The Fullness of the Time

Title: The Fullness of the Time

Bible Book: Galatians 4 : 1-7

Author: W.A. Criswell

Subject: Christmas; Time; Birth of Christ; Christ, Birth of



And the pastor will bring a Christmas message; it is entitled In the Fullness of the Time. It is a phrase found in the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians, and I shall read the context:

Now I say — writes the Apostle Paul — that the heir, so long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba! which is the Hebrew-Aramaic word for “father”—Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.[Galatians 4:1-7]

Now the verse that shall command our attention today is number four; Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” — tou pleerooma tou chronou — “in the fullness of the time” — in the completion of the preparation.

I. God’s Creation Of Time

For God works in time. Time is a creation as matter is a creation; as the starry universe is a creation; time is a creation and there is no time in the eternity before God’s creation. There is no time in the eternity that shall follow the consummation of the age; but time is a creation of God, here it began, and here it shall end. And in between, all of it lies in the presence of the Almighty; and He looks upon it from the beginning to the ending, from the alpha to the omega, from the start to the finish. It is a creation at the hands of God.

II. God’s Work In Time

In the self-limitation of God, He would not have to, but in the self-limitation of God, the Almighty works in time. He is unhurried, He is unchanged. But in time, God brings to pass His sovereign purposes and the length of those ages can be seen in many evidences in the Earth, and in the world, and in  the universe that God made.

A. Time And God’s Creation

For example, some of the stars that you look at you do not see those stars as they are now, you see those stars as they were maybe three hundred billion times ten trillion years ago. Your mind cannot enter into the ages of the ages, and it took that long for light, traveling at hundreds of thousands of miles a second, it took that long for the light from that star to reach your eye; a billion years, a trillion years, a trillion times a billion years - that’s God, unhurried.

You see it in the geological formations of the rocks, as in a Grand Canyon; you see those “strata”, strata—on “strata”, strata. And they are all geological ages. God took millions of years in this, and in that, and in the other.

You also see the sovereign and elective purpose of God working out in human history. Sometimes it will be centuries before a finite man can even discover the broad outline of the purposes of God, the elective choice of God, the sovereign will of God, working out in history.

So we shall take that first word, chronos — tou pleerooma tou chronou. You’re familiar with that word chronos — chronicles — the chronology – time; time as it passes; time in this world; time one minute after another; an hour, and a day; time in a calendar. Now God set a time, God set a date,  God marked on the calendar in heaven, the exact and the precise moment in which the Lord should be incarnate, should come down, should assume flesh and body, and should be born of a woman. God set that time before the foundations of the world.

All time is present before God; there is no past with God, there is no future with God, but all time is present with the Lord. He looks upon it from the beginning to the end, all of it before Him—there’s no yesterday, there’s no tomorrow—it is all present with the Lord. The Lord God is the great “I Am”, He’s not the great “I Was”, or the great “I might be or will be”, but the great “I Am”; all things are present before the Lord God in heaven. And He looks upon all things as present.

To us things happen one at a time, moment at a time, hour at a time, day at a time and we live like that, with things happening and we don’t know what may come of any day on a tomorrow. Things come around the corner of time to us, and we see them and view them. But to God, there are no corners around which the moments of the hours flow; to the Lord God all time is present, and He looks upon it, and can see it from the beginning to the ending.

B. Time And God’s Control

For example, there is a time when you were born, right here; God set that hour. I have never, however I have tried, I have never been able to understand the persuasion of those people who deny the sovereign elective purpose of God; I have never been able to enter into it. I am a pre-destinarian to the Nth degree! I believe in the elective purposeof God to the end of the heavens! And yet there are men, and great philosophers, and theologians who deny it; I cannot understand it.

Take you for example, just what did you do to choose the day or the hour of your birth? Just what did you do to choose the century in which you were born? Just what did you do to choose your parents, or whether you were even a male child or a girl child? Or just what did you do to choose your stature, or even the color of your eyes? All of these things are just typical of the elective and sovereign choice of God.

And when people are afraid, and frightened, and trembling, lest some other somebody — the devil or anybody else — take over this earth. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; God shall have them

in derision…” [Psalm 2:4-5] As though men, or angels, or archangel, or Satan could double his fist in the presence of the Almighty! Oh, God holds the world in His hand, God holds the whole universe in His hand; and God holds human history in His hand. And all of these things that to us happen—and to us they bring such trembling to our hearts, and sometimes such cringing fear—to God they’re just a part of the working out of an ultimate and final sovereign purpose in human history.

