THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-19-71 8:15 a.m.
And this auditorium is filled this early morning hour, and we are praying God shall wondrously bless the preached Word, which is from a text in Galatians 4:4:
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And on the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Fullness of the Time. It is from the text that I read, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,” to plerōma tou chronou “the complete number of the days,” or, “at the consummation of the age,” or “the fullness of the preparation,” possibly, “the fullness of the preparation” would be as accurate an English translation of this text as could be made; “the fullness of the time.” “In the fullness of the time, when the full days had numbered, when the full preparation was made, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
The Lord works through centuries and through ages unchanged, unhurried, and changeless. You can see the record of God in the rocks, in the Grand Canyon, passing down through those strata, ages, and ages, and ages, finally, the geologists will say, “The river now runs for a hundred feet deep into that black basalt rock.” And he will say that there was a time when that black basalt rock was a part of a mountain chain twenty-six thousand feet high. But the ages and the ages have worn them down and away, and other ages have piled on top of them that remarkable strata you see in the wide, yawning abyss of the Grand Canyon. God works through the ages and the ages. The age of man is so small a part of the endless ages through which God works that if you had the Empire State Building, 1,255 feet high, and put a nickel on the top of it, the thickness of that nickel compared to the height of the Empire State Building is the age of man; unhurried, unchanged, God works through ages and through human history.
All of the fortunes and sweeps, eruptions, and revolutions of human story are but a part of the great, ultimate sovereign design of God for us. And so slowly sometimes does God work that it takes centuries to see even the broad outline of what the Lord God is doing. But He works, and He works, and “In the fullness of the time, in the end of the ages, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. There was a set time for the birth, the incarnation of our Lord [Matthew 1:18-25]. There was a set time for His death [Matthew 27:32-50]. There was a set time for His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]. There was a set time for His ascension back into glory [Acts 1:9-10]. And there is a set time, known but to God, when the Lord shall personally return in glory [Acts 1:10-11]. And God works through the ages and through human history, bringing to pass His sovereign will in the earth and for us. “In the pleroma tou chronou, in the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
We can see now, as we look back into history, somewhat of the preparation of God in that fullness of days. First: the religious preparation––and to an astonished reader and viewer such as I––it came about religiously through the Babylonian captivity, God preparing religiously for the coming of His Son.
There was no sorrow or tragedy that ever overwhelmed the Jewish nation like the destruction of the temple and the wasting of Judea and the captivity of the Jews under Nebuchadnezzar. The cruel and merciless Chaldean destroyed their nation and their house of worship, and carried them out of the land into a foreign and strange country [Jeremiah 39:1-19, 52:4-30; 2 chronicles 36:17-21]. You can feel somewhat of the pathos of that sorrow in the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Yet out of that sorrow and infinite tragedy that overwhelmed the nation of Judah came three great things. One, forever and eternally after that the Jew was a monotheist, he never turned to idolatry again. And when Babylon was conquered by Cyrus, the Zoroastrian Parsee Persians were monotheists, and they found in the Jew a great companion in sympathy and worship. And under Cyrus they were given permission to go back to the homeland, this time a different kind of a people [Ezekiel 1:1-3, 2:1-64]. Monotheism came out of the Babylonian captivity.
Second, out of the sorrow and tragedy of that captivity came the canon of the Holy Scriptures. Under Ezra, and under the great synagogue, the sacred writings were gathered together and canonized [John 5:39; Galatians 3:22; 2 Timothy 3:16]. And this was the Bible of the Christian preacher and missionary.
Third, out of the sorrow of that captivity came the synagogue. The temple was destroyed, the great central place of worship was waste, and God’s people gathered around the Holy Scriptures, and in groups called synagogues, there they spoke of the great promises of the Lord. And they covered the civilized world with those congregations. And wherever they gathered, there they brought the messianic hope, the promise of the coming Son of God [John 5:39]. “In the fullness of the time,” God’s preparation religiously; and little did the Jew realize that in the waste of the Babylon and in the sorrow of the captivity there should be that preparation for the coming of the Son of God, “made of a woman, made under the law” [Galatians 4:4].
