice of his condition. After hearing of his distress, the king granted Nehemiah’s request to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild what had been broken down.
Through trials, difficulties, obstruction, and outright slander, he persevered in his great task. When enticed by his enemies to leave his task, he responded with vigor, as recorded in Nehemiah 6:3: “[…]I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”
What would cause a man of Nehemiah’s stature, a man who, of the many thousands of Jews in captivity, had achieved power and prestige in a foreign land, to leave his privileged position in the king’s court, and lead the reconstruction of a burnt, broken-down city, left in ruins by its conquerors? Behind the extraordinary actions of Nehemiah, and of all the great men and women recalled thus far, lay an unshakeable faith in the promises of God. A faith that believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that “what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Romans 4:21).
In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White well captures this overwhelming faith which possessed God’s people throughout the millennia following the promise given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. She writes,
For more than a thousand years the Jewish people had awaited the Saviour’s coming. Upon this event they had rested their brightest hopes. In song and prophecy, in temple rite and household prayer, they had enshrined His name. (Desire of Ages, pg. 27)
God’s people had carried out their lives for millennia, waiting, hoping, and praying for the coming of the promised Messiah. Yet at the time appointed in the courts of heaven, Christ, the Messiah, the promised Redeemer, the Savior of the world, was born in Bethlehem.
This child, birthed in a stable and wrapped in a manger, became, at the very moment of his birth, the focal point of Old Testament prophecy, and the culmination of 4,000 years of faith in the promises of God, all brought to fruition through one defining act of supernatural grace. This child, weak and feeble though he may have appeared, would, through his life and death, serve as the crowning act in the plan of redemption, and the crucial death blow in the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
Millennia have passed since Christ lived, died, and rose again, but the impact of His life has never been so clearly felt on the human race. In the intervening centuries since His death, He has become, without question, the most influential and controversial man ever to walk the face of the Earth. In His name, wars have been fought, peace has been wrought, love has been bestowed, and hate has been expressed. The trajectories of empires, the greatest acts of good and evil, countless acts of love and mercy–all have been inspired and shaped by His life and legacy.
But it wasn’t His birth that changed the world, so much as what happened next.
 All references are NKJV unless otherwise noted