“…unto a dispensation of the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ . . . . even in Him”. Eph. 1:8-10
Before we further consider the implication of the Scriptural presentation of God’s wonderful and almighty act of grace, whereby He places all things at the feet of (His beloved Son, somewhat more in detail, it will be expedient and to our mutual advantage to notice still another important element in the text.
The element to which we refer is the phrase “unto a dispensation of the fullness of times”.
The text in full reads as follows. We quote: “Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Him (Christ, G. L.) unto a dispensation of the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in heaven and the things on earth, even in Him.”
In a general way it can be said, that the phrase in question tells us two matters of importance in regard to God’s summing up of all things in Christ. The phrase tells us, first of all, that this summing up will be realized at a certain time, at a certain point in history. It thus tells us at what time it will occur, take place. That is the first point. To this must be added another important aspect of the work of God, here referred to. We are: also told what kind of time it shall be, when this shall occur, in the phrase, “fullness of times”. This latter aspect does not emphasize at what point of time in history the summing up occurs, but it emphasizes that the point of time has a content, a work all of its own! Thus the peculiar nature, character of the time is indicated. This is the second element, that the phrase under consideration conveys to our mind.
That these two elements should be present in this term is not at all strange. For these two elements were ever the object of the investigation of the prophets, who were led by the Spirit of Christ. All their energies were spent in this investigation. Even the very angels of heaven were desirous to look into this object of the searching of all the prophets, who prophesied until John the Baptist. Thus the apostle Peter writes in his first Epistle. In I Peter 1:10-12 we read: “Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace, that should come unto you; searching what time or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them. To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you they did minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angels desire to look into.”
If so much sanctified energy both by prophets and angels has been spent, that we might receive this revelation of God in Christ, well may we beware to give heed.
Surely it should not escape our attention, that the apostle Paul in this brief phrase under consideration does not direct our attention to a mere un-noteworthy detail, but, that, in this brief phrase, he gives a word- picture of all of history. It contains, from a certain aspect, a life- and world-view all in a nut shell.
Let us attempt to see what the Apostle would teach us in this brief phase as to the time and the manner of the time of the work of God. There are three terms that call for comment and study. They are: 1. Himes, (seasons, kairous); 2. Fullness, (pleeroma); 8. Dispensation (oikonomia).
We begin with the first mentioned term. The term “times” may best be rendered as meaning “appropriate times”, the proper season for anything, for a happening, an event. It is the fit season, the proper occasion for something. Time, in this sense of the term, is not mere extended existence. It is something more, and, therefore, different than the mere aggregate of minutes, hours, days, months, and years. It is then something that cannot be measured with the numbers on the clock, it is not expressed merely in the number of days of the calendar year.
Time in this sense is rather the content, the character of time. And, again, not the character of time, as this character is determined by human standards and occasions, mere human efforts and endeavors, but as this time, these seasons are solely determined by the great acts of almighty God in history.
Permit us to illustrate this.
That even among mere men, human endeavors and conventions, we also speak of time in the sense of the proper occasion, Is clear to all. It is not proper to go visiting at the home of a neighbor or friend at midnight. In itself it is not sinful, but under normal circumstances this is not the time to visit, but it is the time for sleep and repose. One does not easily go and visit the minister on Saturday evening, for that is the proper time for reflection for the coming Sunday. Thus one could go on. But this is sufficient to show how even in human convention there are certain accepted matters that are only proper in their season.
So too God has given definite seasons to all things. There are the time for seed-time and harvest. What time is cannot be determined by merely looking at the calendar of the year. For us in the north temperate zone this time of sowing is from March to June. But in Argentina this order is reversed. For them seedtime is in our harvest-time. What is the proper season for reaping the harvest there in the south, is our time for sowing.
From this we can readily see, that “time” is more than minutes. It always is qualified. It has a content, a proper character all its own. Thus it is with us in the ever recurring cycles of our existence.
In our text the sense of “time”, proper season also is qualified. The Apostle gives us, portrays to us all of time, from Genesis 1:1 to the last day. Let us attempt to see just what the apostle has in mind when he speaks of “times”. Directly before me in my “study” I have a large blackboard. On it I have drawn a horizontal line from left to right. At the extreme left, the Starting point of this line, I made a line indicating that this designated the “beginning” of which both Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 speak. At the extreme right, at the end of the line, I have another upright mark, indicating the “end” of this present world. Shall we keep this blackboard in mind?
