I was asked this question recently. I like questions because they help me think. Jesus is a great asker and answerer of questions. What would you say? A few thoughts.
Jesus was born, lived, died and it's claimed was raised from the dead, 2000 years ago. Eyewitnessed and leaving an impression on human history that is hard to deny.
Bible writers tell us Jesus came "at just the right time" (Romans 5:6) and "when the set time had come" (Galatians 4:4).
The Bible daraes to speak of a mysterious thing called time. From Genesis 1, evening and morning, seasons... not just time but a purposeful progression. Time is a curious and intruiging thing.
But why the wait?
The misconception is that this was a delay to salvation. Salvation was, the Bible says, planned before creation, and was always available. It's clear that Enoch, Abraham and Ruth, David, Anna and Simeon and many others knew the LORD. There was no lack in revelation. The Triune God made himself known truly.
So, why did Jesus come?
To become one of us and to put humanity to death, so that by his death we can step into God's family. This was always possible - by faith - but the actual events that would make that possible hadn't happened.
The new thing in the New Testament isn't the idea of the incarnation, crucifixion or (as some suggest) that God is Trinity. That's all in the Old Testament - the new thing is event of the incarnation, the event of the crucifixion and resurrection and so on. There is a fresh sense of the spreading of the gospel, in the power of the Spirit, to the nations of the world but the idea of a 'Gentile' believer in the God of Israel isn't a new thing - see Ruth, the people of Nineveh and many others.
Throughout the Old Testament God's story was unfolding. He laid out the grammar of his gospel that would mean we could interpret the events of Jesus' death and life - through the types and shadows of the law and prophets. All that Tabernacle, Priesthood, Monarchy and more describes and reveals how human beings can relate to the Triune God.
And, God was wratcheting up frustration of sin and expectation of divine action. Centuries of a story that make people ask: How does this God keep forgiving people? Doesn't he care about their rebellion and betrayal? Evidently He's a justifier of sinners but is he just to do that?
The coming of Jesus is the answer - in the crucifixion of this Jesus divine wrath against human sin is dealt with. Jesus comes at the right time, when we were powerless, ungodly - he stepped in and did what we could, would and were never going to be able to do.
Why did he come when he came?
Because it was the right time, the set time. It was time to end the childish immaturity of a people living under law, and step into the maturity of adoption (Galatians 4:1-4).
The danger with the question is that it sounds really noble to say "this God isn't fair because what about those people before Jesus." The answer given is that they had every opportunity to entrust themselves to the Triune God as their salvation. And much more do we.
And while we look back, we need also look ahead. The story of humanity also has an end point, an unknown time in the future. A time that delays to give us opportunity to respond through undeserved divine patience to the good news that has been proclaimed for 2000 years... a time that will be unexpected to discourage us from complacency.
Christ is available. God has become one of us. One of us is a member of the Trinity. And the good news is that we're invited into his story, his family, his time.
A few centuries ago Samuel Rutherford wrote:
The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for—the fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land...
The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.
For myself, I've known Jesus for almost 19 of my 37 years, and I only wish we'd begun to walk together sooner.
Image - Creative Commons - bitslammer.