What does it mean that the Son of God entered the world in “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4)? Today, R.C. Sproul explains how the incarnation of Christ gets to the heart of God’s purpose for redemptive history.
Now, the plērōma. Plērōma literally means “fullness,” a bursting-over fullness. When I think of the word plērōma in the New Testament, I think of a glass of water that you put under a spigot. You don’t just fill it up to the very tip-top, to the rim—that’s not plērōma. That’s fullness, but that’s not plērōma fullness. To really fill that glass in the plērōma sense, you put it underneath the faucet, and you turn the water on, it fills up to the top, and you leave the faucet running, and you begin to see the glass overflowing. You see, it’s more full than the container can contain.
I think of a woman who’s eleven months pregnant, and you’ll get the idea of plērōma. I’ve seen women nine months pregnant look like that if you bumped them, they would burst like a bubble. Well, just imagine that at eleven months. And I’m not just being funny by talking about an eleven-month-pregnant woman, because the word pregnant itself, really, is the closest thing I know in the English language to describe plērōma. When we use this term this way, don’t we—something is pregnant with meaning—that means it’s full and it’s going to inevitably produce meaning.
But there’s a strange conjunction of the word plērōma and the word chronos. The birth of Jesus comes in the plērōma of time, the fullness of time. History is so ready for it that it’s bursting. It’s now the time of the decisive moment for God to act. That has radical implications for everything that went before it. All of Old Testament history is moving toward, focusing on, looking forward in expectation and promise to the decisive moment. And once that moment comes, the rest of history looks back and is tethered to it for its significance.
So what we have, then, in the linear scale of history, is a history that is moving towards a goal of redemption that comes from a creation of benediction. And along the way, there are moments of decisive significance that make sense out of history.
Now, the critical point here is that these redemptive historical moments take place in history. The Greeks know they have their mythological gods who are beyond the sphere of real history. But the key word of the New Testament, the key word of the Old Testament, is the word ginomai, “to happen.” It happened.
And so, what we have at this stage in the development of apologetics is a struggle over an understanding of history. It’s the struggle we’re in today: whether we’re locked up tighter than a drum in a cosmic continuum that is meaningless, having nothing more than a contingent or accidental beginning, if we can speak of beginnings at all, and consequently, a cosmic annihilation to look forward to in the future. It’s that, or we have a universe that has been voluntarily created by an all-powerful God who has pronounced His blessing upon that creation, who has committed Himself to that creation, and who has entered into that creation in the incarnation to reveal to us that He is going to redeem that creation at the end of time.