Monday, September 24, 2007

Jesus and the Law of Israel

The law is a broad, expansive topic that we could easily spend weeks or months or even years studying. This time, we are going to look at two issues:
1) How the sacrificial laws relate to Israel and to Jesus Christ
2) How the law relates to the church

Animal Sacrifices
One of the key issues that we need to understand is the role of animal sacrifices for Israel. The Bible is very explicit that a properly administered sacrifice would “make atonement” and secure “forgiveness”

Levi 4:20 (NKJV) ‘And he shall do with the bull as he did with the bull as a sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.

Levi 5:13 (NKJV) ‘The priest shall make atonement for him, for his sin that he has committed in any of these matters; and it shall be forgiven him. The rest shall be the priest’s as a grain offering.’ “

Seventy-three times in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, atonement is used in reference to animal sacrifices. How did these sacrifices “atone” for sin and secure “forgiveness” in light of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice?

Down Payment?
A frequently heard answer is that animal sacrifices were “down payments” until the sacrifice of Christ. However, a down payment is a partial payment. This would mean that animal sacrifices paid for some sins and Christ paid for the rest. This is obviously incorrect. Jesus Christ did not pay for some of sins. He paid for all of our sins.

Hebr 10:12 (NKJV) But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,

Another frequently heard answer is that the word atonement means “covering.” Thus, the animal sacrifices atoned for sin in that they covered sin until complete atonement was secured through the death of Christ. Temporary forgiveness was earned through sacrifice until complete forgiveness was secured through the death of Christ.

However, this answer is inadequate. The word atonement does not mean “to cover.” It means “to appease” or “to expiate.” This fits with the idea of forgiveness. The language of atonement and forgiveness of sins is inescapable. So, what kind of “appeasement” and “forgiveness” did the Animal sacrifices bring?

Animal Sacrifice vs. Christ’s Sacrifice
Comparing the atonement of the animal sacrifices with the atonement of Christ reveals their differences. The value of the atonement of animal sacrifices was temporal, finite, and external. In contrast, the value of Christ’s atonement is eternal, infinite, and internal.

1) Temporal vs. Eternal
Animal sacrifices need to be repeated.

Hebr 10:11 (NKJV) And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

Animal sacrifices had to be repeated because they did not offer lasting benefits. Any benefit from animal sacrifices was only temporary or temporal because they did not permanently take away sin.

On the other hand, Christ’s sacrifice is eternal because He died once for all time.

Hebr 10:12 (NKJV) But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,

It does not need to be repeated because the benefits last forever.

2) Finite vs. Infinite
Animal sacrifices were finite because the sacrifices were only good for particular sins. The daily sacrifices, such as the sin offering and the guilt offering, were only good for one sin. They had to be repeated for each sin, as often as necessary. Likewise, the Day of Atonement only covered the sins committed for the previous year.

Hebr 10:3 (NKJV) But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

On the other hand, Christ’s atonement is infinite because He paid for all of the sins of believers.

Hebr 9:28 (NKJV) so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Christ’s sacrifice is good for all of our sins that we have ever committed or ever will commit.

3) External vs. Internal
The animal sacrifices were external in that they did not necessarily produce a changed heart. On the other hand, the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice are internal. God regenerates believers, giving us a new heart.

The Purposes of Animal Sacrifices
There are at least two purposes for animal sacrifices.

1) Atonement and Forgiveness on Earth
If properly administered, the sacrifices provided a temporal, finite, and external exemption from physical death on earth.

Animal sacrifices provided temporal atonement in that they only excused the sinner from immediate stoning or burning, but they did not excuse him from eternal damnation. Forgiveness was temporal not eternal.

Animal sacrifices provided finite atonement in that they only excused the sinner from the immediate physical death of one sin at a time (the sin and guilt offerings) or one year at a time (the Day of Atonement). Each new sin required a new animal sacrifice. Forgiveness was finite not infinite.

Animal sacrifices provided external atonement in that they only pardoned the sinner from the external, physical consequences of sin, but had no impact on the sinner’s eternal destiny. Forgiveness was external not internal.

