Paul’s Gospel and the Incarnation
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Gal. 4:4,5
While we fully acknowledge that we no longer know Christ after the flesh, the Apostle Paul was careful never to distance himself too far from the incarnation of Christ. We might call the incarnation the “taproot” of Paul’s gospel. As dispensationalists, we like to have things neatly compartmentalized, but sometimes, such as in the case of redemption, God has drawn a single thread throughout the tapestry of the dispensations. Thus, God’s triumph over sin has some aspects that are inseparably linked together. For example, had not the Savior entered the world in the manner that He did, the secret of the gospel, which is Calvary, would have never been possible.
GOD’S APPOINTED TIME
Shortly after Adam’s fall God pronounced the curse, but thankfully, it also included a prediction regarding the coming of the Redeemer. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). God put enmity between Satan, who embodied the serpent, and the woman. There is a natural hatred between those who are of their father, the devil, and those who love the Lord. This marked the beginning of the struggle between righteousness and unrighteousness. With innocence but now a fading memory, Cain wickedly defied God and murdered his brother Abel, who “by faith…offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice…by which he obtained witness that he was righteous.” Dr. Gaebelein called this endless struggle the “Conflict of the Ages.”
Although this conflict continues to this day, it reached its greatest intensity when the Savior came into the world. Paul etches this historic moment with the phrase “…when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son.” In short, when darkness gripped mankind. When all hope was but a fading ember. When Rome ruled the world. When the time of Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled:
“Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks1, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times” (Dan. 9:25).
According to the determinate counsel of God He had foreordained the day, month, and year of the sending forth of His dear Son. Luke’s phrase “And it came to pass in those days,” and Paul’s “But when the fulness of the time was come,” show us how the sovereignty of God and the affairs of men came together in a wonderful way to accomplish the will of God. With one turn of the wheel God fulfilled a twofold purpose.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:1-5).
After centuries of waiting for the consolation of Israel, the fulness of time had finally arrived. Unbeknown to him, under the guidance of the providence of God, Caesar Augustus determined that “all the world should be taxed.” This particular census required that everyone under the sphere of Roman rule return to the place of their extraction. Since both Mary and Joseph were of the house and lineage of David, it necessitated that they return to Bethlehem to be registered. Of course, by this time Mary was already in the latter part of her pregnancy.
What little money Mary and Joseph had was probably nearly depleted by the time they arrived at the city of David. It made little difference, since weary travelers had already filled every available room in town. Even the stables were overflowing with beasts of burden. Apparently, Mary and Joseph found refuge at one of the outbuildings or caves nearby, which at least gave them shelter from the cool night air. Far from the ivory palaces of Rome, Christ was born in the obscure little village of Bethlehem. There was no pomp or fanfare, only the sigh of the wind as it blew the autumn leaves across the dirt floor.
Once the Word became flesh, Satan focused his attention upon the earthly ministry of Christ. The battle raged for thirty-three years, climaxing in the forces of evil turning the tide of public opinion against the Savior, which resulted in His crucifixion.
Thus, the prediction was fulfilled that the seed of the woman “…shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.” At Calvary Christ bruised the head of the serpent. In the Hebrew the term “bruise” has the idea to crush. Any one who has been raised on a farm will be the first to tell you that those reptiles we call snakes are extremely difficult to kill. In fact, unless you crush its head it will normally go slithering away. While Satan crushed the heel of the Savior (a blow that would not prove to be fatal due to the resurrection of Christ) God utterly destroyed the Serpent at the Cross. Calvary drove the proverbial death nail in the coffin of “…him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Essentially, Satan was stripped of his power; therefore the believer is well served to remember that he is a defeated foe.
A MIRACULOUS EVENT
“God sent forth His Son, made of a woman….” Not just any woman—she must fulfill the word of the prophet—a virgin, one who anticipated the consolation of Israel. Based on Paul’s reference that Christ “knew no sin,” the apostle assumes that we understand that He was born of the virgin. The very premise of the finished work of Christ is based on the virgin birth. Clearly, there is no room for debate on this matter.
“Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall [miraculously] conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
The Scriptures announced the virgin birth through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah 750 years before it took place. He was the first to proclaim to Israel that the Redeemer would be born of a virgin. The Hebrew word used here by Isaiah is almah, which can refer to a woman who has never known a man, but it can also speak of a woman who has known a man depending on the context. Many of the modern translations render almah as “young woman” to avoid the thorny issue of the virgin birth. However, we believe this to be an inferior rendering in this particular context.
We must remember that this unique event would be a sign from Jehovah. Surely, a young woman who had known a man out of wedlock, though wrong, wouldn’t be that unusual. Consequently, the eye of faith would naturally conclude Isaiah meant a virgin who had kept herself pure from immorality. This would be the sign of signs. In addition, the Holy Spirit has built a safeguard into the biblical record, that our faith might be based upon substance rather than what some might call a questionable rendering.
Interestingly, if we compare Isaiah 7:14 with Matthew 1:23 it is quite obvious that Matthew is quoting Isaiah when he states: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child….” Here the Holy Spirit rolls out the sixteen-inch guns, as it were, to safeguard the virginity of Mary. When we move from the Hebrew to the Greek language the Greek word for “virgin” is parthenos, which categorically refers to a woman who has neverhad relations with a man.
