The Fullness of Time

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law (Galatians 4:4-5a).

About the year A.D. 525 the abbot Dionysius Exiguus worked out the system of computing history with which we have become familiar – that of B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, meaning ‘in the year of our Lord’). It was an onerous task, and he may not have been totally accurate in his calculations. As is well-known, the death of Herod the Great was placed in 4 B.C., whereas he was actually still alive when the Messiah was born (Matt.2), so something is clearly wrong somewhere. However, the plan to place Christ in the centre of history is in every way right and good.

For decades now, many Western historians have wanted to replace this system with something that supposedly does not discriminate in favour of Christianity. Hence the proposed new national curriculum in Australia originally wanted to drop B.C. and A.D., and replace those terms with BCE (Before Common Era), BP (Before Present), and CE (Common Era). This is absurd, like a lot of education theory these days. BCE can only mean ‘Before the Birth of Christ’; it cannot mean anything else. It is simply an attempt to hide the fact that all human history centres on Christ. History has no essential meaning and direction apart from Christ – it would just rumble on until it collapsed in on itself.

The eternally pre-existent Son of God came in the fullness of time (Gal.4:4; Eph. 1:10). This is not to be understood in an evolutionary sense, as if the forces of progress had come to the point where someone as exalted as Jesus of Nazareth could appear. It was the result of the foreordained plan of the Lord of all eternity, who holds time in His hands. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15), for the end of the ages has come (1 Cor.10:11). The time between the first and second comings of Jesus constitute the last days (Acts 2:17; Heb.1:2) or the last hour (1 John 2:18).

The Hebrews were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. As Alec Motyer writes: ‘Old Testament history is one long cry for something better, for a true king who would satisfy his people’s aspirations for peace and safety, reigning in perfection and ruling in righteousness.’ C. S. Lewis has made the stimulating suggestion that even pagan mythology in some sense was used to prepare people for the coming of the Lord. There were dying and rising god stories in many cultures. The Norsemen told of Balder, the Greeks of Dionysius, and the Egyptians of Osiris. But in Christ, says Lewis, ‘myth became fact’.

The Son of God became what before he was not – a man, born of a woman. This is a Semitic expression, as can be seen by Job 14:1 and Matthew 11:11. Paul does not refer to the virgin birth here so much as the humanity of Christ. Indeed, the Son of God became a Jewish man, born under the law. Jesus was circumcised, Jesus kept the Passover, Jesus kept all the law.

All God’s promises are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ in Christ (2 Cor.1:20). Moses points to a prophet who is greater than himself (Deut.18:15), and this one is Christ (Heb.3:1-6). Jonah was the great prophet to the Gentiles who was buried, as it were, for three days, but in Jesus there is one greater than Jonah (Matt.12:41). The Old Testament prophets spoke in the name of Yahweh: ‘Thus says the Lord’. God revealed His word to His prophets (Amos 3:7), but Jesus speaks on His own authority: ‘I say unto you’ (Matt.5:21-22, 27-28, 32, 34, 39, 44). Not only does Christ speak God’s Word – He is the very Word of God, and equal to God (John 1:1, 14).

The Old Testament priests were men who were ordained by God, but their fallenness meant that they were men who died (Heb.7:23-25). Also, their sacrifices first had to be for their own sins (Lev.4:3; 16:11), and then were repeated because the blood of bulls and goats and lambs can never take away sins (Heb.10:1-4). They were only ever shadows of the reality to come (Heb.10:1). In contrast, Christ is our sympathetic high priest (Heb.4:14-16) who is sinless and so has no need to be cleansed. Rather, He cleanses (Heb.7:26). He is both priest and sacrifice – a priest forever (Ps.110:4) who offered a once for all perfect sacrifice (Heb.7:27; 9:12, 24-26; 10:10).

Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) who is also our Passover (1 Cor.5:7-8). The temple in Jerusalem, which existed earlier as a movable tabernacle, also points to Christ. When the tabernacle was set up, the glory of God descended upon it (Ex.40:34-35). God promised that He would ‘tabernacle’ amongst His people (Lev.26:11-12), but when Israel sinned by trusting in the temple of the Lord rather than the Lord of the temple (Jer.7:4), God removed His glory from the temple (Ezek.10:18-19; 11:22-23). This changes when B.C. becomes A.D. Christ ‘tabernacled’ amongst us and the apostles beheld His glory (John 1:14) as one who is greater than the temple (Matt.12:6; John 2:19-21).

In the Old Testament, God promises David a kingship that will last forever (2 Sam.7:13, 16). The New Testament declares that there is a king forever – Jesus the Lord, ‘great David’s greater Son’, is the king of Israel and of God’s eternal kingdom (Luke 1:32-33; Hebrews 1:5). Christ is a greater king than Solomon (Matt.12:42). The king of Israel (John 1:49) is revealed as the king of the whole world (Matt.28:19-20) and indeed of the whole universe (Eph.1:20-22).

In the God-man Jesus Christ we see what the Old Testament saints longed for (1 Pet.1:10-12). He is the centre of human history, as God unfolds His plan of salvation.