by J. Christian Andrews
January 5, 2015
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4, 5 (NASB)
From early on in life, I have heard some explanations for how the coming of Jesus was in the right time, the fullness of the time in Galatians 4. A couple reasons I remember are the unified language in the Middle East and the extensive road system built by the Romans. I don't know that those explanations have been unsatisfying, yet there has been a persistent continuing of the question, “What made the early/middle Roman empire the right time?” This Nativity season has been enlightening for me as I have gained some new insights into the incredible narrative. That all my questions have been answered in inconclusive. I'm not even sure these new insights are directly related to the question. Never-the-less, here offered are three possibilities I've never considered before.
If Jesus had not been born in the time period in which God chose to send Him, we would never have know Him as “the Word.” John began his gospel with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word.” That is, at any rate, how we have rendered his words in English. The term he used, however, is one unique to the Greek of his day. In transliteration, his word is logos. As far as I have been able to discover, this particular term is not found in any other language. Our English term “word” is so very much limited when we use it to translate John's term. The Greeks had another term, rhema, they used when they wanted to say “word”; but logos is so much more than “word.” Logos is about concept, it is about wisdom, it is about knowledge. Logos is about the active breathing forth of God as in Genesis 1 when God spoke and the universe and all it encompasses, save humanity, came into being. (In the creation narrative, God does not speak humanity into being as He does the rest of creation. He formed the human from the humus and breathed His life into His in-His-likeness creation.) Logos very likely has more the sense of the Hebrew word torah when torah means the whole counsel of God as it does in Psalm 1: how blessed are they that meditate day and night on the torah. (An an aside, and at the risk of detracting from the central idea, note also how the Logos in John 1 is connected to God speaking in Genesis 1 and the blessing from immersion in torah in Psalm 1 thus adding evidence to how amazingly crafted the whole counsel of God is as it is presented in Scripture.) It is this Logos, who was in the beginning (note the past tense), who was with God, who was God, and through whom all that is was brought into being, who became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. Had this incarnation happened at any other time in history, we would not know Jesus as Logos become flesh.
The time frame of this second epiphany may not be as clear, but I find it fascinating that there may be a superlative connection between John the baptizer and Jesus whom he came to announce. The Lucan narrative tells us that John's dad was a priest. He happened by lot (there is a curiosity about how often God revealed His will through lots: Jonah, Zachariahs, Matthias) to be chosen to burn incense in the temple when Gabriel the angel announced to him that his aged and barren wife Elizabeth would conceive a child. Because John's dad is a priest, John then is born into the Levitical or priestly line. Elizabeth, John's mom, was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The King James translation of Luke says Elizabeth was Mary's cousin. The text, however, simply says she is Mary's kinswoman or more contemporarily translated relative. Regardless, the point is still there. We know from Luke's genealogy that Mary is descended from David in the tribe of Judah. If Mary and Elizabeth are related, then it could stand to reason that Elizabeth could also trace her lineage to David. This would mean that John, on his mother's side, is also descended from David or that he was born into the kingly line. So, consider this possibility. John, who had from his father the priestly line and from his mother the royal line, was sent by God to announce the coming of the One who would be both Priest and King to His people. The timing had to be just right.
There are certainly many other points in the timeline that point to the fullness of time, but the third epiphany in this season was the events that caused Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. From the surface it may not be a big deal that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God could have carried out His purposes just as easily had Jesus been born in Nazareth where Mary and Joseph were living. However, there was this thing about prophecy that had to be fulfilled. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,/Too little to be among the clans of Judah,/From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel./His goings forth are from long ago,/From the days of eternity. (Micah 5:2 NASB)” And then there was that bit about wise men from the east who were directed, because of the prophecy, to Bethlehem where they found Jesus and worshiped Him. There was a problem that had to be solved so that the prophecy might be fulfilled. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth; and it would seem there really was no reason for them to make the untimely trip to Bethlehem, untimely because Mary was pregnant and traveling would not have been at all convenient. There are other assumptions we might make about the story. Despite the shame that might have come to Joseph because his betrothed became pregnant before the wedding and not by him, he took Mary to be his wife (note his faithfulness and trust in obedience to the angel's message in his dream). We might guess that his standing in the community of Nazareth was such that they were able to overcome the stigma. There is nothing in the telling that would suggest he was anything but respected in the community, someone with a successful business and well liked. But Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem. It may be possible to view the solution to this problem in two ways, but either way it is seen, God's timing is at work. Whether it was God's foreknowledge of the census decreed by Caesar Augustus or whether God laid on Caesar Augustus the inclination to proclaim a census may be irrelevant. The fact is at that precise time in history, “when the fullness of time came,” Joseph and his presumably very pregnant Mary (as if she would be more pregnant at nine months than she was at three) made the eighty mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that they would indeed be in Bethlehem at the time of both the census and the birth.
How tightly woven God's story (His story – history) is becomes more and more evident the more time I take to look at all the pieces of the narrative. I aught now be surprised, but I can certainly be amazed at how much God has been at work to bring His plan for our salvation into reality. The Logos, the proclamation of Priest and King, and the Bethlehem birth stand as only three small examples of the intervention of Providence. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son...”
For more on the Lucan geneology, see http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/16294/how-is-jesus-descended-from-david