Has Christianity always existed?
One of the questions posed by skeptics and “seekers” is, “If Christianity is exclusively the one, true faith then what did people do before Christianity?” Did humanity just wander blindly in the morass of religious confusion until Jesus popped up and turned the light on? This is a fair question. I posed the same question to my Mormon neighbor on a flight. “What did people do before Joseph Smith?” He shrugged and responded, “They did the best they could with what they had.” That’s it? Humanity “winged it” until Joseph Smith showed us the light? That answer is not logically or theologically satisfying.
But is Christianity’s answer any more satisfying? Yes, Jesus, God’s Son appeared in the flesh only 2,000 years ago. Yes, believers were first called Christians in Antioch roughly a decade after Christ’s death. But Christianity was a derogatory title meaning, “little christ” given to Christ’s followers by her enemies. It was not given by God. But it stuck because Christians actually liked being called “little christ.” The insult backfired into a complement.
My point is that Christianity is not in a title but in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. So while the title might only be 1,970 years old, the quintessence of Christianity, the cross, is as old as history. It is a fact that the Godhead has been declaring the coming work of Christ on the cross When Adam and Eve sinned against God their innocence was lost and the first thing they did was hide their nakedness because of the instinctive awareness of being sexually exposed.
They used leaves but God eventually clothed them in animal skins. This implies God had to kill an animal to cloth them. A little further on in Scripture we see that God required the death of an animal whenever man sinned. Around this time God promises that while Satan injured man in seducing him to sin, from the seed of a woman would come a Man who would crush Satan’s head. But until that time, sin was to be accompanied with animal sacrifice.
What an odd thing for God to command—an animal’s death for our sin. It sounds rather barbaric and cruel. But sin against our Creator is crueler still and demands judgment. Somehow, in some vague way, that animal was being judged in the sinner’s place.
As the Scripture, God’s revelation, unfolds God adds more laws to the sacrificial animal. It must be perfect, male, sacrificed on the day of Passover (though not only on that day), entirely consumed by mouth or flame—no leftovers, etc., For thousands of years, Jews and Gentile God-fearers sacrificed countless lambs for their sins. They understood that salvation was not in the sacrifice but in faith alone that God would forgive their sins through the sacrifice.
Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, writes that roughly 2 million Jews streamed through Jerusalem every year at Passover. And on the 14th of Nisan, from 3-5 pm, priests slaughtered roughly 250,000 lambs for the pilgrim-families. The blood ran thick and deep out the back of the temple down the Kidron Valley making the brook flowing to Bethlehem run red for days.
In Isaiah 53 Isaiah the prophet wrote some 700 years before Christ that the Messiah would be scourged for our iniquities, he would be a lamb led to the slaughter, he would be a sin-sacrifice offered to the Father and that by his wounds we would be healed.
One employee handed out passages from Isaiah 53 to his co-workers and asked them about whom the verses were speaking. Everyone thought they were verses from the New Testament concerning Christ. They were surprised to find out these were prophesies 700 years before Christ. Unlike the vague, enigmatic “prophesies” of many cults and religions, there’s no mistaking Scripture’s prophesies concerning Christ’s sacrifice.
Was it mere “happenstance” then that Jesus was killed on Nisan 14th, the same day Israel had been killing lambs for their sins for thousands of years? Was it mere chance that several, reliable, eye-witness accounts testify that Jesus was actually nailed to the cross at 3pm, exactly when the slaughtering of the lambs commenced? Was John the Baptizer mistaken when he saw Jesus from a distance and cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?” No, he was just connecting the prophetic dots.
How does all this answer the question, “If Christianity is exclusively the one true faith then what did people do before Christianity?” It answers the question because we see that since the dawning of time, through the sacrificial institution, God has made the cross the center of history.
It is the event that the Old Testament saints anticipated and the New Testament saints reverently remember. It is the only faith that spans the breadth of history because, as God has revealed, it is the only way one can truly know Him and be know by Him—through the atoning work of the God-Man Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12).