“The time is fulfilled…the kingdom is at hand” (Mark 1:15).
(the previous article in this series can be found here)
Just recently, this writer attended a funeral of an 82-year old woman. Among other qualities and talents, she was a quilt-maker. She made over 50 beautiful and personalized quilts for her loved ones during her life. Many were made entirely by hand. Many of them were on display near the casket.
Like some people, she had previously related to her family a few preferences for her funeral, like her favorite passage of Scripture. But she had a rather unique wish as well: she hoped it would snow on the day of her burial. As uncomfortable as this would be for her attendees, she hoped that they might all gather ’round the grave site, wrapped in the quilts she gave them.
In a stroke of either sheer coincidence or some providential humor, indeed, the first substantive snowfall of the year came the night before, and covered the ground on the day of her burial.
Her family honored her unique request, to be wrapped in the work of her loving hands, as they laid her body to rest. At the service, her daughter remarked how happy she was that everything came together at just the right time.
When Jesus began his ministry, he said, “The time is fulfilled…” Did you ever give thought to the fact that Jesus was born at just the right time? Did you ever consider that many things had to be aligned just perfectly in order for that to happen?
If you think the chances of snow falling on the day of burial – in fulfillment of a fantastic wish – is exceptional, you would be amazed at all the things that needed to align for Jesus to come into the world – not to mention all the things he needed to fulfill once he got here, many of which were completely out of his control.
The Scripture speaks of this idea numerous times:
“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, NKJV).
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, NIV).
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6, NKJV)
Just as a fruit is not picked until it is ripe, there was a time in which the world was ripe for the Christ. There are a number of factors that contributed to this fullness – this ripeness – of the time. Before this time would have been too early, after this time would have been too late.
For example, even 50 years later would have been too late. Though several possible dates are put forth for the birth of Christ, and though not without some objection, the most popular date is 4 B.C (see here for why). Had he been born 50 years later, around A.D. 46, things would have been quite different.
His public ministry, which began when he was about 30 (Luke 3:23), would have begun around A.D. 76. His crucifixion would have happened around A.D. 79. But there are serious problems with this.
First, the Jews, who had been entrusted with God’s written word (Romans 3:2), were to receive the good news of their Messiah first (Matthew 15:24; Romans 1:16-17). But by A.D. 79 the Jewish state and Temple had been in ruins for nearly a decade. The Romans were in complete control of Judea, and only small, scattered bands of Jewish rebels remained in the hills. According to Josephus (Wars), those who didn’t surrender or die of starvation were tortured and crucified when they tried to escape the city.
Had Jesus been born 50 years later, it would have been too late.
Further, he could not have fulfilled the ancient prophecies of the Scripture concerning his life and ministry in and around Jerusalem. Here are just a few:
- He could not have ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9-13; Psalm 118:25-26; Psalm 148:1).
- He could not have cleansed the Temple (Isaiah 56:7).
- He could not have stood silently before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Isaiah 53:7), been crucified outside the city, at the behest of the Jews, under the arm of Rome, and buried in a rich man’s garden tomb (Isaiah 53:8).
Had Jesus been born 50 years earlier, among other things, Rome would not have been an imperial state (first recognized in 27 B.C.). The political situation of Roman occupation was just tenuous enough during the lifetime – and particularly the three-year ministry – of Jesus to bring about his crucifixion.
Pontius Pilate was the procurator of Judea at the time of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 27:2). He served the region from A.D. 26-36. He is the one who gave consent – though against the results of his own interrogation (Luke 23:4), and contrary to the warnings of his wife (Matthew 27:19) – for Jesus to be crucified.
One might say that 50 years is too much of a window. Perhaps Jesus could have been born just one year later or earlier, or six months. It is our contention that the fullness of time is very precise. It refers to the very year, month and even day of Jesus’ birth (though it be virtually impossible for us to know these precisely – God knows).
Consider Mary and Joseph. Though from different sides, they both came from the royal lineage of David (also in fulfillment of prophecy, 2 Samuel 7:12-13; see also: Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). They were just physically mature enough to be betrothed (somewhat similar to engagement today, but with stronger legal force, and basically no physical contact), but still young enough to be unwed, and chaste. The betrothal period usually lasted about one year. Then came the marriage.
A year earlier, Joseph and Mary would not have been betrothed. A year later, they would have consummated their marriage. The time was very precise.
Even the world itself – ancient kings and kingdoms, through their accomplishments and progress, which they amassed for their own glory – ultimately paved the way for Jesus to come. We will highlight some of these contributions in the final article in this series (a link will be added here when the next article is posted).