In the last chapter we discussed the Mosaic or Levitical system which is often referred to simply as “The Law”. The Mosaic system was good and righteous and perfect(1). Rom. 7:12 But it was limited because humanity was powerless to adhere to the standard it represented. In fact, God gave the Law to his chosen people as a divine object lesson demonstrating that none of us are able to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. In other words, Israel was given the law to demonstrate to the world that mankind is unable to satisfy this holy standard(2).
Recall from our earlier discussion that there was a delay of approximately 2000 years from the garden to Mt. Sinai while the patience of God was tested. He ultimately determined that a standard of righteousness (law) must be given so that we could recognize the depravity of our own hearts…hence the law.
So, the law demonstrated our inability to live up to the holiness of our Creator and when the failure was realized, an animal was offered to atone for sin and guilt. The weakness in meeting the law’s demands was atoned for by the priesthood and sacrificial system which foreshadowed Messiah’s work on the cross. This was God’s intent from the beginning (his foreknowledge), to demonstrate our inability to meet the laws demands and thus point us back to his covenant of grace first revealed to Abraham – the father of our faith Rom. 4:16.
Sons of Abraham
We still may ask, how exactly does the law of God point us to Christ? We know that our ancestor Adam as the representative of the human family led us into sin and rebellion against the creator. This created a dilemma because we would now need a new human representative or champion who could reverse the curse introduced by Adam. But in addition, this new representative must have some objective standard of holiness, a method for determining the success or failure of his mission.
Hence, Jesus Christ was the only one who fulfilled the law’s righteous demands, so he was the only possible hope the human race had for meeting its requirements and restoring that which Adam had lost. This is the reason Jesus had to be fully man and fully God.
The New Testament makes the point that both Adam and Jesus were representatives of the human race. Adam led us into sin and depravity but Christ leads us into righteousness and glory. Let’s look at several passages…
The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.
1 Cor. 15:45-49
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
Hebrews 2: 14–18
Notice the reference to “descendants of Abraham” above. This is another way of saying believers in Christ are joined into the Abrahamic covenant, heirs to the promise, grafted into the olive tree, part of the royal priesthood. Yahweh introduced his covenant of grace to Abraham long before the law as a prophetic shadow of that which was to come.
These passages from Hebrews shed light on why Christ is our champion, the only unblemished human to ever live, the one who could pay the price for our failures. So we look to Christ as payment for our transgressions and to put us in right relationship with our Creator; he truly is our champion (the unblemished lamb of God).
And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.
Let’s be honest shall we? In spite of everything we’ve covered to this point we still sense a compulsion to strive and perform, do we not? It’s important to recognize that we live in the midst of dual competing realities. We are living in the transition period between the destruction of the kingdom of this world and the full manifestation of the kingdom of God.
Living in the tension between these two kingdom realities manifests itself in numerous ways, one of which is the urge to perform and earn the right to eternal life. But consider that if righteousness could be obtained through the law or through my own goodness, then Christ died in vain. Yet we might still struggle, believing God wants us to strive in obedience to the law even though it represents an impossible goal.
So the law is still here, but as believers we are not subject to it. Then who is subject to the law and when does the law disappear?
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.
As I consider various passages in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually takes the law to a much deeper level probing the hidden motivations and depths of our hearts. Consider these verses:
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Math. 5:22
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Math. 5:28
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. Math. 5:39
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Math. 5:44
If we thought the law of Moses was hard, Jesus brings it from an external code of conduct into our hearts, absolutely eliminating any possibility of our achieving it in our own strength. That is the whole point, to leave us accountable to our creator and to seek him at the Cross of Calvary. When we understand the law’s purpose (pointing us to Christ), things tend to come into focus.
But he also says something else interesting about the law.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
We have been saying in the last two chapters that the law reveals our hearts and thereby should point us to Christ. But have we considered that the law also shines a light on the heart of Jesus? What do I mean? Since all the law and prophets are embodied in these two commandments of loving God and our neighbors, Jesus perfectly demonstrates his heart toward the father as well as toward fellow human beings.
Remove The Veil
For me, “removing the veil” summarizes this next section as the fog begins to lift from my mind and I begin to glimpse all that God has done for me.
When we come to Christ, several amazing things happen to us related to the law. Let’s begin by identifying them and then we’ll break them down.
- My old nature was crucified and I am made new.
- The judgment or code written against me has been cancelled.
