Are you thinking “The Law tells us about two kingdoms –that’s nice, I see what you’re saying. But practically speaking, isn’t it mostly to show people how to be good –and to avoid punishment?”
Like the parables, the deeper meaning of the Law is disguised so that only those who have the Spirit may better understand God and grow closer to Him.
Sure, on the surface it seems to describe what we must do to please Him –and what the penalty is for failure. But that’s to show us the severity and urgency of our need. It’s His message for salvation –to squash our independence –to sabotage our complacency –to draw us to Him for eternal life –and to launch us on a journey of faith in Him.
For those of us who are well along on our journey, the Law also provides shadows, or copies. They are pictures painted with words –elaborating the passion that motivated Jesus’ life here on earth, His death for our rebellious ways and His resurrection to give us that new life.
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; (Hebrews 9:23-24
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1)
Below are just a few prominent examples –I hope they will inspire you to search out and find more…
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. (Noted in Genesis 15.)
After their time in slavery was over, He 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 through 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 absolute insistence for them to enter and conquer the land.
According to its opening statement, that covenant’s purpose was to establish the Israelites as God’s kingdom of priests to the world. Living demonstrations were added in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy as vivid teaching aids for their ministry. The nation, as a whole, would be a blessing to the world by showing how to recognize Jesus when He came, what His life would accomplish and what His role was for the future.
God chose the Israelites to be priests to the world. The Law was their script for life –as though actors in a drama– to identify Jesus as mankind’s one and only Savior.
About those living demonstrations…
We believers read the gospels and accept their words as true –”Jesus is the Light, He is the Word of God, He is the Lamb of God, He is the true Vine, He is the Bread of life, He is the living Water.” But we know that He isn’t a bright lamp, or a loud shout, or a wooly animal, or a grape plant, or a baked morsel, or a refreshing drink…
Jesus didn’t come to do and be each of those things. Those are familiar things that describe who He is and what He has completed. That’s a vital understanding to grasp.
Through them God teaches us what is pleasing to Him –what His kingdom is about –that we all were separated from Him and needed to be joined with Him to have eternal life –and that it is all possible through faith in Jesus.
Similarly, the Law of Moses uses animals to demonstrate that death isn’t the end –it can be part of a new life. The tabernacle (with its special areas and utensils: curtains, basin, altar, incense, lamp, ark, veil…) charts out Jesus’ life, death and purpose. The Levitical priesthood models our relationships with God and with the world. And the feasts are annual reminders of what all God has done through Him.
He didn’t do it by simply keeping the Ten Commandments –those are merely the very first part of the Law.
The traditions of their covenant certified that Jesus was the Messiah by the life He lived. John the Baptist introduced Him to the people in Jerusalem as His first public Passover was nearing. That’s when John said “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (It’s in .)
Just a few days later He and His mother were at the wedding celebration in Cana. (The account is in John chapter two.) It was there that she asked Him to fix the shortage of wine –and He responded by saying that it wasn’t His time yet. He was referring to His death –correlating giving wine to complete that wedding to giving His blood to complete our wedding to Him.
There were two parts to that first miracle. We’re familiar with the water being changed to wine. But the other part is equally important. Those six earthen jars (that contained ceremonial cleansing water) hint about the need for one more. God completes His work with seven. The seventh one would be Jesus’ earthen jar –His body– filled with living water that would cleanse us forever.
Three (or so) years later –as His last Passover was approaching– He rode a donkey’s colt into the people’s presence on the day that was prescribed for every family to put their Passover lamb on display for inspection. (We celebrate it as Palm Sunday.) The inspection was to give everyone an opportunity to make sure that every lamb was perfect, without defect, innocent. During that period, the religious council brutally questioned Him –then Pilate declared Him (God’s Lamb) innocent. He was the first of those innocent lambs killed that day.
At the Passover meal every year, they were to recount the ten plagues put on the Egyptians. The first plague turned the river flowing with water into a river flowing with blood. It was a foreshadowing of the cross when He would be pierced with a spear. Like that river, and like the seventh (unmentioned) earthen jar that He hinted about at Cana, water and blood would flow from His body.
The last of the ten plagues was the death of all first-born males –except for those in dwellings where a lamb’s blood was on the doorway. Israel celebrated the Passover as a memorial of the blood that protected them from the Death Angel. Jesus was God’s first-born –His own Lamb– whose blood was shed for us to put on the door to our hearts. It’s a reminder that when God gives us new, eternal life, it’s permanent. It can never be given back, or lost, or taken away –not even by an angel.
As part of the Passover, the people were to rid their dwellings of leaven. It represents emptying their hearts of all superficial goodness –self-righteousness. They were to eat only unleavened bread –of which Jesus said to His disciples “This is My body which must be broken for you” and “Do this in remembrance of Me.” A few weeks after eating that meal (the Last Supper), God filled those believers’ hearts with His Holy Spirit –making them truly righteous. These harvest-events are still entries on their calendar. For believers, Firstfruits and Pentecost commemorate when He was raised and when the Spirit came to raise us to eternal life.
Their covenant –through its extensive rules– showed that everyone was separated from God. They were all guilty, or corrupted, or defiled, or unclean in some way. It might have been by coming in contact with something dead, developing a disease, mistreating a neighbor, touching blood (even in menstruation and childbirth). No one was innocent according to their Law.
That’s what the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was about. It’s when the whole community’s guilt was transferred onto a substitute whose blood was shed in their place. The high priest was the mediator (between man and God) who would sprinkle its blood on the ark in the Holy of Holies as a ransom payment. That entire scene predicted that the ultimate High Priest –Jesus– would present His own blood to His Father as the only acceptable payment for the guilt of our flesh (our sin-nature).
Of course the Old Covenant doesn’t plainly name Jesus as God’s Savior for all. But His Hebrew name “Joshua” does. It’s often pronounced Yeshua and it means “Jehovah’s salvation.” That meaning is laid out in the form of a prophetic preview. Remember, the last requirement of their covenant –the paramount requirement– was to enter and conquer the Land.
Jesus’ Hebrew name is Joshua –it means Jehovah’s salvation. When anyone asks “Who is the Messiah –Who is our Savior?” His response is “I am.”
Moses took the people up to the River Jordan’s edge a second time –after the rebels died during their forty-year wandering– but he wasn’t allowed to take them across and go in. It was Joshua who led that next generation out of death in the desert and into life in the Promised Land –where he had been before. The implication is that the old life must come to an end and a new one begin. The old was one of following the Law –the new is following the Savior by faith into the place that He came from –the kingdom of God.
The Old Covenant was a ministry of pictures that described Jesus –He is the only One who can save us. It also proves that no one else is Him.
This last part –proving that we aren’t Him– 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. Members from every family lined up in front of him with their complaints.
His father-in-law, Jethro, suggested a solution …which God approved. First, Moses was to set up a hierarchy of judges to hear their cases –he would only decide the most difficult ones. Second, Moses was to get some rules from God and present them to the people so they would know who was acceptable to Him. (From Exodus chapter 18.)
The rules were the Ten Commandments and they showed that not one of those complainers was qualified to complain –to judge another– because not one of them was good. The Commandments were given “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God” (from ).
The whole Law of Moses perfectly describes Jesus –it also shows that we aren’t Him.
His Father said “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 17:5). Only Jesus was able to close out the Old by accomplishing everything written in it. He dotted every “i” and crossed every “t.” It was time for a new priesthood to begin –one that didn’t need pictures of Him. The New Covenant would establish a ministry that explained all that He accomplished.