THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-15-85 8:15 a.m.
It is a joy for us to welcome you who are listening to this service on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Fullness of Time. It is an exposition of a verse in the letter of Paul to the Galatians; 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," that we might be saved. And the phrase: "When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman."
Pleroma, "fullness," that is, "completeness of preparation": God works through eons and ages and centuries. And sometimes it is only the passing of the years and the years that we see the ultimate purpose and design of God for us in the world. I think of a geological exhibition, such as the Grand Canyon. Stand on the rim and look down one mile into the heart of the earth, and there you will see the Colorado River running through three hundred feet deep basalt, solid basalt. And the geologist will tell you that that basalt once was twenty-six thousand feet up into the sky, and has gradually subsided and been worn down into the earth with the passing of millions and millions of years. God works unhurriedly, unrushedly.
The anthropologist tells us that compared to the age of creation, that the age of man, since man has been in the world, would be in comparison like putting a nickel on top of the Empire State Building: and the age of the universe would be the height of the building, and the height of that nickel would be the age of man. God working through time and age – the pleroma, the completeness of preparation.
Chronon, "In the pleroma of chronon": you have that in so many combinations in our English language, like "chronology" and "chronicle," chronon, "a set time": in the mind and purpose of God, a set time through all of the centuries of purpose and preparation, a set time for our Lord’s coming into the world, a set time for His crucifixion, a set time for His resurrection, a set time for His ascension into glory, and a set time for His coming again. Paul mentions that in the eleventh chapter of Romans, verse 25: "I would not have you without knowledge, my brethren, concerning this musterion, this secret God has in His heart, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the" – and there’s that word again – "until the pleroma, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" [Romans 11:25]. Now the next verse: "Then shall come from heaven the Deliverer of Zion" [Romans 11:26]. There is a set time for the coming of our Lord back into this earth, known to God, a musterion, a secret God has in His heart.
Thus the apostle avows, "In the pleroma of time, in the fullness of preparation, in the completeness of the ages, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" [Galatians 4:4]. First: the ecclesiastical preparation, the religious preparation; It’s an astonishing thing how God in His judgment allowed Israel to be taken captive by the Babylonians, and in their desperation, in their slavery and captivity:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, 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 unto 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,.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
You can’t read that psalm and not sense the despair and agony of those enslaved people. But out of it God had a holy and heavenly purpose: the pleroma of time. Three things came out of the Babylonian captivity. Number one: the Jew thereafter was forever monotheistic. In a world of polytheism, a multiplicity of gods, he alone stood as an emissary of the one true Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. That came out of the Babylonian captivity. Number two: there came out of the Babylonian captivity the tears and sorrows and agony of that slavery, there came our Bible. Ezra and the great synagogue gathered the Word of God [Nehemiah 8:5-9]; and thereafter forever, to this day, the Jew stands with the Holy Scriptures in his hand. Three: there came out of the tragedy of Babylon, there came out the synagogue, the assembly of God’s people. The temple was gone, the priesthood was gone, the sacrificial worship and approach to God was gone, and they gathered in synagogues to call upon the name of the Lord. The pleroma of God, preparing for the day of the preaching of the gospel of His Son: the one true Lord God, the Holy Scriptures from which we declare the grace and love of the Lord, and the assembly of our people in the house of God – the pleroma of God. Who would ever have thought, who would ever have realized, that out of the tragedy of Babylon would have come such a fullness of the presence of the Lord among His people?
Second, the pleroma of God, the moving of God in human history: the cultural preparation for this One who is born of a woman. Alexander the Great began his conquest of the civilized world in 336 BC, and the whole earth civilized became Greek: Greek institutions, Greek culture, Greek philosophy, Greek literature, and Greek language. From one side of the Mediterranean earth to the other, everyone of culture or education spoke Greek. And the four divisions into which Alexander the Great’s Empire was divided upon his death was furthered in that Greek culture by the four great generals who divided the vast civilized world among them. Cassander took Macedonia and the Greek Empire in Europe; Lysimachus took Asia Minor; Seleucus, whose son was named Antioch, Antiochus, took Syria; and Ptolemy took Egypt. And they continued that Greek Hellenization of all the civilized world.
What an amazing thing, that the whole earth spoke one common language! Little did they realize – I could not think of Alexander the Great even entering into his wildest imagination the hand of God in what he was doing. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, the Book of Romans, he wrote it in Greek. When John, the sainted John, wrote to the seven churches in Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22], he wrote in Greek. There was a common language in which the gospel could be preached to every nation and every civilized family and people under the sun: the pleroma of God, the preparation of the world for the gospel of Christ.
Look again, the political preparation for the preparation of the gospel of Jesus: Rome, bound together with a lace of great highways and roads, the civilized world from Great Britain to the Indus River on the vast and extended east, and men could travel without fear, open, the highway before them. They had the finest postal system the world ever knew. Letters could be delivered from one side of the empire to the other. And above all, Rome enforced a universal peace, the Pax Romana. In the city of Rome was a temple to Janus, Janus. He was the god of doorways and gates and highways. He was a god of two faces, this way and that way; opposite faces. His feast was in January, named for him looking back, looking forward. And in the city of Rome, if there was war, the gates of the temple were open, a sign of the soldiers going forth. But if the world was at peace, the gates of the temple of Janus were closed; no war, all the nations and families of the world at peace. And for those years and years, when God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, the gates of Janus were closed. There was no war; the world was at peace. And the highways were open before them, and the preachers of the gospel of the Son of God went forth, walking over the entire civilized world, proclaiming the message of Jesus, and their letters were posted from one side of the Mediterranean to the other; the pleroma, the fullness of preparation for the coming of our Lord into the world. I would suppose the last thing that the Roman Caesar ever thought was that he was preparing the way for the feet of the messengers of the Son of God.
