Christ's First Coming: What Distinguished The Strategic Moment?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Only God would possibly know when that moment had come.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a series. Read part one.

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. - Galatians 4:4-5

As we continue our series, we come to a second questions: What distinguished the strategic moment of Christ's first coming? This is a large subject, and space permits us only to consider one small sequence of events among the vast array of moving gears in God's great clockwork for the incarnation. But this sequence of events is a vital one, and it indicates to us something of the nature and character of God's great plan.

Let me call your attention to the familiar words we find at the beginning of Luke chapter 2:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

At this point we need to remind ourselves of the reason for this event in the history of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus was the Emperor at the time of Christ's birth. Palestine was part of Caesar's vast empire. Caesar Augustus had appointed Herod as the local king under Caesar's dominion. Herod was one of many kings and governors who ruled at the pleasure of Caesar Augustus. Herod ruled over a small part of the Empire that was about the size of the state of New Jersey.

We also know that Caesar Augustus was one of the first Roman emperors to proclaim himself to be a deity - a god. And so he instituted a massive building program throughout the empire - the erection of monuments to his self-asserted deity, in every part of his vast realm, so that he could be remembered and worshipped even after he had passed from the scene.

But Caesar Augustus needed money to finance these massive public works. And so, said Caesar, I have an idea. I will order a census and a taxation throughout the entire empire, to pay for these massive monuments to my greatness.

But it was not simply that Caesar Augustus had a great idea at a moment in time. God had a plan from before the foundation of the world. Caesar's census was a tiny but important cog in the vast clockwork. As we look at Scripture, and as we look at the events of history, we find that God so often has a way of turning the works of the Devil upside down to accomplish His perfect plan for the ages.

That was the case here. God used Caesar's efforts to glorify himself, to bring about the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords - at the precise moment, and in the precise place, where God through the Old Testament prophets had said the Messiah would be born.

I believe you could spend a lifetime examining the precise movement of all the gears in God's clock, over the thousands of years - leading to the precise moment when the hands of the clock were straight up - and at the end of a lifetime you would understand that you had only scratched the surface of all that God's eternal decree involved.

What distinguished the decisive moment - the fullness of the times in God's eternal plan? It was the fact that all of the vast combination of predetermined elements that could be fully known and fully comprehended only by the omniscient God, had now, in every detail, nothing left out, reached their climax and completion. The stage was fully set.

Only God would possibly know when that moment had come. We must remember that vital fact throughout this series - especially as we consider Christ's second coming.

Thus far we have examined two questions, and we have found the answers in Scripture: The Biblical definition of "the fullness of the times" is, as the Geneva Bible translators put it, the point at which all the parts of God's plan in preparation for Christ's first coming were past and ended, and therefore "Christ could not have come either sooner or later." From the first day of creation, God's clockwork slowly but steadily moving toward the appointed, strategic moment.

Our first two questions lead us to a third: What did the Old Testament believers know about Messiah's first coming? And also the reverse of that question: What did they not know? We shall find the answers as we continue.


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