Promises Made and Kept #4
In lieu of getting started on this message about God’s perfect timing, I procrastinated and looked for some jokes on bad timing, which is, of course, procrastination. I found a delightful cartoon that described the six stages of procrastination. I will share them with you:
Stage One = False Security. You say, “This isn’t due for a while. I’ll relax for now.”
Stage Two = Laziness. “Maybe I should get a head start on this project. Nah.”
Stage Three = Making excuses. “I’m busy now. I need a short break.”
Stage Four = Denial. “I still have time. I don’t need sleep or food.”
Stage Five = Panic. “I’ll never do this again!!” (This stage was described elsewhere as hand-squeezing grapes into a bottle to prepare for a wine-tasting.)
Stage Six = Repeat.
Aren’t you glad God isn’t a procrastinator? God is perfect in every way, so He is also perfect in His timing. One of the great, praiseworthy things about Advent is the annual reminder that God is exercising His will at the most appropriate time possible. As we’ll see this morning, God made a promise in Daniel and Paul commented on its fulfillment in Galatians.
The Messiah would arrive at just the right moment, according to God’s will.
1. The promise: the Messiah would come at the right time and do the right thing.
The context of this prophecy is the Babylonian Captivity, the seventy years in which God’s people were held captive in Babylon. The vision was given for INSIGHT AND UNDERSTANDING, but it involved symbolic numbers, so it will require a little effort to gain insight and understanding.
In the Bible, SEVEN is the divine number. It is the completeness of God. SEVENTY is a larger version of SEVEN (24-25). For example, Israel was led by 70 ELDERS (Exodus 24:1). Jesus’ standard for forgiveness was to forgive SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN (Matthew 18:22). As these numbers quantify a span of TIME, we are to understand it as a perfect length of time, as ordered by God, who knows and plans the future. We might call it THE RIGHT TIME. Remember that expression: we’ll hear it again in a moment.
At the end of that time period the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the ANOINTED ONE will appear (25). The city was rebuilt after the Jews returned from their Babylonian Captivity, but this promise is not limited to that fulfillment.
Who is the ANOINTED ONE? People were anointed with oil to make them holy, dedicating them to service of God. This was typically done to a king or priest. This person is given a title: THE ANOINTED ONE, so they’re clearly different from your everyday king or priest. THE ANOINTED ONE is a literal translation of the same word translated as Messiah or the Christ. Verse 26 predicts THE ANOINTED ONE will be KILLED, which will give some people the impression that He ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING (26). This is precisely what happened to Jesus and how His death appeared to worldly-minded people, unbelievers.
After that, a RULER will come bringing untold misery upon God’s people for ONE SET OF SEVEN, which will end with sacrifices in the temple coming to an end and the RULER defiling the temple in some way (26-27). God will serve justice on this blasphemous RULER.
This passage predicts the timing of the Messiah’s coming. It’s tempting to do the math to try to figure out what all these sevens mean. Go ahead. Even though you use math, your conclusions will be just as subjective as if you guessed or saw what you want to.
It’s better to treat these numbers as symbols and understand them as a reference to a quality of time, not a quantity of time. In this case, the quality of time is that it will be exactly the amount of time God has chosen. These sevens are meant to remind us God is in charge. God has made His promises and He will keep His promises, but He will do it with His own sense of timing which will be the very best time possible.
The important thing is the order of events: the Jews will return from Babylon first. Then the temple will be reconstructed, and the sacrifices offered again. Then the ANOINTED ONE will appear.
The events of the Messiah’s life. Prior to the ANOINTED ONE’s coming, the Babylonian Captivity will come to an end, having accomplished God’s goals:
- Finishing their REBELLION.
- Ending their SIN.
- Atoning for their GUILT.
- Bringing in EVERLASTING RIGHTEOUSNESS.
- Confirming the PROPHETIC VISION.
- Anointing the MOST HOLY PLACE.
(Three vices are replaced by three virtues.)
Have all these things been accomplished in history? The answer is no. Historically, the ANOINTED ONE will appear in the time between the return of the Jews to Judea and the destruction of the temple. We identify this span of years as being from 539 BC to 70 AD, a little over 400 years. So, I assume this looks ahead further, to our future and the New Creation that will come into being after Jesus’ Second Coming.
Though the ANOINTED ONE is called a “ruler,” He is not the RULER appearing in the last two verses. They are contrasting figures. The ANOINTED ONE will be killed, APPEARING TO HAVE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING. In contrast, the RULER will accomplish a military victory against Jerusalem, desecrating and destroying the temple. Historically, Jesus was born 4-6 BC, lived 33 years, and was killed by the Romans. In AD 70 General Titus stamped out a Jewish revolution, destroying the city and its temple. It bears repeating that the point of all this is God will accomplish His purposes and keep His promises, but He works according to His timetable without revealing dates to us (Matthew 24:36).
2. The fulfillment: Jesus came at the right time to save us.
In Galatians chapter four, Paul explained the New Covenant is like being adopted into God’s family. Verses one to three tell us we were like CHILDREN under the authority of a GUARDIAN (the Law) and worse, SLAVES TO THE BASIC SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES OF THIS WORLD. The word BUT in verse four indicates that Paul would take us in another, better, direction: God adopting us as His children. God accomplished our adoption by means of His Son.
The first step in this process was God’s choice of time to begin. Paul asserted God’s timing in the birth of His Son was perfect; it was the RIGHT TIME (4). See also Romans 5:6-8. He was a human being, BORN OF A WOMAN, just like the rest of us. He was SUBJECT TO THE LAW of Moses, just like the rest of His people. Up to the moment He created the New Covenant, that is.
The second step is the sacrifice of His Son. God’s purpose in the holy birth was to BUY FREEDOM FOR US, to redeem us from slavery to sin and make us God’s CHILDREN (5).
The third step: God gave us the SPIRIT OF HIS SON (the Holy Spirit) to prompt us to have a personal relationship with our Heavenly FATHER (6). Paul taught elsewhere (i.e., 2 Corinthians 1:22) that the Holy Spirit is a guarantee, a sign that proves God’s promise of eternal life can be completely trusted.
The fourth step: as a symbol of being fully adopted into God’s family, we are said to be His heirs (7). HEIRS have a greater standing in the family than SLAVES.
History confirms Paul’s teaching: Jesus was SENT by God, having been miraculously conceived, but ordinarily BORN OF A WOMAN. He was born as a Jew and presented the truth first to the Jewish people. Giving up His life on the cross, Jesus redeemed us from our slavery to sin. Thus freed, God adopted us into His family. The first benefit of divine adoption is receiving the Holy Spirit (which happened at Pentecost). The second benefit is eternal life, the inheritance provided for us as God’s children.
The Messiah arrived at just the right moment, according to God’s will.
I saw an Internet post where someone mused, “If good things come to those who wait, then procrastination must be a virtue.” Actually, that sounds like Stage Three = Making Excuses.
One of the things we learn as we live the life of faith is that our timing is not the same as God’s timing. We pray and want an answer yesterday, but God is just as apt to say, “Wait on that.”
God may be teaching us patience, but its more likely the reason is that the ideal time has not arrived yet. Patience is rewarded when God reveals His will at the best time possible.
At the end of this week we again have reason to rejoice at God’s timing: the birth of Jesus occurred at the very best time in history. Equally important; Jesus’ second coming will occur at the very best time in history. We can trust God to do it.
One-volume Illustrated Edition, Zondervan Bible Commentary, Daniel, A.R. Millard
Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 11, Galatians - Colossians, John Calvin.