The Purpose of the Law (Old vs. New)

We view the law as the means to obtain or maintain justice –for good to win out over evil. That’s what we’ve been taught and wish was true; but all too often it doesn’t happen.

The previous article explained that laws actually describe how things work –and that includes the Bible’s laws. The two trees in the garden depict the two laws that God holds us accountable for. The tree of life corresponds to the law of the spirit of life –and the tree of death (being intimately familiar with judging good and evil) corresponds to the law of sin and death (from Romans 8:1-2).

Choose Between Living and Judging

Identified within those laws are two distinct eternal realms. One is life –it’s with God; the other is death –it’s separated from Him.

The living have believed God’s testimony about His Son. They have entered the kingdom of heaven through faith in Jesus. They have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of that eternal life. And that’s what the law of the spirit of life describes.

The dead have not believed His testimony about His Son. That is the sin that separates them from God. And that’s what the law of sin and death describes.

That second tree –the tree of death– is about judging what’s good and what’s evil. That was reserved for God. Yet Eve ate its fruit showing that she wanted His position –particularly His role of Judge. We were all born with judgmental ways. Our lives were founded on, and consumed by, the lust for justice. That’s a trait of a dead person.

There are two vantage points from which to view every law: what the governing authority intends and what those who are governed perceive.

God’s laws all describe Jesus –the One who gives life –the tree of life. Those same laws describe our natural state –separated from Him –products of the tree of death. They condemn us as law-breakers for a myriad of offenses. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6). They tell us that we aren’t God.

The Old Covenant’s Laws

It began with God’s three-part promise to Abraham. 1) He would have many offspring. Although there would be 400 years of slavery, 2) they would live in a land of their own. And 3) they would be a blessing to others.

While in Egypt, those offspring grew in number –so that they could fill the land. Then, after the time in slavery was over, God selected Moses to lead His chosen people.

They were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai when God made His covenant with them –and only with them. “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (from Exodus 19:3-8).

That covenant is recorded in Exodus chapters 19-23. It begins with the Ten Commandments and continues with laws about the fair treatment of slaves, personal property and injury, the Sabbath rest for the people and for the land, the annual feasts and many others. It concludes with His insistence for them to enter and conquer the land.

Pictures of Jesus

So, according to what’s stated in that covenant, its purpose was to establish the Jews as God’s kingdom of priests to the world. The title of priest for that covenant is equivalent to an ambassador for the New Covenant. Both contain the gospel –the good news of Christ. Really. Jesus is the subject of both covenants (Hebrews 4:2, 6 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

Their ministry was specified in great detail. The nation, as a whole, showed the world how to recognize Jesus when He came, what His life, death and resurrection accomplished, what He is doing now and what His role is for the future. (Those details are laid out in the study of the Book of Hebrews.)

Of course the Old Covenant doesn’t plainly name Jesus as the One who would be the substitute sacrifice for all. But His Hebrew name is Joshua –they pronounced it Yeshua –it means “Jehovah’s salvation.” His forerunner led the people out of death in the desert and into life in the Promised Land. It’s the Greek transliteration of His name that we use today.

The traditions of their covenant certified Him by the life He lived. For example, He rode a donkey’s colt into the people’s presence on the day prescribed for every family to put their Passover lamb on display to prove that it was perfect. He was killed three days later –on the same day and time when all of those other lambs were killed as a memorial of the blood that protected them from the Death Angel. John the Baptist was talking about Him when he said “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (from John 1:29-34).

The Day of Atonement described Him as the sacrifice who would pay for all sins. Their priesthood alluded to Him as the High Priest who would carry His own blood into the real Holy of Holies. He would go through the veil and present it to His Father as the only acceptable payment.

The Old Covenant was a ministry of pictures that described Jesus as being God. Their law required them to present those pictures –but pictures couldn’t save anyone. Instead they showed that mankind isn’t God –we need Him.

Our Condemnation

This last part –showing that we aren’t God– was the reason for the Ten Commandments. On the way to Mount Sinai the people had become unbearably judgmental –constantly arguing with each other. Every day Moses heard and ruled on their disputes. People from every family were lined up in front of him with their complaints.

His father-in-law, Jethro, suggested a solution (and God agreed). First, Moses was to set up a hierarchy of judges to hear their cases –he would only judge the most difficult ones. Second, Moses was to get some rules from God to avoid these arguments –and then state them to the people so that they would quit quarrelling with each other.

The Ten Commandments were to stop the bickering between people –each one thinking he was right and the other was wrong. (All by themselves they were judging good and evil –elevating themselves to God’s authority.) “The commandments were to shut their mouths and make them accountable to God” (from Romans 3:19-20).

The New Covenant’s Law

Jesus said that He is the One that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms described. The transition from the Old Covenant to the New took place when He died on the cross (Hebrews  9:15-17).

Except for a few bordering passages, that division in the Bible (between covenants) is after the gospels and before the book of Acts. (It’s not at the page between Malachi and Matthew that says “New Testament.”) The significance is that the gospels describe how Jesus lived out His life under the Old Covenant. That should make sense. After all, their ministry was to predict His arrival and His accomplishments.

Their covenant was conditional. “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (from Exodus 19:3-8). Notice the “If…” The Old is finished.

Christ’s Ambassadors

The New Covenant is God’s agreement with us who are born of the Spirit. We are ambassadors to the world telling them that Jesus is the way into the kingdom of God –the kingdom of heaven.

The law which describes this covenant looks past their pictures. It clearly says that He died once for all and by that death He removed all of the barriers between man and God. The only remaining requirement is to believe that it’s true.

God doesn’t remember our sins and lawless acts. He did –it was at the cross. He will never remember them again. That’s a quote from the Old Testament about what would happen after the Messiah came (Jeremiah 31:34).

Our Reconciliation

The message that we ambassadors are to always have ready is found in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. It says that God isn’t counting men’s sins against them. He took our sin so that we might become righteous in Him. Furthermore, we’re to let everyone know that God has reconciled us all to Himself. In response, we’re to reconcile ourselves to Him –that’s to quit trying to improve what He’s perfectly completed.

You’ve probably heard somewhere that the same 613 rules (laws, statutes, etc.) of the Old Testament are repeated in the New Testament so we’re to still follow them. Those laws have two purposes. (I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing this because it’s truly essential.)

Those laws describe Jesus as God –the One who gives life; and they tell us that we aren’t God –we need that life.