The purposes of God, the pleroma of God in the world, moving through history: sometimes it takes centuries to see what God is doing, but if we trust and if we have faith:
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
["God Moves in a Mysterious Way"; William Cowper]
The pleroma, the purposes of God in human history.
May I mention just one other? The pleroma of God, the preparation of God for the coming of His Son into the world [Genesis 4:4]: the personal preparation of our blessed Lord Jesus. The Book of the Revelation, the Apocalypse, has a most unusual reference: "He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8]. In the heart of God, from the beginning of the beginning, God purposed that His Son come into the world that we might be redeemed. And in that purpose of God, somewhere in the ages of the ages past, the Son volunteered. "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God; a body hast Thou prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:7,5]. And the author of Hebrews expatiates on that: "Verily, He took not upon Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham, and was made in fashion such as we [Hebrews 2:16-17]; that He might be a faithful and High Priest, tried in all points such as we, though He without sin" [Hebrew 4:15]. I stagger even in imagination, thinking of the purposes of God before the world was made.
Then in the revelation of the Holy Scriptures, the great protevangelium in Genesis 3:15: "The Seed of the woman" – woman doesn’t have seed; the man has seed. The old rabbis pored over that verse: "The Seed of the woman shall bruise Satan’s head, crush it. The Seed of the woman,made of a woman"; an amazing providence of God. Then, calling out Abraham: "In thy seed, as of one," Paul says, "in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" [Galatians 3:8; Genesis 12:3]. And the beautiful prophecy of Micah: "Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, little though you be among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people Israel; whose goings forth are from old, even [to] everlasting" [Micah 5:2]. He didn’t begin in little Bethlehem: His beginning was in the purposes of God’s grace in heaven.
And in the pleroma of time, in the fullness of preparation, down the rocky road travelled Mary, great with child, and Joseph by her side, in the fullness of the time, in the completeness of the preparation, and the Lord Jesus came into the world, born, made, of a woman [Luke 2:1-16].
"This," sang the angels from heaven, "This shall be the sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes" – didn’t have a little dress, didn’t have little clothes, a little made garment; rags, rags, swaddling rags – "wrapped in swaddling rags. This shall be the sign unto you; You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" [Luke 2:12]. It is a sign to be wondered at through all time and eternity. There womanhood was glorified, there motherhood was sanctified, and there childhood was glorified, the sign of God’s grace and love, an outpoured redemption for us: a Babe lying in a manger.
There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a Baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem shelters a King!
There’s a tumult of joy at the wonderful birth,
For the virgin’s sweet Boy is the King of the earth;
And 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]
In the pleroma of God, at the time chosen in His purposes from before the world was made [Revelation 13:8], He came, made of a woman, that He might redeem us to Himself [Galatians 4:4-5].
Oh, sweet people, what a message is Christmas! No wonder we sing and praise God, and with everlasting thanksgiving look up to Him in gratitude, in deepest, everlasting praise and appreciation. That’s Christmas. That’s Jesus our Lord.
We’re going to sing us a song of appeal. And while we sing our invitation hymn, to give your heart to the Lord, to bring your family into the fellowship of our dear church, to answer a call of the Spirit in your heart, when we sing this hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, come, and welcome. Down one of these stairways if you’re in the balcony round, down one of these aisles on the lower floor: "Pastor, this is God’s day for me" – and what a beautiful day it is: Christmastime, incarnation time, pleroma time, God’s time – "and here I stand, pastor. I’m on the way." Make it now, and may the angels that sang at His birth rejoice in your coming. Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
THE FULLNESS OF TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Pleroma – "completeness of preparation"
B. God works through time, unrushed, unchanged
C. God has an elected chronos, "time", for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
1. Set time for the Lord to be born, for His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and return(Romans 11:25-26)
2. All history moves toward that final consummation
II. Religious preparation
A. Babylonian Jewish captivity(Psalm 137:1-6)
1. Thereafter and forever the Jew was a monotheist
2. Canon of the Scriptures
3. The synagogue was born
B. The same purpose of God for us
C. An ultimate purpose of God in human suffering(Acts 8:1, 4, 9:1, 22:20)
III. Cultural preparation
A. The Greek Alexandrian conquest
B. Greek became universal language
IV. Political preparation
A. Entire civilized world in the Roman Empire
1. Roads connected all the nations
2. There was universal Roman peace
B. Made ready the way for the coming and preaching of Jesus
V. Personal preparation
A. The Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world(Revelation 13:8)
B. Prophecy in the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15, Acts 3:25, Micah 5:2)
C. The day came when the full preparation was finished(Luke 2:12)
1. Hymn, "There’s a Song in the Air"