The End of the Old Covenant, part 2

Jesus and the End of the Law

The coming f the Christ was foretold by many of the Old Testament prophets, and it was prepared for by the last and final prophet of the Old Covenant: John.  When the Christ came, he had several issues to resolve, they are:

1) What is it that God wanted in a man?  Jesus demonstrated what God had intended when he made Adam, and consequently is called the second Adam (1Cor. 15:22). Christ was the “image” in which man had been cast (Heb. 1:1-3). What God wanted in the Law of Moses was someone like Christ (Rom. 8:1-3). Jesus fulfilled the Law as God had wanted it fulfilled when he gave it at Mount Sinai (Matt. 5:17). What God wanted in the remnant he demonstrated in Christ, the true suffering servant (Matt. 12:17). He was what God wanted of the church that He was to establish (Eph. 4:12-16). He is the model for the new humanity that God intended to create in Christ (Eph. 2:15 ff.). God had intended for all humanity to have the character and personality of Christ from the very beginning (Rom. 8:29). As a consequence, Jesus needed to show that the Law was just and right and that man could, and should have kept it all along; He kept it as God had intended for it to be kept.

2) Jesus needed to re-interpret the Law placing things in their proper perspective. The Law had been intended to be the rule for the House of Israel, and not the guide for all mankind. If it had been, the specific ceremonies and one locationTemple would be inappropriate.  For this reason, Christ needed to set forth what ethic and duty would be when the kingdom came… He frequently contrasted what had been written with what he would bring, see Matt. 5:21 ff. Many of his teachings separated the principles contained in the Law from the specific statures.

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Matt. 22:36-39

Here Jesus shows the application of the principle: if you love the Lord your God, you must also love your neighbor, as God loves all men. Jesus understood that all Law must have a priority system that takes into account the conflicts that will naturally arise, and his biggest charge against the Jewish legal authorities was that they had no sane priority system, instead preferring to apply whatever Law made them look good, and the other fellow look bad. (Mark 7:1 ff.)

(Heb. 1:3) When He died on the cross, the last sacrifice was finished; it was for that reason he had come into the world (John 12:27-28). When the goal was achieved, Jesus ended the Law: 3) Jesus came to put an end to the Mosaic system by being its last sacrifice.

It is finished. (John 19:28)  In that moment the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matt. 27:51)

Paul interpreted the meaning of this:

…having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Col. 2:14-15

            The Law had outlived its usefulness and had actually been used to crucify the Son of God. As always, if anything that placed the mission of God, the relationship with His people, or the success of the relationship, it became a vile thing. The very Torah was nailed to a tree, and as Torah says, “Cursed be anyone that hangeth on a tree.” (Deut. 21:23) Jesus and the Torah, both servants of God were nailed to a tree. Jesus died for the sins identified by the Torah. When Jesus died, the Torah died with him. This is something that only Jesus could do, because He was God in a body (John 1:1, 14) and was therefore party of the first part in the Covenant; the Covenant was His to terminate and replace.

Jesus’ Covenant Orientation

The word covenant is not used much in the Gospels because it’s a given.  It is the only framework in which a religious discussion can take place, thus it need not be mentioned as pre-requisite. It was very clear however that significant tension developed between Jesus and the Jewish authorities because Jesus was intent on making significant changes in the three elements of the Covenant: the parties, terms and promises. Much of what He did in the Gospels is to demonstrate His authority to do so, and much is also said about each of these elements.

In the case of the parties, the Old Covenant parties are God and the blood descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Jesus had come to sweep that away:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:11-13

            Christ’s philosophy of covenant is similar to the Old Covenant in certain ways. He saw a covenant relationship as being about mutuality, but He held men responsible for evidence presented, and realized that words open men’s hearts.  Words opened hearts so that men could be born of the Spirit.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

John 6:63

            Jesus said several times that men who do not choose the blessings of God do so because they prefer the praise of men. In so stating, he indicates not that men are depraved, but rather holds them responsible for their choices:

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?

John 5:44

            Jesus also set about to change the terms of covenant. In so doing, His approach focused on the positive benefits rather than upon the penalties for breech. Whereas the Law focused on “Cursed be…” Jesus’ focus was on “Blessed are…” and the differences are striking:

Old

New

Cursed is the man who carves an image Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom
Cursed is the man who moves a boundary stone Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth
Cursed is the man who dishonors… Blessed are the merciful…
Cursed is the man who withholds justice Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness
Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person Blessed are  the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God
Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law (Deut. 27:15 ff. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil  against you because of me. (Matt. 5:1 ff.)

 

Jesus summed up all His ethical principles into one definition: Godliness was the sum of ethic… “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48) This is inadequate without a thorough description of what our heavenly Father is like, and Jesus provided that explanation. He described God as being much like an earthly father who loves his children. Our Heavenly Father loves His children and does well for them (Matt. 7:7). He lets His children go their own way (Luke 15:11 ff.). He welcomed home the prodigal son with joy and weeping. The best definition of God-likeness was Jesus; He and the Father were one (John 10:30). Jesus embodied God’s personality and character, Christ-likeness was God-likeness.

 

A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher

Luke 6:40

Our next post on Covenant will conclude this section about the end of the Old Covenant

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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