Question: I am stuck on a very important question regarding salvation, and would greatly appreciate any insight you could give me. Why did God choose to wait thousands of years before sending a Redeemer? God chose to wait thousands of years before Christ's coming. As an interim redemption, God commanded Adam and his children to offer animal sacrifices for their sins. This didn't result in complete atonement for their sins, only a sort of interim atonement. When these humans died, they were either sent to "Abraham's bosom" or hell until Christ's sacrifice on the cross. During those thousands of years, literally millions of humans lived, sinned, offered animal sacrifices, and died without being able to achieve full atonement. They were forced to await the Redeemer before they could live fully in God's presence.
Once Christ sacrificed Himself for us, the sins of all humans, both before Christ and after Christ were completely atoned for (at least in those cases where the human asked for forgiveness.) Since Christ's sacrifice, all humans could achieve complete atonement, and enter immediately into the presence of God upon death.
It appears that we who die after Christ's death and resurrection have a much better deal. Can you enlighten me as to why God chose to let humans live without the salvation of Christ for such a long time?
Response: You pose an interesting question, one that has several answers, depending upon how it is approached. Let me start with your last observation first, namely, that we have it better now. In many ways this is true - Christ has been glorified, and so could and has sent His Spirit. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the gifts we have received are certainly blessings beyond description. And we have the entire Bible!
As to the atonement to which you refer, I suppose there is a sense in which you are correct, but remember that Christ was able to forgive sins during His First Advent, that is, before He went to the cross and actually "paid" the price for them (cf. Matt.9:2). And David pronounces blessings upon the man whose sins God has wiped out (i.e., David and everyone else who has ever appealed to God for mercy: Ps.32:1). It is true that in these and all other cases of forgiveness before the cross, God is basing His just mercy upon the sure knowledge of Christ's later sacrifice (Rom.3:25-26 explains this principle), whereas we today have this same just mercy based upon the historical fact of Jesus' death for us and for the whole world. But whether looking forward to the cross in anticipation or looking back to it in remembrance, in both cases the children of God seek and receive His mercy and forgiveness, seek His atonement and propitiation by faith in the substitute He would (then) or has (now) provided.
Scripture is clear that Christ's coming was at the exact right time:
1. it was at the "fulfilled time": Mk.1:15
2. it was at the "proper time": Rom.5:6
3. it was at "the fullness of time" Gal.4:4
4. it was when "the times reached their fulfillment": Eph.1:10
5. it formed the very "conjunction of the ages": Heb.9:26
Why is this? Well, for one thing, had Christ come immediately after Adam and Eve were ejected from Eden, it is hard to see how you and I would fit into the plan. This is only apparently a "flip" answer. For God's plan in Jesus Christ most definitely does include the calling out of His entire Church (including you and me) from that first beginning until the end of history, and so there is definitely a specific time and place for you and me, as well as for all who have and who ever shall believe, from the beginning until the end. This is an issue I have tried to explicate in the Satanic Rebellion Series: part 5: section II, "The Plan of God in Human History". Through the course of history, from the divine point of view, God shows His mercy and truth, the rightness of His approach and the emptiness of the devil's lies in every way, in every venue, and in the process calls out an entire replacement echelon of the family of God to replace all that was lost by the devil's revolt. We have the great privilege of being part of that process, part of the calling, and all of it, all of it, focuses upon and looks to the cross of Jesus Christ (whether forward or backward). After all, one might also ask (and indeed the question is more frequently asked), "Why didn't Christ return immediately? Why wait thousands of years for the Second Advent?" To this my reply is the same as above: all these things will happen at the time and place of God's choosing for the ultimate good of all His children.
We can see in this particular aspect in the operation of the plan of God a macrocosm of our individual lives vis-a-vis the plan of God. Why aren't we immediately transported to heaven after believing? Or to hell after rejecting Christ? Why does God sometimes not answer our prayers immediately? Why do we have to wait? In all these things, God is showing us something here on earth, namely, His faithfulness and goodness, and righteousness, and wisdom in all manner of situations, places, and historical eras. God is showing us Himself. All we have to do is to watch, and listen, and learn, and trust Him that He knows best and is doing the best for us, no matter what the world says to the contrary.
God has a different take on time than we do, in part at least because He sees in one stitch of time all these things, Adam and Eve, you and I, Jesus' two advents, and all who have chosen for Him, so that with Him, slowness to act over several millennia is not really slowness at all (2Pet.3:8-9), but rather the perfect development and implementation of the perfect plan that gives all of His creatures the perfect opportunity for salvation and spiritual growth, and for coming to appreciate to the full what a truly and indescribably marvelous God He is.
See also these links:
Peter's Epistles: Lesson # 3: The Plan of God
The Saving Work of Jesus Christ (in BB 4A: Christology)
Hope this is of some help on this score.
In the One who constructed the ages, our Lord Jesus Christ.