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9.5 Jesus and the Law of Moses
Jesus being the perfect sacrifice for sin and the ideal High Priest who could truly gain forgiveness for us, the old system of animal sacrifices and high priests was done away with after his death (Heb. 10:5-14). "The priesthood being changed (from the Levites to Christ), there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Heb. 7:12). Christ "has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry (i.e. just because a man was a descendant of Levi he could be a priest), but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life", which he was given due to his perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:16 N.I.V.). Therefore, "there is verily a disannulling of the former regulation (i.e. the law of Moses) because it was weak and useless. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope (through Christ) did" (Heb. 7:18,19 A.V. with N.I.V.).
It is evident from this that the law of Moses has been ended by the sacrifice of Christ. To trust in a human priesthood or to still offer animal sacrifices means that we do not accept the fulness of Christ's victory. Such beliefs mean that we do not accept Christ's sacrifice as completely successful, and that we feel that works are necessary to bring about our justification, rather than faith in Christ alone. "No man is justified by the law in the sight of God...for, The just(ified) shall live by faith" (Gal. 3:11 cp. Hab. 2:4). Our own steel-willed effort to be obedient to the letter of God's laws will not bring us justification; surely every reader of these words has disobeyed those laws already.
If we are going to observe the law of Moses, we must attempt to keep all of it. Disobedience to just one part of it means that those who are under it are condemned: "As many as are of (i.e. rely on) the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10). The weakness of our human nature means that we find it impossible to fully keep the law of Moses, but due to Christ's complete obedience to it, we are freed from any obligation to keep it. Our salvation is due to God's gift through Christ, rather than our personal works of obedience. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin (i.e. a sin offering, see N.I.V.), condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Thus "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13)
Because of this, we are no longer required to keep any part of the law of Moses. We saw in Study 3.4 that the New Covenant in Christ replaced the Old Covenant of Moses' law (Heb. 8:13). By his death, Christ blotted out "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us (by our inability to fully keep the law), and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross...Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink (offerings), or in respect of a religious festival, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the reality is Christ" (Col. 2:14-17 A.V. with N.I.V.). This is quite clear - because of Christ's death on the cross, the Law was taken "out of the way" so that we should resist any pressure put on us to keep parts of it, e.g. the feasts and the sabbath. Like the rest of the Law, the purpose of these things was to point forward to Christ. After his death, their typical significance was fulfilled, and there was therefore no further need to observe them.
The early Christian church of the first century was under constant pressure from the Orthodox Jews to keep parts of the Law. Throughout the New Testament there is repeated warning to resist these suggestions. In the face of all these, it is extraordinary that today there are several denominations who advocate partial obedience to the Law. We have earlier shown that any attempt to gain salvation from obedience to the Law must aim to keep the entire Law, otherwise we are automatically condemned for disobedience of it (Gal. 3:10).
There is an element within human nature which inclines to the idea of justification by works; we like to feel that we are doing something towards our salvation. For this reason, compulsory tithing, wearing a crucifix, reciting set prayers, praying in a certain posture etc. are all popular parts of most religions, Christian and otherwise. Salvation by faith in Christ alone is a doctrine almost unique to true Bible-based Christianity.
Warnings against keeping any part of the Law of Moses in order to gain salvation, are dotted throughout the New Testament. Some taught that Christians should be circumcised according to the Mosaic law, "and keep the law". James flatly condemned this idea on behalf of the true believers: "we gave no such commandment" (Acts 15:24). Peter described those who taught the need for obedience to the Law as putting "a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (as opposed to their works of obedience to the law) we shall be saved" (Acts 15:10,11). Under inspiration, Paul is equally outspoken, stressing the same point time and again: "A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ...that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified...no man is justified by the law...by (Christ) all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Gal. 2:16; 3:11; Acts 13:39).
