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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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The preparation to receive the Saviour

When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under

the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons

(Gal. 4:4-5).

In what consists this “fullness of time” which was ordained for the work of redemption? In

the verses which precede the quoted words of the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians, the

Apostle speaks of the time before the coming of the Saviour as being “when we were children

(Gal. 4:3). Thus, he calls the period of the Old Testamentchildhood,” the time of upbringing,

the guidance of children under the law of Moses; while the coming of the Saviour is the end of

childhood.”

We can understand the significance of this preparatory period if we are guided by the parable

of the Prodigal Son. The father sorrowed over the departure from his house of his beloved

son. However, not violating the dignity and freedom of his son, he waited until the son, having

experienced the bitterness of evil and recalled the goodness of life in his father’s house, himself

became homesick for the father’s house and opened his soul for the father’s love. Thus it was

with the human race also. “My soul thirsteth after Thee like a waterless land(Ps. 142:6) could

have been said by the best part of mankind; it had become a “thirsty land,” having tasted to the

dregs the bitterness of estrangement from God.

The Lord did not abandon men, did not turn utterly away, but from the moment of the fall

into sin led them toward the future salvation.

1. Having cut off the criminality of the original mankind by means of the Flood, the Lord

chose first from the descendants of Noah, who had been saved from the Flood, a single race for

the preservation of piety and faith in the one true God, and likewise of faith in the coming Saviour.

This was the race of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then the whole Hebrew people. In His

care for His chosen people, God led them out of slavery, preserved them in the desert, settled

them in a land flowing with milk and honey; He made covenants: the covenant of circumcision

and the covenant of the law of Sinai; He sent them judges, prophets, warned them, chastisedthem, and again had mercy, leading them out of the Babylonian captivity; and finally, from their

midst He prepared a chosen one, who became the Mother of the Son of God.

The choosiness of the Hebrew people was confirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ when He said

to the Samaritan woman that salvation is of the Jews(John 4:22). The writings of the Apostles

testify abundantly to the same thing: The speech of the first martyr Stephen and the Apostle Peter

in the Book of Acts, the Epistles of the Apostle Paul to the Romans and Galatians, and other

places in Sacred Scripture.

2. Further, preparation for the reception of the Saviour consisted of a) the comforting promises

of God and b) the prophecies of the prophets concerning His coming.

a) The promises of God began in Paradise. The words of the Lord to the serpent concerning

“the Seed of the womanpossess a mystical significance: “And I will put enmity between thee

and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed, it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt

bruise his heel(Gen. 3:15). The promise given here concerning the Seed of the woman became

even clearer for the chosen ones of faith with the increase of prophecies about the Saviour Who

Himself would endure suffering from the violence of the devil (Ps. 21), and strike him down:

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth

the whole world; he war cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Apoc.

12:9).

Further, there was the promise to Abraham: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the

earth be blessed(Gen. 22:18) — a promise repeated to Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 26:4; 28:14). Its

authentic significance was also gradually revealed to the Jews, during the period of their captivities

and other misfortunes, as the promise of a Saviour of the world.

b) Prophecies: the blessing of Judah The Patriarch Jacob, in blessing one of his sons just

before his death, uttered an even more definite prophecy concerning the Saviour: “A ruler shall

not fail from Judah, nor a prince from his loins, until there come the thing stored up for him (in

the Hebrew: until there come a reconciler); and he is the expectation of nations (Gen. 49:10,

Septuagint). In other words, the authority of the tribe of Judah shall not cease until the Reconciler,

the hope of the nations, comes; and consequently, the termination of the authority of the

tribe of Judah will be a clear sign of the coming of the Saviour. The ancient Jewish teachers saw

in the “Reconciler” the awaited Messiah, to whom they applied this name (in Hebrew Shiloh, the

Reconciler).

Another prophecy consists of the words of Moses to his people: “Thy Lord thy God will

raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye

shall hearken(Deut. 18:15). After Moses there were many great prophets among the Hebrews,

but to none of them were the words of Moses referred. And the same Book of Deuteronomy testifies

of the time close to Moses; “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses

(Deut. 34:10). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself referred the words of Moses to Himself. “For had

ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me for he wrote of Me” (John 5:46).

Then came numerous prophecies in the form of prefigurations in the Psalms, of which the

most expressive is Psalm 21, which the ancient rabbis recognized as a hymn of the Messiah. It

includes a depiction of the severe and tormenting sufferings which the Saviour bore upon the

Cross: O God my God, attend to me; why hart Thou forsaken me… All that look upon me have

laughed me to scorn; they have spoken with their lips and have wagged their heads: He hoped in

the Lord; let Him deliver him… I have been poured out lake water, and scattered are all mybones... They have parted my garments amongst themselves, and for my vesture have they cast

lots...” Near the end of the Psalm are these words which concern the triumph of the Church: “In

the great church will I confess Thee... The poor shall eat and be filled... Their hearts shall live

for ever and ever.”

A number of other Psalms also contain such prophecies or prefigurations. Some of these

proclaim the sufferings of the Saviour (Pss. 39, 68, 108, 40, 15, 8), while others proclaim His

glory (Pss. 2, 109, 44, 67, 117, 96, 94).

