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Preparing for Christ

By Richard Gunther


Before John prepared the Jews, God prepared the world. When Christ arrived, the Greek, Roman and Jewish nations were the three main peoples of the world - Rome being the most dominant. Pilate recognized this when he put the inscription on the cross - in Hebrew, Greek and Latin - Luke 23:38, John 19:20.

First, the Romans made the roads for the coming King. 100 years before the Messiah the world was intensely localized and subdivided and broken up into little nations, with their separate customs, and religions, and laws; their jealousies and suspicions, their constant wars, their bristling frontiers. The land was frequented by skirmishes, and pirates made sea-traffic hazardous. Just when the world needed to be leveled, federated and unified, Rome moved into action, spreading roads and communication through all the countries it conquered.

The Greeks brought a common language to the Roman world - just as English is an international language for the world today. The Jews spoke Aramaic, the Romans Latin (Acts 2:8 - 11). The beautiful, flexible Greek language became the main one - thus making the preaching by Paul accessible to the Romans, the Corinthians, the Athenians, the pagan tribes of Galatia and so on.

The Jew - holder of the "oracles of God" (Rom.3:2), was part of a large, scattered nation, which had representatives right through the Roman Empire. Acts 2:5 devout Jews "out of every nation under heaven" were gathered in Jerusalem. Acts 15:21 "For Moses of old time has in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day." When the gospel was taken to all the world (Col. 1:6, 23, Mat. 24:14) the scattered Israelites, like patches of good soil, took the heavenly seed, as they recognized Jesus their Messiah, thus fulfilled in the OT predictions.

Also, about 200 years before the Messiah came, the Hebrew OT had been translated into Greek, the common tongue (the Septuagint), and so all who read it were prepared in some way for the coming of the Messiah.

About the time of Christ, Rome was bearing the fruits of her conquests. Money became easy to acquire, luxury and extravagance in every area prevailed, boredom went with changing entertainments, sport replaced work, thousands of useless slaves served wealthy and lazy owners; idleness led to trivial arguments and people went looking for distractions with which to while away their time.

Coupled with the material decay, came moral decay. Family life broke down. Divorce became too easy. Two decrees - one in 19 BC and one in 9 AD sought to limit it by punishing adulterers and encouraging fertility. But the Romans discovered that it required more than the will of a sovereign to repair the moral standard of a nation. Abortion was common practice and unwanted children were abundant.

Livy (a great Roman historian) wrote : "We have reached the point where we can no longer support either our vices or the remedies which would cure us of them.n

To counter these trends, the Stoics sought total detachment from all affairs of men. Other people set themselves up as sages, soothsayers and gurus, along with other charlatans, and their advice was popular. Oriental cults were brought back by men who had served in the East, and by slaves. Rome's much vaunted Empire was a "welter of speculation and confusion; contradictory elements were united in a synthesis which defied logic, and countered the official rationalism with a hydra of irrationalism".

Other people resorted to philosophy, pacifism, and/or a complete acceptance of conditions as they were. Philo taught the path of ecstasy and the elevation of the soul to rejoin God. Neopythagorism taught refocusing of the soul on the Divinity. The soul of Rome hungered for Christ without realizing what it was hungering for, but when the Christ came, and the gospel was preached, the message spread rapidly. There are many parallels between the time of Christ's first coming and the present world. The time is ripe for the return of Christ.

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