“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” (ESV).
Galatians 4:4a “But, when the fullness of time had come,……” (ESV, NKJV)
“When the time came to completion,……..” (HCSB)
“When the right time had come,…….” (NLT)
“But when the set time had fully come,……..” (NIV)
To answer the question above in the title, let’s ask this question of our key text, what time is being declared?
What time is it? It was a specific time, the “fullness of time,” when “God sent forth his Son…..” (Gal. 4:4, ESV).
There is a sense in which it is totally accurate to say that God acts according to His own clock. The coming of Jesus Christ into the world was not an arbitrary matter. His coming was not a “surprise” to God the Father, nor simply a “knee-jerk” response to human circumstances.
The “fullness of time” is a pregnant phrase that implies more than the “right time.” It was the right time in terms of God’s eternal plan and a time that would lead to the fulfillment of God’s promises to send His Son.
The whole “drama of redemption” required this time, and it was a time longed for and predicted. And notice that God’s Son did not just come, He was “sent.” This is a truth that is underlined over and over again in John’s gospel. It is a truth that is important here as the Apostle Paul explains and defends his gospel.
What happened “when the fullness of time had come” is what we celebrate specifically during the Christmas season.
There are three “massive” truths that are developed by the Apostle Paul in relation to the “fullness of time.” These three truths are really at the heart of the Christmas message. So, what time is it?
At just the right time, according to the plan and promises of God, the Son of God was “sent” and “born.”
The incarnation is straightforwardly affirmed in this simple phrase - “born of woman.” At the same time, in these words, we are exposed to the majesty and mystery of God’s plan as we think of God’s Son being sent. Born of woman, how can it be? (See Matthew 1:18-25, a text that gives us the best description of the miracle that took place and the name given to this Child.)
Even though we may not be able to fully grasp how the incarnation could take place, we do learn why it needed to take place. God’s Son had to become “man” in order to redeem mankind. He had to be born “under the Law” to fulfill the law, and to bring with Him the fulfillment of prophecies, being the Christ Himself. He, also, took upon Himself the curse of the law, becoming a “curse” for us by hanging on a tree/cross (Gal. 3:13). This, He could only do by being sent, by being born of a woman, and by taking on the limitation of humanity in order to die.
In our day, people often question the deity of Jesus Christ. The wonder of it all (to me) is not that this one who walked the earth was God incarnate, but that God the Son would humble Himself and condescend to be sent and to be born, becoming human.
(Of course, we must confess that He was fully God and fully man, even though our human minds may not grasp this truth in full!)
The Apostle is explaining why this had to happen right here. I am always blessed when I read the Epistle to the Hebrews from this perspective. Such passages of Scripture like Hebrews 2:9-18 reveal the significance of the incarnation in the saving and sanctifying work of our Savior.
Christmas is all about the wonder and glory of the “Word becoming flesh” (John 1:14).
The incarnation of the Son of God led to the redemption of those “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” and “those who were under the Law” (Gal. 4:3-4). Mankind, Jew and Gentile alike were in need of redemption and liberation.
The teaching of this Epistle makes it clear that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross accomplished this redemption when Jesus, according to the Law, became a curse for us so that we would be freed from the curse of the Law. He took our place, He took our punishment, He took our curse for our disobedience.
As stated earlier in Galatians, the Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Therefore, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is our boast and stands at the center of the gospel. Furthermore, within Paul’s argument in Galatians, he makes it clear that the Gentiles now enter into the “blessing of Abraham” not just through what Christ did but “in Christ Jesus” Himself (Gal. 3:13-14).
One of the great blessings of this advent season is that we reflect on and we sing these great truths. I encourage you to find an old hymnbook and read through some of the traditional hymns. We have beautiful choruses as well in which the gospel is declared.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
“…. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….” (Romans 3:23-24).
He came to redeem. He came as Redeemer. He paid the price for our forgiveness and liberation.
At the time set by our heavenly father, due to Christ’s incarnation and redemption, those in Christ have been “adopted as sons.” The Old Covenant time of being under a guardian as a child is over.
To say it another way, as the Apostle does, our slavery without the blessings of “sonship” is over. This speaks of the anticipation of God’s people for the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham, which has now come to pass in Christ. The full rights of “sonship” are granted to those in Christ.
This would be especially meaningful to gentile believers who may have felt that they were not really in the family of God. But, by virtue of all that Christ did through His coming, the blessing of Abraham has come to the gentiles “in Christ” (Galatians 3:14).
And this means that because of this “sonship,” God’s Spirit has been sent “into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!” And because we are truly sons, we are “heirs.” We are heirs of the promises and blessings of God in Christ. What a privilege, blessing and joy to be in the family of God!
Paul’s concern in this Epistle is to clarify the gospel and to call the Galatians to continue in the faith and in the gospel.
He was passionately concerned that his converts in Christ would not give in to false legalistic teaching. He agonized over these Galatians. He agonized initially that they would have a genuine spiritual birth through the gospel. But, now Paul agonized that they would not give in to some other gospel, which was not a gospel.
Galatians confirms strongly that there is only one gospel.
Instead of the Galatians being confused and stumbling in their spiritual walk, Paul’s desire is that they be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. He desired that they would walk by faith and in the Spirit.
Based on the truth of the gospel. They needed to live as redeemed sons (and daughters) in Christ. They needed to live as those who have been adopted with all the benefits of adoption into God’s family.
During this season, let us celebrate and rejoice in the time when God the Father sent His Son.
Let’s rejoice in what that means to us now. Let us share with others the greatness of the grace of God and how He gave the greatest gift at just the right time.
This is at the heart of the gospel. There is a straight line or thread from incarnation to redemption to adoption.
Yes, there are other glorious truths to the gospel in its fullness. But, these truths are certainly essential and worthy of full acceptance and praise.
And remember, there is no other gospel.