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Why was Christ born when he was born? Why not earlier? Why not later? Does the time period of his life have a symbolic or practical importance?

I am not aware of any reason why Christ needed to live when he did other than to fulfill prophecy, but that prophecy only exists because God had previously chosen the time for Christ's birth. So why?

The reason for Christ's life was to perform the Atonement, but I can't imagine the particular timing of it mattered much since it was an infinite atonement.

Another effect of the atonement is that it enabled missionary work in the spirit world as well as performing temple ordinances for them. Many spirits had to wait a few thousand years for this to happen. It seems like they might have preferred if Christ had lived earlier so that they didn't have to wait so long. One might say that time only exists on this earth and not in the world of spirits, so why then is genealogy and temple work so important?

I'm willing to accept that the answer to my question is "because God said so" but I would like to know if there happens to be more than that.

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+1 great question. The symbolism is striking. Interesting that Christ was born prophetically "in the meridian of time." What of a Savior who was not born central to time and all creation? –  Matt Dec 15 '13 at 22:07
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possible duplicate of Was there a reason Jesus came at the time he did? –  fredsbend Dec 15 '13 at 22:45
    
Is there some LDS doctrinal point you were going for? Can this be edited to not be a duplicate and get at what you were looking for? –  David Stratton Dec 16 '13 at 0:13
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Could it be that Jesus was not born on the meridian of time, but the term was coined after his death to indicate how miraculous the time was? –  Bye Dec 16 '13 at 2:31
    
@DavidStratton I just edited it. Is that any better? –  JustinY Dec 16 '13 at 2:57
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2 Answers

Not being familiar with the term "meridian of time" I clicked on your hyperlink and read the definition given there. While there are many terms Christians use today which are not in the Bible, including "the meridian of time," I can only suggest there is a term in the Bible which tells us why Jesus came when He did. It comes from Galatians:

ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα [pleroma] τοῦ χρόνου [chronos], ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον (4:4)

In other words, "when the time had fully come," or "at the appropriate time," or "in the fullness of time," that was the time God sent His Son,

ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον ἐξαγοράσῃ, ἵνα τὴν υἱοθεσίαν ἀπολάβωμεν [born of a woman, born under the Law that He might rescue those under the Law, that we might receive the full rights of sonship]

So we have the "fullness of time" and the "full rights" of sons, both expressions fitting in nicely with the theme of Galatians, which is the fullness offered by Christ, versus the emptiness offered by the Judaizers. Christ offers freedom; the Judaizers offer slavery. But I digress.

The importance of prophecy, as you indicated in your question, must not be underestimated. While God may inhabit eternity, He reveals Himself in time and space. That was His plan from all eternity. That plan comprises part of the eternal decrees of God. God is the only One who works out all things according to the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11).

God, as the Lord of time, knows the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end. As both omniscient and omnipotent, God not only can do (i.e., He has the power to do) what He has decreed He will do, but He also will do what He has decreed, and in the best possible way (i.e., He has the wisdom and knowledge to "pull it off").

There were other, more prosaic--albeit important--factors at work when Jesus appeared on the scene at the appropriate (or the fullness of) time:

  • The Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which was characterized by an epoch of relative calm made possible by the sheer power, not to mention the administrative expertise, of the dominant world power of the day, imperial Rome.

  • The ubiquitous presence of the Greek language, attributable to the tremendous admiration the Romans had for all things Greek. The dissemination of the message of the Christian Gospel was aided in no small measure by the existence of Greek as a significant medium of communication.

  • The improvement of transportation throughout the Roman Empire, thanks to the wealth of Rome, not to mention, again, its administrative ability, its military might, and ready access to slave labor to do the dirty work in creating roads, some of which are still in existence today (e.g., the Applian Way, an ancient Roman highway extending from Rome to Brundisium--now Brindisi, which was constructed beginning in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, and was about 350 miles long). The better the infrastructure of transportation, the more readily the good news could spread to the far corners of the empire.