This line that we have thus drawn represents all of time, all of our present mode of existence from beginning to end. It is the entire measure, the fullness of time, as determined by the counsel and good pleasure of God. But this time is not one monotonous aggregate of minutes, hours, days and years. It is divided into great epochs, seasons which the Father has put and keeps in His own authority! The one great epoch leads to the other, and they all lead to the end, God’s end.
Thus presenting the “times” we are not misrepresenting the intention of the apostle Paul. To the very contrary, we are merely following in his footsteps in this matter. For elsewhere the apostle himself draws a line on the “blackboard”, a line that must represent all of time, and this line he also divides into epochs, times, seasons. We have in mind that great recorded sermon, at least in its highlights, as this is found in Acts 13:16-41.
With this sermon of Paul as a guide, as to general method, we will have no difficulty in showing just what these epochs, seasons are which the Apostle has in mind.
Now let us look at the blackboard before me. The first upright mark on this line, that I have drawn, I have made slightly to the right from the extreme left. This first line indicates the end of the first epoch. This, “mark” indicates the “Deluge”, the flood in the days of Noah. This period is often called the prediluvian epoch. It was first in order of time. It has its own significance in history. It was the proper time for that to take place which is recorded to us in Genesis 1-6. This is “season” No. 1.
Now let’s see. . . . Oh, yes, the next upright mark on the horizontal line on the blackboard, where shall we place it? This can very conveniently be placed, at a point in history, ten generations later. This brings us to the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Patriarchs. This is the period of which Genesis 12-23 speaks. At this point another definite season, an epoch in the work of God is finished. During it nations were formed by God, the world is again peopled, and the stage is set for Abraham’s place and significance among the nations, in the Seed, that is to come. And with Israel’s going down- into Egypt the curtain falls on the second great epoch. Hence, here we will place mark No. 2.
We will now have to put the third mark on the line on the blackboard. The line runs through. It is not a broken line. The line Is continuous. The epochs are not sharply marked off one from the other in the sense that it is a question of a day. Sometimes it is very abrupt, however. Always and again God appears. The next epoch is from the law-giving at Sinai, after Israel’s great deliverance from Egypt, till this time of the Judges which ends with Samuel. This covers a period of more than four hundred years. Thus Paul speaks in Acts 13:19, 20. “And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He gave them their land for an inheritance, for about four hundred and fifty years, and after these things He gave them judges until Samuel, the Prophet.” Again an epoch in which Israel is under the law, but is most lawless, and all things proclaim loudly, that the throne of David, to rule in righteousness should be established. This is where we place the third “mark” on the horizontal line on our blackboard. And this has brought us up to the time of David’s kingship. Again a great epoch in: the history of God’s covenant dealings.
We now have three epochs marked off on the line before us, haven’t we? Let’s proceed. From David the line runs through to the Babylonian captivity. Our next line represents therefore the Babylonian captivity. As far as the flesh and, the typical kingship is concerned, David’s kingdom goes under. Indeed Israel goes into bondage, but a remnant shall return, Shear-Jashub! And in this return lies the promise of greater things to come. This is mark No. 4.
And now we come to the next season, as far as the Old Testament Scriptures are concerned. In the end of this epoch all the former ones are taken up. Here all the lines meet and converge. It is the birth of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Once more compare Acts 13:23-38. This as the end of the Old Testament.
This is the “fullness of the time” up to this point. To this we believe Gal. 4:4 refers.
We still have room on the line that we have drawn from left to right on the blackboard. There still is time, a season left before all times are come to pass and the measure is full. There is still the period of time from Pentecost till the Return of Christ upon the clouds of heaven.
Here we cannot supply various epochs from Scripture as we were able to in the Old Testament Dispensation.
However, even here we can see great epochs in history. No one will doubt, that such turning points in history as that of the great movement of the nations in the times of the Goths and of the Huns, the birth of the modern Germanic nations are not epoch making. And, again, who doubts, that the Reformation was not an epoch in history? And we can be sure, that when the Man of Sin shall come, again it will be epoch making.
But, however this may be, the entire period of time from Pentecost till Christ’s return is the season in which the entire history of the world is brought to its Consummation in Jesus Christ. At the end of this period we will come to that last event in which the mystery of God will be fulfilled. Rev. 10:7. From here the line of history does not run on. We cannot draw out the line in our blackboard. The measure is full. A definite number of “times” constitute this fullness. In these times God is summing up all things in Christ, according to His eternal good pleasure. That is the mystery of His will, that He has made known unto us.
Just how these “times” fit into the conception “fullness of times” we hope to reflect on the next time.
Therefore, “do not erase” this from the blackboard.