Base Scripture: Galatians 4:4-5 – But when the fullness of 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
Paul was addressing a people that had experienced the wonder of the grace of God, the presence of His Spirit, and the freedom that came through the gift of Christ, yet were at the point of throwing it all away because of the influence of outsiders that told them what they had was not enough. In Paul’s explanation, he used many examples to show them that what they had was the full measure of God’s gift to them, and helped them to see that the direction they were taking was really a step back, rather than a step forward. In this, he uses a rather elusive statement that, even though it is not the main point of the message, deserves its own focus, for it deals with how we view our own situations and how we respond to what we see as God’s response to us (or lack thereof) when we are in the midst of our struggles: the fullness of time
How Others Explain It: Hindsight
– The Son of God came to earth at just the right time in the divine scheme of things (Hebrews—Scriptures; Greeks—language; Romans—peace)… Wayne Jackson, The Christian Courier
– Probably no period in the history of the world was better suited to receive the infant church than the first century AD… Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church
– the harvest that Jesus said would be at the end of this age is the “fullness of time” – Morningstar Ministries
Typically, all of our explanation of this statement, and pretty much anything else, comes through our experience and understanding of the time itself. We can look back through the vantage point of the effect of the Cross in our lives, and say that it was the most pivotal point in history; even the point at which God moved upon us as the most important even in our lives. Furthermore every other situation surrounding these events are formed based on how they fit the life altering events we experience.
What does this all mean?
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “we have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” – John 20:24-25
Thomas had seen what the others saw before – Jesus was beaten, crucified, had died and was buried. What could possibly make them think that they had seen the Lord? Thomas had proof of his death – now he wanted proof of his life. Thomas was unable to see what the disciples saw, because he had not experienced everything that the rest of the disciples did.
Hindsight is great in that it gives us a perspective, having come out on the other side of a situation. David’s Psalm 37 is a wonderful example of encouragement in tough situations:
Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong, for like grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. – Psalm 37:1-2
David continues on this vein through the Psalm, and while it may be easy to read, consider if someone were standing in front of you giving you this advice while you are facing evil men and those doing wrong:
- as a nation we are mourning the loss of children at the hands of a gunman. The same thing happened in Hong Kong with a knife wielding assailant
- as a church we have been made aware of the atrocities of human trafficking around the world
How can we not fret? How can our behavior not be influenced by those we see around us, or right in our midst?
Even if we accept David’s statement, which by itself seems implausible and out of touch, we have a hard time with the “time” David brings to the statement – “soon”. How soon is soon? Does soon fit my timetable? Will soon be soon enough to satisfy my need for justice, or balance or equality? Like a pot of water waiting to boil to a cook, soon is never soon enough.
David brings perspective to the situation: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread – Psalm 37:25
Like David, Paul brings perspective to the Galatians about their path so they can, not just endure the new life of faith they have received, but live it fully and not get caught up in things that would limit what God wanted to do inside of them.
The statement “the fullness of time” has been translated as “a set time” or “just the right time”. While on the one hand it can be seen this way, but it makes us focus on the wrong thing.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you… – Acts 1:5-8a
The disciples heard what Jesus was saying, and considered it all well and good. However, they wanted to know one thing: Is it time now? Like a little kid at Christmas, they had anticipated its coming, and could do nothing but count down the days, hours and minutes until someone would finally say “Now”. Jesus redirects them away from trying to pinpoint a time that God was going to do an event, and has them focus on an event that will change the rest of their time – the promise of the Father in the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, when Paul speaks of the fullness of time he doesn’t focus on a specific time that God was going to move, but rather on a series of events that would lead to the launching of a new journey.
τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου
(the fullness of time)
The phrase Paul used for “fullness” is for actively filling something up so that there is nothing wanting. It is described like a ship that is ready for launch, and all of the supplies, resources, and people are being loaded to the ship. Once everything is loaded to the ship, and not before, it can take off. This was important because the Galatians were facing scrutiny by those who came in and told them that what God had for them was based on their ability to perform certain tasks (aka, keeping the Law). Paul was showing them that God bringing in the Messiah was based on God preparing everything for the new life they would encounter
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. – John 14:2-3
When we think of Jesus’ “delay” in returning, some have said it is because the world is not bad enough yet, or that Christians have not done enough to win the lost, or because we have not kept the law… all things that are dependent upon us to fulfill God’s mission. Jesus gave a different reason – He is preparing a place. Much like the “pleroma”, the filling up of the ship with everything needed for its journey, Jesus is putting everything in place for our eternity with Him. Once all preparations are complete, He will return to bring us to that place.
Paul said that the reason for all the preparations was not just so that a Messiah would come to be the sacrifice. All of the preparations were so that our lives would be changed forever, having been adopted as children. As children, our relationship with the Father is not based on our performance, but rather on His declaration of love for us. On God saying with Jesus “I want you to be with me”.