The names given to our Savior also tell a tale of the uniqueness of His first advent. Isaiah writes: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Notice that Isaiah draws a sharp distinction between a child being born and a Son being given. The child points us to Christ’s birth, which speaks of His coming into human existence the night He was born in Bethlehem. His earthly name was to be “Jesus” (Jehovah saves), because He was to taste of every facet of human life, “yet without sin.”
However, when the prophet turns to the subject of the Son he is careful not to say He was born, but given. The Spirit’s sudden shift here in phraseology is significant. Since the Son of God is eternal He is said to be given to the world—”From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God” (Psa. 90:2 cf. Heb. 1:2). Consequently, His name “Immanuel” means “God with us.” These two names of our Savior join with a united voice to declare that “God was manifested in the flesh.” Although all this goes far beyond our comprehension, we nevertheless accept by faith that Christ was wholly divine and wholly human. And the virgin birth was the vehicle God used to accomplish this purpose.
This lays the foundation to show why the virgin birth is so important to God’s plan of redemption. The Apostle Paul emphatically states:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers [Gr. koinoneo has the idea to share fully] of flesh and blood, He [Christ] also Himself likewise took part of [Gr. metecho means to share in, but not fully] the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
This passage clearly states that the entire human race is completely identified with Adam’s sin (Gr. koinoneo). Years ago America’s young people cut their educational eyeteeth on the New England Primer.Today many in our country are willingly ignorant of the rich Christian heritage upon which this nation was founded. But thankfully, they are unable to silence the voice of the past. We find it of interest that early American school children learned their alphabet in the following manner:
“In Adam’s fall
We sinned all.
Xerxes the Great did die,
And so must you and I.”
Since the sin nature passes through the seed of the father, God the Father devised an ingenious plan to bring His beloved Son into the world without being contaminated with our sin. As we have seen, He accomplished His purpose through the miraculous conception and virgin birth. Our Heavenly Father, in His infinite wisdom, caused the Holy Spirit to so work in Mary that she conceived miraculously (Luke 1:35). Thus, when Christ “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men,” it was apart from sin (Gr. metecho). He was the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
God’s triumph over sin is inseparably bound to the virgin birth. If Christ was not born of the virgin it must be said that He inherited the sin of Adam. This would mean that the death He died on the Cross was a result of His own sins! Thanks be unto God, however, He was indeed born of the virgin and knew no sin that He might be our sin bearer. He died our death! Our sins and iniquities were laid upon Him that “we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).
MADE UNDER THE LAW
Paul adds to his statement here in Galatians that Christ was “…made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” It is often overlooked and rarely acknowledged that Christ lived and ministered under the Law of Moses. Thus, the narratives commonly called the Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are technically a continuation of the Old Testament. Before you set this article aside in disgust, consider a moment the accuracy of the apostle’s words that Christ was “made under the law.”
During the earthly ministry of Christ, the Master made a profound statement that He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. Furthermore, His followers were instructed by Him to obey those who sat in Moses seat (Matthew 5:17; 23:1-3). He told those that He healed to offer the proper sacrifice in accordance with the law (Mark 1:44). He also taught the law (Luke 24:44), and observed all the Levitical feast days that were handed down by Moses (John 2:23).
The law served as a schoolmaster to bring those under it to Christ, so they might be justified by faith. The purpose of the law was to give those under it a knowledge of sin; therefore it was a ministration of death and condemnation. The Scriptures are clear: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident…” (Gal. 3:10,11).
Thus, Paul says Christ entered the world, “…to redeem them that were under the law.” We are born to live, but He was born to die. That fateful night long ago will echo to the end of time this wonderful truth. Namely, the wooden feeding trough that the lambs frequented cradled the Lamb of God, who would one day hang upon an old rugged Cross. Why? That He might redeem “…us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
But what does all this have to do with us? Much in every way! First and foremost, we learn from Paul’s gospel that God’s plan of redemption wasn’t to be limited to Israel. Hence, Paul received a new revelation that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” Christ gave Himself a ransom for all (I Tim. 2:6). Moreover, the law, which condemned Israel, also pointed its bony finger into the face of the Gentiles declaring that we, too, were under the sentence of condemnation. Consider these solemn words:
“Now we know that what things so ever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). If God’s chosen people were unable to keep His righteous standard, should we suppose that we would have fared any better had the Gentiles been placed under the law? Christ has redeemed both, Jews and Gentiles, from the curse of the law. Today, then, we are saved by grace through faith alone! We walk by grace alone, and will one day be caught up together by grace alone!
So then, while God’s plan of redemption was gradually unfolded in time past, the Apostle Paul was given the secret of the gospel, which is Calvary. He is the first to reveal the significance of what God was doing in Christ. In other words, Paul explains why the virgin birth was essential, a provision was made for all at Calvary, forgiveness is through the blood of Christ, how we were redeemed from the curse of the law, etc. Although dispensational distinctions are extremely important, may the Lord also give us an understanding as to the importance of the connections between the two programs of God.