Lesson 10: The Fullness of Time”
Throughout history people have noticed and wondered about the vast array of differences in the world around us. There are differences in bodily appearance: some are tall, some are short, some beautiful or handsome, and so forth. There are differences of cultures: some highly educated, others seem to be only slightly removed from the Stone Age. Some are impoverished, some have vast natural resources and wealth. Natural disasters strike some areas of the world fairly often, others only rarely. And these situations seem to have no cause or reason to them. The same is true of individual lives: some have repeated instances of serious or terminal illnesses, others live well into their nineties with almost perfect health. And all of this seems to be on a completely “random” basis.
And all of this is so true that whole systems of philosophy have been developed to try to explain it all. Shakespeare’s Macbeth simply said that human history is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The French philosopher Maurois said, “The universe is indifferent. Who created it? Why are we on this puny mud heap, spinning in infinite space? I have not the slightest idea, and I am convinced that no one else has the slightest idea.” And even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived and a worshiper of God, after his heart had turned away from God, said, in summary, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Now there are a number of explanations for this kind of thinking. In the first place, how can people who don’t even believe in the existence of God, much less love and serve Him, have any idea of what the universe is all about? But in the second place, the passage before us today gives us an answer that is very easy to overlook. Remember that in this section of the chapter we are thinking about all of the various aspects of salvation. We have seen “the blueprint of salvation” – the fact that it was planned out in its entirety in eternity past by God the Father. And “the basis of salvation” – relationship to God “in the beloved;” and “redemption through the blood of Christ.”
Now why has He done all of this? Why has He: “blessed us with every spiritual blessing,” “chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world? Made us holy and blameless in His sight, predestined us to adoption as His sons, and given us the ability to understand all of it?
Well, verses 9 and 10 give us the answer:
Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which he purposed in Himself (10) That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth . . .”
As we saw in our last study, in verse 9 Paul said that God has made known to us the mystery of His will. There he tells us that He has a plan in existence. And verse 10 he tells us the extent of the plan: to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth . . .”
Why has God “blessed us with all of these “heavenly” type blessings: predestined us to be adopted as His sons, chosen us for salvation and then given us the ability to understand all that He has done? Because His plan is to “gather everything together, both in heaven and in earth in Christ.” In other words, He is going to “put everything back together again. When all of His plan has been accomplished all of these inequities and seemingly unfair treatment will be done away with.
Now to fully understand all this you have to remember that we liven in a “fallen” world – it wasn’t always like this. In Genesis chapter 3 we have the story of Adam and Eve choosing to sin and disobey God. And because of that, in verse 17 God said to Adam:
Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you saying, “you shall not eat of it:” cursed is the ground for your sake: In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. And in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.
Because of that curse that God placed on the ground, we have had all kinds of problems ever since. Weeds, allergies, pesticides, and each of these in turn have produced their own spin-offs. But someday God is going to change all of that, and put things back like they were. And this passage is not the only one that says so. Look at Romans 8:18-21:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
So that is the extent of God’s plan for the world – it extends even to “all things” – even the physical world around us! But now someone might ask the question, “when is all of this going to take place? And the answer is here in verse 10 also – look at the first line of the verse: “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times.”
And that verse is important enough for us to dissect and think about: first notice the word “dispensation.” This is a translation of the Greek word “oikinomea,” which means literally
“stewardship.” In the Greek world of the first century the “steward” was the manager of the household in the homes of the rich – an administrator for the owner. This is the word from which we get the basis for our English word “dispensation.”
Although it is beyond the scope of this study, there is a method of studying the scripture that is called “dispensationalism.” And that method of study says that God has dealt with the human race in different methods of administration in different periods of history. The most obvious example is the difference between the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. In the Old Testament there was a detailed list of laws and practices and sacrifices that were designed to picture the Messiah, or Savior who would someday come. And people who lived in the Old Testament dispensation were saved by believing by faith that that someday that Messiah would come and Savior would come and be the fulfillment of all of those “pictures.”
Another example of the concept is right here in our own U.S. government. Each new president has his own “administration, and” method of doing things, but they all operate under the umbrella of the same constitution down through the years. Now the point of all of this is that it shows us that the happenings in the world are not just random and pointless, but fully directed and supervised according to a very complex and detailed plan. And it is a principle that is found throughout Scripture. Look at Genesis 15:12-16, for example. (One of the times that God reaffirmed His promise to Abraham.)
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflictthem four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they will shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
Or think about Jeremiah 29:11 (in the middle of the Babylonian captivity):
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
You see, no matter how unorganized, unfair, or random the activities of the world may seem, remember that it is all under God’s control. In fact, at least part of His plan is to give people time to repent before He brings judgment.
But there is something else to think about in relation to the timing of God’s plan: notice the term “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times . . . .” This is a terminology that Paul’s readers would have immediately been familiar with. Because the picture is of an hourglass with sand sifting from the top to the bottom of the glass, and when the bottom section was full, the time had come to do whatever was being anticipated with that kind of timer. And someday, at a time known only to Himself, no matter how unlikely it may seem to us right now, the fullness of time is going to come, and God is going to “put things back together again.”
Now we have been thinking about “the extent of God’s plan,” but there is one other thing that we need notice in this verse, and that is the executor of the plan. Who is going to put all this together again? Look at the last part of our verse again:
That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; in Him
You see, not only did Jesus Christ provide our salvation, but He is going to “oversee” eternity when all things come together. And there is no clearer way to say it than the way Paul says it in Philippians 2:5-11:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant and coming in the likeness of man. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and those on earth and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Now someone might say, “Well, I don’t know, I can think of people who would never bow the knee to Jesus Christ!” And that’s exactly the point: God is working all things together so that in His perfect time and His perfect way, every creature in the universe will see who He is and what He is. Unfortunately, however, for some that confession and recognition will be too late; they will not recognize and confess him until they are in hell. (which Paul refers to as “things under the earth.”)
In fact, Peter tells us in 2nd Peter 3:3-10 that the main factor in “the fullness of the times” is that “God is not willing that any should perish.”
Knowing this first that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying “where is the promise of His coming? For since the Fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for fire until the Day of Judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But beloved do not forget this one thing. That with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promises as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
Is there someone reading this today who thinks you just can’t go on, and in fact you wonder why God lets him or her go on? Will you recognize today that He is in control? He is the “steward” or the “administrator” of a vast complicated, but certain plan that will ultimately come to pass. And as He administers that plan He knows the thoughts that He thinks of you, thoughts of good and not of evil, to bring you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) or perhaps you are reading this today and you are not under that kind of pressure; things are going pretty well for you, even though you would be happy if Christ came back today. If that is your situation,what are you doing until He does come back and “puts all these things we have been writing about together again? Remember that the only reason God is waiting to do that is that “He is not willing that any should perish.” Is there someone you know who needs this information? Can you somehow get it to them, and soon?