The death of Jesus signaled the commencement of the messianic age with consequent changes in the status of the Law and God’s people.
In his opening statement to the Galatians, Paul declared that his apostleship was from the same God who raised Jesus from the dead, the one who gave his life to “deliver us from this evil age.” This declaration anticipated his proposition that the arrival of the Messiah fundamentally changed the status and role of the Law for the covenant community – (Galatians 1:3-5).
With his resurrection, one era entered its final stages while another commenced. The old order with its constraints, rules and rituals had reached its endpoint, and the promised “age to come” had dawned. In Jesus, the promises are revealed and find their fulfillment. The time of “shadows” has ceased. And this perspective permeates many of Paul’s teachings.
He expressed a similar idea to the Colossians. God “delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Believers have been transferred from one realm to another. For this reason, they are now “qualified to participate in the inheritance of the saints.” No longer are they under the dominion of the “powers and principalities” that previously enslaved them. Moreover, their new head is the “firstborn of all creation,” and therefore, those same hostile powers have been subjected to him, and the saints should live accordingly – (Colossians 1:12-18).
This change in eras has significant implications for the Mosaic Law and the identity of God’s people. For example, to the churches of Rome, the Apostle explained that Israel failed to attain God’s “righteousness” because they did not understand that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Since his arrival, believers are put in the right relationship with God from the “faith of Jesus Christ,” and not from the “works of the law” – (Romans 3:21-26, 10:4).
This outlook could easily be labeled ‘apocalyptic,’ for at a specific point in time the revelation of God was made plain for all to see. And this perspective influences how Paul deals with the Law in Galatians. The letter was prompted when certain men “from Jerusalem” claimed that Gentile believers must submit to circumcision and other “works of the law” to “complete” their faith.
But Paul chided the Galatians for seeking to “complete” their faith from the “works of the law,” especially circumcision after they had received the Spirit. And the gift of the Spirit was one of the expected blessings of the messianic age. And, having “begun in the Spirit,” why did they wish to revert to the “flesh” to complete their faith? Jesus died so that the “blessing of Abraham” might come upon the Gentiles, which Paul identified as the “promised Spirit” – (Galatians 3:1-5, 3:10-14).
Paul then presents the Law as an interim stage between the covenant with Abraham and the arrival of the Messiah. The promises were made to the patriarch and to “his seed,” and that “seed,” singular, is Jesus. And once the Abrahamic covenant was confirmed, its promises were unchangeable, therefore, the Law that came later could not alter the original promises – (Galatians 3:15-18).
But that raises the question – What was the purpose of the Law? It was given to deal with “transgressions” but only “until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.” Here he uses an adverb of time to indicate the temporary jurisdiction of the Law (Greek archi, “until, as far as, up to”). Once the “seed” arrived, that function of the Law ceased. Here, the time element is very pronounced – (Galatians 3:19).
Next, Paul compared the function of the Law to that of a custodian in charge of a minor child. Its job was to tutor God’s people “for Christ, that we might be justified from faith.” But now that the “faith” has come, the saints “no longer are under the custodian.” Once again, he brings into his argument the temporal aspect. The custodianship of the Law was to continue only until the arrival of the Messiah. All this points to a fundamental change in eras and law. With Jesus, the messianic age had arrived, and the interim stage was at an end – (Galatians 3:23-25).
And this change is reinforced in his next statement regarding the status of believers. Now that the “seed” has come, we are all “sons of God” regardless of circumcision or ethnicity. Having been “baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ,” therefore, no longer can there be “Jew or Greek, bond or free, male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus” – (Galatians 3:25-28).
Paul continues his argument from the analogy of the custodian, and once more, he stresses the temporal aspect of the Law. A minor child governed by a tutor is under rules and restrictions like any other servant of the household, even though he is the heir destined to inherit it all. But that condition only persists “until the day appointed by the father” when the child comes of age.
Likewise, when believers were under the old order, they were in bondage “under the rudiments of the world.” However, when the “fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son…to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” The term “fullness of time” is another way of saying that with the arrival of Jesus the age of fulfillment commenced – (Ephesians 1:10).
The arrival of the Messiah meant more than just another among many seasonal changes, but instead, it was THE pivotal moment in human history. Christians are the ones “upon whom the ends of the ages have come,” and because we are now God’s “sons… no longer are we servants” and minor children, but full “heirs” of the covenant promises – (1 Corinthians 10:11, Galatians 4:1-7).
And based on his ‘apocalyptic perspective’, Paul exhorted the Galatians not to subject themselves again to the “elementary spirits of this world,” which they would do if they submitted themselves to circumcision and the calendrical rituals required by the Law. With the coming of the Son, the jurisdiction of the old order had run its course – (Galatians 4:3-11).
And Paul leaves no doubt as to the precise moment when the ages turned. As he declared, “I died to the law that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ now lives in me… he who loved me and gave himself up for me.” And that is why the Apostle concluded his letter by “glorying in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Calvary was the death knell for the “present evil age” – (Galatians 2:19-21, 6:14).
Jesus arrived at the pivotal point of history, at the “fullness of time,” and therefore, nothing is the same or ever can be so again, including how God’s people relate to Him and to one another. One era has passed, and the promised age of fulfillment is now underway.