  • The spiritual state of Judaism at the time Jesus burst on the scene. If ever there was a time for a nationwide revival within the geographical heart of Judaism in Israel, it was the first century of the common era. That is why the forerunner of Jesus, His cousin (John the Baptizer), preached a message of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord. John bore witness to that light which was coming into the world as a testimony not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles (see Luke 2:32, 38). We must remember that God's covenant with Abraham was a far-reaching covenant which would touch with blessing all the nations of the earth, starting of course with Israel.

  • The receptivity of the people to the message of Jesus, due in part to the bifurcation within the Roman Empire between the "haves" and "have nots". If ever there was a time for a Redeemer who would bring a message of hope to the underdogs of society, it was in the first century (see Luke 4:14-21 in this regard).

  • The need for God to fulfill not only His prophecies, but also His promises.

All of which brings us back to the "fullness of time." God is a God of His word. His word is His bond. What He says He will do, He will do, and it will be done in His time, according to His timing, and in the best possible way. In short, the "who, what, when, where, how, and why" of Jesus' birth were perfectly orchestrated by God well in advance, right down to the minutest detail. (Even Martha Stewart would be proud of how perfectly things were laid out, if only her heart were directed toward what really matters in life!)

At this time of year, when we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus--Emanuel, our Savior and our Lord, it is comforting to know that God's purposes and decrees could not be thwarted, neither by a Jewish king called Herod, whose heart "the prince of the power of the air" filled with hatred for the true King of the Jews, nor by an emperor, Caesar Augustus, who decreed that the then-known world be taxed, which only served to bring the parents of Jesus to the City of David, Bethlehem, the "house of bread," where a child would be born who would one day declare Himself to be the bread of life (John 6:48 ff.).

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You explain pretty well why Christ's birth perhaps shouldn't have happened earlier, but why not later? –  JustinY Dec 16 '13 at 2:34
    
@JustinY: Because that's what being on time is all about. Once you're on time, there is no such thing as "why not earlier?" and "why not later?" IOW, if Jesus had been born a year earlier or later, he would not have come in the "fullness of time" or at "the appropriate time." Moreover, God's decrees cannot be altered, thwarted, modified, added to, subtracted from, improved upon, or changed in any way. If it were possible for anyone or anything to do so, then God would not be God. This isn't fatalism; it's grace, pure and simple. God is seldom early, but He's ALWAYS on time! –  rhetorician Dec 16 '13 at 2:46
    
These are interesting facts and research, props for doing it. But I do not think it answers the question as it does not really represent the LDS perspective. –  Matt Dec 18 '13 at 2:37
    
@Matt: If I'm not mistaken, the OP's question was phrased differently when I initially provided an answer, so that may be why my answer now seems to fall short of the mark. –  rhetorician Dec 18 '13 at 4:33
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I've read through the linked definition of "Meridian of Time" several times, and I think the answer is quite simple.

The question is looking at it from the wrong angle. It's like asking "why are all the sided of a square the same length?" or "why does a triangle have three sides.

Looking at this portion of the article you linked to:

The meridian of time may also be seen as the high point of mortal time. Latter-day revelation shows that all of the ancient prophets looked forward to the Messiah's coming (Jacob 4:4; Mosiah 13:33-35;15:11). His coming fulfilled their prophecies, and he was prefigured in the Law of Moses (Mosiah 13:29-32) and in ancient ceremonial ordinances (Moses 5:5-8). The meridian of time is the apex of all dispensations because of the birth, ministry, and Atonement of Christ. Without him all prophetic writings and utterances would have had no efficacy, and the hopes of mankind today and forever would be but futile desires and yearnings without possibility of fulfillment. MARSHALL T. BURTON

The "Meridian of Time" exists only because Jesus came at that moment.

His coming at that time is what makes it the"Meridian of time".

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I only used the phrase "meridian of time" because I think it sounds better than "born when he was born". I suppose I should just remove that; it seems to be a distraction from my actual question. –  JustinY Dec 16 '13 at 14:54
    
@JustinY If your question is truly geared toward the LDS perspective, the term "meridian of time" is more than acceptable, since the term was coined in the Book of Moses. –  Matt Dec 18 '13 at 21:17
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