At this time of year, we focus on Christ’s birth, but there is a fascinating incident the Bible describes near the beginning of Jesus’ human life, several months prior. It is the Embryonic Jesus Story.
Luke 1 tells about the first person besides Jesus’ mother and earthly father who recognized He was extraordinary – Jesus’ cousin John, while John was yet a fetus, and Jesus was but an embryo.
When John was a preborn 6-month-old, his Aunt Mary came to visit John’s expectant mother Elizabeth, her cousin. Mary was newly pregnant with Jesus.
Luke 1:41 says when Mary greeted Elizabeth, John kicked. Elizabeth told Mary, “The instant I heard your voice, my baby moved in me for joy!”
Elizabeth then prophesied, “You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child that you will have. I feel blessed that the mother of my Lord is visiting me.”
John was later known as John the Baptist. Jesus said John and his role were foreseen in Malachi 3:1: “I am sending my messenger ahead of you to prepare the way in front of you.”
Amazingly, John began preparing the way for Jesus at the tender age of six fetal months.
Actually, this was also prophesied. Before John was even conceived, the angel Gabriel told his father Zechariah: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born … He will go ahead of the Lord … He will prepare the people for their Lord” (Lu. 1:15-17).
On a practical level, we learn from these Scriptures that preborn babies hear, display emotion, communicate intuitively with their mothers, and even launch their life’s work.
Science has corroborated babies hear as early as 20 weeks, which the Bible knew several thousand years ago, and most mothers say they bond with their preborn babies.
But can fetuses really show emotion and begin fulfilling their destiny? The incident described in Luke wasn’t the first biblical account of fetuses displaying dispositions.
Genesis 25 tells about Rebekah and the twins she was carrying, Jacob and Esau. Verses 21-22 say: “When the children inside her were struggling with each other, she said, ‘If it’s like this now, what will become of me?'”
The Lord answered her: “Two countries are in your womb. Two nations will go their separate ways from birth. One nation will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (verse 23).
The struggles between the boys began in utero. The younger Jacob was born “with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel.” Jacob later claimed Esau’s birthright, and God changed his name to Israel. The hostilities between the stronger Israelites and the weaker Edomites came to pass. Jacob’s prenatal propensity for “struggling” lasted his entire life. He once even physically wrestled God (Genesis 32:22-32).
Genesis 38:27-30 tells about another set of fetal twins: “As [Tamar] was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, ‘This one came out first.’ But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, ‘Is this how you burst into the world!’ He was named Perez (Bursting Into). After that his brother was born with the red yarn on his hand. He was named Zerah (Sunrise).”
Tamar’s firstborn son, Perez, was an ancestor of God’s firstborn son, Jesus (Matthew 1:3, Luke 3:33).
Yes, a person’s mark on the world begins prenatally. David said in Psalm 22:10, “From the womb you have been my God.” Paul said in Galatians 1:15, “… God … appointed me before I was born …” Conversely, Psalm 58:3 says, “Even inside the womb wicked people are strangers to God.”
God does want the best for us. Just as he told Jeremiah in 1:5, he tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for a special work.”
God’s plan for each egg, sperm, embryo, fetus, baby, child and adult are beyond our human capacity to comprehend. Ecclesiastes 11:5 says: “Just as you don’t know how the breath of life enters the limbs of a child within its mother’s womb, you also don’t understand how God, who made everything, works.”
The angel Gabriel made another prediction to Zechariah about his son John, saying, “He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children.”
I pray John’s part in the Embryonic Jesus Story will do just that regarding some attitudes previously accepting of abortion.