God's Clockwork: 'In the Fullness of the Time'

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In the plan of God, timing is everything.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part one of a series

In the plan of God, timing is everything. Nowhere do we see this more emphatically than in the first coming of Christ.

Scripture displays before us an incredible number of inter-related elements in the plan of God for both the first and second comings of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe a man could preach on them Sunday after Sunday for years - never exhausting the subject, and never repeating anything, except to show how all of the people, places, and events of God's great plan are so very tightly connected.

In this series let us consider together one of the most vital aspects of our Lord's first coming: the timing of it. In Galatians 4:4-5 we find a tremendous statement:

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

In this series let us focus our attention on the first phrase of that statement: "when the fullness of the time had come."

As we read the Scriptures, it is always important for us to ask questions to make sure that we understand what God is saying to us. Never be afraid to ask questions of the Scriptures - honest questions that spring from a desire to know our God better, and to know Christ better. We can ask those questions with confidence, because in God's time we will, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, find answers in the written Word.

With that confident assurance, in this series let us delve into four questions:

1. What is the meaning of this phrase, "the fullness of the time"?

2. What distinguished "the fullness of the time" at Christ's first coming?

3. What did Old Testament believers know about "the fullness of the time" before Christ came - and what did they not know?

4. What do these things tell us about "the fullness of the time" of Christ's second coming?

The Meaning of the Phrase

The words translated "the fullness of the time" in the King James and New King James Bibles could also be translated, "when the time was fully come" as William Tyndale did in his English Bible in the 1500s. Or, as we find it in the Wycliffe translation of the 1300s, "after the fulfilling of the time came".

The Geneva Bible of 1599 also uses the phrase, "when the fullness of time was come" and it also includes this comment in the margin: "The time is said to be full, when all parts of it are past and ended, and therefore Christ could not have come either sooner or later."

So what is the essence of the phrase, "when the fullness of the time was come"? We can accurately say that it means "at the strategic moment" or "at the decisive moment." That is when God sent forth His Son - not a moment sooner nor a moment later in all of time. The first coming of Christ was the culmination of a vast, unimaginably complex Divine plan.

God's Incredible Clockwork

ClockworkThe events over the 4,000 years after the creation and the fall of man into sin, advancing ever so steadily toward the birth of Jesus Christ, were like the movement of the many gears of a large, expensive, superbly engineered, and extremely precise clock.

Some of the gears in the plan of God were large, like the rising and falling of empires [e.g., Daniel chapter 7], or God's taking away the royal line of Israel from the Benjamite family of Saul, and instead establishing the royal line of David from the tribe of Judah in its place [1 Samuel 15:22-23, 16:1-13].

Some of the gears in the great plan of God were, to human eyes, quite small. In this category we might put the rescue and salvation of the harlot Rahab to be one of the women in the lineage of the Messiah  [Joshua chapters 2 and 6, Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31], or God's choosing what Scripture calls the insignificant town of Bethlehem to be the Messiah's birthplace [Micah 5:2].

Midnight for Satan, High Noon for the Church

But each gear in God's great, incredibly complex timepiece - each person, each place, each event, each thing that to human eyes was often seemingly insignificant, or perhaps took place unseen - was tightly connected to all the others, either directly or indirectly. All the gears of God's great eternal plan - all the millions and millions of people, places, and events - had to mesh perfectly in order for the hands of God's clock to eventually point to the decisive, strategic moment for the birth of Christ.

From the first day of creation, God's clock slowly but steadily moved toward 12 - both hands straight up: the midnight of doom for Satan and those who have chosen to follow him, but the high noon of glory for Christ and His redeemed bride.

Next: "The Fullness of the Time" of Christ's First Coming


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