God revealed Himself to His people gradually so they might be ready to welcome His salvation. His revelation culminated in the person and mission the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (cf. CCC, 53). The various stages that punctuated the history of Israel prior to the coming of the Messiah can be divided into six periods:
1) In Genesis
In the beginning, God made Himself known through the creation of the world. He invited Adam and Eve to share a personal relationship with Him (cf. CCC, 54). Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible, relates two stories inspired by God about the creation of the world and humanity.
In addition, Genesis tells the story of Abraham. God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants. To gather the scattered human race into one people, God called Abram from his country and family and made him Abraham that is the “father of many nations.” Abraham is our “father in the faith,” because he believed the promises God made to him (cf. CCC 62). The story continues with Abraham’s descendants, the first Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, including Joseph, who was sold by his brothers in Egypt and later became Pharaoh’s servant. Joseph eventually saved those who had sold him.
2) The Book of Exodus
God liberated His people by freeing them from slavery in Egypt. On Mount Sinai, God established a covenant with Moses and gave Israel the divine law of the Ten Commandments. The commandments are an expression of being in a covenant relationship with God (cf. CCC, 62-63). This is the first period, characterized by miraculous events: the Ten Plagues of Egypt, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the quail and manna in the desert.
3) Israel in Canaan: A Time of Gaining Strength
The entry into Promised Land corresponds to a period of the gradual unification of the tribes into a kingdom and a time of strengthening their beliefs.
4) The Exile
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and its temple probably around 587 B.C. This event marked the beginning of the exile in Babylon. God sent the prophets to the people of Israel and their messages prepared them for the future hope of salvation. The prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, among others, proclaimed a radical message of salvation from their infidelities (cf. CCC, 64).
5) The Return to the Promised Land
A turning point came when Cyrus declared that the exiles, now known as Judeans or Jews, could return to their country in the year 538 B.C. Urged on by prophets such as Haggai and Zechariah, the people eventually established a new temple and rebuilt Jerusalem. The scribes Ezra and Nehemiah called for renewed commitment to the laws of Israel. These laws were assembled into written form in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). We speak of this time as the time of the “Second Temple.”
6) The Jews Longed For a Messiah
In 63 B.C. the Romans conquered Jerusalem and brought Jewish independence to an end. The people longed for a Messiah. The Scriptures were reread minutely to discern any indication about the date of the coming of their future Messiah. This messianic expectation in the Hebrew nation was inconsistent and took on many different forms.
Salvation history reached its perfect fulfillment in the life and mission of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God made man. What was spoken to the prophets in successive stages, God now spoke all at once by giving us His Son (CCC, 65). The incarnation of the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, concluded the time of messianic waiting (First Alliance or Old Testament) by inaugurating the New Covenant (or New Testament) of God with humanity, sealed in the blood of the Lamb sacrificed, Jesus, Son of Mary, Christ, the Word of God.
- Jerusalem Bible Time Line (Tableau chronologique de la Bible de Jérusalem), 1998 Edition.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Latin Text Copyright (c) Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano 1993.