NOTE: This is a rough draft response to an in-class student essay that has been typed up and is a good example of an essay written in a single class period.
Galatians 4:4-5 states “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Christ’s coming took place in the fullness of time because of the need for redemption, as seen in the zealotry of the religious Israelites, the need for reformation of the law, as seen in the deistic distrust of the jurisprudent Romans, and the need for adoption under Christ, as seen in the spiritual vacuum of the philosophical Greeks.
The first reason that Christ’s coming occurred in the “fullness of time” is that the Israelites had turned from their religion to zealotry. The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and as such they were crowned with religious authority and given the mandate to establish the kingdom of God, as they were saved in the Exodus that they might be “a kingdom of priests”. Because of this religious authority, the Israelites were examples of submission to God’s order, and through this submission they came to acknowledge their sinfulness and need for the Messiah. But this desire for the Messiah increased their strict adherence to Hebrew Law and dependence on the temple, which suffocated their reliance on God. With this dependence on law as a means to the Savior, they began to grasp not on their Savior, which they longed for, but on their law, the very thing that was drowning them. In doing so, the Hebrews became “whited sepulchers,” becoming not only zealous but apocalyptic, destroying themselves and their cities out of their desperate desire for the Messiah’s coming.
The first century was also the “fullness of time” because of the reliance on inadequate laws and the need for a reformation, evidenced by the Roman people. While the Hebrews were the religious authority of the Western world, the Romans were the civil authority. They had developed a legal and political system that was built upon ordered liberty, and had united most of the Western world under their civil authority through the military conquest of their vast empire. The primary goal of the Romans was not to please their gods, but to preserve and establish new states. But with their focus on the needs of the state, they began to lose faith in the effectiveness of the gods, which led them to distrust their initial understanding of truth. In a state of political confidence but moral confusion, they turned to the enactment of justice for fulfillment, but found none, leaving them as a wooden cross that acts as an instrument of justice but has no knowledge of what justice truly means.
Another reason that the first century was the appropriate time for the coming of Christ was the Greek need to be reclaimed morally under Christ in a time where they had become spiritually empty among an abundance of philosophers. While Rome had conquered and united militarily, Greek conquered and united culturally. Greece had become a cultural and rhetorical authority, as Greek was the language of commerce, spoken all throughout the known world. Just as Hebraic religion and Roman law are prevalent today, so also the Greek culture continues to penetrate our society. As Sir Henry Maine once wrote, “Except the blind focus of nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin.” As a result of their cultural domination, they viewed themselves as free from the passions of both politics and religion, which facilitated their many philosophies and destroyed their faith. On their lack of religion, Walter F. Otto wrote, “In later Greece the Spirit continued to emerge in manifold aspects, but never in so original a form as in this religion of the living spirit.” The Greek spirit blossomed into what appeared to be freedom of thought and principle, but was actually, as the apostle Paul said, “enslaved” to elementary principles. Without religion, the Greeks were bound to the earth and, while espousing, in certain cases, universal truths through philosophy, could not truly ascend heavenward with their unclaimed principles. Because all of their beliefs were disorganized, remaining unclaimed by a larger religion or God, they themselves were spiritually orphaned. The Greeks had become their own altars “to an unknown god,” sometimes chancing on goodness, but not ascribing it to or allowing it to be “adopted” by the true higher authority.
Thus, the first century was the fullness of time because of the Hebrew need for redemption, the Roman need for reformation, and the Greek need for a Father. This matters in the context of today because all three of these cultures shaped our modern society– the Hebrews shaped our religion, the Romans shaped our law and politics, and the Greeks shaped our culture and rhetoric. Moreover, understanding what God knows to the be “fullness of time” can help us to understand more about His ways, though we can never know all, and help us to grow closer to Him.