What do they mean when they say "in the fullness of time Jesus came"? I want to know what the fullness of time means in this scriptural context.
Galatians 4:1-3 gives us a clue as to what verse 4 means. I’m quoting from the New Living Translation Study Bible because it makes it very easy to understand:
Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.
Turning now to verses 4 to 7 it explains that Jesus came at exactly the right moment in time, the time ordained by his heavenly Father, to free humanity from slavery (to the law) and to open up the way for believers to become sons of god, heirs to the promise. Here are the relevant verses:
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out “Abba, Father”. Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Why, then was this the right time? I found an article that gives one Protestant view about the meaning of God sending his Son “in the fullness of time”. It gives six reasons why the right time was 2,000 years ago. The article also explains the significance of Daniel’s prophecy about the promised Messiah:
Christ came when He did in fulfillment of specific prophecy. Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of the “seventy weeks” or the seventy “sevens.” From the context, these “weeks” or “sevens” refer to groups of seven years, not seven days. We can examine history and line up the details of the first sixty-nine weeks (the seventieth week will take place at a future point). The countdown of the seventy weeks begins with “the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem” (verse 25). This command was given by Artaxerxes Longimanus in 445 B.C. (see Nehemiah 2:5). After seven “sevens” plus 62 “sevens,” or 69 x 7 years, the prophecy states, “the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary” and that the “end will come like a flood” (meaning major destruction) (v. 26). Here we have an unmistakable reference to the Savior’s death on the cross. A century ago in his book The Coming Prince, Sir Robert Anderson gave detailed calculations of the sixty-nine weeks, using ‘prophetic years,’ allowing for leap years, errors in the calendar, the change from B.C. to A.D., etc., and figured that the sixty-nine weeks ended on the very day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, five days before His death. Whether one uses this timetable or not, the point is that the timing of Christ’s incarnation ties in with this detailed prophecy recorded by Daniel over five hundred years beforehand. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/fullness-of-time.html
The article concludes that the timing of Christ’s incarnation was such that the people of that time were prepared for His coming. World events had brought the Jews to a point in history where they were living in expectation of the promised Messiah.
The fulness of the time refers to the 70 weeks of Daniel coming to completion. The Greek includes the word for "the", a definite article.
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, Gal 4:4
Fulness refers to completion, a filling up. Hence we look for some reference to that event.
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Dan 9:24
To be sure there are various interpretations about which the 70 weeks refers; when did it begin will determine when it will end. But there is only one accurate understanding.
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem to the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and sixty and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. Dan 9:25
So, whenever the exact date of that commandment was they/we would know when Messiah would thus be present.
The other element to understand this phrase "fulness of time" is the makeup of the Prince. Would it be as a baby or what? The word "Prince" is nagiyd; it means ruler, leader, captain, the anointed one.
From that definition we know Christ was anointed by God at His baptism. All four gospels relate this event. He was of the priesthood of Melchizedek.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Mat 3:16
Now to back up a bit, Paul understood that Messiah would be born a baby, made of a woman. That event took place in 5 CE. Fast forward to CE 30 and that is His baptism. That takes place at the end of 69 weeks of Daniel, which refers to the 62 plus 7.
So, the "fulness of time" relates to the period beginning at the commandment to His birth that then relates to His baptism at age 30. There would be no "sending forth of His Son", without that time fulfillment. Time as it were was pregnant with expectation, building over 483 years (69 periods of 7 years).
TO ADD: the fulness, the completion of time thus relates from the going forth of the commandment to Jesus' annointing. That period is 483. That left 7 years. 3 1/2 years later Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected, then ascended.
What about the remaining 3 1/2 years? There are various interpretations, but the best one IMO that fits is the 3 1/2 years terminates at Stephen's stoning (involved with Hellenistic temple, as well as Jerusalem temple) with Paul present.
If "The Lord God will do nothing, but He revealth His secret unto His servants the prophets" Amos 3:7. What is the prophecy referenced in these verses?
"When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His son... "(Gal 4:4)
"Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand..." (Mark 1:14-15)
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor... To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:18-21)
The time of Christ's coming - His anointing by the Holy Spirit, His death, the giving of the gospel to the Gentiles were definitively pointed out, in Daniel's seventy weeks prophecy.
"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks" Dan 9:25
In prophecy, a day is commonly interpreted as a year. What was revealed to Daniel is that from the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah will be 69 weeks (7 weeks + 62 weeks). When converted into years, it is 483 years (69 weeks x 7 days per week).
In History, this was the decree of Artaxerxes of Persia that went into effect in the autumn of 457BC. There were two other decrees prior to this, but they resulted in the restoration of the temple. This decree brought about in the restoration of the city.
"the streets shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times" Dan 9:25.
When combined, 483 years after 457BC is the autumn of 27AD, the Baptism and anointing of Jesus and the start of His ministry! (483 - 457 = 26, then add 1 because there is no year 0). It was at this time that the message was preached "The time is fulfilled" Mark 1:15.
And yet there is more, the prophecy also details Jesus' length of ministry, His death, and the preaching of the gospel first to the Jews and then to the gentiles.
