IN THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
DR. W. A. CRISWELL
12-19-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing a Christmas message entitled In the Fullness of the Time. You will find the phrase in the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians. And this is its context, Galatians 4:
Now I say, That the heir, so long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
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 because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
He refers to the nativity, to the incarnation, to the birth of our Lord in this fourth verse, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Time is a creation, like matter is a creation. There is no time in the eternity preceding creation, nor will there be time in the eternity after the consummation of the age. God works in time in the sense that God limits Himself, being incarnate. It is something that God has done, working out His vast illimitable sovereign purposes in history. God works in time, unhurried and unchanged. You can see that in the geological ages that are written in the rocks. Thousands of millenniums, millions of years, you can see the vast, indescribable, unimaginable length of time in the starlight that falls upon this earth. Some of the stars that you see, that’s the way they looked trillions of years ago, billions of years ago. For it has taken that many billions of years for the light from that star to fall upon our eyes. To God, He works in ages, and centuries, and millenniums of time.
So the working out of God’s sovereign purpose in history; so long does God sometimes take to work out an elective choice that we are not aware of it, and we do not see it until centuries later. The work of God is so broad and so vast and is so illimitable until it is difficult for a finite mind to comprehend, to encompass what God is doing until centuries later when we look upon its broad outlines in human history. Now such a thing is referred to in this passage in the fourth verse of the fourth chapter of Galatians: “But when the plerōma tou chronou, the fullness of time, ta plerōma tou chronou, the completion of the preparation” [Galatians 4:4]. May I speak first of that time, the chronos? You’re familiar with that word. “Chronicles,” “chronology,” chronos, “time.”
God set a time when His Son would be sent into the world [John 3:17], a set date known to God [Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4]. All time is present before the Lord. He is the great “I Am.” Not “I was or have been,” not “I shall be,” but God is the great “I Am” [Exodus 3:14]. And to Him all time is present. There is no past before God. There is no future before God. Before God all time is present, and He sees it as present, the beginning and the end. And God looks upon it in the present tense, from the start to the finish, from the alpha to the omega. And God in His sovereign purpose places in that period of time all of these things that come to pass. He set a time for the Lord to be born [Galatians 4:4], just as there was a time when you were born [Job 14:5].
“Oh, but you don’t understand, pastor. I am free, and I do not believe in the sovereign choices and the election of God.” That is about as foolish an ideology as any man could embrace. You had nothing to do with the century in which you were born. You had nothing to do with anything about your creation. It is in the sovereign purpose of God. There is a time and God looks upon it. There is a time when you were born. There is a time when you shall die. And all of these things are present before God. He looks at the whole story of creation from the beginning to the ending, and it is all present before Him. So in that great vista of the working out of God in human history, there is a time, set date, when Christ is to be born [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. There is a set date when Christ is to die [Matthew 27:32-50]. There is a set date when Christ is to be raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. There is a set date when Christ is to ascend into heaven [Acts 1:9-10] and the ascension gift of the Holy Spirit is to be poured out upon the earth [Acts 2:1-4]. And there is a set date when Christ is coming again [Acts 1:10-11], and the denouement of the age is brought to pass [Matthew 24:36]. All of these things are set in the sovereign purpose and will of God [Acts 17:26].
Now some of that preview of the history of the world God once in a while will reveal to His holy prophets, just once in a while. Not every day, not usually, but once in a while, God will disclose, will reveal, will pull back the curtain and let a prophet see some of the things that God will bring to pass in the future. For example, God opened the curtains of heaven, and let a prophet see, say, the pattern of the tabernacle. God showed that to Moses, the pattern from heaven and said to Moses, “See that thou dost make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount” [Exodus 25:9, 40]. And Moses looked upon the pattern of the tabernacle, the holy house of worship in glory [Hebrews 8:5]. And he made the tabernacle according to the pattern that God had let Moses see from heaven [Exodus 39:32-43; Hebrews 8:5].
So these things, from time to time, God will let a prophet see. For example, the birth of our Lord in that vast vista of history, He revealed to Daniel, in the ninth chapter of Daniel, the exact time, and the exact date that Messiah would come into the world [Daniel 9:25]. Then He revealed by type to Moses in the Passover lamb [Exodus 12:1-28]. And He revealed by prophetic utterance in Isaiah 53 the suffering and the death of our Lord at the Passover [Isaiah 53:1-12; Matthew 26:26-28]. Then He revealed, in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, the exact day of His resurrection: on Sunday, the waving of the firstfruits unto the Lord [Leviticus 23:10-12; Matthew 28:1-7]. Then He described in Joel the ascension of our Lord and the ascension gift, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the earth [Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:1-4, 16-18].
