A Growing Problem
There’s a problematic infatuation that I’ve observed in Christian circles, which has seemed to grow with swift popularity, sort of like a Disney Channel pop star. This is no new problem, Paul spent a good portion of his epistles dealing with it, and yet, it still tantalizes, fascinates, and often misleads Christians. The problem boils down to this: Christians begin worshiping the bridesmaid, instead of the groom. Which bridesmaid am I referring to? Well, the one in the shadows, with the Jewish Garb and a Pentateuchal scroll under her arm; the gal that faithfully observes the Old Testament feasts, ceremonies, names, and customs. She has spawned a growing movement which teaches believers that YHWH intends us to still observe the Saturday Sabbath, call His son Yeshua, celebrate and observe the Jewish feast days, grow gnarly beards, and inculcate Hebrew law, diet and customs into their daily life.
My friends, this is a dangerous dance. The bride of Christ ought not to be so infatuated and caught up with the beauty of her bridesmaid, that she misses the glory of her groom. This error has been around, and taken several manifestations throughout history; however, it still remains an error, even if it has well-intentioned believers involved with it. In the late 1800s, many British Christians were convinced that Britain was one of the lost tribes of Israel, and that her monarchy was descended directly from King David. This led to a movement among Christians to embrace their “Isrealite-ness;” they became increasingly racist, adopting a mindset of superiority, and they were led astray into many unbiblical and arrogant errors. If you’re interested, you can read more here.
Nothing New Here
This notion of maintaing Israelite customs, ceremonies, and celebrations into the worship of Christ is nothing new. In the first century Church, Paul was already addressing it, and addressing it with all the gentleness of a two-by-four. “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you (Galatians 2:21-3:1)?” (See also: Phi 3:1-6, Eph. 4:14, Rom. 2:28, 2Pt. 2:18, Col. 2:8,18) The Galatian church was being enticed by the idea that, while Jesus died to satisfy God’s holy law and the covenant which ancient Israel was to keep, WE still need to please God by observing His law. As the Old Covenant handed off the baton of God’s redemptive purposes, many Jewish Christians felt the need to try to retain the vestiges of the Old Covenant in the New; or to put it another way, they wanted put new wine in old wineskins (Luk. 5:37).
Now, I in no way want to diminish the Old Covenant, and the glory of it. The giving of the law is one of the most incredibly glorious moments in all of scripture (Deut. 4); after the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and Creation, I think you could make a case that the giving of the Mosaic law was certainly a glorious and wondrous proof of God’s goodness and glory. However, if Moses begins to increase so that Christ decreases, we have a problem on our hands. I have no problem with the Old Covenant having a place in our faith, but I want it to be in its proper place. The Law has a role, but its role is not to usurp the place of the Bridegroom (Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24). When it does so, the Church must sharply rebuke that which is infringing upon the position of Christ.
How Christ Viewed the Law
In Matthew 5:17, Christ declares, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” This is important, and many who want to maintain these Hebraic traditions will point to this verse as Christ revealing that He intends His church to live under the obligations of the law. However, I think this misses the pith of what Jesus is saying. The word destroy here is the greek word, αταλύω katalyō. It means, surprisingly, to destroy, unravel, or abolish. It is the idea that at the end of a long journey you would untie (or katalyō) the packs, remove them and see them delivered to their proper place. So Jesus is saying, that he hasn’t come to untie the law and then get rid of it. To which those who want to embrace the Hebrew traditions, etc. nod gladly along. Nevertheless, it is the word “fulfil” or in the Greek, πληρόω plēroō, which causes the whole idea of embracing the Mosaic law to fall flat on its face. This word means, obviously to fulfill, but more emphatically it means to accomplish, or fill to the brim, or more profoundly to render complete and see the task carried through to the end. What Jesus is telling us is that we ought not to chop the Bible in half, because, “Hey, we ain’t under law, but under gah-race! Yeehaww.” The abuse of grace and the neglect of the law is another topic entirely, which I’m sure I’ll address someday. However, Jesus is getting across the idea–using his metaphoric journey-language–that on this task/journey of redeeming unto God a people, the Law of Moses is merely a part of luggage, and Jesus isn’t intending it to be lost cargo; He is, however, emphatically telling us that the luggage is not the destination. He is. The point of the Law is merely to be a part of the cavalcade which God uses to bring us to the destination of Christ. It helps us get there . . . but it isn’t there, Jesus is!
So, What Did Jesus Fulfil
So, perhaps it would be helpful to look briefly at the Law. I find it helpful to divide it two ways: the Moral/Creation Law and the Typical/Symbolic Law. The Moral Law is oftentimes understood as the Ten Commandments, and since Christ’s relation to the law is one of fulfilling not destroying we can recognize that we each have broken these holy edicts, and yet Christ did not. The Moral Law, mind you, was understood prior to Mt. Sinai, for it was already wrong to murder; this is why it is sometimes called Creation Law. The Ten Commandments are an outflow of God’s created order, which cannot be abolished or destroyed. Jesus did not destroy this “Creation Law.” However, He alone lived it out perfectly and now, resting in His Righteous work, we too may be accounted as righteous.
