Are you thinking “Those two laws tell us about citizenship in the two kingdoms: life and death. That is plausible, I see what you are 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.
Using murder and adultery as typical examples of mankind’s horrific 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.
In this physical world, the Law separates the righteous from the unrighteous to serve as a preview of how end-time judgment separates those who have eternal life with God from those who are eternally dead to 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 started out with God’s three-part promise to Abraham. 1) His descendants 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 a solemn warning for them to take it all seriously—and then there are the Ten Commandments. It 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. And 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. The Israelites were all cast-members. Their roles consisted of the high priest who spoke directly with God (that would be Jesus), the priests who talked to, and were directed by him (us believers), the Levites who helped with the teaching aids and taught the Law (others who also 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 Son as the sole source for that life.
We believers read the gospels and accept their words as true—such as: “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 woolly animal, or a grape plant, or a baked morsel, or a refreshing drink.
He didn’t come to 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 pleases 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 was not 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 wrote about Him in his gospel saying “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5). A few verses later is the record of John the Baptist introducing Jesus to the people in Jerusalem as His first public Passover was nearing. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (It’s in John 1:29-34.)
Just a few days had passed when 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 was not His time yet. He was referring to His death, correlating wine (the blood of the grape) for that wedding—to His blood for celebrating our wedding to Him.
There were two parts to that first miracle. We are 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—and not just ceremonially. The time wasn’t right for that.
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 about three o’clock in the afternoon when Jesus died—then the sky grew dark and the earth shook. The significance of the early darkening is that the Light of men had left; He gave up His life before the others as the prerequisite sacrifice for all. 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 for sin 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 all of their water into blood, particularly the Nile. It was a foreshadowing of the cross when He would be pierced with a spear. Like that river, and like the seventh earthen jar that He only hinted about at Cana, cleansing water and life-saving 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.
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 excuses, 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 the Holy Spirit, His own righteousness.
All of the previous Passovers were predictions of God sacrificing His own innocent Lamb to protect us (our spiritual beings) from death.
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). A sacrifice was necessary for each one. No person was innocent according to their Law.
That is what the Day of Atonement was about. It’s when the whole community’s guilt (for sins committed in ignorance) 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 high priest (the mediator between man and God) would sprinkle its blood on the ark in the holy of holies as a ransom payment. The other goat was released to wander freely, but it couldn’t come inside the camp; it was the scapegoat.
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 (like our flesh that is allowed to continue on this earth, but can’t enter the kingdom of life).
Following right after the Day of Atonement was another feast: Tabernacles, or tents. It’s when the people were to build simple, temporary dwellings from commonly available materials. They lived in them for just one week—outside of their normal homes—to celebrate God’s protection (bringing them out of Egypt) and His provision (it was time to harvest the crops).
It pictured Jesus living here in a temporary, earthly body until everything in that Law was fulfilled—then He returned to His home. In the same way, we are living here in temporary, earthly bodies—waiting to go home with Him when we are ripe for harvest.
These harvest-events are still entries on their calendar. For us, Tabernacles, Atonement, Passover and Pentecost commemorate that He lived with us, died for us, protects us, and has given us the Spirit to stay here with us.
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—he died out there with them. It was Joshua who led that next generation out of death in the desert and into life in the Promised Land; it’s where he had been before and reported about 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 dying to the Law and 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 would 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. He saved us from death by giving us new life so that we will live forever with Him.
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. There were always some standing around Moses—waiting 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 decide only the most difficult ones. Then 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 began with the Ten Commandments; 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 Romans 3:19-20).
His life on earth was nearly over when His Father said “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased” (from Matthew 17:5). Only Jesus was acceptable and therefore 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 who He is and all that He has completed.