It is a sure sign of the apostasy of popular Christendom that many of their practices are based upon elements of the Law of Moses - despite the clear and laboured teaching considered above that Christians should not observe this Law, seeing that it has been done away in Christ. We will now consider the more obvious ways in which the Law of Moses is the basis of present 'Christian' practice:-
The Catholic and Anglican churches blatantly use a system of human priesthood. The Roman Catholics see the Pope as their equivalent of the Jewish high priest. There is "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). It is impossible, therefore, that the Pope or priests can be our mediators as the priests were under the Old Covenant. Christ is now our High Priest in Heaven, offering our prayers to God.
There is absolutely no Biblical evidence that the authority possessed by the Spirit-gifted elders of the first century - e.g. Peter - was passed on to successive generations or to the Pope in particular. Even if the possibility of this were admitted, there is no way of proving that the Pope and priests personally are those upon whom the spiritual mantle of the first century elders has fallen.
The Spirit gifts having been withdrawn, all believers have equal access to the Spirit-Word in the Bible (see Studies 2.2 and 2.4). They are therefore all brethren, none having any more spiritually exalted a position than another. Indeed, all true believers are members of a new priesthood by reason of their baptism into Christ, in the sense that they shew forth the light of God to a dark world (1 Peter 2:9). They will therefore become the king-priests of the Kingdom, when it is established upon earth at Christ's return (Rev. 5:10).
The Catholic practice of calling their priests 'Father' (the 'Pope' means 'father' too) is in flat contradiction to Christ's clear words, "Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (Matt. 23:9). Indeed, Jesus warned against granting any fellow man the sort of spiritual respect demanded by modern priests: "Be not ye called Rabbi (teacher): for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Matt. 23:8).
The ornate robes worn by priests, bishops and other clergymen have their basis in the special clothing worn by the Mosaic priests and high priest. This clothing pointed forward to the perfect character of Christ, and, as with all the Law, its purpose has now been fulfilled. It is indeed heartbreaking,that clothing which was intended to extol the glory of Christ, is now used to advance the glory of the men who wear it - some of whom admit that they do not accept Christ's resurrection or even the existence of God.
The Catholic idea that Mary is a priest is grossly wrong. Our requests are in CHRIST'S name, not Mary's (Jn. 14:13,14; 15:16; 16:23-26). Christ is our only High Priest, not Mary. Jesus rebuked Mary when she tried to get him to do things for others (Jn. 2:2-4). God, not Mary, brings men to Christ (Jn. 6:44).
This, too, was part of the Mosaic Law (Num. 18:21), whereby the Jews were to donate a tenth of their substance to the priestly tribe of Levi. Seeing that there is now no human priesthood, it can no longer be obligatory to pay a tithe to any church elders. Again, one false idea (in this case concerning priests) has led to another (i.e. tithing). God Himself does not need our offerings, seeing that all belongs to Him (Ps. 50:8-13). We are only giving back to God what He has given us (1 Chron. 29:14). It is impossible for us to gain salvation as a result of our material offerings, e.g. in financial terms. In gratitude for God's great gift to us, we should not just offer a tenth of our money, but our whole lives. Paul set an example in this, truly practising what he preached: "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1).
The Jewish Law categorized certain meats as unclean - a practice adopted by some denominations today, especially regarding pork. Because of Christ's removing of the Law on the cross, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink" (Col. 2:14-16). Thus the Mosaic commands concerning these things have been done away, seeing that Christ has now come. It was he to whom the 'clean' foods pointed forward.
Jesus clearly explained that nothing a man eats can spiritually defile him; it is what comes out of the heart which does this (Mark 7:15-23). "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean'" (Mark 7:19 N.I.V.). Peter was taught the same lesson (Acts 10:14,15), as was Paul: "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself" (Rom. 14:14). Earlier, Paul had reasoned that to refuse certain meats was a sign of spiritual weakness (Rom. 14:2). Our attitude to meat "commendeth us not to God" (1 Cor. 8:8). Most incriminating of all is the warning that apostate Christians would teach men, "to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Tim. 4:3).