The second tier of the law would be the Typcial/Symbolic Law; therein is contained two “sub-categories” of laws: Ceremonial Laws (sacrifices, feasts, etc.) and Political Laws (judicial and civil issues). So, what do we mean, when we affirm that Christ did not “unbuckle” these laws and toss them by the wayside, but that He fulfilled them-or brought them to their intended destination? We mean that there is no more sacrifice for sin other than the blood of Jesus. We mean that the Sabbath is a person not a day. We mean that the feast of Passover is a shadow and a symbol, not the substance. We mean that Christ wants to deal with the plague of our heart, not just the icky and oozing plague spots, with a white hair in it in Leviticus 13:26. We mean that Christ is not concerned for oxen, primarily, but that He commands the church to serve and provide for the needs of her Pastors and Elders (1 Cor. 9:9-10). We mean that “What God hath cleansed, we should not call it common (Acts 10:15).”
The whole point of the Law is to help us see, discern, and cherish Christ. Not how well we can imitate this nomadic group of brick-makers, some 3000 years later. Paul elaborates on all this by explaining that the Israelites’ (who did a horribly inadequate job of keeping these laws, and then, in Christ’s time, had added hundreds of additional laws to help keep the law) “minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart (2 Corinthians 3:14-15).” Why then would we want to put a veil on what God has unveiled?! Why would we want to cloud, when God has “dispersed the gloomy clouds of darkness?” Why would we make obscure what God has made obvious? Why would we want to return to the midnight of pre-Christ Israel, when the Sun of Righteousness Himself has risen with healing in His wings (Isa. 60:1-3 & Mal. 4:2)?! Why would we, as the bride, adore the bridesmaid, when we have the Groom?
Now, we must remember, the Law IS a schoolmaster, a teacher, a servant–a bridesmaid of sorts–of Christ. But she isn’t Christ. The reason many become so infatuated with studying ancient Israelite customs, traditions, festivals, the construction of the tabernacle and the ordinances of diet is the reason why we as humans become infatuated with anything: our heart is prone to idolatry, like water runs downward. Notice the same thing happens with people who study end times, or soteriology, or manifestations of signs and wonders. . . they come to think that their salvation is found in knowing rather than believing. They are deceived into thinking that their righteousness is found in the extent of their knowledge and their intellectual grasp of that knowledge; but our righteousness, were it even to be found in us, would be counted as filthy rags. Is it good to know the law of Moses? Yes. Why? To show you your need to believe upon the name of Christ AS your righteousness.
So, the Moral Law, perfectly fulfilled by Christ, carries its role onward by showing man his imperfections. The Ceremonial Law, shows us how Christ was the spotless Lamb that takes away our sins; and so too, all the sacrifices, festivals, and articles of the temple are merely a shadow of the substance of the One who showed us the deeper meaning of these precious symbols. The Judicial Law, shows a Christ who judges with equity and though the certain civil laws applicable to ancient Israel have ceased, Christ still decrees civil order in every nation, and aims to bring all cultures under His sovereign sway.
We do not preach or study the law in order to curry favor with God. That is called self-righteousness. And though God’s law cannot be abolished (i.e. vanish into thin air), it IS fulfilled (or brought to its destination), which is Christ. So, study the temple if you please, but do it to know and worship Christ. Call Jesus “Yeshua” if you prefer, but love Yeshua and not the fact that you are pretty impressive at Hebrew pronunciation. Study the feasts, but treat them like you would treat the veil over the face of the Bride: look through it, not at it!
One final point, if Christ did intend His Church to keep the Old Covenant, then why did God go to such astonishing lengths to crush the visible temple to dust in 70 A.D.? Why was the veil rent in twain?! Why did God emphatically teach the New Testament church that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature (Gal. 6:15).” I have not said half of what I feel needs to be said on this point, but may Edwards’ words regarding this topic, shed Gospel-light upon the darkness of the Law’s mysterious purpose:
“Seeing it is thus abundantly evident by the Old Testament itself, that the things of the Old Testament were typical of the Messiah, and things appertaining to him, hence a great and most convincing argument may be drawn that Jesus is the Messiah; seeing there is so wonderful a correspondence, and evident, manifold, and great agreement between him and his gospel, and those types of the Old Testament. And as it is so plain by the Old Testament, that the ancient state of things amongst the Jews was all typical of the Messiah, and the Jews themselves acknowledge it: So it is a great argument, that Jesus and his kingdom were the end and antitype of these things, because presently after he comes and sets up his kingdom, God puts a total and final end to that typical state of the Jews, and all things appertaining to it, blots out all those types at once, and wipes them clean away, and poured the utmost contempt upon them, and covered them with the most dreadful darkness, and utterly destroyed, as by one great fatal and final blow, that whole typical world, and has now continued their abolition for so many ages, much longer than he did their existence, and has followed all that reject the antitype, and will cleave to the types, with so awful and continual a curse, and all this agreeably to the prophecies of what God would do, when the Messiah, this great antitype, was come.”