For while we were weak, at the right time, Christ did for the ungodly.
Romans 5:6

What makes the time that Christ died the right time? Several times we are told by Jesus and others that it was not the right time.

John 2:4 Jesus protests to Mary against her asking him to do something about the lack of wedding wine. His excuse was, “My hour [time] has not yet come”

There is a real sense that Jesus protest was given because he did not come to work miracles, but simply to die. His miracles were to show his disciples who he was, (John 10:34-38) if we study his miracles we will see that most of them are incidental. He did not set out to heal or such, but he could not help but do so when he came across need. He never set out on a healing mission, but came just to die. (Mark 10:45)

John 7:6. In defence to his brothers who insisted he come out in the open he said, “My time has not yet come” There would be a time when he openly and defiantly entered Jerusalem.  The right time for Jesus was God’s time. Jesus life was all planned, as was His death. It had to be in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33) and it had to be on the Cross. (Galatians 3:13) He was also saying to his family that your ideas of what I should do are wrong. I will do it God’s way. A time when he set his face towards Jerusalem, for he went there to die. (Matthew 16:21-23 and Luke 9:51-53)

John 8:20. He speaks freely against the Pharisees but no one arrested him for his time had not yet come. He was never afraid of the Jewish or Romans authorities, even when they arrested him.

John 12:20-31. When the Greeks came to see Jesus he knew that was the sign for him to go to the cross. “Save me from this hour,” he cries, but gives himself, the Father’s answer. “But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”  And then he proclaims it is time. “Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up will draw all people to myself, On to the cross. v31-32.

So it was all timed. God’s time. At the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.  One of my favourite sayings from Geoffrey Bingham was, God has never said oops. Meaning he has never been taken by surprise: Caught out as we would say. He had it all planned before he even created the world. He knew Adam was going to sin. He planned for his Son to became a man and die for us before he created us. Revelation 13:8 talks of the names written in the lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world. We can rightly use the pun on the word History, for it has always been His-Story. God has never lost control, not for a micro-second. So we can look at our history and see God has always been in control of it too.

God And The Nations

Paul tells the Athenians that God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling places. (Acts 17:26) Think about his before we look at our history and accept that God has had a hand in the foundation and end of every nation. Some rulers have shown arrogance claiming that it is they who have set up the boundaries, like Assyrians in Isaiah 10. When the Lord has finished all his work on mount Zion and on Jerusalem he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes, for he says, “By the strength of my hand I have done it and by my wisdom for I have understanding. I remove the boundaries of the peoples; and plunder their treasures, like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. (Isaiah 10:12-13)

When we look at the history of the nations around Israel we can clearly see the hand of the Lord on all that was happening. First we have a brief look at the prophecies found in Daniel. We start with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel Chapter 2:31

“You saw O King, and behold, a great image. This image mighty and of exceeding brightness stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold, its chests and arms of silver, its middle and thighs bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and a partly of clay. As you look a stone was cut out by no human hand and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron and clay, the bronze and silver and the gold, all together were broken in pieces and became like chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that no trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

The first thing we must take note of is that the image given is about kingdoms rather than individual countries. There is no trace of these kingdoms as active kingdoms on the earth today. Without going into great detail, briefly these four kingdoms are as follows.

  1. The kingdom of Gold was the Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar himself.
  2. The kingdom Silver was the Medo-Persian empire.
  3. The kingdom of Bronze was the Greek or Macedonian empire under Alexander.
  4. The Kingdom of Iron, with toes of iron and clay, was the Roman empire.

All these kingdoms had a part to play in the preparing the world for the gospel, which is described graphically in 2:44. And in the days of those kings the God of Heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever. 

The Babylonians: The kingdom of Gold

It was with this captivity, and that which continued under the Persians, that God finally got the false idols out of the psyche of Israel.  We can learn about this final purging in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Daniel and his fellows are given as examples of Israelites who were faithful to the Mosaic Covenant. Ever since the captivity in Egypt the Israelites has fallen to the influence of the pagan nations around them. Time and time again God raised up judges and prophets to save them, and time and time again they fell away. It took God around eight hundred years to finally rid his people of idolatry. Sadly they moved from idols to idolizing themselves.

