Galatians 4:4 The Fulness Of Times
Authored by Mike Furey
"But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son..."
Looking at six aspects of the first century during New Testament times such as the language, the literature, the lord, the land, the liturgy, the law, and the love, we may appreciate the miracle of the timing of Jesus' birth.
The Language: Alexander the Great of Macedonia died in 332 B.C.E. Before The Common Era). He had conquered the world up to Bactria near India, which is how the Buddhists learned to make stone statutes. This military conquest led to a cultural conquest. The Greek culture and language spread through the world and in the process it was altered by contact with other cultures; this new mixture of cultures is called Hellenism. This new language was not the fancy Attic of Athens but a very useful and common language, just as English today is the language of the world because of the British Empire a century ago. (More people speak English in China than any other country in the world.) So the people of the world were given a common tongue by which to trade and exchange. This new language is called Koine Greek or common vulgar Greek. Eusebius the church historian circa 300 C.E. (Common Era or A.D. 300) wrote a book called the Preparation of the Gospel, saying the Greek language was spread by God in order to prepare the world for the gospel. God united a tremendously large part of the world with a common method of communication, a trade language. The Jews became well-lettered in Hellenistic Greek having forgotten their own Hebrew because of seventy years in Aramaic-speaking Babylonia. (By Ezra's day the Jews had forgotten how to speak Hebrew and spoke Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Ancient Near East.) So around 200 B.C.E. the Jews had translated their own Hebrew Bibles into Greek which was easier to understand. There are at least six different Greek versions from that period. The apostle Paul quotes from the Greek OT called the Septuagint or the LXX. By the time of Jesus, the Greek language was on the lips and hearts of the "known" world, which is why the NT is written in Koine. The first missionaries evangelized in Greek because the masses knew what they were talking about. God had prepared the masses.
The Literature: The writings of that day show a longing in the hearts of the people for a hero, a messianic figure, just as today we have many super hero type stories. The whole world was looking for and longing for relief and divine mercy. The world felt like it was in a mess because of crime, governmental corruption, violence, piracy, highwaymen, excessive taxes, etc. In about 58 B.C.E. a Roman poet named Virgil wrote about the coming messiah. His poem was in Latin and according to the rules of Latin poetry but when he came to the section on the messiah he began to write in a Hebrew style. He must have had contact with Jewish ideas. In fact, just as today people have some sense of what the messiah is and that Jesus is supposed to return, so did the world at least sixty years before the birth of Christ have a sense that the messiah was soon to come.
The Lord: In world history up to the birth of Jesus there had been many different types of empires. The Egyptians had already had thirty different dynasties by the time of Christ although only a handful of those were actually imperial or world-ruling. The Babylonians owned a large chunk of the world at least twice. The Assyrians had a major empire. The Persians, the Greeks, and now the Romans all had megakingdoms. Archaeologists continue to discover empires that have been completely wiped out and forgotten such as the Hittites. An empire is basically a government where a strong king takes over weaker kings. The king of kings rules over the lesser kings and receives tribute or taxes. The Roman title for the king of kings was Caesar or Lord. The Romans had twelve Caesars. Caesar Augustus was the first and the greatest of all the Caesars. Augustus reigned from 27 B.C.E. until 14 C.E. He helped bring in the famous Pax Romana or peace over the world. His government brought law and order to a crime infested world. It was during the reign of Augustus when Jesus was born. The world was looking for a great king to come. It received a great political king, but crucified the messianic king. Jesus was born at the right time of the Pax Romana. Crucifixion was a tool of the Romans.
Among the architectural achievements
of the Roman government, the building of roads and highways was a major
achievement. The Romans had connected the world through roads and
highways that exist to this day. At the time of Christ the world
experienced the revolution of roads. The roads did not stretch as
far away as China, but the Romans traded as far away as China, which
the Romans called Seres. It was exceedingly difficult and dangerous
to reach China, but it was reachable and a silk trade loosely maintained.
The Apostle Thomas would be a missionary in India.
Also, Israel itself was in the Land and the world at large. Israel was scattered through out the world. Many Jewish persons had been dispersed over the centuries into many different countries. This dispersion is called the Diaspora. The diaspora caused synagogues to be established in every major city of the known world. Many Gentiles attended the synagogue faithfully and were called "God-fearers." At those synagogues the first Christian missionaries came to preach Jesus. In a short time, the synagogue expelled Christians. It was a miracle that these preaching stations had been providentially set up through the dispersion of Jewry. This scattering of Jewish centers every where helped Christianity to branch off. The early church services are clones of the synagogical service which included singing psalms, reading scripture, interpreting scripture, etc.