You know if I could pause for just a moment, it seems to me, as I study and as I read, that it is out of the tragedies and out of the sorrows of life that God seems to bring to pass His greatest work, His marvelous, miraculous, sovereign grace in the earth. For example, in the early church, Stephen seemed to stand as a giant; but he was stoned to death [Acts 7:59-60]. And the Scriptures say that “devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him” [Acts 8:2].
Then the next verse, and the persecution that swirled around Stephen scattered the disciples abroad, and they “went everywhere preaching the word” [Acts 8:3-4]. Out of the death of Stephen came the scattering of the disciples of Christ and the preaching of the gospel every where. And out of the martyrdom of Stephen there was converted Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18]. At his feet they laid their garments when they stoned Stephen to death [Acts 7:58]. And when the Lord said, “Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” [Acts 9:5]; I think that refered to the effect that the martyrdom of Stephen made upon Saul of Tarsus.
Out of these sorrows, out of these tragedies, God brings to pass His greatest blessings for humanity. It is a blind Milton who will write a Paradise Lost. It is an incarcerated John Bunyan who will write Pilgrim’s Progress. It is a blind Beethoven who will write the “Moonlight Sonata.” It is the sacrifice and blood of the soldiers at Valley Forge who will bring liberty to America. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,” and out of the sorrow and tragedy of the Babylonian captivity, the people of Judah were prepared for the coming of the Messiah.
Second: the cultural preparation, “in the fullness of the time” [Galatians 4:4]. Philip of Macedon had a gloriously gifted son named Alexander. Alexander conquered the civilized world. Had it been just a military conquest it had been inconsequential; but Alexander did something. He carried with him Aristotle, the philosopher Aristotle, his great mentor, tutor, and teacher. And wherever Alexander went, there did he build Greek institutions. When he died at thirty-three years of age, his four great generals carved up the Greco Empire and carried on that Greek civilization. Ptolemy in Egypt; Seleucus, whose father was Antioch, in Syria; Lysimachus in Asia Minor; and Cassander in the old ancient part of Greece. And they continued that Greek civilization; Greek institutions, Greek philosophy, Greek art, literature, and drama, Greek architecture, and Greek language. The entire civilized world became Greek. And of that cultural preparation, none was more meaningful than the universal language.
In 280 BC the Holy Scriptures of the Jews were translated into Greek. It is called the Septuagint; and it was the Bible that the Christian preacher and missionary held in his hand when he preached the gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world. It was the Christian preacher who took the scroll of the Hebrew Scriptures and cut it out, page by page, fastened it in the back, called it a codex, and turned through the pages, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. You call it a book, a codex. It came from the Christian preacher, who took the Septuagint, the Greek-Hebrew Scriptures, and preached them, proving that Jesus is the Christ.
And the language of the Greek was universal. When Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church, he wrote it in Greek. And when John wrote his letters to the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22], he wrote those letters in Greek. When you dig up the papyri from the hermetically sealed sands of Egypt, they are written in Greek.
When I visited with these dear people, the seven churches of Asia last summer, those inscriptions everywhere, though in the heart of Asia Minor and on the other side of the world from the city of Rome, those inscriptions are written in Greek; it was the universal language. Little did Alexander the Great and his generals ever realize that in conquering the world, God was preparing the civilized nations of the earth to listen, in a language they could understand, the glorious gospel of the Son of God. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Not only the religious preparation and the cultural preparation: but the political preparation under the hands of God for the coming of His Son; Rome had conquered the civilized world. The best highways the world had ever seen were built by the Romans. They use them today. I have walked on them many times. The finest postal system that the world had ever seen was contrived by the Roman government. And there was peace in the earth. It may have been an enforced peace––and it was––the Caesars had conquered all the civilized nations of the earth, but there was universal peace.
And you could go from Britain clear to India on roads without fear or harm or molestation. The Roman legionnaire was everywhere enforcing the Roman law of order and respect for government. The temple of Janus in Rome, the doors were closed, a sign of universal peace; Rome saw to it that the gospel messenger had an opportunity to preach the gospel of Jesus without fear and without violence and without interdiction. And little did the Caesar realize that he was preparing for the coming of Christ in conquering the world.
Look: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph” [Luke 1:26-27]. But Micah 5:2 says, “He is to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David”; but the angel is sent to Nazareth, to Galilee [Luke 1:26], up there in the northern part of Palestine. I turn the page:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled.
And Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, there to be enrolled in a census, with Mary his wife, because they were of the house and lineage of David.
Little did he ever realize, the Caesar Augustus, Sebaste, reverence, a god, little did he ever realize, seated there on the throne in Rome, that the decree that he made was according to the sovereign will, and guidance, and purpose, and choice, and election of Almighty God. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
The religious preparation, the cultural preparation, the political preparation, and last: the personal preparation; up there in glory, in heaven, before the foundation of the world, before God made the sphere and flung it around the central sun—the Revelation says, “He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” [Revelation 13:8]. In the ages of the ages before time was, before the universe was created, there is somehow, some way––my mind cannot enter into it because it is infinite––there was a session in glory between God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
And in the fore view of the Almighty, the infinite, the whole panorama of creation and human history lay before the eyes of God. And in that day, the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews describes it, the Son of God offered Himself, volunteered to be the Savior of Adam’s fallen race. “Sacrifice and offerings Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me … Then said I, Lo, I come (in the roll of the book: it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:5-7]. And preparation was made through the ages and the ages for the incarnation of God’s only begotten Son [Galatians 4:4].
In the garden of Eden, “He shall be born of a woman, the Seed of the woman shall bruise, crush Satan’s head. He will be born of a woman” [Genesis 3:15]. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Abraham is called; and in his seed, as of one, shall all the families of the earth be blessed [Genesis 12:1-3], God preparing, the personal preparation for the Savior: “And in Isaac shall thy seed be called” [Genesis 21:7], and in Israel, in Jacob, shall thy seed by called” [Genesis 28:4-5].
And when Jacob lay dying, he gathered his twelve sons around him, turned to Judah and said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come” [Genesis 49:10]. Judah will be a government and a nation and a people until the coming of the promised Son of God.
And out of the house of Judah, God sent Nathan to say to David the king, “Thou shalt have a Son who shall sit upon thy throne forever and forever” [2 Samuel 7:12-13]. And finally, Micah said, “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be but a little village among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]. Before the stars were made, before creation and the world was flung into space, this Ruler, this Son, out of little Bethlehem, He lived, He reigned, and “He shall come to rule My people forever and forever” [Matthew 2:6], in a new kingdom, in a new world, in a new heaven, and a new earth [Revelation 21:1]. “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
And in that day, down the Bethlehem road traveled Joseph and Mary [Luke 2:1-5]. And in that night, the angel announcement, “This shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12].
There’s a song in the air
There’s a star in the sky
There’s a mother’s deep prayer
And baby’s low cry
And the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King.
There’s a tumult of joy
O’er the wonderful birth,
For the virgin’s sweet Boy
Is the Lord of the earth
Aye, the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King.
[“There’s a Song in the Air,” Josiah G. Holland]
When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son [Galatians 4:4].
We sing now our hymn of appeal, of invitation. You, a family you, a couple you, a child you, if the Lord bids you come today, down one of these stairways, into the aisle, here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, make it now, come now. What a beautiful hour, what a precious day, what a glorious season to come, while we stand and while we sing.
FULLNESS OF TIME
A. God works through
time, unrushed, unchanged
– ages in the rocks
history – age of man
exact time known to God for Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension and
II. Religious preparation
A. Babylonian Jewish
1. Thereafter and
forever the Jew was a monotheist(Ezekiel 6:3)
2. Canon of the
3. The institution of
the synagogue(Isaiah 9:6-7)
III. Cultural preparation
A. The Greek
B. Greek became
IV. Political preparation
A. Entire civilized
world in the Roman Empire
connected all the nations
2. There was
universal Roman peace
B. The decree of Caesar
Augustus(Luke 1:26-27, 2:1-7, Micah 5:2)
V. Personal preparation
A. The Lamb slain from
before the foundation of the world(Revelation
time, history and ages are present before God(Exodus
volunteered in heaven(Hebrews 2:16-18, 4:15, 9:13,
10:4-10, Philippians 2:7)
in the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15, 12:3, :9-10,
2 Samuel 7:12-16, Micah 5:2, Luke 2:4, Acts 3:25)
1. Hymn, “There’s a
Song in the Air”