The Medes and Persians: The kingdom of silver

God calls Cyrus my shepherd, Isaiah 44:24-28. Thus says the Lord your redeemer, who formed you from the womb. I the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, v28 who says of Cyrus, “He is my Shepherd, and he shall fulfil my purpose”; saying of Jerusalem, “She shall be built and of the temple , “your foundation shall be laid.” So we can read the fulfilment of this prophecy, under Cyrus and then Darius in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra. The Israelites who resettled Israel did face temptation from the pagan world for example marrying non Jews. Satan had used this habit which was strictly forbidden by God as a way to corrupt God’s people ever since he called Abraham to come out from the pagan world. Ezra is used by God to put a swift halt to the habit. (Ezra 9 -10) Only a brief mention can be made of what God did for Israel through Nehemiah and Ezra, it would do us all good to take timeout to read the stories again and again.

The Greeks

The Macedonian Alexander. He ruled from 336- 323BC. He is described in a vision given to Daniel; 8:20f And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. As for the horn that is broken, in place of which four other arose, four kingdoms will arise from his nation, but not with his power. Alexander’s father, Philip, had taken control of all Greece and was preparing to take vengeance on the kingdom of Persia when he died. Alexander his son consolidated control over Greece and made plans to conquer Persia and beyond. He swept over most of the known world reaching into India, where, his now worn out soldiers said they would go no further. On his way back to Greece Alexander died and his kingdom was divided up between his four main generals.

One thing Alexander wanted to do was spread the Greek culture to the lands he conquered. Much the same as the English did with the lands in their empire, and the Spanish in the South American lands. This had strong cultural affects in each of the countries he had conquered. They set up Greek settlements in many of the lands, the most important to the church being Alexandria in Egypt.

  1. He broke down the barriers between Greek and barbarianism.
  2. Hellenization was limited essentially to the cities and Syria and the near east. The countryside was never deeply affected.
  3. The creation and acceptance of koine (the common Greek dialect) made the expansion of Christianity and unity of the Roman Empire more easily affected.

After the third century BC Greek culture ceased to be a matter of race. New Greek cities were to be found in Asia and Egypt. Alexandria founded by Alexander in Egypt became in time the largest Jewish city in the world- the Jews adopted Greek as their main language – they had their own quarter in the city. Later Alexandria became one of the most important Christian centres in the world, especially after the fall of Jerusalem. The settlers were mostly retired Greek soldiers or traders and their governments followed the Greek model. Art, Poetry athletic and gymnastic competitions were introduced as well as Greek religious, music and drama

festivals were introduced. In Judah there was a consistent resistance except by a group the Bible talks about as Hellenists. A Hellenist was a Greek speaking Jew who wanted to assimilate as much of the Greek culture into Judaism as was possible. Or a Hellenist was simply a Greek Jew as per Acts 6:1 or just a none Jew.  Remember Hellas was the name the Greeks gave their country.  Herodian’s were Jews who followed Herod in the way they tried to live. (Matthew 22:16, Mark 3:6 and Mark 12:13. Herod was not a Jew but attempted to please the Jews by adopting as much of Jewish culture as he could, including building the Temple of Jesus days (Acts 6:1; 9:29; 11:20).

Another important thing the Greeks did while they reigned over Judah was to have the Old Testament translated into Greek. The curator of the Alexandrian Library asked Ptolemy of Egypt to have the Jewish books translated from Hebrew so they could be added to the extensive library that had been built up in Alexandria. Ptolemy wrote to the High Priest in Judah to send six mature scholars from each ot the tribes to do this translation. Thus it is called the Septuagint, or Seventy. By the time Jesus came the main language used by the scholars in Judah was Greek.  And of course seeing the Romans had taken over Latin was spoken. [But the Romans used Greek as their international language, as English became in the so called English empire. The adoption of Greek made it easier for the spreading of The Gospel.

