Why the particular time in history 2,000 years ago?
Source Scriptures: Galatians 4:2-4, Ephesians 1:10, Mark 1:15, Daniel 9:24-29
It should first be observed that in Galatians 4:4 , "the fulness of the time" corresponds to the "time appointed of the father" in Galatians 4:2. In other words, Paul's point in Galatians 4:4 is that, just as a father appoints a day at which a son attains adulthood and steps out from the tutelage of guardians and stewards, so God had appointed a day when his people would step out from under the tutelage of the law. The appointed day marks the fulness, or completion, of that time, and that is when "God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."
Paul's comments quite naturally arouse in us a curiosity as to why God chose the particular time that he did. What was unique about the time 2,000 years ago? We must allow that God may have had reasons for choosing that time which lie beyond our ability to comprehend. We must also be wary of assuming that everything that appears unique to us about that time would necessarily be of significance to God. However, there are things clearly set forth in scripture as prerequisites to the culmination of the scheme of redemption. There are also aspects of the world of the first century that seem, to our way of thinking, to have especially facilitated the spread of the gospel. While it is in this last regard that we must be wary of presumption, God did choose to spread the gospel by human agency and human conventions (e.g. human language, the written word, conventional travel). Therefore, it is worthwhile to consider the unique characteristics of the time 2,000 years ago which may have had a part in God's appointing that time to bring about the culmination of the scheme of redemption.
shut up all things under sin Galatians 3:22, Romans 7:7
Remember that the Savior would have to be a man. (Hebrew 2:14-18, 4:15, John 5:27)
If a man, there would need to be some means to demonstrate that he was not just a man. Many would claim to be unique; how would the one who truly was be recognized as such? The answer in part was that a body of prophecy would be in place, recorded in scripture, making identification possible. (John 10:1-3, 5:30-47)
In particular (among many other things)
- A priesthood would be established and prophecy would point to an ultimate High Priest. (Genesis 14:17-24, Psalm 110:1-4, Zechariah 6:11-13)
- A monarchy would be established and prophecy would instill anticipation of the Christ. (Psalm 2:2 Micah 4-5, Daniel 9:25-26, Matthew 2:2. Note that the anticipated Christ was thought of as anointed to be King, not Priest, inasmuch as it was the throne that had been vacant, not the priesthood.)
"Greek is read in almost all nations; Latin is confined by its own narrow boundaries."- Cicero, first century B.C. Roman statesman, quoted by Schaff, vol. 1, p. 77
According to Philip Schaff, the empire of Alexander the Great "had already carried Greek letters to the borders of India, and made them a common possession of all civilized nations. What Alexander had begun Julius Caesar completed. Under the protection of the Roman law the apostles could travel everywhere and make themselves understood through the Greek language in every city of the Roman domain."(vol. 1, p. 78)
Schaff: "The ends of the empire were brought into military, commercial, and literary communication by carefully constructed roads, the traces of which still exist in Syria, on the Alps, on the banks of the Rhine. The facilities and security of travel were greater in the reign of the Caesars than in any subsequent period before the nineteenth century. Five main lines went out from Rome to the extremities of the empire, and were connected at seaports with maritime routes. 'We may travel,' says a Roman writer, 'at all hours, and sail from east to west." (vol. 1, p. 81) cf. Rev. 18:11-14
The period from 27 B.C. to A.D. 180 is that known as the Pax Romana, or, Roman Peace.
The reign of Augustus marked the beginning of the Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which lasted for 200 years. No country was strong enough to wage a major war on Rome, or to pose a serious threat to the frontiers. Commerce flourished, and the standard of living rose. (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1966 ed.)
The same tranquility that allowed commerce to flourish would also make transportation easy and facilitate widespread communication, both necessary for the rapid spread of the gospel if such were to be accomplished by human agency. It is interesting to note that Paul, the man God chose as primary messenger to the Gentiles, was a Roman citizen. This certainly was to his advantage, and to the advantage of the spread of the gospel, on more than one occasion. (Acts 16:35-40, 22:22-29, 25:11, 28:16-31) Paul said that God had chosen from his "mother's womb". Thus it would appear that God chose and prepared Paul to take full advantage of the brief time in history known as the Pax Romana.
extent of the Roman Empire
With regard to the extent of Rome's influence in the first century world, Schaff wrote, "This empire embraced...about one hundred millions of human beings, perhaps one-third of the whole race at the time of the introduction of Christianity." In connection with this estimate Schaff included the following as a footnote:
Charles Merivale, in his History of the Romans under the Empire (Lond. 1856), vol. iv. p. 450 and 451, estimates the population of the Roman empire in the age of Augustus at 85 millions, namely, 40 millions for Europe, 28 millions for Asia, and 17 millions for Africa, but he does not include Palestine. Greswell and others raise the estimate of the whole population to 120 millions.
A more recent estimate puts the population of the whole first century world at 133 million. (World Book Encyclopedia, 1966 ed.)
It should be noted that in spite of the influence of Greek philosophy and art, and Roman governance, the world of the first century was depraved. Void of legitimate spiritual foundation, the Greek and Roman civilizations had attained all that they could and what had been achieved was showing signs of decay. Art had decayed into licentiousness, philosophy had deteriorated to "skepticism and refined materialism" (Schaff vol. 1, p. 79), and even Rome's governance was showing signs of being strained to its limits. Indeed, it was because of the lack of any other means to unite his crumbling empire that Constantine turned to (an adulterated) Christianity in hope of holding it all together.
"...the universal empire of Rome was a positive groundwork for the universal empire of the gospel. It served as a crucible, in which all contradictory and irreconcilable peculiarities of the ancient nations and religions were dissolved into the chaos of a new creation. The Roman legions razed the partition-walls among the ancient nations, brought the extremes of the civilized world together in free intercourse, and united north and south and east and west in the bonds of a common language and culture, of common law and customs. Thus they evidently, though unconsciously, opened the way for the rapid and general spread of that religion which unites all nations in one family of God by the spiritual bond of faith and love" - Schaff vol. 1, p. 84