The conquests of Alexander, the spread of the Greek language, Roman unity, the Pax Romana, the Roman roads, the Hebrew traditions, and a deep hunger for decency that lived on in human hearts, each prepared for the coming of Christ.|
- History's Brightest Hour - A guided star left its socket, curious kings their thrones, shepherds their pastures. The human spirit soared while all the hosts of heaven joined in a hallelujah chorus to announce the appearance of history's brightest hour. It was the fullness of time, and the highest hopes of both God and his people met in a manger in Bethlehem.
God's hand had been everywhere, shaping the course of history for the coming of Jesus Christ. A world conquerer, a people and their traditions, empire builders, and a deep void in human hearts -- all were used by the Creator to set the stage for a victory. And when the Redeemer came, he found all things ready. It was the fullness of time indeed!
Let us turn our attention to the historical events and circumstances which prepared the world for the coming of Jesus.
- The Conquests of Alexander the Great - Alexander of Macedon destroyed the Persian empire of 330 BC and spiraled to a pinnacle of power unknown to any monarch before him. Kingdom after kingdom fell under his sovereign hand until, as legend has it, the great Alexander wept for the lack of worlds to conquer. But he sought more than power over nations. As an avid patron of Greek culture, he sought to distribute its benefits to all his subjects. The glory of Greece belonged to all his subjects so Alexander set upon a course to spread Hellenism to the far corners of his vast empire. When Alexander died in 323 BC, his generals divided his empire among themselves and continued to carry the torch of Hellenism into their respective domains. With the Greek ideal went its language. Consequently, when Jesus appeared in Palestine, he met a world that shared a common tongue. Whether his message be taken to Spain, to Egypt, to Galatia, or to Rome -- everywhere there would be people who could understand it, if it were proclaimed in Greek. A common language was an essential, if God's message in Christ was to be heard and understood. Surely God had used Alexander and his love for Hellenism to prepare the world for the Savior's birth.
- Roman Unity - Alexander's empire began to crumble after his death. His generals split up the empire, Ptolemy taking Egypt and Seleucus taking Syria and Mesopotamia. Both stuggled for control of Palestine and command there seesawed between the two kings and their successors. Rome emerged as a world power and threatened both sides of Alexander's divided house. After plundering the Carthaginians to the west, Rome swallowed up the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires. Palestine, in the interim, under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, had won independence from the Seleucids in a revolt. But a power struggle within the Jewish house soon led one of its kings to seek the aid of General Pompey and in 63 BC, Palestine also became a Roman dependency. All elements of many divided kingdoms were welded into one great empire. Rome ruled the world! Into this kind of climate, the Savior came. A new message in a unified world would travel fast. With all the barriers down, the message of Bethleman would travel with the swiftness of a gazelle into the far reaches of the empire. It was the fullness of time.
- The Pax Romana - Not before or since in the annals of recorded human history has the world enjoyed such an extended period of peace. No people lived with paralyzing fear that an enemy was about to vanquish them. Caeser's subjects could scan the horizons and see no signs of an enemy anywhere. Peace and quiet reigned! How easy then for the world to hear the good news of God's love in Christ. Without a constant struggle for survival, mortals at peace could lay down their swords and listen to the angels sing.
- The Roman Roads - Caesar Augustus was a worried man. He surveyed his vast empire and feared rebellion from within. He commanded that ten thousand laborers be secured to build a network of military roads from one end of his domain to the other. Caesar could then march his legions to any trouble spot and strike down any insurgent who challenged Roman rule. These very roads would be the pathways used by the messengers of God spreading the news of their crucified and risen Lord to the far-flung ends of the Roman world. It was the fullness of time.
- Hebrew Traditions and Dispersions - The expectations of a Messiah had been carried around in Hebrew hearts for centuries. The prophet's declarations concerning the coming of an anointed one had been read, or heard, by every true descendent of Israel. Jewry lived with its eyes focused on the future, always looking and always waiting for some clear sign that the Kingdom of God would come. These hopes were shared by others beyond the confines of Palestine and were not unknown to the Gentile world. Though a remnent of the law community, established by Ezra, lived in or around the Holy City, the great bulk of the Jews at the time of Christ's coming were spread to the far extremities of the Roman empire and beyond it. The dispersions of 722 BC and 586 BC had scattered Judaists to every end of the earth. But the traditions had been projected from one generation to the next, and the hopes of the prophets were kept alive. When the heralds of God burst forth from Jerusalem, trumpeting the message that the Messiah had come and that the new era had been born, they found small colonies of Hebrews and Gentiles everywhere, who had at least some knowledge of the promises of old. Hence, the missionaries did not speak into a vacuum. The scattering of the Jews, worked out by God in and through historical circumstances, saved Paul, and others like him, from the necessity of proclaiming an unknown message in a foreign world. Truly God's hand had been everywhere, shaping the course of history for the coming of Christ.
- A Day of Spiritual Confusion - The Roman Empire was literally cluttered with gods and goddesses. So long as the subjects bowed and scraped to the Caesars, the emperors cared little how many other deities were worshiped. Every conquered people hung onto its own divines and paid them homage. The names of Dionysus, Orpheus, Magna Mater, Adonis, Osiris, Isis, and Mithra are but a few of the myriads of deities that vied for the attention of people's minds. What the gods didn't divulge about the issues of life, the philosophical schools of the day did. And the end of it all was a spiritual and intellectual confusion that left the masses hanging on a ledge, calling for someone or something to rescue them from the bottomless abyss.
- A Day of Moral Deterioration - Rome showed the signs of old age even in its infancy. Looking strong on the outside, its innards were decaying. The blatant idolatry practiced by the rank and file could promise little more than a glory destined for ruin. All the splendor of the empire couldn't hide the moral corruption, the sensuousness, the festering despondency and despair, the waste of life, and the injustice that scarred the citizenry.
- A Day Filled with Hunger for Decency and Justice - Rome had its patrons of conscience but the solutions which they projected for the sickness of society were too puny to heal the deep wounds of a people sick unto death. Many cures were tried but all were without power. Injustice prevailed and those at the bottom level hungered for some sign of light in the darkness. It was the fullness of time.