I wrote to a friend a few days ago that we are swimming in very polluted waters, meaning the culture in which we live. But through all of history, through these polluted waters always flows the river of God’s purpose; strong, steady,and usually unseen except in hindsight. We are being carried along in either the polluted waters of our time or the pure water of the river of God’s purpose. And we have a choice. The choice is important. Different currents, different landing places.
The Bible begins with the book of Genesis, which claims that God created the entire Universe and everything in it. It ends with the book of Revelation, which makes the claim that one day, God’s Son Jesus, the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace, will return to be the ruler of a thousand-year government of justice and peace, and then separate the wicked from the righteous, destroy the current Universe, and replace it with “a New Heavens and a New Earth”, in which “the old order of things” (death, evil, pain, suffering) will be replaced by eternal peace, joy, and health.
Honestly, it’s hard if not impossible to believe that, unless a person has had an encounter with the God of the Bible. But those who are willing to consider the possibility that the Bible is true can see the river of God’s purpose flowing through the polluted, apparently chaotic waters of history.
In Genesis, after the story of the world’s creation, the Bible continues with the story of humanity’s beginning, the separation of humanity from the presence of God, the proliferation of humanity, the first attempt at a one-world government and God’s dispersion of the human races, God’s choice of one family to be His representatives to the rest of humanity, the forging of that family into a nation with a unique and strong culture, and the “passing of the torch” temporarily from that family-nation to those “who were not a people [nation]” but became a people taken out of many nations tasked with continuing the representation of the God of Abraham to the rest of the world.
You could start as far back as you like to trace the river of God’s purpose, but a few points in history will serve to illustrate it. Most people of Western Civilization are more familiar with the following points in history, because these points are the foundations of what we call Western Civilization.
It was no accident that Jesus Christ was born as a man when and where He was: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-6) There were preparations that had to be made. We see this most clearly, in microcosm, in the life of John the Baptist: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this [John the Baptist] is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!” ‘ ” Matthew 3:1-3, referring to Isaiah 40:3. You see? The river of God’s purpose surfacing in Isaiah reappearing at its destination in the life of John the Baptist.
But there are much larger currents than that in the river of God’s purpose. Whole civilizations were brought to life by God to create the perfect conditions for “the fulness of time” when the Messiah came. You could visit Third Mill for a fuller description of what I’ll say briefly here.
The rise of Greece brought with it an emphasis on and trust in logical thought, philosophy, and knowledge: “The ancient Greeks were the first people to do real science and recognize science as a discipline to pursue for its own sake … They investigated the world for the sheer pleasure of adding to their knowledge. They studied geometry for its logic and its beauty.” Archimedes
In conquering the known world, Alexander the Great established Greek influence in the ancient world. This eventually gave the world a common language – “koine” Greek, or “common” Greek, the language of Greek commoners, which became the “second language” of most of the Roman Empire. Also, Greece began to break the chains of paganism and superstition. The Greeks did not abandon religion (see Acts 17:16-24) but they were more open-minded about it than probably any nation had been before them. It was the first movement toward what we now call Western Civilization: a desire for truth and knowledge, an openness to new thoughts and discoveries, a belief that the world could be understood logically instead of magically.
Rome completed its conquest of a deteriorated Greek Empire in 146 BC. Plenty of time to establish the “Pax Romana”, the Roman peace, which provided political stability, which gave rise to commerce, which the well-engineered Roman roads took to the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire.
And of course, Israel had turned far from God again, and was consequently conquered by Rome, the usual method by which God called His wandering people back to Himself, if they would not listen to His prophets. Israel’s priests at the time of Christ had become corrupt, greedy, self-centered, arrogant … Judaism was in a period of decline and the Jews were very cynical about their corrupt leadership. Ready, in other words, for the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Longing for both.
So there you have the perfect setting for the arrival of King Jesus and His proclamation of the Kingdom of God’s arrival: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news!‘ ” (Mark 1:14-15)
The language: a common language throughout the Roman sphere of influence.
Travel: Roman roads that reached throughout Rome’s empire.
Mindset: the Greek desire for knowledge and the Roman practical attitude of putting knowledge to use.
Religious dissatisfaction among the Jewish people, such that they welcomed the Messiah and the good news of the arrival of God’s Kingdom.
Corruption among the Jewish leaders such that they would reject and kill the Messiah. Because even the crucifixion of Jesus was part of God’s plan, from the beginning: “Jesus of Nazareth … was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)
The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was the one effective sacrifice for all sins that ushered in the age of grace and salvation for all by faith alone in Christ alone: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)
God’s perfect timing. The river of God’s purpose coming to its chief object after the Holy One of Israel coordinated, orchestrated, all the conditions to make it “the fulness of time” for the arrival of His Son, the Messiah of Whom the ancient Hebrew prophets wrote.