Eventually Judah became ruled by Antiochus who banned all Jewish rituals and set up Greek gods in the temple. (Prophesied in Daniel 11:29-32) Antiochus stole all the temples gold and ornaments. He left the temple bare and took away the golden candlesticks and the golden altar of incense and the table of shewbread and the altar of burnt offerings: even the veils which were made of fine linen and scarlet. He emptied the treasury, leaving the Jews grieving.  He forbade the daily sacrifices and built an altar to Zeus on the altar in the temple and sacrificed swine on it. He compelled the Jews to forsake the true worship and instead adore the Greek Gods. He made them build temples and raise idolatrous alters in them in every city. He forbids circumcision and strangled the mothers and their sons who disobeyed this command; the fathers he crucified and hung the body of their dead sons around their necks as they hung on the cross.

The Rebellion

We read about the rebellion of the Jews in the books 1 &2 of Maccabees. And Josephus histories. When a Jew came into the temple to sacrifice to Zeus as Antiochus had demanded. Matthias Maccabaeus and his five sons slew him and the king’s general who had also come to offer sacrifices. They also overthrew the pagan altars and cried out, “anyone who is zealous for the laws of his country, and for the worship of God let him follow me”. He then fled with his sons to the desert and many joined them with their wives and children. The first tragedy of this time in what was to become a guerrilla war was over a thousand of their wives and children were slain because the Jews at first refused to fight on the Sabbath. What followed was a long civil war, that Matthias’ sons eventually won and Judah had self rule until the Romans under Pompey conquered them in 63BC. At first Judah retained some autonomy but was forced to pay tribute. By the time Jesus was born it was a province of Rome.

It was in this period under the control of the Greeks, the Hasmonaeans and the Romans that the expectation of the coming messiah was building up among the people. They always saw the messiah as a political figure to deliver them from foreign control and restore the glory to the kingdom of Israel. Even the disciples thought in this way until the Spirit came at Pentecost. [Acts 1:6-8] The Jews had narrowed down their thinking and had limited the Messiah’s activities too much to themselves and had lost the foundation mission statement given to Abram, that through him God would bless the whole world, Genesis 12:3, “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The term they use is ‘Moshiach and to them it does not mean saviour, the notion that an innocent semi-divine being who will sacrifice himself to save us of our sins. This to them is a purely Christian concept that has no basis in Jewish thought. This Christian concept has become so engrained in the English word messiah that they feel they can no longer use the word and stay with the word Moshiach.

The Moshiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people, by bringing them back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem. (Isaiah 11:11-12, Jeremiah 30:3 and Hosea 3:4-5) He will establish a government in Israel that will be the centre of all world Government, both for Jews and Gentiles. He will rebuild the temple and re-establish the worship (Jeremiah 33:18.) He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law of the Lord (Jeremiah 33:15).  The term Moshiach literally means the anointed one and refers to the ancient practice of anointing the king with oil when they took the throne. The Moshiach is the one who will be anointed as King in the end days. This is basically how the Jews in Jesus days thought about the Messiah. By the time Jesus came there has been a growing expectation that the messiah was soon to come. We see this for instance in the word of the Samaritan woman at the well. John 4:25, “The woman said to him, “I know that the messiah is coming, (he who is called the Christ) When he comes he will tell us all things. Jesus said to her, “I who speak to am he.”

Jesus did not spend time trying to change the Jewish mind about the real messiah. He often backed away from the Gentiles, until it was time for him to die. It was when the Greek came asking to see him, (John 12:20) it was then that Jesus proclaimed openly that he had come to die for all mankind, Jew and gentile. (John 12:31-33) and I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself. All the world, Jew and Gentile. John 3;16.  God so loved the world, that he gave His Son.


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Theology Towards Maturity