In summary, we might say that animal sacrifices were good for earthly atonement and earthly forgiveness. They allowed a sinner to remain alive on the earth.

In contrast, Christ’s sacrifice is good for heavenly atonement and heavenly forgiveness. It allows a sinner to remain alive in heaven.

2) Foreshadowing Christ’s Sacrifice
The author of Hebrews refers to the sacrificial system as a shadow.

Hebr 10:1 (NKJV) For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.

The sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s death on the cross. Each animal sacrifice pointed to Jesus Christ. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer a need for animal sacrifices.

The Law and the Church
Is the church under law? We can answer this in two ways, depending upon our understanding of law.

Our English word “law” generally reminds us of rules. “Do this” or “don’t do that.” While rules are important, they don’t encompass all that God means by the word law.

Law comes from the Hebrew word Torah, which means “instruction.” When God gave his Torah to Israel, it did not just consist of a list of rules. Torah is not merely a legal code or a rule book. Torah includes much more.

The first five books of the OT are called the Torah. Yet, a perusal of these books shows that they are not all rules or “law.” Furthermore, even in the sections where there are heavy concentrations of “law” (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), God never gives just a list of rules. He intersperses history, prophecy, poetry, songs, and other genres of literature.

Thus, if we take a narrow understanding of Torah (rules, “laws”), then we will be mistaken when we speak of the Torah. It is much better to think of the Torah as instruction, part of which includes rules.

We err when we think of the Torah as a rule book. The Torah is not a rule book; it is a covenant book. The Torah is the instruction of God to Israel concerning their covenant together. We call this the Old Testament or Old Covenant. The Torah is the Old Covenant instructions for Israel.

Jesus Fulfills the Torah
Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant.

Matt 5:17 (NKJV) “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

Jesus did not come to do away with or to simply destroy the Old Covenant. He came to fulfill it. He lived a perfect life and died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant.
A Change of the Law
Because the Old Covenant is fulfilled, the church is not under the Old Covenant. As the author of Hebrews states:

Hebr 7:11 (NKJV) Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.

The priesthood has changed from the sons of Levi to Jesus Christ. A change in priesthood requires a change of the law, a change in Torah, a change in covenant.

You are not under law
Thus, we should be able to say with Paul,

Roma 6:14 (NKJV) For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

We are not under the Old Covenant law. We are no longer required to sacrifice animals. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, as Paul later states:

Roma 10:4 (NKJV) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

The Old Covenant law has ended. Jesus Christ has fulfilled it. We are not under law.

You are under law
At the same time, we are under law. Paul calls this the law of Christ.

Gala 6:2 (NKJV) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

One of the first things we notice is that Jesus repeats many of the commands of the Old Covenant. In fact, Jesus even summarizes the entire Old Covenant:

Matt 22:36 (NKJV) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 “This is the first and great commandment.
39 “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Old Covenant is summarized by loving God and loving your neighbor. So, the essence of the Old Covenant is retained in the New Covenant. As Jeremiah prophesied:

Jere 31:31 (NKJV) “Behold, the days are coming, says Yahweh, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah--
32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says Yahweh.
33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

The Old Covenant law is still present in the New Covenant. It has been transformed (e.g., the sacrificial laws are not literally binding).

Nevertheless, the church is now charged with bringing God’s law to the nations. Jesus makes this clear in the Great Commission.

Matt 28:18 (NKJV) And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Part of making disciples is teaching them to observe all things that Christ has commanded.

In previous weeks, we have seen the pattern that the promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ, expanded to the church, and are spreading throughout the world.

Israel → Christ → Church → World

The descendents, or seed, of Israel was fulfilled in Christ, then expanded to the church, and are now spreading throughout the world.

The temple of Israel was fulfilled in Christ, then expanded to the church, and is now spreading throughout the world.

The land of Israel was fulfilled in Christ, then given to the church, and now encompasses the world.

The law of Israel was fulfilled in Christ, then given to the church, and is now taught throughout the world.

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