“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24)
Now Paul says the law was a guardian. In times past this term has been translated as tutor or schoolmaster. This makes the law seem as if it were just a teaching mechanism. It that was so then it is hard to explain why the term imprison is used. Being put in prison, locked up in jail doesn’t sound a bit like going to school. The word used is pedagogue. It denotes a strong, pedantic or dogmatic rule. This job was often assigned in Biblical times to a slave whose job was to make sure the young student got to class on time and did their chores and took care of their responsibilities. There is a taskmaster characteristic to the pedagogue. The law was not easy, it was not soft. The law was hard and harsh in many ways. The law was to keep the Jews in line, following its rules until the real teacher should appear.
Notice that the purpose of the guardian is temporary in the sense that it would only be needed until Jesus came. This tells us that the law was seen as time-limited and that its limit was until the Messiah arrived. This verse not only limits the law as to time but also as to effectiveness. Since the law could not justify the Jews (or anyone else for that matter) the guardian was in effect only until something that could justify arrived. Salvation by faith was a process known only through promise and not through law.
Paul has and is taking great pains to see that the limits of the law are fully understood by Jews and Gentiles alike. Again, he wants the fact that the law had an ending point as far as time was concerned and the fact that the law had a failure point as far as justification was concerned. Because the law could not bring about justification by any means it would not make sense for it to continue indefinitely.
Task for Today: Be glad that you are not under a strict guardian like the Mosaic Law. Praise God for His gift of justification by faith. Accept the grace that came through Jesus and cast all upon Him. The law has much to show us about sin and God but it will not, because it cannot justify us.