And in the Revelation, which is the only prophetic book we have in the New Testament—in the Revelation, the Lord revealed the apocalypse [Revelation 1:19]. He took away the covering of the future end of the world and the consummation of human history [Revelation 4:1]. Once in a while, God will do that. He will pull back the curtain and let a man of God, a prophet, see the future which always is present before the Lord. So Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time, chronos, time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4].
Now let me speak of the plerōma, the fullness, the end of preparation. How amazed and how surprised, how overwhelmed would these men and armies and nations that march across the stage of history, how overwhelmingly surprised would they be to know that they were used in the sovereign purpose of God to prepare for some far off event, chosen in the elective purpose of God! I’m going to take three, three great entities that prepared for the plerōma, the fullness, the completion for the coming of our Lord into the world.
First I shall speak of the Jew. And out of the thousands of things that we could speak of the Jewish people concerning the preparation, the plerōma of the coming of our Lord into the world, I choose one, and just one. I am choosing the Jewish captivity in the preparation for the coming of Christ into the world. I suppose with all of the love we have for our country, for our city, for our people, there could be nothing comparable to the love of the ancient Jew for his country, and for his city, and for his house of worship. That was heightened because the whole world lay in paganism, and in heathenism, and in gross idolatry. But the Jew knew the name of the Lord, and to him were revealed the oracles of God [Romans 3:2, 9:4]. And he identified God and the truth and the holy of heavens with Mount Zion, and the holy temple, and the people of the beautiful city.
In the destruction, therefore, of the nation, in the tearing down of the Solomonic temple, and in the carrying of the people into captivity [2 Kings 24-25], there came into his soul a sorrow into which it is hard for us to enter. For example, in the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm, no one could read it but feel the indescribable heartache and sorrow of those captive people. Do you remember it?
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.
But how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
Yet—yet, out of the sorrow of the Jewish captivity came three great things. First: never again, never, nor to this day, nor ever in the future, never again was the Jew polytheistic, an idol worshiper, never; he became monotheistic in the captivity. The whole world around him, sunken in gross idolatry and pagan superstition and a multiplicity of gods, he stood alone, and separate, and apart from the days of the captivity. He became a monotheist, and idolatry never again entered the life of the story of God’s chosen people [Nehemiah 8:1-9].
Second: out of the sorrow of the captivity came the canon of the Holy Scriptures. Under Ezra and the great synagogue, these Holy Scriptures were set apart and kept inviolate as being inspired by the Holy One of heaven.
And third: out of the captivity came the synagogue, the birth of the synagogue. And the whole civilized world became acquainted with the Jew, and became acquainted with the Jewish Scriptures, and became acquainted with the preaching of the Holy One of Israel. For example, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, James, the Lord’s brother, presiding over the conference in Jerusalem, James says, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogue every Sabbath day” [Acts 15:21]. So out of the tears and the sorrows of the destruction of the Jewish nation, God was preparing the whole civilized world with an acquaintance with the Holy Book, this Scripture I hold in my hand, and with the blessed and precious hope of a Messiah who is coming.
Let me stop there just for a minute to parenthesize about the purposes of God in sorrow. In the New Testament, in the New Testament, the Bible says, the Scriptures say that when Stephen was stoned [Acts 7:59-60], devout men carried the man of God, the good deacon, to burial, and made great lamentation over him [Acts 8:2]. And out of the martyrdom of Stephen, the Scriptures say that a great persecution arose against the church [Acts 8:3]. Oh, what sorrow and what grief and what lamentation! But listen to the next verse: “But they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” [Acts 8:4]. And listen to the next chapter: “And Saul, at whose feet the garments of those who stoned Stephen were laid [Acts 7:58], and Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the church, made his way to Damascus” [Acts 9:1-2], and behold, and behold…And Saul of Tarsus, out of that persecution and martyrdom of Stephen, Saul of Tarsus became a Christian and an apostle of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God [Acts 9:3-20].
We do not see, and we do not understand, and we do not comprehend, and sometimes our eyes are closed to the great sovereign purposes of God. But all of these things, the tears, the martyrdom, the blood, the heartache, the disappointment, all of it is used of the Lord to some great and high and holy purpose. So it was in the fullness, the plerōma of time, the Jewish people, preparing for the coming of the Lord [Galatians 4:4].