So we mustn’t delay too long, even though I have an hour. So to God, all of these things are in His choice, and in His sovereign will. And the Lord chose an hour, and chose a day, and chose a time in which Christ should be incarnate. And the Lord God chose an hour in which He should be crucified, should die. And the Lord chose an hour and a day in which He should be raised from the dead. And the Lord chose an hour when He should ascend into Heaven and bestow upon the Earth the ascension gift, the Holy Spirit.

And the Lord chose a day when He shall come again. There is a day known to God, there is an hour in the elective choice of God when the heavens shall be rolled back like a scroll and when the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Earth, shall come down. All of these things are in the elective purpose and choice of God. Every one is set and known to Him. And He looks upon it from beginning to ending.

Now sometimes, in the grace of our Lord, God will pull back a curtain and He will let a man of God — He will let a prophet — see somewhat of the future that God looks at. And sometimes God will reveal to a prophet some of these great things that shall come to pass. For example, the Lord revealed the birth of our Savior, the exact coming of our Lord, to Daniel. The exact year of the coming of our Lord, God revealed it to Daniel and you can read it in the ninth chapter of his prophecy. The Lord pulled aside the curtain and let Daniel see; let Daniel see the exact time of the coming of the Messiah.

And the Lord revealed in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus, the Lord revealed His death — the death of the Savior — the Passover Lamb; He shall be crucified at Passover and how He should suffer! God pulled aside the veil and revealed it to the prophet Isaiah, in the fifty-third chapter; the incomparable description of the sufferings of our Lord, the Lamb of God. And the Lord pulled aside the curtain and revealed in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Leviticus, the day of the resurrection of our Savior: He shall rise on Sunday, the first fruits of them that sleep. And the Lord pulled aside the curtain and revealed the day of the ascension gift — when God in Christ poured out upon the Earth, after the Lord returned to glory — the fullness of the Spirit.

And the Lord revealed in the one prophetic book that we have in the New Testament, in the Revelation, the Lord – apekaluphthe — the Lord unveiled, the Lord uncovered. The Lord drew the curtain aside, apocalypse, “unveiling,” a drawing aside of the curtain, a revelation—the Lord drew aside the curtain. And the apostle John was allowed to see at the end of time, the denouement of all of this human history, the consummation of the age! God let the apostle John see it: that’s the Lord. So, “in the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.” The time, and the day, and the hour was set by the sovereign council of God, before the world was created.

III. God’s Fullness Of Time

Now may I speak of the pleroma? But when in the pleroma, the fullness of the time, all of these things of past history conspired to work toward the great and mighty preparation of that glorious and glad Day. All of these things working, all of these things preparing, all of these things conspiring and moving toward that great, mighty Day of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Now I’m going to pick out some of them.

A. Preparation For Jesus And The Jewish People

One, the contribution of the Jewish people in the pleroma, the fullness of that hour, the preparation of that hour; the Jewish nation. We could be here all day long speaking of God’s working through His elective and choice people in preparing for that coming of the Savior; but I’m going to choose just one. Out of all the things that God did, preparing the Jewish people for the coming of the Christ Messiah, I’m going to choose one; I’m going to choose their captivity. Because out of that sorrow,  and indescribable grief, and pain, and heartache, God did the one great thing preparing for the coming of the Christ into the world.

It is hard for us to realize the sorrow of the Jew over the destruction of his national home. We love our country, and we love our city, but there has never been any love for a country or a city as was in the heart of the Jew for his country and his city. You see, the Jew was separate and different from the world; and he identified the truth of the Lord God with all of the accoutrements of his temple, and of the worship, and of the city of Jerusalem, and of the Jewish homeland. A covenant—unconditional, made to Abraham—that should be his forever.

Therefore in the Babylonian captivity — not only in the Assyrian captivity when the Northern tribes were taken away — but also in the Babylonian captivity when Nebuchadnezzar came and destroyed the Southern Kingdom, there was grief unutterable in the soul of the Jew.

