The Purpose of the Law


Aren’t laws supposed to make people live by justice and fairness –so that good prevails over evil? That’s what we’ve been taught and what we mostly wish was true. But can following them really make God pleased with us?

Choose –Living or Judging

The previous article explained that laws (even those in the Bible) can’t force anything to happen. Rather, they describe how things work. This first becomes evident in the account of the Garden of Eden. The two trees In the middle of it depict the two laws –the only two laws– to which God holds us accountable. The tree of life corresponds to the law of the spirit of life –and the tree of death (being judges of good and evil) corresponds to the law of sin and death (from Romans 8:1-2).

Those two laws identify the two, non-overlapping, eternal realms. There’s life and there’s death. Life describes being forever united with God as the bride of the Lamb –satisfied and content in His loving presence –in His kingdom. Entering that realm is the result of believing the testimony about His Son. Death describes being independent, self-sufficient and separated from Him. Residing there is the result of not believing. It’s where we began. (The Amplified Bible clarifies what it means to “believe” by including “trust in, rely upon, cling to.”) It’s what Moses was talking to the Israelites about when he said “Today I set before you life and death, now choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). That life is what’s pleasing to Him.

By the way, judging over what’s good and what’s evil was reserved for God. Yet Eve ate its fruit and exposed her envy. She wanted His position of Judge. We were all like her. It’s proved out by our judgmental ways. As citizens of the realm of death, we were consumed by the lust for justice. But now we can choose to put judging back into His capable hands and trust Him to work everything out for our good (from Romans chapter eight).

The Old Covenant’s Law

Every law can be viewed from two vantage points. There’s what the people who are governed perceive the law’s intent to be –and there’s what the governing authority actually intends to achieve. In the earlier example of rules for driving in a school zone, we might see those rules as more burdensome constraints on our freedoms even though their intent is to keep children safe. It’s the same with God’s laws. We think of them as standards demanding pure thoughts and altruistic behaviors so that we can be on good terms with Him. But let’s try looking at the Old Covenant’s law as a description –a descriptions of His salvation.

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

After their 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 rules 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 Israelites as God’s kingdom of priests to the world. Their ministry was specified in great detail. The nation, as a whole, would show 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 “Understanding the Book of Hebrews.”)

The traditions of their covenant certified that Jesus was the Messiah by the life He lived. For example, the day that He rode a donkey’s colt into the people’s presence was the day prescribed for every family to put their Passover lamb on display. It was to prove that the lambs –particularly God’s Lamb– 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!” (It’s in John 1:29-34.)

At the Passover meal they were to remember the ten plagues put on the Egyptians. (That people represents rebellion toward God.) The first was water becoming blood. Jesus correlated wine with blood –so when He told His mother that it wasn’t His time yet, He was speaking of His death. He hinted about that time by transforming six earthly jars that were filled with water for ceremonial washing into jars filled with wine. It was a foreshadowing of His blood which would truly cleanse our vessels before our wedding to Him –the Lamb. A few years later, at His death, He was pierced with a spear and water flowed from His side –followed by His blood. It was the fulfillment of that first plague. He told the Apostles that He wouldn’t drink any more wine until they were with Him at the heavenly marriage feast.

The last of the ten plagues was the death of the first-born males for those who didn’t have lamb’s blood on their doorways. He was God’s first-born whose blood was shed for us to put on the door to our hearts so that we can live forever with Him. As part of that Passover, the people were to rid their dwellings of leaven. It represents ridding one’s self of air that puffs up –self-importance, self-righteousness. They were to eat only unleavened bread –of which Jesus later said “This is My body which must be broken for you.” Fifty days later, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit breathed air –new life– into the believers.

Through their covenant everyone was shown that they were corrupted (or defiled) in some way. It might have been by contacting something dead, developing a disease, mistreating a neighbor, touching blood (even in menstruation and childbirth). No one was “innocent” according to the law.

Then there was the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which required an innocent life to be given up as a substitute for the “guilty.” The law described Jesus as the sacrifice who would be the ransom payment for all. Their priesthood showed the need for a high priest to be a mediator between the people and God. It alluded to Him as the true 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.

Of course the Old Covenant doesn’t plainly name Jesus as God’s Savior for all. But His Hebrew name “Joshua” does. They pronounced it Yeshua –it means “Jehovah’s salvation.” It’s laid out in the form of a prophetic preview. Moses took the people up to the Jordan, it was Joshua who led them (and the aliens among them) out of death in the desert and into life in the Promised Land. Remember, the last requirement of the covenant was to enter it –to step by faith into the kingdom.

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 single 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 the arguments –and then state them to the people so that they would quit quarreling 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…” Jesus’ death finished the Old.

Paul was explaining the transition when he said “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (from Galatians 3:22-26).

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 desperately need that life.