“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband'” (Galatians 4:26-27 ESV).
Paul the Apostle has spent the last few verses of Galatians chapter four in a comparison of the Old Covenant approach to salvation (represented by Hagar the bondwoman) and the New Covenant approach to salvation (represented by Sarah the freewoman). While this comparison is easier to grasp when we know the backstory behind these Biblical personalities, this reference to “the Jerusalem above…” in Galatians 4:26 may be more difficult to interpret.
We can turn to the following commentators for help in understanding this somewhat enigmatic reference…
“Jerusalem above represents the Jewish hope of heaven finally coming to earth (Rev. 21: 22). Since us all obviously refers to those who are free through faith in Christ (v. 7), Paul was strongly implying that the question at hand was not allegiance to Jerusalem, but allegiance to which Jerusalem—the new or the old? Would the Galatians follow the shortsighted present Jerusalem and its legalism or the liberty of the heavenly Jerusalem?” (1)
“Those who are citizens of heaven (Php 3:20) are free from the Mosaic law, works, bondage, and trying endlessly and futilely to please God by the flesh.” (2)
Paul then followed with a quote from the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “Sing with joy, you childless women who never gave birth to children. Break into shouts of joy, you women who never had birth pains. ‘There will be more children of women who have been deserted than there are children of married women,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 54:1 GW).
This passage establishes a connection to Abraham’s wife Sarah who was childless until God miraculously enabled her to conceive a son in her old age. The idea is that Sarah -the woman who was initially barren- would go on to produce many more spiritual descendants than the woman who conceived as a result of a human-oriented plan.
Therefore, she represents those who receive salvation in Christ and thus become citizens of heaven. As another commentator observes…
“In the allegory, Sarah represents that city of freedom in the heavens; thus all her children, with Isaac as the heir of promise representing them, are likewise heirs of the promise and therefore free.” (3)
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1525). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ga 4:26). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(3) Dr. Henry M. Morris, The New Defender’s Study Bible [Galatians 4:26] https://www.icr.org/bible/Gal/4/26