Christ in the Old Testament (Part V)

Christ in the Old Testament, Law, Theology

Christ in the OT 5 Christ in the Law

Christ and the Law

One of the chief concerns of the OT is to make sure that God’s people know about righteousness and morality. Righteousness and morality come to us through “law.” Confessional Reformed Baptists believe that the law of God can be divided into three parts: moral, civil, and ceremonial (London Baptist Confession 19.3-4). The moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments, and the other two kinds of law take up much of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Now is not the time to get into how these distinctions work, other than to say that in the last post we saw some examples of how ceremonial law are fulfilled in Christ via typology. In this post, we want to focus on how Christ is seen in, especially, the moral law.

The first thing I want to take notice of is that Christ himself was the Giver of the Commandments to Moses. Both Stephen and Paul say that the Law was put into effect through angels (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; cf. Deut 33:2). But Paul adds something interesting. He says that there was an intermediary here. “An intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (Gal 3:20). Since angels and God are the only two beings mentioned, it would seem that the intermediary is between them. If so, this would mean that Moses can’t be in mind, because as a man, he is below angels (for now; cf. Ps 8:5).[1] That is, he would mediate between humans and God, not angels and God. This otherwise inexplicable verse is cleared up when we understand that it is possible for such an intermediary to exist, since there is both unity and plurality in the Godhead. I believe the intermediary he is talking about is Christ himself, as he is found in the figure of the Angel of the LORD.[2] We will look at this angel in a future post. For now, it is enough to say that as the Giver of the law, Christ is thus in the OT in a profound way.

This becomes important when considering Christ and the Law from another perspective. It is the perspective that he himself gives in his Sermon on the Mount. Before preaching the greatest sermon ever on the moral law, Jesus begins by saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). Up to this point in Matthew’s book, every time the word “fulfill” has been used, it has meant that Jesus fulfills something from the OT (Matt 1:22; 2:5; 15, 17, 23 etc.), especially a prophecy or a type. In one of these instances, he is baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:15). There is a typological aspect to this fulfillment, but it is more even than that.[3] According to Deuteronomy 6:25, “righteousness” is directly linked to obeying the Law.  “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.”  In Matthew’s Gospel, it refers to good works or obedience (3:15; 5:10, 20; 6:1; 21:32).[4]

law scalesMany people have been deeply confused about what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount. Many think he is abolishing the law, overthrowing the OT law, intensifying old law, or putting “love” in as the great new law. Some even think he is a different god than the God of the OT, which is why understanding that he was the original giver of the law is so important. None of these things are true.[5] What Jesus is doing is teaching people:

1. What the law has always said,

2. Contrasted with what the Pharisees were teaching that it said,

3. In order to show that no man can keep the law perfectly (which the Pharisees were basically saying that they were doing),

4. Except for the One who “fulfills the law,” which is Christ himself.

In other words, the way we find Jesus in the moral law is to see that:

1. He is the original Law-Giver.

2. This law reflects God’s (and therefore Christ’s) holy perfect state of being.

3. Therefore, the law needs to be kept perfectly in order to inherit eternal life (this is the idea of the Covenant of Works).

4. Christ obeyed the law perfectly as a man, so that he might become a greater mediator than the OT prophets and priests (this is the idea of the Covenant of Grace).

His sinlessness (Heb 4:15) is the fulfillment of the law of God. The law was a tutor to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24).

With these lenses, suddenly we can find that reading those most tedious and (some think) boring parts of the OT—the Law of God—can be done in a way that points us beyond those laws to the one who gives us life through faith in his law-keeping done on our behalf. And this ought to make us profoundly grateful people that God does not require our own perfect obedience in order to have eternal life, while ironically, through this new life and the Holy Spirit, create in us new desires to keep and obey the very law–the law that was not abolished or passed away–that once held us captive through sin.

[1] For the difficulties on this mediator being Moses see F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1982), 175-80.

[2] See Michael Heiser, The Myth That is True, unpublished. (This book is soon to be published under two different names, one as an academic book, the other for lay people).

[3] See my book Waters of Creation: A Biblical-Theological Study of Baptism (Erie, Co: Waters of Creation Pub., 2009), 13-23.

[4] See Michael Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew: The Speaker’s Lectures in Biblical Studies, 1969-71 (London: SPCK, 1974), 262 and also my Waters of Creation, 11-12.

[5] None of this is true. See especially Greg Welty, “Eschatological Fulfillment and the Confirmation of Mosaic Law,” last accessed 8-14-2014; William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 288-383, and my sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount.

(By: Doug Van Dorn)

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