This article on Galatians 4:4 explains the counsel of God and the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Source: De Wekker. 2 pages. Translated by Harry Janssen.

Galatians 4:4 - The Fullness of Time

During the weeks of Advent and Christmas we quite often use the expression: the fullness of time. These are words that come straight from the Bible. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” And at the beginning of the letter to the congregation of Ephesus we read about “when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” What is the meaning of these words?

The Broken Circle🔗

To find an answer to this question, we first want to say something about the way people in the old cultures experienced time. To them, time flows like a treadmill, where the same things happen over and over. This routine is especially stereotypical for the common people: life does not consist of much more than working, eating, and sleeping. A weekly day of rest (the sabbath or Sunday) is unknown to them. The occasional religious feasts, when they do not have to work, only mean a passing breather. Afterward, the uninterrupted circle continues: working, eating, and sleeping, until…death comes! The ancient Greeks have a striking way to depict this pattern of life. They portray the year as a snake curling into a circle while biting his tail. With that they obviously want to say: this is how we spend our years in a rut, in the circular routine where things seem to repeat themselves all the time! The Bible speaks differently about time. There we read about the God of heaven and earth who breaks through the circle of the same, ever-returning years. He intervenes in history by revealing himself, by sending his Son to the world, and pouring out his Spirit. That is the marvelous reality that forms the background of the expression: the fullness of time.

The Counsel of God🔗

“But when the fullness of time did come, God sent his Son,” Paul writes. Does that then mean that the Lord carefully watches history unfolds and sends his Son to the world when the circumstances seem to be just right? No, definitely not! That would then mean that he depends on the course of events and that he is not in charge. The text points out that it is about a previously determined moment (cf. Gal. 4:2). God himself has set the time from eternity when to send his Son to this world. He has sovereignly controlled all circumstances so that Christ is born then and there, just as he wants to it. That is something to think about when we look at the old gospel of Christmas: everything that happens here — down to the smallest detail — happens according to the will of the almighty God!

The Fulfilled Promise🔗

That does not mean that the moment of Christ’s return is completely unannounced. Since the promise of salvation, it has been foretold again and again that he will come to this world. In these promises it points to the specific time, when he will be born. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord...” After all, with the coming of the Messiah salvation dawns. Then the renewed covenant will be made (Jer. 31:31), sinful people will receive a new heart and will be led by the Spirit (Ezek. 36:25 etc.). The time of this world and of sin will then be over; everything will be new!

Maybe someone thinks: isn’t that a little too lofty? What do we see of all these things now in the reality of every day? Have things really changed so much with the coming of Christ? I would like to say two things about that. In the first place, everything that is pledged in these promises has become reality when Christ came. With him we find forgiveness of our many sins and our mountains of debt; he is able to break the heart of stubborn people and make them walk in his ways; he is prepared to heal the pain and sorrow of our heart. All God’s promises are fulfilled in him. Only…the final fulfillment is still to come! He who by faith has experienced the power of these promises, knows what this means. Even now that the fullness of time has come, God’s children experience salvation in a broken world, though they know about temptations and struggles. Yet, through faith they may know that through the birth of the Saviour, God shows that all his promises are true. Salvation is to be found in Christ. What he said remains true. His coming also gives us the guarantee that he will come once more. And with that second coming the great time of salvation will dawn fully for all who love his appearance. 

The Maturing of Time🔗

The expression “the fullness of time” has still another aspect. It also shows that the Lord prepares the coming of his Son — that is, how he controls it in such a wonderful way, that Jesus is born in Bethlehem. In the Christmas story it stands out, time and again, that even a decision in the palace of the emperor in Rome contributes to bring Joseph and Mary to the old city of David. The Lord also makes sure that all kinds of people come to worship the Child. With this “preparing work” we can also think about something else. In the history of the world, he prepares everything for the coming of his Son. The Roman Empire ensured that there was sufficient security and well-maintained roads, so that those who proclaimed the gospel could travel from city to city later on. There were Jewish synagogues everywhere, so that the apostles could begin preaching about Christ there, and already for many centuries the Greek language was the language with which the countries around the Mediterranean communicated with each other. This is the way God prepared everything when the fullness of time dawns.

God’s Hourglas🔗

If there is one thing that is clear, then it is this: God writes the history. He prepares — in a hidden way — the birth of Christ and breaks down the gray treadmill of time by sending his Son to the world in the fullness of time. Moreover, this also means that he is now busy preparing, in the same way, for the second coming of his Son. Through all kinds of signs of the times — sometimes clearly recognizable, sometimes difficult to see — it becomes clear that God’s hourglass is getting filled up. The time is almost “full” for the return of Christ on the clouds of heaven. No one know how long that will still take. However, the big question is: are you, am I ready when the great day of his return will come?

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