Subversion and Distancing by Law Chapter 4 From Jesus to Religion

Chapter 4

Subversion and Distancing by Law

“For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified” (Rom. 10:4). RSV
Our beginning point will be the symbol of the old covenant Law or Scripture. We will begin by making the bold statement that revelation did away with the Old Testa-ment Law (Torah) and Scripture by encompassing its essence and superseding it by personifying it in the living symbol of Jesus. It was the reinstatement of the old and lifeless symbol of Law (written code) that marked the beginning of the subversion of the faith and a return to religion. This is not to say that the Law does not reveal God, for it surely does.

Furthermore, the Old Testament Scripture is useful for a number of things. It can aid us in understanding God as long as it is interpreted in light of the more complete revelation of God in Christ. It can also aid us in making ethical choices, though the decisive factor is the Spirit of Christ. Surely, the Scripture with its great stories of faith gives us encouragement (2 Tim. 3:16, Rom. 15:4). However, we need to remember when it comes to revealing God, the Law reveals Him in a hidden or veiled form, giving us only a shadow of His essence. It did this through the sacred symbols of mediation we find in the Old Testament, the old covenant itself being one of the sub-symbols of the Old Testament Scripture. These symbols were given to point to and foreshadow the final and complete revelation of God, which is Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment and the end (goal) of all Old Testament symbols. For once the reality has come, there is no need for the shadow to remain (Rom. 3:21, 10:4, Heb. 8:3-6, 10:1-4).
The truth that Jesus was the end and fulfillment of the Law was not a truth immediately grasped by the disciples or the early church. However, as time passed (at least 15 years) and the church began to expand into the world of the Gentiles (the people of the world), serious questions began to arise as to the relationship of the Old Testament Law and the Gentiles. Over a decade passed before the Law and its religion would be brought under the scrutiny of revelation and viewed anew through the Christ event. This may help us to understand why some time passed before the church developed a theology regarding the relationship of Law and Gospel. It simply was not an issue until the church began to invite the world to join it in the Christ event. At that time, the church was forced through circumstances to look at its religion and the religion of its fathers, in light of the revelation of Christ. The result of this shook the pillars of the Jewish religion. The conclusion of the Christian movement was that none of the symbols of its religion could be bound on the people of the world. These symbols included the Law itself, holy days, priesthood, circumcision, holy places, etc. (Acts. 15:5-12).
For many today, a similar crisis is dawning. For the primitive church, it was a question of whether their Jewish religion could be separated from their faith in Christ. Some decided it could; others decided it could not be separated from their faith; the latter ended up either subverting the faith or returning to Judaism. The question today is, can we separate our religious things from our Christ things? Will we listen to the Spirit as many did in the early church or will we revert to law and institutions? Will we allow others the time and freedom to make Christ a part of their culture, or will we impose our institutionalized religion and our mummified traditions on them? Do we dare let the living Christ out of our institutionalized religion as the early church did?
As the result of the early church’s decisions, we see in the first century a general and progressive movement away from religion toward a new and radical way of approaching God. It was the way of faith apart from religion. In fact, it was not new, for this was the way it all began with a man named Abraham (Rom. 4). Abraham had a relationship with God apart from the mediation of Law or Scripture – in other words, apart from organized religion. However, shortly after the death of the apostles, we begin to see a movement back toward religion. This movement back to religion began when the church turned back to the old covenant symbol of Law (100 to 200 A.D.). As time went on, the old covenant symbol of Law was expanded to take in all the creeds and traditions of the church and became known as Canon Law. During this earlier period (100 to 200 A.D.) there was some resistance to the reinstatement of Law, but for the most part it was accepted with little resistance. The reason for this ready acceptance of Law probably came as the result of the chaos that had entered the church after the death of the apostles. Because of this, the church began to be filled with wandering charismatics and disorderly members. Therefore, it seemed logical and expedient to return to Law. Besides, there was still a large Jewish element in the church that exercised a great influence on the entire church. This group had never totally abandoned their religion and would feel comfortable with this movement to reinstate the symbol of Law into the faith. Plus, the Roman culture that the church had moved into was steeped in Law. All this made it all too easy to return to the symbols of Law and religion, thus, subverting the faith and distancing the people through a symbol of mediation (Law or religion).
The consequences of reinstating the symbol of Law in the Christian movement were many. One of the major consequences was the impression that man not only had to believe in Christ for salvation, but he had to also practice the right religion in order to be saved. In other words, one would have to conform to human beliefs and traditions. It is to this that the apostle Paul spoke when he said, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus. 3:4-5). Some have interpreted the phrase “righteous things” to mean good deeds in general, but it is obvious from the context Paul is talking about the practice of religion and the attitude that religion is going to somehow save you. This self-righteous attitude of right religion has now been translated into the “right church” mentality that is so prevalent in the Christian church today. Religion may have a number of practical benefits, but it will never save anyone. Good religion may lead one to revelation and therefore salvation, but one will never find salvation in religion. Salvation is only in revelation (Jesus).
It would be safe to say there is good religion and bad religion. Good religion is whatever we do or believe that brings us closer to God. Bad religion is whatever we do or believe that distances us from God. If I had my choice, I would hope that I would choose good religion. However, good religion will not save anyone and bad religion will not condemn anyone, unless it blinds one to revelation, which it has the propensity to do. The only thing that counts in Christ is faith that works through love (Gal 5:6). Religion counts for nothing. Religion at its best can only be one’s interpretation of revelation. Therefore, religion is the private property of the individual and should never be bound on others, and no one should get so serious about his religion that he allows it to separate him from his brothers in Christ. I think we all need a little more practice in distinguishing between religion and revelation – in other words, distinguishing human deduction from the facts of the faith. We need to recognize when people or institutions impose their deductions on others, those deductions become nothing more than human laws and constitute a return to Law (religion).
Here we need to remember to be cautious in interpreting the Scriptures with a Western mindset that sees an ethical meaning in the word Law. In some passages, it does carry an ethical meaning, but in many it simply means religion. Religion, in this context, means the Old Testament Scriptures and the system of ritual that grew out of them. One can be saved without religion, but one cannot be saved without ethics. We are not saved by our ethics, but we are saved unto an ethical life in Christ. When one has a right relationship with God, one will begin to live like Jesus. Anyone who does not live the ethical life of Jesus cannot be a Christian (1 John 1:6). The ethical life of the Christian centers on Jesus and is embodied in love for his brothers in Christ. However, being saved does not necessitate one being religious. In fact, you could say for the Christian, that Christ is our only ethic and our religion. For those wishing to study further the relationship of law and religion, I would recommend the following: Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People by E.P. Sanders and Jesus, Paul, and the Law by James D.G. Dunn.

