by Allan Knapp
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Why was the First Century “the fullness of time”, “the right time” for Jesus to come and die for us? The New Testament tells a good part of the story. Historians fill in some. There is still much we don’t know, but we can marvel at the glorious workings of God’s plan that He has made known to us.
Centuries earlier, God kept his Deuteronomy 26 negative promises to the Israelites by exiling them to foreign countries because they profaned His law and His name. This turned out to be part of the plan. The Diaspora sent Jews all over the world. The books of Daniel and Esther tell how Jews had become integrated in other cultures and even held leadership positions. Wise men were alert to Old Testament prophecies. The Jews with their synagogues were in place, and a monotheistic worldview was introduced in many countries.
The Greeks had been dominant long enough that the Greek language was spoken by most people around the Mediterranean Sea, even if Greek was not their native tongue. The ability to communicate was in place.
The Romans had conquered. They had a strong military presence and had been busy building sturdy roads all around the Mediterranean. Brutal Roman law enforcement limited the incidence of robbers and brigands on the roads and shipping lanes. Safe ways to travel were in place.
The emperor ordered a census so that Jesus could be born in Bethlehem, the Wise men from the East alerted Herod to the birth of a king, Herod ordered infanticide and Jesus’ family fled to Egypt. All of this was to fulfill prophecies in Micah 5:2, Jeremiah 31:15, and Hosea 11.1.
After the resurrection, the believers in Jerusalem learned to do church: spiritual leaders who teach and pray, a diaconate that helped everyone to serve one another, the practice of church discipline (see Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5) and the sacraments. When persecution after Stephen’s martyrdom forced those believers out of the city and into Judea and Samaria, they took their knowledge and zeal for Christ and the church with them.
The book of Acts tells us that Paul spread the gospel even further. Paul’s habit upon entering a new city was to seek the synagogue (Acts 17:2). He preached the gospel to the Jews first, and then to Gentiles when the more stiff-necked Jews kicked him out. Sources outside the Bible tell us the other Apostles preached and planted churches as far away as Africa, Bulgaria, Afghanistan and India. At least nine of the Apostles were martyred for their faith.
We know from all of church history since that first century that conflict, suffering, and persecution have often awaited believers, but Christ continues to grow his church. We can take comfort that He promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20). It will be interesting to see how God’s plan unfolds during the rest of this year and the next, and the rest of this decade and the next…. Even so, come Lord Jesus.