Day 14. In the Fullness of Time (Galatians 4:4-5)

Audio (10:06)

Saturday, Second Week of Advent

Georges de la Tour (1593-1652), 'The New-born' (1640s), Oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.
Georges de la Tour (1593-1652), 'The New-born' (1640s), Oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes.

Read in the Bible: Galatians 4:4-6

So often we're impatient. We want it right now! Many times, through many dark days the people of God longed for the Savior, the Messiah. Here's a Christmas passage where you wouldn't expect it.

"4  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." (Galatians 4:4-5, NIV)

When the Time Had Fully Come (Galatians 4:4a)

Let's examine this passage phrase by phrase.

"When the time had fully come" (Galatians 4:4a) suggests that God had planned the event of sending his Son for a long time. There is a proper time for everything God does. The Apostle Paul is quite aware of the unique timing in the mind of God.

"... when the times will have reached their fulfillment...." (Ephesians 1:9-10)
"... on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come." (1 Corinthians 10:11)
"... the time of the new order." (Hebrews 9:10)
"... revealed in these last times." (1 Peter 1:20)

We wonder why God selected the first century AD in Galilee and Judea to be "the fullness of time." Of course, we're just speculating, but we know of at least four factors that were present.

  1. The time was right religiously. The Old Testament canon had been completed. The synagogue system had developed to the point that it functioned as a school, a judicial court, and a worship center -- a model upon which the early Christian congregations are patterned. In Israel there was also a fervent expectation of Messiah's coming.
  2. The time was right culturally. There was now a common language -- Koinē Greek -- spoken throughout the known world. And a common Greek culture was widespread.
  3. The time was right commercially. The Roman system of roads connected the empire, making it easy for the gospel to spread from city to city and from country to country.
  4. The time was right politically. Rome had instituted a common system of law that resulted in the Pax Romana (the Roman peace) enforced across the empire. There was little armed conflict; the roads were safer from banditry. This made travel from one country to another much easier and safer.

These conditions wouldn't have existed, for example, a century earlier. And for many subsequent periods, the conditions would not have been right either.

God Sent His Son, Born of a Woman, Born under Law (Galatians 4:4)

"God sent his Son" (Galatians 4:4c) is reminiscent of John 3:16 and many Johannine passages. It suggests that Jesus was preexistent with the Father prior to his birth in Bethlehem.73 The Father's plan and commission for Jesus was constantly in his mind (John 20:21; Luke 22:42).

"Born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4c) suggests Jesus' natural birth74 to Mary. This sentence makes the astounding statement that the Son of God was "woman-born,"75 making Jesus the God-Man, begotten by God, born of a woman. It is one of the unique insights of the Christmas story of incarnation. In one sense Mary is indeed the "Mother of God" on this earth; amazing!

"Born under law" (4:4d) reminds us that Jesus was born a Jew, circumcised on the eighth day according to the Mosaic law, presented in the temple with the sacrifice of a pair of doves or pigeons according to the law. The irony of this is found in the next phrase:

To Redeem Those under the Law (Galatians 4:5a)

"... to redeem those under law." (Galatians 4:5a)

"Redeem" (exagorazō) is a commercial term, often used in the context of slavery, "buy, buy up something" or "redeem" (literally, "buy back"), of slaves. Then it carries the more general idea: "to deliver someone, to secure deliverance of, liberate."76 Jesus redeemed those under the law, the Jews, but also the rest of us who were "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).

Adoption or Instatement as Sons (Galatians 4:5b)

"That we might receive the full rights of sons" (Galatians 4:5b) is the purpose of God sending his Son. The keyword, translated variously,

"Full rights as sons" (NIV).
"Adoption as children" (NRSV).
"The adoption of sons" (KJV, ESV).

The Greek word is huiothesia, "adoption," a legal technical term of "adoption" of children.77 Though the word is formed from huios, "son," Paul isn't introducing the idea of gender here.78 Rather, he is saying that we have been adopted with full status as sons and daughters of the Living God, brothers and sisters of Jesus himself (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11). Amazing!

Adoption in the Roman and Greek world bestowed full status of son and heir upon a person. Remember the word "redeemed" in the previous phrase? Sometimes a slave would be manumitted (that is, released from slavery) and adopted at the same time, conferring instant and simultaneous freedom and status as a full son.

In poorer families, since there is precious little to pass on, inheritance isn't something you dwell on. But in a family of means, passing on wealth to one's heirs is a much more prominent concern. In the New Testament also, inheritance is a big deal. The idea appears many times because of the "wealthy family" to which we belong.

Co-Heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)

Paul emphasizes this idea of inheritance a few verses later.

"Since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."79 (Galatians 4:7)

We are "co-heirs80 with Christ" (Romans 8:17a). What Christ inherits, we inherit. What Christ our older brother receives, we receive alongside of him. Our status in God's family is full. We are "seated with him in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 2:6) and Christ himself is seated at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20), the place of honor as Son and Heir.

In God's Time

These things do not happen on man's schedule, but on God's. God's timetable extends to our lives, to this very hour. There are things God plans for you in the fullness of his time. He knows, he has planned, and through these things he brings blessing. Sometimes pain, yes, but blessings with the pain and struggle. We're in God's loving hands. "My times are in your hands," says David (Psalm 31:15a), and we trust Him.

28 Advent Scriptures, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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One night, long ago, "in the fullness of time," God's Son was born in Bethlehem to a woman named Mary, and history has never again been the same. And one day in God's timetable -- soon we hope -- Christ will return and we will enter into our full inheritance.


Father, you're not in a hurry, yet you chose a very specific time to send your Son into the world. You have times for our lives too. Help us to trust you patiently as we wait for you to bring your promises to pass. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Discussion Question

Q14. (Galatians 4:4-5) Why do you think God sent Jesus into this world when he did? What does it mean that he "redeemed" you? What does it mean that he "adopted" you? What is your inheritance?


References and Abbreviations

[73] John 1:1-3; 8:58; 17:5; 1 Corinthians 8:6b; 10:4; Colossians 1:15-17; Revelation 21:6; 22:13; Colossians 1:15-17; 1 Corinthians 8:6; see also John 1:3.

[74] "Born" (NIV, NRSV), "made" (KJV) is ginomai, "to come into being through process of birth or natural production, be born, be produced" (BDAG 197, 1).

[75] Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:35; John 1:1, 14; Romans 1:3-4; 9:5; Philippians 2:6-8; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:2.

[76] Exagorazō, BDAG 343, 1.

[77] Huiothesia, BDAG 1024. Bruce, Galatians, p. 197-198; Thomas Rees, "adoption," ISBE 1:52-55; James M. Scott ("Adoption, Sonship," DPL, pp. 15-18) contends that the translation "sonship" isn't as accurate as "adoption." "In Paul, as in contemporary extra-biblical sources, huiothesia always denotes either the process or the state of being adopted as son(s)." Paul also uses the word in Romans 8:15 and Ephesians 1:5 with the same idea. According to Romans 8:23, however, this adoption becomes complete only at the resurrection at Christ's return, "the redemption of our bodies."

[78] Paul uses the word here "in a transferred sense of a transcendent filial relationship between God and humans (with the legal aspect, not gender specificity, as major semantic component)."

[79] Klēronomos, "one who is designated as an heir" (BDAG 548).

[80] Sygklēronomos, BDAG 952. It occurs here and at Ephesians 3:6; Hebrews 11:9; and 1 Peter 3:7.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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