The Mediation of the Law

The Law is both a symbol of mediation and actually a mediator between God and man. In other words, the Law stands between God and man, increasing the distance between the two. However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find that it is clearly stated, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). In Christ, the lifeless mediator of Law has been replaced by the living and life-giving mediator, Jesus Christ. It is in the one mediator, Jesus Christ, God and man are united. In fact, all of humanity is potentially united in this one symbol of unity and peace. When the symbol of Law is added, it shatters this oneness, distancing God from man and dividing mankind. In view of the division in the Christian church, we would have to conclude that the symbol of Law is still very much a part of the mentality of the majority of Christians. This becomes even more obvious when you consider that creeds and theological systems, when accepted as absolutes, are nothing more than laws, whether verbal or written.

In view of what has been said about the Old Testament symbols of Law and Scripture, one would expect to find a great deal of information on this subject in the writings. In fact, this is the case. The New Testament is filled with teachings that address the relationship between the Law and revelation (Christ).

In keeping with the flow of thought, I feel one of the best texts in the New Testament for our study would be one that uses the analogy between a veil and religion. It may surprise some to learn that the apostle Paul used this analogy in a very similar way to our usage. He does this in 2 Corinthians, the third chapter, where he makes a contrast between the old way (Jewish religion) and the new way of faith in Christ.

Paul said; “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Paul here affirms that believers do not just read the Bible about the work of God. Like their Lord, they are the word and work of God. Through the power of the Spirit, they are becoming the word and are experiencing the work of God in their own lives. In fact, all men can see God at work in them as He transforms them into the image of His Son. In truth, they are becoming living Scripture. In other words, they are becoming living symbols of the will and presence of God. Therefore, the Church is thus not only receiver of the Word of revelation, but is itself revelation and Word of God. Only in so far as it is itself Word of God, can it understand the Word of God. Revelation can be understood only on the basis of revelation. The Word is in the Church in so far as the Church is the recipient of revelation. But the Word is also itself Church, in so far as the Church itself is revelation and the Word wishes to have the form of a created body. (Christ The Center, Bonhoeffer, pages 5859)

