Summary: In the fullness of the time God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4). What a momentous sentence!
THE FULLNESS OF TIME
The Apostle Paul was astonished that the Christian converts in Galatia had strayed away from the true gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a “different gospel, which is no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). By turning back to the law as if it was the keeping of its restrictions that had saved them, they were at best being foolish, at worst behaving as those under some wicked enchantment (Galatians 3:1). The law of God was given to Moses by the ministration of angels (Galatians 3:19), but its rules and regulations were only intended to highlight our inability to please God outside of Christ (Galatians 3:24).
The law of Moses, which is the law of God, was only ever intended to tutor us and direct us until Christ should come. This is true historically as the Old Testament was fulfilled in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ in the New (Matthew 5:17). It is true experientially as faithful penitents are persuaded of their sinfulness and their inability to save themselves, and are brought into the righteousness of Christ by faith.
In Galatians 4:4, Paul speaks of a fullness of time. In what sense was it the fullness of the time?
There is a time for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1). God has set limits to the times and boundaries of the nations from all eternity (Acts 17:26). Even in the days of Father Abraham, God was shaping the destiny of the wicked nations of the Holy Land (Genesis 15:16). Furthermore, if we are the people of God then our times are in the Lord's hands (Psalm 31:14-15).
If we are being called by God, then His Holy Spirit is already at work in our hearts to shape us into the image of Christ, to free us from the bondage which comes from a slavish keeping of legalistic rituals and ceremonies (Galatians 4:10). “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). If we have been set free by Christ, then we are truly free, and have no need to wander back into the slavish fears of our pre-conversion days.
The “fullness of the time” also has a historical context. The hope and expectation of the coming of Messiah was at its zenith amongst the faithful remnant of Israel: people like Simeon and Anna, living in the Temple (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:36-38). Even amongst the Gentiles there was a sense of anticipation: people like the wise men from the East (Matthew 2:1-2).
The conquests of Alexander the Great had brought about a common culture, and a common language (Koine Greek, in which the New Testament would be written). The armies of Caesar had secured the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, whereby it was easier for the Gospel to cross the borders of the known world than it had ever been hitherto. There was a hunger after knowledge, and a sense of dissatisfaction with the old “gods” of Greece and Rome.
“In the fullness of the time God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). What a momentous sentence!
There was nothing accidental about the coming of Jesus. The fact had been announced in the Garden of Eden, on the very day of Man's fall from God's grace. All the events of the Old Testament anticipated Him. The sacrifices prefigured His sacrifice. The prophecies pointed towards Him. And even cautious typology points to “Christ in all the Scriptures, beginning at Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27).
What a wonder that God should send forth His only begotten Son to redeem fallen mankind. It was not what we deserved. It was “while we were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) that Christ died for us, the godly for the ungodly, the righteous for the unrighteous, the altogether lovely One for the unlovely and unlovable (see Romans 5:6-8).
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was born of a woman. He was born into the family of rebellious mankind. He became what He was not in order that we might become what He is, for by a perfect transference our sins are laid upon Him whilst we are clothed with His righteousness. He becomes the Son of man so that we might become children of God (John 1:12).
Jesus was born under the law. As the son of a Jewish mother, He was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the law. He kept the law perfectly, as no man has ever been able to do. He took upon Himself the guilt of our sin, and willingly submitted to the penalty of the law on our behalf. He set us free from the law and its condemnation, so that we may legally enter into the privileges of sons (Galatians 4:5; Galatians 4:7).