The Jews were not only scattered in the world but a large population of Jewry was still in the Holy Land at the birth of Christ. They were not headquartered in Egypt as in the days of the Exodus or Jeremiah. They were not in Assyria as in the days of Isaiah. They still had a large remnant in Babylonia and Persia since the days of Ezekiel and Jeremiah and later Daniel. They were largely in Ha-Aretz. In 722 B.C.E. the ten tribes of the northern half of Israel were removed into Assyrian captivity. In 597,596,586 B.C.E. the southern part of Israel was removed into Babylonian captivity. In 174 B.C.E. the Jews almost lost the holy land again, but for the miracle of Hanukah. In 63 B.C.E. Pompey of Rome conquered Palestine. Israel was still Israel but had a Roman overlord. At the time of Jesus they were still in the land and Jerusalem was the local capitol. But one generation after Jesus the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. The political factions of the Jews were so divisive, and fanatical that the cities rebelled independently one by one against Rome. They were too hateful of each other to organize one Israeli army. The great city of Jerusalem was besieged for three years and fell in 70 C.E. No one is left in Jerusalem after Simon Bar Kokhba's revolt in 135 C.E. Josephus, an eyewitness of first century Jerusalem, tells of the extreme zeal for leadership only under Yahweh and not Caesar, but describes their hypocrisy and the criminality of the Jewish government and its factions. Jesus predicted the fall of the temple and the land. And it happened. It happened one generation from his death as he explicitly prophesied. The time was ripe.
The Liturgy: The temple was crucial to the times. Solomon's temple was built about 900 B.C.E., but had been razed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. Initially, the second temple was built with less money and effort. The Jews were scolded by the prophets for their laxity in rebuilding the temple. The rebuilding started in 520 B.C.E. The old men cried when they saw it and compared it to Solomon's temple. Later, just before Jesus was born, Herod the Great would repair and rebuild on the temple making it a breathtaking sight. Herod did a tremendous amount of building all over Israel. He made extraordinary improvements to the temple. He reigned over thirty plus years and accomplished much in the way of construction, but he also stirred up the hatred of the Jews because of his taxation needed to build and glorify Israel. Needless to say, at the time of Jesus there was a beautiful temple building. The cult of the temple was glorious and sacrifices were being made daily. The blood of bulls, goats, lambs, and birds were regularly flowing from the open veins and arteries of the animals and then sprinkled onto the holy altars. From the altar area the amount of blood was so great it was drained by plumbing pipes into the Kidron River valley. The necessity for atonement by death and blood was very real to the people. Everyone knew that the shedding of blood was necessary for spiritual cleansing. The time was ripe for the messiah's blood to be shed.
The Law: At the time of Jeremiah circa 600 B.C.E., Jeremiah prophesied that God would put his commandments on tablets of flesh rather than stone. Jeremiah and other prophets proclaimed that God would write his word on the hearts of the masses. When the children of Israel were sent into Babylon, they began a quest for God's word in hitherto unexperienced proportions. The temple having been destroyed was replaced by synagogues. Under Ezra the rise of synagogues and the scribes became phenomenal. Later, the church would become a replica of the synagogue as I mentioned before. So, the church is a synagogue that proclaims Jesus as messiah. In synagogue life, the first Pharisees arise about one hundred years before Christ in the Hanukah or Maccabean period. There was a great revival of interest in living a pure life for God. The Pharisees or Separatists were very zealous and fundamentalist. They tried to reinterpret the Torah for their own times as we do today. They developed an oral code of rules to help a person live a life pleasing to God. For instance, if a hen laid an egg on the Sabbath day you should not eat it because the hen "worked." But you could eat it on the next day even if it was a holiday festival. These rules or rabbinical opinions were not actually written down until after 90 C.E. when even the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament as we know it today was first canonized and compiled by the Council of Jabnia or Javneh. The uncodified rulings of the Pharisees were called Oral Law and was considered to be equal to Torah. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees and other rabbis had accumulated a large body of rulings, reforms, and reinterpretations. Of course, one of the subjects they taught had to do with was tithing and money because our financial life certainly reveals how we worship the Name. Their "pet" teaching according to a major source (the New Testament) on first century Judaism was the matter of hand washing. In effect, they actually reversed what God had said. Their misguided zeal is a key to what drove Jesus to the cross. They exchanged the word of man (oral tradition) for the Word of God and became the most evil generation that had ever lived. The Jews at the time of Jesus were the most evil people in history, even worse, said Jesus, than Sodom and Gomorra. Jesus was born into a very self-righteous and sinful society. The cup of Israel's sin was full to overflowing, even killing the son of God himself in the name of God. Jesus came to repoint Israel back to true Torah and to fulfill Torah by living it perfectly and then became a sin sacrifice for those who could not live it perfectly, even us all.
The Love: At the fulness of times God sent his son into the world. Under the conditions described above we can see the hand of God working in the detail of time and history. But the entire purpose of God was not to bedazzle us with his providential power and planning. His principal purpose was to demonstrate his love for us in Christ. God sent his son into the world. John 3:16 describes the magnitude and the meaning of God's love. He loved us so much he sent his son to die for us. He loved us so much that he did not want anyone of us to die for our own sin in hell forever. He wanted to free us from our sin and turn us loose in heaven forever. After we experience God's saving love through the Lord Jesus, he wants us to live our life based on love for him. We are now set free from the power and penalty of sin and are free to live for him not out of fear or condemnation but out of pure love. We obey because of the love in our heart for God and not because of the compulsion of rule or a quest to live a perfect life. It was such a quest that caused the death of God's son, the second person of the Trinity.
The timing of the birth and death of Jesus was perfect. I hope you have gotten a feel for God's perfect timing through this message. Now what about your life? Isn't it high time you gave your heart to Jesus? Isn't it time for you to fully trust the hand of God in the detail of your own life? God sent his son into this world for YOU. God sent his son into this world because he loves you.