You will find somewhat of the feeling of that hurt, and that heartache in the one hundred, thirty- seventh Psalm. Do you remember how it goes? You couldn’t read it, you couldn’t hear it, without a sorrow unspeakable coming in to your own heart. This is it:

By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down. Yeah we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our hearts upon the willows in the midst thereof, for they that carried us away captive, required of us a song. And they that wasted us, required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. But how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

[Psalm 137:1-4]

Those Jewish captives, in their tears, and in their sorrow, in a strange and far away land; what good could come out of such tears and heartaches, the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the tearing up of the city of Jerusalem, and the wasting of the nation of God? Oh, you see, God is preparing, God is working, and the Lord is leading to that great pleroma, the fullness of the preparation when the Lord should come.

Three great things came out of the sorrow of the Jewish captivity. One: the Jew was thereafter and forevermore monotheistic. The curse of Israel was idolatry, idolatry; and the Lord chastened, and the Lord scourged, and the Lord corrected, and the Lord judged through all of the history of Israel until finally, this great and final rod of His anger, and the staff of His indignation. And after the Babylonian captivity, the Jew stood apart, separate; he never in meshed himself in the world again. And to this day, wherever he is, he is of all things a monotheist. That came out of the Babylonian captivity.

Second, out of the Babylonian captivity came this holy work that I hold in my hand, the canon of the Holy Scriptures was made out of the Babylonian captivity; under Ezra, and the great synagogue, the Scriptures were gathered. And they were presented as the inspired, infallible Word of Almighty God from that hour until this. That came out of the captivity.

Third, out of the Babylonian captivity came the synagogue. Before, the Jew had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and to call on the name of the Lord, and there to offer sacrifices to the Almighty; but now, but now, in every city, and in every country, and in every land that scattered Jew built his synagogue; and there read that infallible and immutable Word of the Lord God. He sowed the Earth down with the knowledge of the Scriptures, and of the Mosaic Law, and of the customs of the holy people of God.

For example, just as an example, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts is the record of the first council of the Christian churches in Jerusalem. It is presided over by James, the Lord’s brother, who is pastor of the church at Jerusalem. And James speaks, now ex cathedra; he speaks as the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, presiding over that council. And he says, listen to him, “For Moses of old, hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” [Acts 15:21

All over this world, all over the civilized Earth, there was the synagogue. And inside of the synagogue these who were reading Moses, reading the Old Testament; and the Earth became acquainted with the hope of a Messianic deliverance from Heaven. All of the things that happened to those Jewish people were a part of the pleroma, reaching forth to the glorious appearing of the incarnate Son of God.

I want to parenthesize here just for a moment, to make a comment in passing on the sovereign purpose of God. In sorrow, and in trouble, in despair, and in heartache — all of it has a part, and all of it is used in the sovereign elective purposes and choice of God to the attainment of some holy end — that to us may be hid, we cannot see; but God sees, and God uses it, and permits it for some high and holy end.

Now let’s take one in the New Testament. As we’ve spoken of the Jew in the Old Testament, and the sorrow of his captivity, may we take one in the New Testament? There was no sorrow that came to the early church like the martyrdom of Deacon Stephen. The Bible says, the Scriptures said, that devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him. And around the martyrdom, the stoning of Stephen, there arose a fierce and awesome persecution against the church. Could you imagine anything more trying, filled with tears and heartache? No wonder they lamented, devout and holy men. But you look at the next verse, “And they that were scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the Word…preaching the Word.” [Acts 8:4] Now look at the next chapter. “And Saul of Tarsus—at whose feet their garments were laid down who stoned Stephen — and Saul of Tarsus breathing out threatening and slaughter against the church, went to Damascus to hale into prison those who might call upon the Name — and the Lord met him, on the way.” [Acts 9:1-2

And out of that persecution, and out of the martyrdom of Stephen came the glorious conversion of the great apostle Paul. I would think when the church stood by and saw their deacon, Stephen, stoned to the ground; and saw him lift up his voice and say, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” I can imagine the church felt, “this is the end of the way, where is God, and why doesn’t God intervene, and why doesn’t God do something?” I can imagine the church crying and lamenting; but out of that sorrow, and out of that martyrdom, and out of that blood, came the world evangelization in the first Christian century. So it is among the Jewish people, the pleroma—that captivity—prepared for the coming of the Messiah.

B. Preparation For Jesus And Alexander The Great

Now we shall take another. We’re going to speak of the march across history of the armies of Alexander the Great; getting ready — centuries hence — getting ready for the coming of Christ into the world. Alexander the Great was the child of Phillip, King of Macedon, who conquered the whole Greek world. And in the city of Athens, there grew up a phenomenal thing, like the world had never known before. Greek culture, and Greek language, and Greek institutions, and Greek philosophy, and Greek drama, and Greek architecture, and Greek poetry; there was nothing like it the world had ever seen.

