Why did God send Jesus when He did? What is the fullness of time?
Throughout the Old Testament, God showed how He interacts with historical events and eras. He sent Joseph to Egypt shortly before a great famine, resulting in the Israelites going through an incubation period and growing into a mighty, populous nation. He arranged things so that the natural animosity and belligerence of foreign nations corresponded to times that the Israelites needed to be judged. He caused a Jewish girl to become queen to save her people from genocide (Esther). Living outside of time, God saw all of time and orchestrated events to have the desired effect on His plan—the spread of salvation to the world.
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Nowhere is this more true than in the years given for Jesus to have His life and ministry on earth. First of all, in order for the world to understand Jesus, it had to understand why we need Jesus. That was the purpose of the Old Testament law. For generations God blessed, disciplined, cajoled, and pled with the Israelites to follow His will and accept His goodness. And for generations, despite the promises and execution of blessings and destruction, they were unable to. If Jesus had come before the law and before the law failed, we never would have appreciated His sacrifice. A gift is most readily accepted when it's something we can't get for ourselves.
The world was also ready culturally. In the time of Jesus' life, Rome, Greece, Babylon/Persia, and Egypt were relatively peaceful, having come to a cessation of the major hostilities that had plagued the area for centuries. This meant travel was fairly easy. Wars were minimal, so resources could be devoted to culture, philosophy, and education. A singular culture—Greek—spread across the region, ensuring most people understood a common language, and even the adherents of the most far-fetched religion (Judaism) were familiar enough with the reigning philosophy that meaningful communication was possible.
The region was not only culturally coherent, it was spiritually hungry. The ineffectiveness of the Roman gods was becoming more and more evident. The claustrophobic Roman rule kept Jews on the look-out for the promised Messiah to deliver them. And individuals were seeking for something better in their own lives, beyond the state and the state-ordained religions. Even a Samaritan woman, rejected by Jews for her nationality and her gender, was eagerly awaiting the Messiah (John 4:25).
After Jesus' ascension, the situation proved custom-made for the spread of the gospel. The sack of Jerusalem in AD 70, although tragic to the Jewish people, caused hundreds of Christ-followers to escape to Asia, Africa, and Europe to spread their beliefs. They influenced Gentiles, who in turn joined the Roman army and took the gospel to places as far away as Britain. The persecution of Christians by the Roman government had a similar effect, both strengthening the faith of believers and leading them to flee with the message of Christ.
Galatians 4:4 says, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law." We don't exactly know what "the fullness of time" refers to, but God has allowed us these few hints. Most striking, God did not wait around until things looked right. Having seen all of human history, He predicted exactly when Jesus would come.
Daniel 9:24-26 must have sounded strange when Gabriel gave the message. The Jews were given seventy weeks (groups of seven years) to finish rebelling and return to God. The starting point was the decree to restore and build Jerusalem. Sixty-nine weeks later, "an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing" (Daniel 9:26). The command to rebuild Jerusalem was given in 445 BC (see Nehemiah 2:5). Scholars place Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem exactly sixty-nine "weeks"—or 483 years—later. God's plan was so precise He let Daniel know five hundred years in advance. It's believed that Daniel's prophecy then told the wisemen when to show up to celebrate Jesus' birth.
God is the God who works through human history. Jesus' arrival was not random. It was pre-ordained and well prepared. He came the exact time He needed to, to ensure we would understand and appreciate His message. If God could orchestrate all of that, we can surely trust Him with our own lives.
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