- I have been taken out of the Mosaic covenant and placed into the covenant of Abraham.
- The veil has been removed.
The Old Man: Consider our condition before Christ redeemed us. We were lost, without hope and without God, foreigners to the covenant and the promises. We had broken the law of God and we were under its curse. Furthermore, the law enforced the curse because it judicially and accurately declared us guilty. The old man had to die and according to Galatians he did.
When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away.
So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
ll Corinthians 5:17
Judgement Against Me: Now that the old me has died, the power of sin which is the law l Cor. 15:56 no longer has control over me. This brings us to the next point. The code which stood against me has been cancelled.
But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.
He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
So the law is crucified to us and we are crucified to the law. We must understand the value of the charges being dropped. Those charges are what the adversary uses to accuse and condemn us. Notice that Paul tells us in Colossians that those charges were nailed to the cross and the spiritual rulers have been shamed and disarmed. We are free from the judgment of the law. Please do not miss the truth of this scripture – we are free from the law’s condemnation.
Welcome to Grace: Thirdly, we have touched on this before, but it bears repeating briefly since it is the major theme of this study. As Christ has fulfilled all that was typified by the Abrahamic covenant, we have now been joined into that wonderful covenant of grace.
And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.
The Veil Comes Off (Song by Avner & Rachel Boskey)
Lastly, another wonderful thing occurs as we come to Christ. Remember that after spending time in the presence of Yahweh, Moses had to veil his face because the people were afraid. This veil hid the radiant shekhinah glory of God, and the people only saw an image of God through Moses as the lawgiver. The veil hid his ways, his glory and his character. God’s true majesty was veiled behind a set of rules and an imperfect priesthood.
But the peoples minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.
But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
ll Cor. 3:14-18
Paul uses this as an illustration to show how turning to Christ removes the veil of the law, and we begin to see the glory of Christ which was previously obfuscated by the law. It is a remarkable experience to begin growing in him and have the veil lifted to see the law and the prophets in a new light.
A Slave by Choice
Removing the veil is closely related to the idea of “freedom in Christ”. Multiple scriptures reference the freedom in Christ believers have, but may I ask, “What are we free from?” or even, “What are we free to become?”
If you take the time to consider, in context, the below scriptures you will discover Paul is talking about freedom from the Mosaic law.
ll Cor. 3:17; Gal. 2:4; Gal. 4:5; 4:12; Gal. 5:1
But he doesn’t just set us free to carry on as we please. On the contrary, we are set free so we can become slaves. Slaves of God and of Christ.
Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
It’s also worth noting that the letters of Romans, Philippians, Titus, James, ll Peter, Jude and Revelation all open with a salutation alluding to either a slave or bond-servant of God or Christ Jesus. Being a slave of God is the best life of freedom we could ever experience – yet again, another one of those biblical paradoxes.
Where do Paul and the other New Testament writers pick up this idea of voluntary slavery? Consider this reference from Exodus.
“These are the regulations you must present to Israel. “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him.
“If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave and they had sons or daughters, then only the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.
Let me emphasize that it is only in Christ that the veil can be removed and the power of the law broken! For those who are not in Christ, the veil of the law remains in force because it is only removed in Christ. This helps explain why many people look at the gospel as a set of rules and not a relationship because that is all they see – the veiled face of Moses, the lawgiver.
So when is the law ultimately removed? Not yet, because its work such as convicting of sin and pointing people to Christ is not yet complete. Jesus prophesied in Matthew 5 that the law would be removed when the heavens and earth disappear – so when is that? In Revelation 20 and 21 we read:
And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
What does all this tell us? The law as a tool is good and perfect for its intended purpose(s) one of which is in pointing us to Christ. At the final judgment all the purposes for which the law was intended will be fulfilled, and it along with the heavens and earth will disappear. There is quite a bit to digest in this chapter, if I could condense it into a sentence it might be,
“The veil has been removed and I now live as a child of Abraham in voluntary slavery to God.”
Things are now beginning to get interesting. In the next chapter we turn our attention to the priesthood and we will meet a very interesting character.
Meditation and discussion
How would you explain the difference between the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenant?
What does it mean for you that the veil has been removed?
(1) The law is in fact very good because it points us to the cross. To understand this more fully, please review Romans 3:20 and 7:7-14.
(2) There were other reasons for the law of God besides what is discussed in the chapter, but our focus in this chapter and book is in dealing with our own personal journey with the Lord.