Why the Timing of the Messiah’s Birth Matters

In the Fullness of Time

by Simon Turpin on December 8, 2023

God’s timing is perfect. In Galatians 4:4–6, the Apostle Paul tells us that the sending of the Son into the world to redeem sinners took place at exactly the right time:

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. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
The Christian faith depends on God working in history to redeem the world.

The Christian faith depends on God working in history to redeem the world. In fact, God uses history as a canvas to paint his plan and purpose of redemption.

The Right Time

The sending of the Son1 transpired at God’s appointed time in salvation history. The phrase “the fullness of time” (to plērōma tou chronou) refers to the point in history when God sent his Son into the world to initiate the work of redemption. Paul uses the Greek word chronos, as opposed to kairos (proper time, cf. Ephesians 1:10), which can signify time in respect of duration or a definite point of its lapse (cf. Matthew 2:7, 25:19). Before the Son came into the world, sinners were held captive “under the law” (Galatians 3:23), but now that the Son has come, they can enter, by faith, into their inheritance as adopted sons and daughters.

Why was the first century AD the right time for the Father to send the Son into the world? Paul does not specifically say what the reason was, so we can only speculate what the reason/s may have been. At the time of Jesus’ ministry (c. AD 29–33), the Romans were ruling the then-known world, and the Pax Romana (Roman peace, 27 BC to AD 180) was in place. The Pax Romana brought a time of extraordinary peace throughout the Roman Empire which would help Christians spread the gospel around the world (cf. Romans 1:8). The Romans had also built a road system (c. 300 BC) over ancient routes and created a huge number of new ones. The roads covered over 74,000 miles and greatly helped the free movement of armies, people, and goods across the Roman empire.2 These roads would also help the spread of the gospel across the known world. Furthermore, in the first century, the common language of the Greco-Roman world was koine (common) Greek (c. 300 BC–AD 600). So, wherever Paul (or the apostles) traveled in the Greco-Roman world, the gospel could be communicated to people in a common language.

God Sent His Son

In the Old Testament, Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38; cf. Genesis 5:1–3) as was the nation of Israel (Exodus 4:22). Although Adam and Israel were sons of God, because of their disobedience, they did not obtain their inheritance. It is the Son (Messiah) who is promised by the Father that he will be given the nations as his inheritance (Psalm 2:2, 7–8).

It was in the “fullness of time” that God sent forth his Son into the world so that his people might be adopted into his family and receive their inheritance. The verb “sent” (exapostellō) has the meaning to send someone to fulfill a mission in another place.3 In this case, the Son was sent on a mission from heaven to earth (cf. John 3:17, 6:38). But does this “sending” suggest the preexistence of the Son?4 The two participial clauses “born of woman” and “born under the law” emphasize the Son’s human condition and would indicate that the sending presupposes a preexistence that was not human.5 Moreover, just as the Spirit was eternally the Spirit before God sent him (Galatians 4:6), so the Son was eternally the Son before God sent him. Paul clearly believed that the Son preexisted the creation of the world (cf. Philippians 2:6–7; Colossians 1:15–16). The Son enjoyed an existence with the Father before his being sent into the world (cf. John 17:5).

In the history of redemption, it is the triune God who is at work to save his people. The Father sends the Son into the world to redeem sinners and adopt them into his family, and it is the Spirit who enables believers to cry out to God as our Father.6 Salvation from beginning to end is trinitarian (cf. Ephesians 1:3–14).

Born of a Woman

The phrase “born of a woman” is intended to bring out the humanity of the Son (cf. Matthew 11:11). It was at his conception in Mary’s womb that the eternal Son took on a human nature (Matthew 1:18–20) and was later born in Bethlehem and given the name Jesus (Matthew 1:18–21, 2:1; cf. Romans 8:3).7 In his incarnate state, the Son was a descendant of David (Romans 1:3), and the one who fulfilled the messianic promises made to David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12–13; Psalm 89:3–4). The fact that the Son was born of a woman is an allusion to the “offspring of the woman” in Genesis 3:15. In that passage, God promised to deal a mortal blow to the serpent (Satan) through the offspring of the woman (Eve). The Son not only came to redeem sinners, but to destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3:8).

Born to Redeem

The name given to the child “born of a woman” was Jesus (YHWH is salvation). Jesus’ name (YHWH is salvation) identifies him as God, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis added). Jesus is YHWH who saves. The reason the Son came into the world was to redeem mankind (cf. Matthew 20:28). The word “redeem” means to “set free by paying a price.” Since no man can redeem the life of another (Psalm 49:7–8), it is only the Son who was truly God and truly man who could bring about redemption. The Son came to redeem those who are under the curse of the law, those fallen sons and daughter of Adam (cf. Romans 5:12–19), who are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). For all those who trust in the Son (Jesus), his death on the cross has removed the curse of sin (Galatians 3:13).

The connecting point of history is marked by the coming of the Son so that sinners could be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).

The connecting point of history is marked by the coming of the Son so that sinners could be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). The reason salvation is by faith alone is that if human works were a part of salvation to any degree, salvation could not be by grace alone (Romans 4:16). Now the Son has come, believers have the Spirit of God who enables them to cry, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). The eternal Son of God took on a human nature so that humans could become adopted sons of God (Romans 8:14–15).


  1. In Scripture, the title “Son” indicates the deity of the Messiah (Psalm 2:7) who is the eternal Son of the Father (John 1:1, 3:16–17; Hebrews 1:1–2). This is the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. See Mark Cartwright, “Roman Roads,” World History Encyclopaedia. September 17, 2014, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/758/roman-roads/#google_vignette.
  3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 346.
  4. Unitarians argue that Jesus came into existence at his birth in Bethlehem and was adopted as God’s Son at his baptism.
  5. Douglas J. Moo, Galatians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 265–266.
  6. In Galatians 4:6, the phrase “the Spirit of his son” is not referring to Jesus, but “the Spirit whom God gives is defined by and experienced in terms of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The eschatological ministry of the Spirit to which the prophets looked forward (see esp. Ezek. 36:26–27) is experienced not in the context of the torah but through union with Christ by faith.” Moo, Galatians, 269.
  7. The traditional date for Jesus’ birth is 4 BC, but recently, some scholars have argued for a date of early 2 BC (or late 3 BC).


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