Articles & News

Why Jesus Came Unrecognized

November 28, 2022

-by Dr. J. Vernon McGee, from the digital booklet “Right on Time: Expecting Jesus, Then and Now”

God blazed a trail down through history in such a definite way through Old Testament prophecies that when Jesus Christ came, the people should have known by the prophetic Scriptures who He was.

God made the details very clear that this one who was coming would:

  • Be born of a woman; that is, God would take upon Himself human flesh and be born into the human family.
  • Follow a certain genealogical line leading to the Messiah—from Abraham down through the centuries to David. God promised David that from his line would come the Messiah, the Deliverer, the one who would restore to this earth that which Adam lost.
  • The Deliverer would also be born of a virgin.

God actually established, not the date, but the time and the place in which the Messiah would be born. May I say, you can’t add much more than that. There were enough points of identification that the people should have recognized Him when He arrived.

Why didn’t the Jews recognize Him? Perhaps they just didn’t believe He would come. They knew the Scriptures well, but they didn’t believe them. According to Matthew’s record, the scribes of Israel knew the place where Jesus was to be born, but you could never have convinced them that in that miserable stable, probably only a cave, lay a little newborn boy who was to be the Savior of the world! And after a time, when the wise men came, the scribes were not even interested in going with them to see what had really happened down there in Bethlehem. They did not believe. That’s why they didn’t travel five miles down the road to check it out. If they thought their Messiah was there, they would have gone immediately. But they absolutely didn’t believe it.

In our day, the world is following the same road. Those people who had the Scriptures were in the same position the professing Christian is in today; that is, a state of unbelief. Did you know the majority of churches reject the Second Coming of Christ? They have absolutely turned aside from the clear teaching of Scripture, so if He did make His appearance and were to come in a manner like He came before, do you think the world would accept Him? Of course it wouldn’t. They’re not looking for Him to come again at all. Peter wrote:

… Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” -2 Peter 3:3, 4

The world just doesn’t believe in Christ’s return. By and large, the church is also in a state of unbelief relative to the Second Coming of Christ. They, too, don’t believe.

At His first coming, the religious scholars should have known He would be born in that general period of time—not a thousand years later, nor a hundred years earlier. They knew Messiah’s birth would fit into God’s program in that particular time slot. When the wise men appeared out of the East, they certainly alerted old Herod, and it should also have alerted these scribes. They should have said, “Yes, our Scriptures not only tell where He is to be born, but they also give us some conception of when He is to be born!” They should have been interested enough to at least go check it out and see about this baby who was born in Bethlehem. But as far as the record is concerned, those knowledgeable, complacent religious rulers did not take one step toward Bethlehem. They did not believe it at all!

But the common people of Israel and others around the world did have a note of expectancy. They sensed a deliverer or ruler was going to come from Judaea. Consider how the magi came, at the right hour, inquiring at Jerusalem after the new-born King of the Jews. First century Roman historian, Suetonius, wrote that “an ancient and definite expectation” had spread throughout the East, that a ruler of the world would, about that time, arise in Judaea. Tacitus, another Roman historian, said the same. Also in the first century, word was that Buddhist missionaries traveled to China to meet with Chinese sages seeking the Messiah.

The world held their breath in their search for a Savior. But only those who believed recognized Him. These secular searchers couldn’t always pin down what they were looking for—they didn’t have the Scriptures—but there was an expectancy that a Deliverer was coming to the earth.

In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, it was written:

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. -Malachi 3:1

And the next voice on the scene four hundred years later was John the Baptist, announcing that he was the forerunner to the Savior of the world, the one who is to be the Ruler of this earth (see John 1). 

Download "Right On Time: Expecting Jesus, Then and Now" for free.

My Turn

  1. What did you learn in this “history lesson” from Dr. McGee?
  2. “Believing God’s Word” seems to be the timeless theme of the greatest events in history. As you hear the Christmas story told and retold this season, filter it through this grid. What were each of the people “believing about God?”
  3. Consider the promises of God that you have read in the Bible. Some are easier to believe than others, aren’t they? In a quiet moment, tell God what you believe about Him and ask Him to help you believe other truths that you find difficult. (He wants to help you believe Him.)