The Fullness of Time

Time is a life-dominating principle. Yesterday I picked up a copy of our church newsletter from January of 2007 and I had published an article about how time is passing and we have to decide what to do with each moment of our lives. This is how we live – by the ticking of the clock and the passing of the hours, days, weeks, and years.

God doesn’t live this way at all. He invented time and started the original sundial in motion during His creative work. He is never in a hurry, and it is that fact that causes us so much trouble. Waiting is one of life’s greatest challenges of all. The entire world has been waiting for a very long time.

We just recently used some Wednesday nights to discuss Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 and 25 about the end times and especially the period of time the Bible refers to as the great tribulation. I believe that Christians will be removed from the earth just before this time begins in the rapture, but I also believe that the events Jesus and John (in Revelation) described cast a shadow before themselves and that we can begin to see as world events arrange themselves toward the fulfillment of those prophecies.

And when the fullness of time comes these events will occur, but it’s a tough wait. The world around us watches with skepticism to see if the Bible’s claims about the future are sure. Why then, after nearly two thousand years, am I so sure that He’s still coming? Primarily because there was another time in history when the world watched with that same skepticism to see if Israel would actually receive the Savior who had been promised to them for centuries. That Savior came – Jesus the Messiah.

“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons…” -Galatians 4:4-5

God related to the people of Israel through His law that they might understand their own inability to meet its perfect demands as well as their own need for a personal Redeemer. Why didn’t Jesus come sooner? Why where there about 400 silent years between the testaments? Why wasn’t the world’s Redeemer waiting in the promised land to meet the incoming Israelites with Joshua? Because the fullness of God’s time had not fully come yet.

We can look backward through history and see God’s purpose at work in the waiting period, but when we’re waiting, we rarely see what God is up to. Let me share some thoughts about the issue of the “fullness of time” in relation to Jesus’ first coming so we can better understand what God might be waiting on now for His second coming…

God Waited Until the World Was Ready Culturally

Paul’s experience at Athens, recorded in Acts 17, is very telling about the intellectual and philosophical atmosphere of the Roman Empire into which Jesus came. It was a time when truth was fluid and culture found itself between religions. The ancient Greek and Roman mythological belief systems were highly doubted by most citizens but belief in the supernatural was almost universal. The Roman world was polytheistic, which made the Jews stand out even more.

Athens, as the cultural epicenter of the Greek Empire, had set the tone for the culture of the Mediterranean world of the time. Art, architecture, and sculpture from the period survives today as a testament to this fact. God waited to send Jesus in a time when people were searching for meaning and absolute truth. Are we headed there? The erosion of belief in absolute truth is the single most threatening factor existent in our culture today.

God Waited Until the World Was Ready Physically

The Romans were responsible for opening the world up to every community. The landscape was paved with “Roman roads.” They would take a mortar/concrete type mixture and pour it into a trench sometimes three feet thick. Cobblestones would cover the top and then salt would be applied to the surface to harden it all. Many of these roads are still traveled today.

The Ignatian way, in particular, stretched its way across the Macedonian world allowing the early apostles, especially Paul, an easier means of travel. In spite of the bandits and other threats along the way, one could go from city to city with relative ease. This established a wonderful opportunity for the spread and communication of the gospel.

God Waited Until the World Was Ready Religiously

We’ve spoken of the culture and the philosophy, but the religious climate of Israel as a nation was another important factor in Jesus’ return. The Maccabees had led Israel to a temporary freedom, but since that time the high priesthood and religious establishment had degraded into empty legalism. The Pharisees offered only the heavy burden of extreme legalism. The Sadduccees, who controlled the Sanhedrin primarily, offered no hope of eternal life. Jesus arrived with God’s truth about grace and heaven right on time.

God Waited Until the World Was Ready Prophetically

There were various prophecies from the Old Testament that were fulfilled precisely by Jesus’ entrance into the world – His birthplace, His flight into Egypt, His being born of a virgin. But the timing of His death has been pre-figured to Daniel in Daniel 9:24 through the prophecy of the “sixty-nine weeks.” After 490 years (from the decree of Artaxerxes to release Israel from Babylonian captivity), the Messiah would be led to His atoning work.

So God’s timing was perfect in bringing Jesus into the world, which leads me to two very significant conclusions about my life and yours…

1. God will be right on time when Jesus comes again. I don’t know when He’s coming, but things seem to be shaping up in the world for it to be very soon. We see a mass communication system using satellites, the internet, and the grid (a new technology that will replace the internet as we know it) are making available the opportunity for the entire world to know instantly what is happening in the Middle East. Politcally, nations are lined up against Israel in her homeland. Natural disasters occur more now than in centuries. Hunger, poverty, and economic crisis dominate our age. And on top of all of this, our culture has come more and more to reject absolute truth. Into this kind of a climate, Jesus will come again.

2. God will be right on time in my life. We wonder why God doesn’t answer our prayer sooner or grant the miracle we’ve been waiting for. But God does know best and He is a God of purpose and perfect timing. But the question that faces us, always, is whether we trust Him. In light of thousands of years of a perfect track record, do you trust Him?

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