Finally, closer to the end of the Old Testament period, numerous prophecies appear in the

books of the so-called major and minor prophets, and these ever more clearly reveal the imminent

coming of the Son of God. They speak of the forerunner of the Lord, of the time, place, and

conditions of the Saviour’s birth, of His spiritual-bodily image (His meekness, humility and other

features), of the events preceding the betrayal of the Lord, of His sufferings and Resurrection, of

the descent of the Holy Spirit, of the character of the New Testament, and of other aspects of the

Lord’s coming.

Among these prophecies a special place belongs to the fifty third chapter of the prophet

Isaiah, which gives an image of the Saviour’s sufferings on the Cross. Here is how Isaiah prefigures

the redeeming sufferings of the Messiah, Christ:

“Who hath believed our report? and to Whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For He shall

grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form

nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid

as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath

born our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God,

and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities:

the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we

like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath

laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened

not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers

is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and

who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the

transgression of my people was He stricken... And He was numbered with the transgressors;

and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53:1-8, 12

KJV; the Septuagint text is only slightly different).

In the Prophet Daniel we read the revelation given to him by the Archangel Gabriel concerning

the seventy weeks (490 years) — the period of time from the decree for the restoration of Jerusalem

before Christ, until His death and the cessation of the Old Testament, that is, the cessation of

sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24-27).

These promises and prophecies, first of all, gave support to the chosen people, especially

during the difficult periods of its life; they gave support to its firmness, faith, and hope. Secondly,

they prepared the people so that they would be able to recognize by these prophecies that the time

of the promise was near, and that they might recognize the Saviour Himself in the form given

Him by the prophets.Thanks to these prophecies, as the time of the Saviour’s coming neared, the expectation of

Him was intense and vigilant among pious Jews. We see this in the Gospels. This is revealed in

the expectation of Symeon the God-receiver, to whom it was declared that he would not see

death until he had beheld Christ the Lord (Luke 2:26). It is revealed in the reply of the Samaritan

woman to the Saviour: “I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come,

He will tell us all things(John 4:25). It is revealed in the questions of the Jews who came to

John the Baptist: Art thou the Christ?” (John 1:20-25); in the words addressed by Andrew, the

first-called Apostle, after his first meeting with Christ, to his brother Simon: “We have found the

Messiah(John 1:41), and likewise in the similar words of Philip to Nathaniel in the evangelist’s

account of their calling to the apostleship (John 1:44-45). Another testimony to it is the people’s

attitude at the time of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem.

3. To what has been said above must be added the fact that it was not only the Jews who

were being prepared for the reception of the Saviour, but also the whole world, although to a

lesser degree.

Even in the pagan world there were preserved — even though in a distorted formtraditions

concerning the origin and originally blessed condition of mankind (the Golden Age), concerning

the fall of our first ancestors in Paradise, concerning the Flood as a consequence of

man’s corruption, and-most important of all — the tradition of a coming Redeemer of the human

race and the expectation of His coming, as may be seen in the works of Plato, Plutarch, Virgil,

Ovid, Strabo, and likewise in the history of the religions of the ancient world (for example, the

prediction of the sibyls (The sybils were pagan seeresses whose oracles and predictions were highly regarded in

pagan Rome. These oracles referred for the most part to the destiny of peoples, kingdoms, and rulers, and some of

them hinted at the coming of Christ.), of which we read in Cicero and Virgil).

The pagans found themselves in contact with the chosen people by means of mutual visits,

sea voyages, wars, the captivities of the Jews (especially the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities),

and trade, and thanks to the dispersion of the Jews into the various countries of the three

parts of the old world towards the end of the Old Testament period. Under these conditions, the

light of faith in the One God and hope in a Redeemer could be spread to other peoples also.

Over two centuries prior to Christ’s Nativity, a translation of the sacred books of the Hebrews

had been made into Greek, and many pagan scholars, writers, and educated people in general

made use of it; there are various testimonies of this, particularly among the ancient Christian

writers.

From the Sacred Scripture we know that apart from the chosen people there were other people

also who had preserved faith in the One God, and were on the way to the acceptance of piety.

We learn of this in the account of Melchisedek in the book of Genesis (Gen. 14:18), in the history

of Job, in the account of the father-in-law of Moses, Jethro of Midian (Exodus 18), in the

account of Balaam, who prophecied concerning the Messiah: “I shall see Him, but not now; I

shall behold Him, but not nigh(Num. 24:17), and in the repentance of the Ninevites after the

preaching of Jonah. The readiness of many of the best people in the pagan world for the reception

of the good news of the Saviour is also attested to by the fact that by the preaching of the Apostles

the Church of Christ was quickly planted in every country of the pagan world, and that Christ

Himself sometimes encountered in the pagans such faith as He did not find in the Jews themselves.

“But when the fullness of the time was come(Gal.4:4), or, in other words:• when the human race, following after Adam, had tasted in full measure, spiritually

speaking, of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and had come to know in experience

the sweetness of doing good and the bitterness of evil doing;

• when for the most part mankind had reached an extreme degree of impiety and corruption;

• when the best, although smallest, part of humanity had an especially great thirst, longing,

and desire to see the promised Redeemer, Reconciler, Saviour, Messiah;

• when, finally, by God’s will, the political conditions were ready because the whole of

the civilized part of humanity had been united under the authority of Rome-something

which strongly favored the spreading of faith and the Church of Christ;

• then the promised and expected Son of God came to earth.




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