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Just in Time

December 23, 2015 No Comment

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by Peggy Pedersen

“When the time had fully come,
God sent His Son.”
– Galatians 4:4 –

One feature of non-Abrahamic religions is a cyclical view of time, but the Old Testament teaches that time is linear and progressive. Indeed, the very idea of progress originates in this understanding. How can there be progress if you forever go in circles? It is the very definition of futility.

The linear nature of time entails a beginning and an end. So it is that the opening sentence of Genesis tells us: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Revelation, in line with Jewish prophecy, also predicts an “end times” when God will draw the creation to a close and engender a new creation.

Time and the material world are mutually necessary, and change is the prime feature of both. God Himself is outside of time, outside of materiality, and outside of change. Yet, as we are told in the Scriptures, He is imminent — with us — and involved in every aspect of this universe of time. He sustains and rules over every aspect of our existence with personal supervision; every hair of your head is numbered.

In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon wrote: “To everything there is a season and a time for everything under heaven” (3:1). Hence we come to the understanding that events happen “in the fullness of time” or at the perfect time. For generations, Hebrew prophets foretold the coming Messiah promised by God in Genesis. Yet centuries passed without his appearance. Like the pagan prophet Balaam (whom God used to bless Israel) predicted, faith in the coming of a Messiah involved waiting. “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Seth” (Numbers 24:17).

Historians have pointed out that in the first century B.C., many elements came together to facilitate the reception and spread of a messianic faith. Expectation was high among the Jews for the appearance of the Messiah, especially because of the oppression of the Roman Empire and the fulfillment of pre-messianic prophecies. Today, not only Christians, but the highest Jewish authorities, say the elements are in place for the coming of God’s deliverer. In fact, the Talmud (an important Jewish religious text) puzzles over why the Messiah had not come as predicted before the destruction of the second temple: the temple and its genealogical records were supposed to verify that the Messiah’s lineage was intact.

The Roman Empire created a vast network of highways and transportation routes throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, resulting in a free flow of commerce, communication, ideas and people throughout the Empire. Greek was widely spoken, enabling different groups to communicate with each other. Jewish settlements were established in Spain, Rome, Turkey, Greece, North Africa, and elsewhere. People of other nations were seeking out the God of Israel, coming to the synagogues and to the Temple in Jerusalem to learn, disillusioned as they were with the petty gods of the Greeks and Romans. Mystery religions popularized the idea of a saviour-god, yet localized pagan deities had shown themselves powerless against Roman power.

People of other nations were seeking out the God of Israel, coming to the synagogues and to the Temple in Jerusalem to learn, disillusioned as they were with the petty gods of the Greeks and Romans.

In the Book of Daniel, a specific period of time was predicted that would last from the command of Artaxerxes in 445 B.C. to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of the “anointed one”, his being “cut off,” and Jerusalem’s destruction. “From the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.” (Daniel 9:25) This prophecy implied that the Messiah should appear by 33 A.D.

Meanwhile, within Judaism, many disputatious sects had arisen. The Sadducees were in control of the Temple under the authority of the Roman government, corrupted by power; and the Pharisees were spiritual leaders, forerunners of today’s rabbis, who sought by example and teaching to raise the people to levels of holiness often only they could follow. Other groups, such as the Essenes, taught the coming of the “teacher of righteousness.” Expectations were high, with zealots seeking to establish the restored kingdom by force and multiple so-called messiahs vying for recognition.

Adding to the confusion was that there were two strains of messianic belief—the first a suffering deliverer (ben Joseph) who would be killed, the second a triumphant king (ben David) who would establish an eternal kingdom. The latter idea had become far more dominant in popular expectation, as the people chafed under Roman rule and yearned for deliverance.

Whereas during the time of the first Temple formalized worship was focused on the activity of the priests, the Babylonian exile popularized local synagogues for study, hearing and preaching of the Torah, and this continued upon the return to the land and the rebuilding of the Temple, providing a platform for an itinerant preacher to gain followers outside the control of the Temple authorities.

Jesus’s birth, required to be in Bethlehem to fulfill Messianic prophecy, was facilitated by the enforced census that caused Mary and Joseph to travel there for enrolment near the time of her confinement.

A few years before Jesus began his preaching, the Roman government passed a law that only the Roman authorities, not the Jews, could impose capital punishment (some date it to AD 6). Crucifixion is not a Jewish mode of punishment but a Roman one; yet it was the very method foretold by the prophets for the death of the Messiah.

When Jesus began his ministry, no other time had so favoured the spreading of God’s message of deliverance, with the greatest opportunity of reception by the Jews, who had been prepared for the imminent coming Messiah by the preaching of John the Baptist. But it was not the deliverance they expected. It was a freeing of the soul, but not the body. For that we wait.

The hand of God moves history. No promise of His fails. No prophecy will be unfulfilled. God has had a plan from the beginning. Within His plan, generations live out their lives, nations rise and fall, the years pass, sometimes in joy, sometimes in sorrow, but hope endures. Shakespeare’s Macbeth complained that life was a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” — and it seems each day creeps through recorded time, yet we wait. But we wait in faith.

The hand of God moves history. No promise of His fails. No prophecy will be unfulfilled.

As with the promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham, God said “not yet,” because the wickedness of the inhabitants wasn’t full. God in His mercy allowed time for repentance and for Israel to grow and be formed into a nation. It is so with the second coming. Jesus says no man knows the day or the hour, only the Father, but we know He will come when all is ready, at the closing of the Last Day. Expect Him soon.

———————

Peggy Pedersen is a writer living in Victoria, B.C., where she is a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church.

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