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. Galatians 4:4-5 (ESV)
I imagine that you have friends and family who can never get anywhere on time. You know who I am talking about. You love them to death, but you always tell them something starts a half an hour sooner that it really does just so they will be on time. We all know people like that. Maybe you are like that. Regardless, one thing we know for certain is that God is always on time.
Paul reminds us that Jesus was born at just the right moment in human history. He was not early. He was not late. Luke tells us that Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus was ruling and a man named Quirinius was the governor of Syria. (Luke 2:1-2) Most scholars today place this date around 4 B.C. (note that I am old school and refuse to eliminate Jesus from the calendar by still using B.C. – “before Christ,” and not B.C.E. – “before the common era”).
Why would Jesus be born about 4 B.C. and not sooner? Why not later? When we look at the history of the world, we see that there are three significant reasons that Jesus was born at just the right moment in time. The first is the predominance of a common language. In Genesis 11, we read of the Tower of Babel. As man attempted to ascend into Heaven on his own, God struck mankind with confusion by removing a common language. He created a plurality of languages and dialects. People could not communicate with one another in an easy manner. Fast-forward thousands of years. About three-hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Alexander the Great leads the expansion of the Greek Empire. As Alexander conquers the known world, he spreads Hellenism. Hellenism is a love of all things Greek. Alexander carries with him Greek culture, Greek philosophy, and the Greek language. By the time Jesus was born, people all over the known world spoke and understood Koine Greek. It was a very basic Greek language. As a matter of fact, it was the language of the New Testament. What’s the point? For the first time in hundreds and hundreds of years, people from all over the Mediterranean basin could communicate with each other simply. The gospel could be put into a language most people to comprehend.
In addition to the common language, there is a second reason that God’s timing for the birth of Jesus was just right. Rome had tied together most of the known world. On the heels of Alexander’s empire came the Romans. The Romans conquered everything that once had belonged to Greece and then some. The Roman Empire stretched from Britain to North Africa, from Spain to the Middle-East. The Romans tied their empire together with a series of paved roads. They created a network where people could travel great distances much easier than ever before. Furthermore, Octavian (Caesar Augustus) began a period known as the Pax Romana – “the Peace of Rome.” For over two centuries, the Roman Empire would enjoy a time of peace and prosperity. The net result was that Christian missionaries would traverse the Empire spreading the gospel all across the Mediterranean. Paul and Barnabas would travel on these Roman roads from town to town starting churches and telling people about Jesus. Christianity would flourish in this environment. Again, the moment was just right to spread the message of Jesus.
Finally, a third reason is that the Jewish people were looking for the Messiah. For hundreds of years, the Jews had read the Prophets’ words of a coming messiah. The people yearned for him to come. They anticipated it whole-heartedly. Subsequently, it was very common for Jewish parents to name their newborn sons “Yeshua.” The name means “The Lord saves.” Yeshua is Hebrew for Joshua. In the Greek it is Iēsous. From the Latin we get the name Jesus. In other words, Jesus was a very common name. Parents would name their boys Jesus wondering if he might be the one that would throw off the Romans and deliver the people of Israel. Mary and Joseph named their child Jesus because of the direct commandment of God (Matthew 1:21). He would deliver His people. He would deliver them from their sins. In this time of increased anticipation, Jesus was born.
God sent Jesus at just the right time in history. The Greeks and the Romans and the Jews all contributed to the “fullness of time.” God was not late. He was not early. As always, He was right on time. Speaking of time, there is no better time to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus than right now. Let Jesus deliver you this Christmas season. Isn’t it time?
Further Reading: 2 Peter 3