The apostle Paul goes on to say, “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:1-5). If we approach this passage using symbolism as our mindset, we find Paul contrasting the effectiveness and meaning of certain symbols. The contrast is between the old covenant or Law, which to the Jews was a symbol of God’s presence and acceptance, and the new covenant symbol of God’s Spirit-filled people, which also symbolized God’s presence and acceptance. In this, Paul is pointing out that the very presence of the Christian community is in itself a symbol of God’s presence, acceptance, and in this case, a witness to Paul’s own ministry. In making this contrast, Paul is pointing out that the new covenant along with its symbolism is superior to the old. He also tells us why it is superior. The reason is the old is based on the symbol of Law (letter) and the new on the symbol of Spirit. He infers in this, the Spirit is greater than the Law (letter) for without the Spirit, the letter is powerless and ineffective. For the law (written code) is in itself a lifeless symbol that has no power to impart life; therefore, he characterizes law (religion alone with its sacred books) as leading to death, for the law has no life in itself. Thus, it cannot impart life. However, the Spirit is life-giving because it is alive and imparts life to all who receive it through faith in Christ. In Paul’s thinking, it seems life must come from life and death comes from death or the lifeless. Therefore, one receives either life or death from one’s absolute. In this context, Paul is telling his readers if they choose as their absolute the lifeless symbol of Law [religion], they will die, for there is no life in that symbol. In saying this, his plea is for them to put their faith in the quickening symbols of Christ and His Spirit and not in the lifeless symbols of religion.

Beginning with verse seven of the text, Paul begins to sharpen the contrast between the ministry of the new covenant which he says imparts the Spirit and life, and the old covenant which is a ministry of the letter (Law) and imparts death. (Also note Galatians 4:1-4). Under the old covenant, Moses and the Law were symbols of mediation that stood between God and the people. Under the new covenant, Christ and the Spirit are the only mediators between God and His people. Paul goes on to say, “Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts” (2 Cor. 3:7-11).

In this section, Paul reminds his readers that when Moses came down from the mountain after receiving the Law (Ten Commandments), his face was reflecting the image or glory of God. Then upon returning, we find Moses putting a veil over his face so the people could not look directly at the image of God being reflected by his face. In this act, Moses was symbolizing what God was doing in the act of giving the Law. God was in this act veiling Himself in the Law and putting the Law and Moses as mediators between Himself and the people. Thus, the people were limited in having a personal relationship with God. However, under the new covenant, which is Christ, the veil has been lifted and believers can know God and have a personal relationship with Him in and through the God-man Jesus Christ. Unlike the new covenant, the old covenant was founded on the principle of human mediation. Therefore, it could not impart life, because no human has life in himself or herself to impart to another. Thus, Moses and the Levitical priesthood could only impart Law, which is as powerless to impart life as the human mediator who gives it. Thus, law can only be a symbol of the distancing of God from the people. In contrast, the new covenant, which is Christ, is founded on the principle of Spirit and because the Spirit has life in itself, it has the power to impart the Spirit (life) that leads to oneness with God and a sense of God’s immediacy. The Spirit then reveals God in the believer, which in turn allows and helps the believer to understand the true intent or spirit of the law. Therefore, the new covenant surpasses the old in glory, for through it, the Spirit is imparted and remains in the believer by faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:2-5). Thus, under the new covenant, the believer begins with faith and abides by faith and that leaves no room for religion (Law) and its works of righteousness (Titus. 3:5). In addition, the new covenant through the power of the Spirit reveals God to the believer and through the believer to the world, something that the old did not have the power to do.

Furthermore, from observing verse seven of this section (2 Cor. 3:7-11), we see the ministry of Moses, which included the Ten Commandments, is referred to as a ministry that brought death. The Ten Commandments formed the basis or the foundation of the entire old covenant. It was when Moses received the Ten commandments from God that his face began to reflect the glory of God. But gradually, that glory faded away. Paul here uses this fading glory in the face of Moses to illustrate what was happening in the transitional period he and the early church lived in. In this period, the superior ministry of the Spirit had come and the ministry of Moses and the Law [religion] was fading away (v.11). There was a time when Moses and the Law did reflect God, though in a veiled way, but now God was being reflected in a much fuller way by His Son and in the believers through the Spirit that dwells in them. Under the old covenant the cry was to the Law and to the testimony (Isa. 8:20), but under the new, it is to Christ and the Spirit. To the believer, Jesus is the only Law and the only testimony.

