THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Restoration must be generated from within a society by the constant and consistent preaching of the gospel. It is difficult to import restoration movements simply because the movement is often attached to some expatriate culture, or worse, some supposedly “foreign religion.” So for this reason, God destined the incarnation of His only begotten Son into the flesh of a Jewish man in a Jewish society and a local spot on planet earth—Palestine (Jn 1:14). The importation was directly from heaven, a fact with which there could be no argument, though most of the early Jews vehemently denied this. To them Jesus was just another self-appointed Rabbi from an obscure village called Nazareth. Nevertheless, the Jews could not deny that Jesus was of Jewish origin.
The incarnate Son of God was born a Jew, born in a Jewish barn, grew up as a Jewish carpenter in a small Jewish village, and preached and taught only within Jewish territory. He never made a “mission trip” outside Palestine. His mission trips were always confined to His own people, the Jews. He then died as a condemned Jew outside the capital city of the Jews—Jerusalem. He was all Jew, and thus, never sought to change His Jewish heritage that had been laid as the foundation for revelation of the gospel for fourteen hundred years before His coming into this world. And thus, the first “gospel restoration” that took place in history was first among the Jews, as stated by the apostle Paul: The gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [Gentiles]” (Rm 1:16).
When we read the Holy Spirit’s statement of Galatians 4:4, it is incumbent on us to think more historically about the meaning, rather than the fulfillment of prophecy. So when the Holy Spirit said, “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a [Jewish] woman, born under law” our understanding of the statement goes beyond fulfillment of prophecy. Prophecies were fulfilled because the religious, social and political times were right.
The “birth” in the fullness of time was not inconsequential. That Jesus came into this world was certainly in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But the statement of Galatians 4:4 does not infer that we should consider the “fullness of the time” with the same meaning of a similar statement that is commonly made throughout the gospel records: “That it might be fulfilled . . .” (See Mt 1:22; 2:15,17,23; 4:14; 5:18; 8:17; 12:17). These statements of the gospel records refer exclusively to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in reference to Jesus. But the Galatians 4:4 statement emphasis is on “the time,” not the fulfillment time of prophecy. Galatians 4:4 focuses on the fact that it was the right time in history for the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Redeemer into the society of the Jews in Palestine. It was indeed a time of fulfillment, but we believe that something more was in the mind of the Holy Spirit when He made the statement of Galatians 4:4. (If we understand Galatians 4:4 correctly, then we will be looking around the world for similar peoples who are religiously, socially and politically receptive to the preaching of the gospel and a restoration to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.)
The “fullness of the time” referred to the religious, social and political circumstances that prevailed at the time the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of the Redeemer. Because the religious, social and political environment was suitable for the coming of the Messiah into the world, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John thus revealed “that it might be fulfilled” in reference to all the Old Testament prophecies that directed the minds of the Jews toward the coming of the Messiah and Savior of the world (Lk 24:44). Their minds had been prepared for the refreshing times to come from the presence of the Lord (At 3:19).
The preceding meaning of Galatians 4:4-7 was in the mind of the angel who delivered to the shepherds the following message concerning the birth of Jesus: “I bring you good tidings [gospel news] of great joy that will be to all the people. For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ [Messiah] the Lord” (Lk 2:10,11). It is interesting that the angel did not wait until the second day in order to make this first gospel proclamation. On the contrary, this first announcement of the birth of the Redeemer was far more important than to tarry around for twenty-four hours until it was made. It was urgent that a gospel announcement of the incarnational entry of the Son of God into this world be made. The religious, social and political environment in which the shepherds lived, as well as all the Jews, demanded that the announcement urgently be made the very same day the birth event of the incarnation took place. The times were in their fullness in order that the Messiah and Savior of the world be announced and received. The time of refreshing had appeared from the very presence of the Lord, and thus, it was time for restoration.
It is important to understand the “times” in which the Son of God came. The Holy Spirit turns on the light bulb of understanding by what He had Paul inscribe in Galatians 4:7. The Son of God came “to redeem those who were under law” (Gl 4:4). The word “law” in this text does not carry with it the article “the” in the Greek text. Therefore, reference was to any law, especially legal religious rites and rituals under which we often bring ourselves into bondage, whether Jews or idolatrous Gentiles. This is true because the mission of the Christ was to be a Redeemer. He would bring into freedom those who had brought themselves into the bondage of self-righteous law-keeping. Since the redeemed—that is us—could not redeem themselves through any self-sanctify works of law, or meritorious obedience to any law, whether the Sinai law or some man-made law, they could find redemptive power only in the sacrificial offering of the crucified Redeemer. But in specific reference to the Jews, who would represent all religionists throughout history, they had bound upon themselves all sorts of religious rites and rituals that brought them into bondage (See Mk 7:1-9). Their bondage was so severe that the Jewish religionists of Jesus’ day were doing as Jesus said of them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own [religious] traditions” (Mk 7:9). When this spiritual condition prevails within a society, then it is time to call for a restoration in order that refreshing times might come from the presence of the Lord (See At 3:19). The only way to generate such refreshing times is to preach the gospel message that a Redeemer has appeared on earth in order to release us from our own self-imposed bondage.
The Redeemer of Galatians 4:5, therefore, came in a time when the Jews had rejected the law of God in order to enslave themselves in the bondage of their own religious legal traditions. We must never forget, therefore, that in our obedience to the freedom-giving nature of the gospel, we are being redeemed from our own misguided self-justification through an attempted perfect keeping of either law or self-imposed religious rites and rituals. And thus in our response to the gospel, we “are no longer a bondservant” to our own manufactured religiosity (Gl 4:7). For this reason we cry out “Abba, Father” in thanksgiving that we are saved by the gospel of God’s grace, not by any self-imposed religious rites and rituals that we might meritoriously impose on ourselves (2 Co 4:15). Glory HALLELUJAH!
[To be continued.]