Christmas Words of Grace: Saturday

Christmas Words of Grace: Saturday

Originally posted on December 25, 2010

The Fullness of Time

“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son.” Galatians 4:4

Why did the incarnation take place when it did—probably by our reckoning in 5 BC, about a year before the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC? Some two thousand years had passed since God called Abraham and promised through his family to bless all the families of the world. Why, then, did such a long time elapse between the promise and its fulfillment? Paul affirmed that God sent his Son “when the appointed time came” (Gal. 4:4, REB), but he gave no hint how the appointed time had been fixed.

Many speculations have been made, especially in regard to the sociopolitical situation at the time, and certainly several circumstances were favorable to the rapid spread and ready reception of the gospel.

Firstly, there was the pax romana in the empire. The legions were everywhere, keeping the peace and protecting travelers from brigands on land and pirates at sea. Secondly, Greek was the common language of the empire, and it was immensely helpful to evangelism that the Septuagint (the Old Testament in Greek) was available. Thirdly, there was widespread spiritual hunger. The old gods of Rome had lost their appeal. They mystery religions offered a kind of personal regeneration but were evidence rather of spiritual longings than of their satisfaction. Then there were the so-called God-fearers on the edge of the synagogue, who were attracted by Jewish monotheism and high ethical standards and with whom Paul regularly shared the gospel.

So it was that during a period of only ten years (AD 48-57) Paul saw the church established in the four Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia. He could claim, “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:19). In many ways the time was ripe for world evangelization.

For further reading: Romans 15:23-29

John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 141-148.