"And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease" (Dan 9:27)
"And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself" (Dan 9:26)
Ellen White explains in the book Desire of Ages:
"Then, said the angel, “He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week [seven years].” For seven years after the Saviour entered on His ministry, the gospel was to be preached especially to the Jews; for three and a half years by Christ Himself; and afterward by the apostles. “In the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” Daniel 9:27. In the spring of A. D. 31, Christ the true sacrifice was offered on Calvary. Then the veil of the temple was rent in twain, showing that the sacredness and significance of the sacrificial service had departed. The time had come for the earthly sacrifice and oblation to cease.
The one week—seven years—ended in A. D. 34. Then by the stoning of Stephen the Jews finally sealed their rejection of the gospel; the disciples who were scattered abroad by persecution “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4); and shortly after, Saul the persecutor was converted, and became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. (Page 233)
What is meant by the expression that Jesus came in the fullness of time?
In the Extraordinary Form of the Catholic liturgy, we can glean some of its’ meaning from the office of prime, when the readings of the martyrology are read for the next day.
In the year, from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created Heaven and Earth, five, thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine; from the flood, two thousand, nine hundreds red and fifty-seven; from the birth of Abraham, two thousand and fifteen; from Moses and the coming of the Israelites out of Egypt, one thousand, five hundred and ten; from the anointing of King David, one thousand and thirty-two; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two from the founding of the city of Rome; in the forty-second year of the empire of Octavian Augustus, when the whole earth was at peace, in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ, eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, desirous to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months having elapsed since his conception, is born in Bethlehem of Juda, having become man of the Virgin Mary. - December 25
The Latin version and commentary can be found here.
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4). This verse declares that God the Father sent His Son when “the time had fully come.” There were many things occurring at the time of the first century that, at least by human reasoning, seem to make it ideal for Christ to come then.
1) There was a great anticipation among the Jews of that time that the Messiah would come. The Roman rule over Israel made the Jews hungry for the Messiah’s coming.
2) Rome had unified much of the world under its government, giving a sense of unity to the various lands. Also, because the empire was relatively peaceful, travel was possible, allowing the early Christians to spread the gospel. Such freedom to travel would have been impossible in other eras.
3) While Rome had conquered militarily, Greece had conquered culturally. A “common” form of the Greek language (different from classical Greek) was the trade language and was spoken throughout the empire, making it possible to communicate the gospel to many different people groups through one common language.
4) The fact that the many false idols had failed to give them victory over the Roman conquerors caused many to abandon the worship of those idols. At the same time, in the more “cultured” cities, the Greek philosophy and science of the time left others spiritually empty in the same way that the atheism of communist governments leaves a spiritual void today.
5) The mystery religions of the time emphasized a savior-god and required worshipers to offer bloody sacrifices, thus making the gospel of Christ which involved one ultimate sacrifice believable to them. The Greeks also believed in the immortality of the soul (but not of the body).
6) The Roman army recruited soldiers from among the provinces, introducing these men to Roman culture and to ideas (such as the gospel) that had not reached those outlying provinces yet. The earliest introduction of the gospel to Britain was the result of the efforts of Christian soldiers stationed there.
The above statements are based on men looking at that time and speculating about why that particular point in history was a good time for Christ to come. But we understand that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), and these may or may not have been some reasons for why He chose that particular time to send His Son. From the context of Galatians 3 and 4, it is evident that God sought to lay a foundation through the Jewish Law that would prepare for the coming of the Messiah. The Law was meant to help people understand the depth of their sinfulness (in that they were incapable of keeping the Law) so that they might more readily accept the cure for that sin through Jesus the Messiah (Galatians 3:22-23; Romans 3:19-20). The Law was also “put in charge” (Galatians 3:24) to lead people to Jesus as the Messiah. It did this through its many prophecies concerning the Messiah which Jesus fulfilled. Add to this the sacrificial system that pointed to the need for a sacrifice for sin as well as its own inadequacy (with each sacrifice always requiring later additional ones). Old Testament history also painted pictures of the person and work of Christ through several events and religious feasts (such as the willingness of Abraham to offer up Isaac, or the details of the Passover during the exodus from Egypt, etc.).
Finally, Christ came when He did in fulfillment of specific prophecy. Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of the “seventy weeks” or the seventy “sevens.” From the context, these “weeks” or “sevens” refer to groups of seven years, not seven days. We can examine history and line up the details of the first sixty-nine weeks (the seventieth week will take place at a future point). The countdown of the seventy weeks begins with “the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem” (verse 25). This command was given by Artaxerxes Longimanus in 445 B.C. (see Nehemiah 2:5). After seven “sevens” plus 62 “sevens,” or 69 x 7 years, the prophecy states, “the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary” and that the “end will come like a flood” (meaning major destruction) (v. 26). Here we have an unmistakable reference to the Savior’s death on the cross. A century ago in his book The Coming Prince, Sir Robert Anderson gave detailed calculations of the sixty-nine weeks, using ‘prophetic years,’ allowing for leap years, errors in the calendar, the change from B.C. to A.D., etc., and figured that the sixty-nine weeks ended on the very day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, five days before His death. Whether one uses this timetable or not, the point is that the timing of Christ’s incarnation ties in with this detailed prophecy recorded by Daniel over five hundred years beforehand.
The timing of Christ’s incarnation was such that the people of that time were prepared for His coming. The people of every century since then have more than sufficient evidence that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah through His fulfillment of the Scriptures that pictured and prophesied His coming in great detail.