The Gospel Stage Is Set. The Father’s Announcement Is Made.

Last post, we considered Paul’s statement in Ephesians 3:11,

11      This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

If we stop and contemplate what this says, we come up with some very interesting conclusions. One conclusion that we must admit is that since the plan and purpose of God is eternal, and since God is absolutely sovereign, and since Jesus Christ actually did come to the earth, die, and was raised again, then there must have been some preparatory work ahead of the arrival of Jesus Christ in order to carry out His work. This is a staggering thought. In order for the complexities of the purpose of God to be accomplished, the “stage” had to be set. There had to be some pieces put into place. And since that is true, then we conclude that all of history and time marches on toward one thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the setting of the stage is not what the fullness of time is. The historical components into which  Messiah was born is not the catalyst for His coming. 

I want to consider a couple things along these lines. First, we need to realize that time is fixed by the Father. Second, we need to see that Jesus’ arrival was not determined by anything other than the Father’s announcement.

It would be easy to look to history in order to see the pieces of the puzzle being put together for such a time as Christ’s arrival. Afterall, Paul did write in Galatians

4      But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, (Galatians 4:4).

Oftentimes, writers take this verse and dive into history and point out the unique world into which Jesus was born. A world most conducive to the spread of the gospel. Whether it was the Roman empire that allowed for ease of travel because of their extensive road system, or the common language of Koine Greek which allowed for the writing of the NT in a popular language, this is often the route we take. However, this is not Paul’s point in Galatians 4:4. I don’t believe that Paul sat back and considered all the historical trappings of the time and thought to himself, “My, what a perfect time for the Messiah to be born.” What did Paul mean by this phrase in Galatians 4:4? What was his thought? He tells us.

Notice the context. Paul is referring to the practice of the time when a boy becomes a man and takes on the inherited responsibilities, and privileges, of manhood as given to him of his father. If you follow the terms referring to time in this section (i.e. vv. 1-9), you begin to see Paul’s thinking unfold.

The first mention of time is found in v.1, “As long as the heir is a child.” Paul is speaking of the time-frame of childhood. In time, the child will become the owner of his father’s estate. However, for now, he is treated no better than a slave-one who has no rights or privileges but is expected to only do what he is told. Then, v.2 states that that child is kept under guardianship until such a time as the father says, “He is mature enough to handle my affairs.” At that point, the child is no longer a slave, but a son-on the same level as the father himself over the estate.

Paul takes that true, historical, practice of families and uses that as an analogy to the gospel. The overarching point Paul is trying to make to the Galatians is found in v. 9 when he asks why, when they have been made sons through the gospel, the Galatians would go back to slavery under bondage to the master of the “elemental” things of the world. Why would one want to throw away all the privileges, and responsibilities, of sonship and go back to being a slave? It doesn’t make sense!

The timing of the coming of Christ is compared to the announcement by a father of the son’s arrival to competency. Verse 2 states that the date of transition out of slavery into sonship, at least as it relates to handling the affairs of the father, is set by the father. That is, the father has complete authority to make that call. No one tells him when to do it. He, of his judgment and for his own purposes, announces the maturity of his son to adulthood.

And that is the answer. The “fullness of the time” equals the date set by the father. To say it another way, The Father announced the date of the Son coming to earth. It was the fullness of “the” time, not because everyone was speaking Greek. It was the fullness of time because the Father said so. And, at the moment of God’s announcement that it was time, Messiah was born to an unwed mother, into an impoverished family, lead by a godly, but poor carpenter. All of this was during the time of the Law.

The Law, being compared to the “guardians and managers” of v.2, was left behind when a slave became a son, an heir. In a very real sense, we go from slavery into sonship also by the announcement of the Father. We do not appoint ourselves as heir of the kingdom. The Father must do it since it is His ‘estate.’ We cannot approach the Father and demand the inheritance, as the Prodigal did. We only receive the kingdom from the Father when He has decided it is time.

This is not unlike the discussion that the resurrected Jesus had with His apostles in Acts 1:6-7. The apostles wanted to understand when the coming of the kingdom of Israel would be. Jesus asserted that the Father of the estate, i.e. the kingdom, has fixed that time by “His own authority.” That says it perfectly! God determines the times and epochs of everything and we have no right to that information. We are children. The Fatherhood of God demands that He is sovereign because of His ownership and wisdom, at least.

So, the next time someone refers to Galatians 4:4 as a reference to historical components of God’s plan, please remind them that God is not compelled by anything, especially history, to accomplish His plan. All time is fixed by His own authority.