And two thousand, five hundred years later, there is no man that has ever been able to improve upon anything in which those Greeks excelled. The most beautiful architecture in the world today is the Greek column. The most glorious dramas in the world, are those written by the ancient Greeks; tragic, comic. The most marvelous poetry, the most incomparable philosophy: I read one day that there are now, at this minute, more than two hundred courses taught in Oxford University on the philosophy of Aristotle alone.

And in that city of Athens, there grew up this marvelous culture, and the development of a language in which philosophy could be uniquely discussed; fine distinctions made in those Greek words. So across the states of human history, there marched this son of Macedon—this Son of Phillip the Greek, Alexander—and wherever Alexander went he carried with him his Greek teacher, Aristotle, the philosopher Aristotle. And wherever Alexander went, wherever his armies marched, there he built Greek institutions; Greek culture, Greek philosophy, and the Greek language.

And when Alexander the Great died, at thirty-three years of age—the same age that our Lord died— his great empire was taken over by four of his generals: Cassander, who married his sister Thessalonica, was the King of Greece. And Lysimachus took what was called Asia Minor. And Seleucus, the son of Antioch, took over Assyria, which is Palestine. And Ptolemy took over Egypt

And those four great generals created dynasties; and they continued those Greek institutions. And the entire world spoke one language, the Greek language. And the entire world was familiar with philosophy, Greek philosophy. And the entire world discussed those fine distinctions made in philosophy, using the Greek language.

It was one of the most phenomenal developments that ever came to pass in human history. When you dig down into those hermetically sealed tombs, or in the sand dunes of Egypt, and dig up those little pieces of paper they called papyri, little old things that people wrote to one another in that day; you will find every one of them written in the Greek language. And when Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, the Imperial city of the whole Roman Empire, did he write it in Latin? He wrote it in Greek! Isn’t that an amazing thing?

I read an extensive article one time on the literacy of the first century. We’re inclined to think that we today, so excel because we have advanced technologically. There never was a century—there never was a time or civilization—when people were so literate as they were in that Christian first century. Can you imagine a congregation of slaves, and of menial servants, listening to the greatest, profoundest, treaties on theology that was ever been? Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, called in our New Testament, the Book of the Romans: yet those people came to church and sat there and listened as that epistle was read; a letter to them from the Apostle Paul.

Wherever you went in the Roman Empire, there Greek could be understood; the pleroma of God.

Reckon Alexander ever thought of such a thing? Reckon Lysimachus, or Cassander, or Seleucus, or Ptolemy ever thought of such a thing? The purposes of God working in human history, “… in the fullness of the time, God sent forth His Son.”

C. The Preparation For Jesus And The Romans

Now may I take one other? The Roman, the Roman, the march of the Roman legionnaire; the whole world was held in the hand of one Roman Caesar, all of it, all of it. There was Roman law, and Roman justice, and Roman government, and Roman roads from one side of the civilized world to the other. There was Roman commerce, and Roman interchange, and Roman movement from Great Britain, the top of Great Britain clear down to the Indus River next to India. The whole civilized world under one government, and it was held in peace called the Pax Romana. And there was that interchange, protected by the power of the Roman government; and men freely went anywhere. A merchant from Britain could make his way clear down to Parthia and Armenia next to the Indus River; and the whole Earth was a moving with soldiers that were marching, and merchants that were spreading forth their wares, and the communication of people, all of them talking in the Greek language.

Let me show you an instance of how these things work in the power of Almighty God, in the sovereign choice of God, yet the man who’s involved never realizes it, never in his wildest imagination ever dreamed of it; yet God is working, moving through history, the sovereign purposes of the Almighty coming to pass.