From the overall context of 2 Corinthians, chapter three, we can then infer that the written code is no longer a symbol of the presence of God, nor is it able to impart life for it has no life in and of itself. Therefore, neither the Law nor Scripture can symbolize or mediate the presence or acceptance of God. At their very best they can only be viewed as witnesses who point us to Christ; who is the Living Word that gives life to all who come to Him through the word of His testimony, which imparts the Spirit. In Christ, all Christians, like the Corinthians are becoming the embodiment of Scripture through the power of the Spirit even as the Lord Himself was the embodiment of the Old Testament Torah. It is in the believers’ hearts and lives that the Word of God is effective and becomes living and active and is read by all men. Some may not read the written Scriptures, but they cannot help but read and see God personified in the lives of His people even as He was in His Son.

It is the Christian community, filled with the Spirit that is now becoming living Scriptures that are read by all men. It is through this living Word of God, that is, God’s people, that the veil of religion is lifted allowing man to see and seek God. “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to do this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:13-18).

In the above, Paul continues to build the contrast between the two covenants by pointing out that Christians are not like Moses who veiled the glory of God, but rather they reflect God’s glory by reflecting the glory or image of Christ who is the image of God. When men looked at Moses, who symbolizes the revelation of God, they could not see a clear image of God because of the veil (religion, Law) he had over his face. Paul likens this to people reading the old covenant. He says that when they read it apart from Christ, their minds are darkened. Is this not the case today, when men try to understand God through the system and greed of the Christian religion? Only in and through the symbol of Christ alone can one have a clear understanding of God’s nature or glory. In view of this, the Old Testament should always be interpreted in light of the Christ event and the New Testament Scripture. Therefore, the New Covenant, with its symbols of Christ and His Spirit-filled people supersedes the symbols of Moses and the old covenant Scripture. In other words, revelation supersedes all religion. In a very true sense, the Word of God is God embodied in His Son and His people. Today, in this New Testament period, God’s glory or image is being powerfully reflected in the face of Christ and His people, which are the living symbols of the new covenant.

From the above we can understand that God revealed Himself in a veiled form in and through the old covenant (Law or religion) and its symbols of mediations. In contrast, He now reveals Himself fully (to those seeking Him) in and through His Son and His Spirit-filled people. It is now the work of the Spirit to first reveal Christ in His people and then reveal Christ to the world through His people. The gospel, which is the bearer of the Spirit, is embodied in all believers and is in their mouths and in their hearts and is heard and read (seen) by all men (Rom. 10:7-18). It is through the living Scriptures of His Spirit-filled people who God now draws near to man. When the symbol of Law is added, God is distanced from the people and the faith is subverted.

Moreover, we see in the reinstatement of Law the first step in the evolution of the Jesus movement from a simple faith and way of life, to a religion that has exceeded all others in its complexities and institutionalization.

From Jesus to Religion Chapter 2 A Forest of Symbols

A Forest of Symbols

“ Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8-10).

One of the main linguistic tools we will be using in our study of the contrast between religion and revelation is that of the symbol. In recent years, scholars have come to understand the importance of language in all areas of life. Language is the key that unlocks the door to what it means to be truly human. Along with this increased interest and understanding of language, there has been a corresponding increased interest and understanding of the importance of the uses of symbols in human communications. Increasingly, many scholars are coming to believe that symbols are not only the key to understanding much of the human language, but also the key to understanding the whole of the human enterprise. The importance of symbols can be seen in the statement of one author when he says, “To live is to live symbolically.” He said this because he realized humans live in a forest of symbols. In fact, he believes they are symbols themselves. Our very consciousness and identity are created and shaped by the symbols of our culture. Bernard Cook adds to our understanding of the importance of symbols when he says,

“For it is now becoming clearer that symbol is not something that humans use occasionally and for the most part aesthetically, even artificially. Rather, symbol is of the essence of all thought and all language. Even more basically, the very model of existing, which is distinctive of humans is symbolic; we are more than ‘symbol-making beings’ as Cassirer and Langer have insisted, We exist symbolically because the spiritual dimension of our being ‘speaks’ itself-though never with complete satisfaction-in our bodily-ness.”
“All this impinges strongly on the study of symbols, for inner consciousness, even on the level of the subconscious, is shaped and animated by symbols. More than that, the entire process of consciousness being translated into communication as a basis for society is a process of symbolizing. And conversely, the shaping influence of culture and society upon an individual’s inner existence is exerted through symbols of one sort or another.” The Distancing of God by Bernard J. Cooke (page 296, 299)

