Are you thinking “Those two laws tell us about citizenship in the two kingdoms: life and death. That’s nice, I see what you’re saying. But aren’t the others, like the Law of Moses with its Ten Commandments, to show what God wants us to do and how to avoid His anger and disgust?”
It might seem that way, yet those Commandments present the same outcomes. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained that no one is righteous . . . no one’s decisions for life are truly right according to God’s standard of good and evil. Using murder and adultery as typical examples of mankind’s behaviors, He cited their deserved punishment: it was death (from Exodus 21 and Leviticus 20). Although we might not actually do those things, we think about doing them. So Jesus added that even those preceding thoughts are worthy of hell, eternal death (from Matthew chapter five).
That stringent death-penalty was to show the severity and urgency of our need for life through salvation. It’s His way of squashing our independence, sabotaging our complacency, drawing us to Himself for eternal life, and launching us on a journey of faith in Him.
For those of us who have realized its purpose and are traveling on our journey, that Law also contains shadows, or earthly copies, of the divine reality. 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 of these shadows. (I hope they will inspire you to search out and find more.)
It began with God’s three-part promise to Abraham. 1) His descendents would live in a land of their own. 2) They would be a blessing to the other nations. 3) And he would have many offspring; their number would increase during 400 years of slavery. (The first two are in Genesis chapter 12 and the third is in chapter 15.)
After their time in slavery was over, He selected Moses to lead that 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).
The Law for their covenant immediately follows . . . 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.
Those are only the fundamentals. Living demonstrations were added in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy as vivid teaching aids for their ministry. That 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 He would do in the future.
They presented the greatest dramatic performance ever. Its storyline provided a mirror for all to see a reflection of themselves . . . and the Israelites were all cast-members. Their roles consisted of the high priest who spoke directly with God (predicting Jesus), the priests who talked to, and were directed by him (that’s us believers), the Levites who helped with the teaching aids and taught the Law (others who indirectly teach about Him) and everyone else (they are the lost, our mission-field).
The Law’s imagery was something that could be grasped and passed on to others. Whether it was understood as being part of their tradition or history or morals or fables . . . didn’t matter. They didn’t need to know the deeper purpose. Their task was to keep teaching all of it to the next generation (from Deuteronomy chapter 11).
God chose the Israelites to be a priesthood (messengers) to the world. The Law was their script for living, as though actors in a drama, to show mankind’s need for eternal life and to identify His sole source for that life.
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 sound, 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. Instead, they are familiar things that describe who He is and what He has completed; they testify about Him.
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 sacrificial system used animals and plants to demonstrate that death isn’t the end, it can be the threshold to a new life. The tabernacle (with its special areas and furniture: curtains, basin, altar, incense, lamp, veil, ark . . .) 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 all that God has done through Him.
Many people were crucified like Him, even before the Romans. So how did Jesus fulfill the Law by His death? It wasn’t by simply keeping the Ten Commandments, they are purely the starting point . . .
The Law certified that Jesus was the Messiah by everything that He did. John the Baptist introduced Him to the people when He was 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 resolve 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 (the blood of the grape) for that wedding . . . to giving His blood for 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 that would be emptied to cleanse us; it wasn’t ready to be poured out.
Three (or so) years later, as His fulfillment of the Passover was approaching, He rode a donkey into the people’s presence on the day that was prescribed for each head of a family to put his Passover lamb on display for inspection. (We celebrate it as Palm Sunday.) The inspection was to make sure that each and every lamb was perfect, without defect . . . innocent. During that period, the religious leaders (with help from the Romans) brutally “inspected” Him. Then Pilate declared that God’s Lamb was innocent, but still had to die.
The Law stated that those innocent lambs were to be slaughtered just before dark (at twilight). It was only about three o’clock in the afternoon when Jesus died, but then the sky was darkened and the earth was shaken. The significance of the early darkening is that He had to die before the others as the prerequisite sacrifice for all. The Light of Men was returning home and would be leaving the world in darkness. And in effect, the earthquake was the result of His Father’s gavel striking His bench of judgment when He declared that justice was fully served, all punishment had been carried out.
At the Passover meal every year, before eating that lamb, 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, cleansing 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 put on the doorway. Israel celebrated the Passover as a memorial of the lamb whose blood protected them from the Death Angel. Jesus was God’s first-born, His own Lamb, whose blood was given 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.
All of the previous Passovers were previews of God sacrificing His own innocent Lamb to protect us believers from death.
Passover was the first day of the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. And that feast was preceded by the people ridding their dwellings of leaven. It represented emptying themselves of all superficial goodness, self-righteousness (like the fig-leaf coverings in the garden).
At His last supper, Jesus associated that unleavened bread with Himself, saying to His disciples “This is My body which must be broken for you” and “Do this in remembrance of Me.” A few weeks later God filled those believers with His Holy Spirit, true righteousness. These harvest-events are still entries on their calendar. For us, Passover, Firstfruits and Pentecost commemorate when He died, when He was raised and when the Spirit came as proof of God’s promised 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 shown by simply coming in contact with something dead, developing a disease, touching blood (even from a wound or menstruation or 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 ceremonially transferred onto two goats. The first was deemed to be God’s goat; it was the substitute whose blood was shed in their place. The other was released to wander freely; it was the scape-goat. The high priest was the mediator (between man and God) who would sprinkle the 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 judgmental sin-nature). It also predicted the release of the convicted murderer Barabbas (our flesh that escaped punishment).
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.
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 and reported about all of its goodness. 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 that predicted Him, the new is following the Savior Himself by faith into the place that He came from, the kingdom of God.
Chapter four of Joshua contains a subtle but noteworthy fact about their crossing. It was harvest season and the river was flooding, yet God held the water back so they could cross on dry ground. The priests carrying the ark remained in the middle. After the people reached the other side, a leader from each of the twelve tribes went back to where the ark was and took a stone from there to stack up as a monument in the new land. Joshua also stacked up twelve in the middle of the riverbed. Those monuments were reminders that God took them across and they couldn’t undo what He had done. In the same way, our entering His kingdom of life is final.
Jesus’ Hebrew name is Joshua; it means Jehovah’s salvation. That’s who our salvation comes from.
The Old Covenant established the Israelites’ ministry and its Law defined how they were to predict Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and purpose. His completion of all that the Law predicted continues to prove that He is the One who is qualified to save us. The Law also proves that no one else is qualified.
On the way to Mount Sinai the people had become unbearably judgmental, constantly arguing with each other. Members from every family lined up in front of Moses for him to hear and rule on their disputes.
His father-in-law, Jethro, saw how weary Moses had become and suggested a solution . . . of 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, he was to get some rules from God and present them to the people so they would know who was acceptable to Him. (This is in Exodus chapter 18.)
The rules were the Ten Commandments and they showed that no one was qualified to complain because not one of them was good . . . and neither are we. The Commandments were given “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God” (from ).
The Law of Moses (comparing human behaviors to God’s standard of good and evil) proves that all have displaced Him as the Judge . . . and so all deserve eternal death. That Law also perfectly describes Jesus as the One who saves by giving eternal life.
His life on earth was nearly over when 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” . . . and then He said “It is finished!” A new priesthood was about to begin, one that didn’t need dramas or pictures describing Him. The New Covenant would establish a ministry that explains all that He is and has completed.