All right, second: we shall take the great armies of Alexander the Great as they marched across the stage of human history. In Athens, and Sparta, and Thebes, but especially in Athens, there grew up a culture. There grew up democratic institutions. There grew up philosophy and there was created a language that is superlative. Everything the Greek did has never been improved upon to this day. His architecture is still the most beautiful in the world. After two thousand five hundred years it has never been improved upon, the glory of the Greek column and Greek architecture; the same thing of Greek poetry, of Greek drama, of Greek literature, of Greek philosophy. Somebody said, and I read it not long ago, that in Oxford today there are more than two hundred university courses on Aristotle alone. In Athens there grew up a great culture that gave birth to a marvelously concise and precise language in which theological and philosophical distinctions could be carefully made.
Across the stage of human history there strode the son of Philip of Macedon. His name was Alexander. And he conquered the entire civilized world. And when Alexander the Great followed his armies, and directed his armies to the ends of the earth, he carried with him his great teacher, Aristotle. And wherever the Greek army went, it carried Greek institutions, and Greek culture, and Greek philosophy, and the Greek language. Alexander the Great turned the whole civilized world Greek. And when Alexander the Great died, a young man of thirty-three––the same age that Jesus died––when Alexander the Great died, his four great generals carried on that Grecianizing of the civilized world. Cassander, who had married Alexander’s sister, Thessalonike, took over Greece, the Peloponnesus. And Lysimachus took over what we call Asia Minor. And Seleucus, the son of Antioch, took over Syria and Palestine. And Ptolemy took over Egypt. And they carried through that Grecianizing of the whole world. And the whole earth spoke one language, Greek. When you dig down into the papyri of Egypt and look at those little pieces of paper that were the common means of communication among the people, you will find them written in Greek; and when you dig down and look at the inscriptions on those great temples in that far-away day, you will find those inscriptions written in Greek. And when Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, we call it the Book of Romans in the New Testament, he wrote it in Greek.
I read an article some time ago on the literacy of the people, the citizens of the Roman Empire. They were the most literate of any age in the history of the world. The people were taught. They were learned. They discussed philosophy, and they did it in the Greek language. Can you imagine the literacy and the intellectual capability of a church to whom would be written a letter as Paul’s letter to the Romans, the profoundest theological treatise that has ever been penned? And yet it was written for a man to stand up in the pulpit and read it to the church congregation. A church of slaves, a church of the poor, a church of the menial, of the downtrodden, of the sub-marginal and the periphery, yet written to them in magnificent Greek. The preparation, the plerōma, the fullness of the time; God preparing for the coming of His Son [Galatians 4:4].
I speak now of the Roman: the Roman, the conquering Roman, the last of the great kingdoms of the world as revealed to Daniel in the second chapter of his book [Daniel 2:40-43]. There will never be another world kingdom. God revealed to Daniel, pulling aside that curtain of history and letting Daniel see into the future, God revealed to Daniel that after the Roman Empire, the whole world would be broken up [Daniel 2:41-43], like a man’s ten toes. Some of it iron strength, some of it clay weakness, some nations strong like America, some nations weak like those that are come into birth in Africa. But there will never be, says God, another great worldwide kingdom. But the world will always be divided up into separate kingdoms, separate states, separate governments. But in the days of the last kingdom, the great world kingdom, Roman, they held the entire earth in an iron hand. There was Roman law, and Roman government, and Roman roads everywhere. There was a Roman peace, a Pax Romana that encompassed the entire civilized world.
Roman institutions, Justinian’s law, Caesar Augustus’ mandate; there was Roman commerce, an exchange from Great Britain clear to the border of Scotland, down to the Indus River to the east. And men rode and traveled over those Roman roads, speaking Greek, discussing philosophy, trading and exchanging, the soldiers marching everywhere, from one side of the civilized world to the other. How little did they realize they were being used of God for a plerōma, a preparation, for the coming of our Lord.
Look, just as one tiny illustration of so much, look: “And in the sixth month,” in the sixth month after the conception of John the Baptist [Luke 1:11-24], “And 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]. Oh, but I don’t understand! “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” [Luke 1:26]; but Micah the prophet had said by the Spirit of God, that “He should be born in Bethlehem!” [Micah 5:2]. God said that! The Holy Scriptures recorded that, and Micah was chosen to reveal it. “He shall be born in Bethlehem” [Micah 5:2], but the story begins, “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” [Luke 1:26]; they live in Nazareth.
