Israel was under Roman rule on account of their former rebellion against God. When Christ was born, He submitted Himself to the consequences of Israel’s sin, in the same way that He—though He knew no sin—identified with Israel in undergoing a baptism of repentance for Israel’s sin.
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). The Apostle Paul wrote this glorious statement in order to impress the idea that all of human history centers on the person and saving work of Christ. Time was made for Jesus Christ. “The fulness of time” also refers to the two ages–the present evil age of this fallen world (Gal. 1:4) and the new age of life in the Spirit (Gal. 3:14). This is most notably connected to the Old Covenant era of the law and the New Covenant era of the gospel. To be sure, the gospel runs throughout the Old Testament (Gal. 3:8) just as it shines in its full light in the New Testament; however, Paul explains that the Old Covenant law (specifically, the ceremonial law) was a provisional adaptation for redemptive history that is now tantamount to “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:9-10). Jesus came into the world to usher in the eschatological world to come. This is certainly the theological rationale Paul had in mind when he spoke of Jesus being born “in the fullness of time.” However, there is another explanation regarding the timing and civil circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ to which we ought to give consideration. Luke gave the historical details about the political climate of Israel at the time of Christ’s birth, when he wrote,
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1-7).
Three things surface when we meditate on this statement. First, Israel was under Roman rule on account of their former rebellion against God. When Christ was born, He submitted Himself to the consequences of Israel’s sin, in the same way that He–though He knew now sin–identified with Israel in undergoing a baptism of repentance for Israel’s sin. Craig Glickman observes,
“When he was born a citizen of Israel, He took all of the responsibilities of that citizenship. He observed its laws and ceremonies. He even submitted to the consequences of Israel’s sin. It’s easy to overlook this. But, for example, as a citizen of Israel, Jesus was under the rule of Rome. And yet the forfeiting of self-rule by the nation was a direct result of her disobedience to God in the past. So, in a very real way, Jesus had accepted the consequences of Israel’s sin in yielding to Romans rule…he had taken the consequences of their sin upon Himself in submitting to Roman rule.”1