Now you look at this; this is just one little instance out of ten thousands under the aegis and under the mighty hand of the Almighty. Now you look at this: And in the sixth month—that is the sixth month of the conception of John the Baptist—and in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee unto Nazareth—unto Nazareth—to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. [Luke 1:26-27]

D. The Preparation For Jesus And Prophecy

But dear God, I don’t understand! I can’t get this straight in my mind, for over here in Micah—when God pulled aside the curtain and let the prophet Micah see into the vista of the future—and God said, “And He shall be born in Bethlehem.” And God sent Micah the prophet to announce to the world, that when that hour comes in the pleroma, the fullness of time, it shall be in Bethlehem! And I don’t understand Lord; because in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, unto Nazareth, to a virgin by the name of Mary. Lord, I don’t understand, because back here You said, when you pulled aside the curtain, it was to be in Bethlehem but the story says, “in Nazareth”. Well, I turn the page and the next chapter begins:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree, a mandate from Caesar Sabaste— he assumed to himself the title of God, Caesar Sabaste; in Latin, Caesar Augustus, and he alone could do it. The whole world was in his hand—It came to pass there went out a mandate from Caesar Sabaste that the whole world is to be enrolled…— a universal census—And all went to be enrolled everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, unto Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem…

To be enrolled with Mary his wife, being—pleroma, “with child”—being great with child. [Luke 2:1-5]

Lord, O the hand of God in human history! Why Caesar Sabaste said, “Hey, I am god!” and he assumed to himself the prerogatives of God; and emperor worship began with Caesar Augustus, he is god!

“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.”

And in the sovereign purpose of the Almighty God brought it to pass, and used Caesar Saboste as just a tool in His hands to sign a mandate. Because God had said, seven hundred years before, “He shall be born in Bethlehem.” And the purposes of God look forward and work out in the fullness of His time.

So down the Bethlehem road, down the Bethlehem road, you see the holy family making their way down into Judea; Joseph, I suppose on a beast of burden his wife Mary. And the time came for her to be delivered. And the angel came, and the angel said, ‘This shall be a sign unto you’—a semeion, sign. [Luke 2:6,12]

That’s the only word that John the apostle uses for “miracle”, what you have translated “miracle”. And John will say, “And these semeion, many of them did Jesus,” but these are presented in the gospel of John—the twenty chapters, “these are presented that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”; the signs, the semeion: [John 20:31]

This shall be the sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

[Luke 2:12]

What a sign to be wondered at! There was womanhood glorified; there was motherhood sanctified, and there was childhood magnified. “This shall be a semeion unto you,” a sign from God.

What said the apostle Paul? “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.” [Galatians 4:4]

What said the proto evangelium in Genesis 3:15? “And the seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.”

“This shall be the semeion unto you in Bethlehem, in a cradle of a manger you’ll see a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,” the sign of Almighty God that the pleroma of the time had come. [Luke 2:12]

There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky! There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry! And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,

For the manger in Bethlehem cradles a king!

There’s a tumult of joy o’er the wonderful birth, For the virgin’s sweet Boy is the Lord of the Earth. And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, For the manger in Bethlehem cradles a king!

[“There’s a Song in the Air”;Josiah Gilbert Holland]

“This shall be the semeion unto you, you shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger;” made of a woman, in the pleroma of God.


Now, may I conclude? I thought this morning I’d have fifteen minutes to conclude; and I’ve got about four. You know Leroy; I believe that if we’d begun the service at 9:00, and you turned it over to me at 9:02, we’d still have the same thing.

May I speak briefly of the desperate need? The whole world in that pleroma, the whole world was held in an iron hand of oppression and slavery. To the Roman, every other man was a slave; to the Greek, every other man was a provincial; and to the Jew, every other man was a dog. And the world lived in cringing fear, and soon broke up into the wars that cloud up the civilized world, and broke up the Roman Empire.

And we live in a cringing anxiety no less so today. Yesterday, all of us were so enheartened; the great headlines of the newspapers of America said, “Hanoi has offered a gesture at peace.” And everyone was glad, oh maybe these men can come home from Vietnam; and maybe the sound of the smoke of battle shall cease. And maybe we shall have peace in this earth, oh maybe! And the great black headlines screamed that hope. Then today, then today, those same black headlines say, “And Hanoi scoffs”, and Hanoi says, “It is war!” And it seems to be—endlessly forever, and ever—nation against nation, sword against sword.

It was not without reason that the incomparable prophecy of Isaiah reads its climax with this word, listen to it:

For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given. And the government shall rest upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

[Isaiah 9:6]

O little Babe of Bethlehem, that the nations of the world might bow before Thee. Oh, Crown Prince of Glory, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down; Lord God of Creation, Thou Everlasting Father, Thou Mighty God, Thou Prince of Peace. O how we need Thee, blessed Savior, precious Holy Child, wonderful little Jesus Boy; O reign, Lord, over the Earth, come, come, blessed Jesus. This is Christmas.

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