I turn the page of the book. “And it came to pass,” this is the next chapter:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar sebaste, Caesar god, Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled . . . And all went to be enrolled—
everyone unto his own city.
And Joseph also from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, came to Bethlehem, in Judea, the city of David, to be enrolled with his espoused wife, being plerōma, great, full, with child.
He never dreamed in his wildest, farthest imagination, he never thought that the sovereign purpose of God lay back of the decree that he signed, that the whole world should be enrolled [Luke 2:1]. He never thought of it but the purposes of God working through. So down that Bethlehem road, down that Bethlehem road, according to the decree of Caesar Augustus in the imperial city of Rome, down that Bethlehem road travels Joseph and Mary, being great with child [Luke 2:4-5]. “And this,” said the angel in the passage we read this morning, “And this shall be the sign unto you, the sēmeion; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12], a sign, a sēmeion! John uses that word alone in presenting the deity of Christ in his Gospel: “And many other sēmeion did Christ do. . .but these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and believing you might have life in His name” [John 20:30-31].
This shall be a sign unto you! [Luke 2:12]. Oh, what a sign, to be wondered at forever and ever! There was womanhood glorified! There was motherhood sanctified! There was childhood magnified! What said the text? “Born of a woman, born of a woman…But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman!” [Galatians 4:4]. As the Protevangelium avows in Genesis 3:15, “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.” Oh, what a glorious season to magnify God!
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!
While the star rains its fire
And the beautiful sing,
For the manger in 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.
The star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing,
For the manger in Bethlehem
Cradles the King.
[from “There’s a Song in the Air,” Josiah G. Holland, 1874]
Now suffer me one other little brief word. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” [Galatians 4:4]. Oh, the desperate need, the desperate need! The entire world held in an iron hand of oppression and slavery. To the Roman, all other men were slaves. To the Greek, all other men were barbarians. And to the Jew, all other men were dogs, and today, oh the fierceness and the bitterness among the nations of the world!
Yesterday, there was a great headline. There’s a prospect of peace, for Hanoi has sent out a feeler; maybe there shall be peace. And the headline of this morning’s paper: “Hanoi scoffs—there shall be war.” It is not without reason that the climax of that incomparable verse is this. Listen to it:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
O Jesus! How we need Thee, precious, Holy Child. O come into the hearts of men, blessed Savior, come down and reign. O Prince of glory, how we need Thee.
Now we must sing our song. On the first note of the first stanza, somebody you give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]. Somebody you, put your life into the fellowship of the church. A couple, a family, a youth, a child, you, somebody you, when we stand up in this moment, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor. I make it today,” while we stand and while we sing.
IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Pleromatouchronou – “completion of the preparation”
B. God works through time, unrushed, unchanged
1. Creation – ages in the rocks
2. Human history – age of manII. A set time
A. Before God everything is in present tense(Exodus 3:14)
B. The elective and sovereign choice of God(Psalm 2:4)
C. At a God-elected time Christ was born, died, raised, ascended and is coming again
1. Somewhat revealed to the prophets(Exodus 12:1-13; 25:8-27, Leviticus 23:4-11, Revelation 1-22, Daniel 9:25-26, Joel 2:28-32)III. The fullness of the preparation
A. Religious preparation – the Babylonian Jewish captivity(Psalm 137:1-6)
1. Thereafter and forever the Jew was a monotheist(Ezekiel 6:3)
2. Canon of the Scriptures(Nehemiah 8:1-9)
3. The institution of the synagogue(Acts 15:21, Isaiah 9:6-7)
4. God’s purposes of grace through indescribable sorrow(Acts 7:58-59, 8:2, 4, 9:1-18)
B.Cultural preparation – the Greek Alexandrian conquest
1. Greek became universal language
C. Political preparation – the Roman Empire
1. Roads connected all the nations
2. There was universal Roman peace
3. The decree of Caesar Augustus(Luke 1:26-27, 2:1-7, Micah 5:2)
4. Signs from God(Luke 2:6, 12, John 20:30-31, Genesis 3:15)IV. The desperate need
A. Whole world held in an iron hand of oppression and slavery
B. How desperately needed today
1. Headlines speak of Vietnam