Paul declares that Christ came “in the fulness of time (Galatians 4:4).” But what might this mean in practical terms? Here are 3 senses in which Jesus was born at the ideal time:
(1) Gospels fit the literary genre biographies of revered figures. 150 years prior to Christ, this genre did not exist. Biographers wrote biographies of kings and philosophers, but not of religiously revered figures. One casualty of this fact is the vaunted founder of the Dead Sea sect, the Essenes. He is identified there as “the Teacher of Righteousness” and is conjectured to have been Onias III, the murdered high priest. But we don’t really even know his name, let alone his biography because he lived during the Maccabean revolt in 175-163 BC. If Jesus had been born that early, we would likely know much less about His life.
(2) Prior to Jesus, Isaiah 53 was not considered Messianic prophecy. But the Maccabean revolt produced the belief that the death of righteous martyrs could atone for Israel’s sin. The Qumran Essenes considered the Temple hierarchy corrupt and illegitimate and believed that collectively they constituted a spiritual temple whose hard lives in the wilderness atoned for Israel’s sin. These 2 factors helped create an atmosphere in which the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 could be interpreted as a reference to a Messiah whose death could atone for sin. The destruction of the Temple in 70 AD removed the chief rival to this doctrine the atoning efficacy of the Temple cult. [Note the controversial extension of this principle in my next post.]
(3) There is widespread pre-Christian belief in demons, but no evidence of exorcisms in the sense of an expulsion of absolutely evil entities. So Jesus’ exorcisms are novel and this novelty helps explain why His claim that His exorcisms demonstrate the descent of God’s kingdom upon His hearers can gain widespread traction: “If I cast out demons by the finger of God then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20).” Jesus’ exorcisms usher in an age of new exorcists, notably the unnamed Jewish exorcist in Mark 9:38-41, the Jewish faith healer Hanina ben Dosa, and the Greek, Apollonius of Tyana.
How far does the angry God of Jeremiah 7:21-23 [below] push the envelope of how far we interpret the Bible in terms of progressive revelation:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat the flesh. For in the day I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: Obey my voice, and I will be your God and you will be my people, and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.”
The ancient Israelites were birthed as a people in a culture immersed in a sacrifice cult as the basis of reconciliation with the divine. But here God denies ever wanting such a cult! God sarcastically commands them to eat their burnt offerings, something ritual law forbids. So how can we explain all the laws of sacrifice at the heart of the Israelite cult? Can it be that God accommodates His revelation to cultural demands and provides them with a sacrifice system for moral and spiritual structure that He wishes were not needed?
If so, this might explain why Jesus had to die an atoning death on the cross at the ideal time. His death is the sacrifice that fulfills all sacrifices, which now become a type of His death. As such, it is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (Hebrews 9-10), sacrifices that God never wanted in the first place, but embraced as a concession to cultural necessity. If so, Jesus was born at the ideal time in part because 40 years after His crucifixion the destruction of the Temple permanently terminated the Jewish system of sacrifice, so that the Jewish faith had to reinvented in the form of rabbinic Judaism. Thoughts?
Regarding the timing of Jesus’ birth being “ideal”:
From the very beginning (and before, Eph. 1:4), God had planned to send Christ to save us:
Gen 3:15 (DBY) And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall crush thy head, and thou shalt crush his heel.
But I would argue that for Jesus to come, a critical mass of detailed messianic promises had to be received by willing and believing men–best epitomized by, and culminating in, Mary, the mother of Jesus:
Luke 1:35, 38 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
I think Jesus came to rescue us just as soon as he possibly could, and would have come sooner, if there had been a larger available pool of willing and believing people to receive the rhema words of God.
Wow! That’s a great passage, and a great discussion! Regarding the efficacy of animal sacrifices, we also recall this verse:
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:4.
And in support of the idea that the inspired Scriptures are only part of a progressive, ever-increasing revelation of the goodness of God, I quoted here:
Regarding the reason for sacrifices–
–I think there was more to blood sacrifice than a cultural concession:
Finally, regarding the termination of the Jewish system of sacrifice–
–as a futurist, I don’t believe it’s over, quite yet. I believe the Jews, under persecution from the Antichrist, will be gathered out of the nations; that the Ark of the Covenant will reappear (e.g., Ezek. 20:34-38; Is. 11:12,18:3; Jer. 3:16,17) for their protection, and that the Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt (and sacrifices restarted) under divine protection; but that the Temple will be defiled by the Antichrist when he breaks his 7 year Covenant with the Jewish leaders (Daniel 9:27).
Further, after the Second Coming of Christ, memorial sacrifices will by celebrated by the Jews in Jerusalem during the Millennial Age, prior to our entering eternity (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
2 Peter 3:11-13 (RSV) 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! 13 But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
I am inclined to adopt, with Alford, Huther, Salmond, and Trench, the transitive meaning, hastening on; i.e., “causing the day of the Lord to come more quickly by helping to fulfil those conditions without which it cannot come; that day being no day inexorably fixed, but one the arrival of which it is free to the church to hasten on by faith and by prayer” (Trench, on “The Authorized Version of the New Testament”). See Matthew 24:14 : the gospel shall be preached in the whole world, “and then shall the end come.” Compare the words of Peter, Acts 3:19 : “Repent and be converted,” etc., “that so there may come seasons of refreshing” (so Rev., rightly); and the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” Salmond quotes a rabbinical saying, “If thou keepest this precept thou hastenest the day of Messiah.” This meaning is given in margin of Rev.
Note: I believe my view is in keeping with classical theism, which holds that even though there is freedom of choice, God’s omniscience necessitates God foreknowing what free choices are made, but that God’s foreknowledge is closed, complete, and unchanging. (Versus open theism, with the idea that God does not know the future exhaustively, which I reject.)