From Cooke, we can gather somewhat the importance of symbols, but we have yet to define a symbol. A symbol may be defined as “a word or object or thing or action or event or pattern or person or concrete particular…Representing or suggesting or signifying or veiling…Something greater or transcendent or ultimate: a meaning, a reality, an ideal, a value, an achievement, a belief, a community, a concept, an institution, a state of affairs.” The Power of Symbols in Religion and Culture F.W. Dillistone (page 13)

In the same section, Dillistone goes on to point out that the function of a symbol is to bridge the gulf between the world of the abstract and the concrete. In religion, the symbol is used to bridge or bring together physical facts and metaphysical truth without compromising either. Therefore, symbols are used to explain the unexplainable, yet never completely. Thus, the symbol always involves mystery, wonder, and paradoxes. This may help us to understand why God’s final and complete revelation of Himself is a person—in other words, a living symbol and not a written law. This could also be the reason why the New Testament witness has come to us in the form of story and not law as the Old Testament Torah. The God of Heaven and Earth could never reveal Himself through propositional truth. We cannot reduce God to a logic syllogism or lock Him in the narrow chambers of human reason and imagination. The only way one will come to know God is through reflecting on the symbol that mediates His image and presence, that is, His Son Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, sometimes this one true symbol of God gets lost in a forest of religious symbols that we humans have made. I would like to think that man has done this out of ignorance. However, both Old and New Testaments bear witness to the fact that man has knavishly and knowingly subverted the symbols of God. The reason for this is obvious; man does not want to live in the presence of God nor in the presence of the pristine revelation of Jesus Christ. The simple truth is that man does not love the truth. He loves darkness instead of the light. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John. 3:19). In this passage, light stands for revelation, and Jesus confirms the fact that the majority do not want to live in the presence of revelation. So what does man do? He hides from it in a forest of religion and its symbols. We see this rejection of revelation in the story of Adam. When Adam sinned, he also hid in the forest from God. In this act, Adam prefigures the entire human race that would hide from God in its religious systems and symbols.

However, man’s hide-and-seek game with God has far-reaching consequences. For the forest he hides in, not only hides him from God, but also from his fellow man and his very self. The forest divides men religiously, politically, and culturally. When the apostle Paul speaks about the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14), he was making reference to the forest of religious symbols that separated Jews and Gentiles. He points out to his readers that this forest of symbols has been done away with in Christ. In Christ, God has cut down the forest of religious symbols that keeps people divided religiously. He did this by replacing, or in many cases, subverting the existing symbols by changing one or more of their levels of meaning. All the symbols in the old order that spoke of the presence of God or symbolized His presence were subverted to point toward Christ as their fulfillment and their end. The master symbols of religion that fit this category are the symbols of mediation such as sacred laws, places, times, and priesthood. Before the coming of Christ, these religious symbols stood for or symbolized the presence of God and the unity of His people. However, after Jesus’ coming, they stood for the absence of God and division, which is the very antithesis of God. These religious symbols still stand as a dividing wall of hostility between religious people.

In the fore mentioned case of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, it was the sacred “master” symbols of Law, sacred days, priesthood, and sacred places that formed the dividing wall of hostility. Jews could easily accept these symbols. However, Gentiles could not easily accept them for they had no inherent meaning to them because these symbols were tied directly to the history of the Jewish people. But now that God had invited the world to become His people, the symbols of God’s acceptance and presence would have to change. The new master symbols would be Christ Himself and His spirit-filled people. In order to do this, God would have to create a new history with new symbols. This He did by raising His Son from the dead. In this mighty act, God created a new world and a new humanity. He invites all of humanity to join His Son in a new exodus out of the old order into the new; an exodus out of religion into Christ. This exodus will be completed when His Son returns from on high to lead His people into the glorious freedom of the children of God. “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John. 3:2). When Israel left Egypt in the first exodus of God’s people, there were many who were intimidated by their new freedom. Thus, they wanted to return to the security of bondage in Egypt. If you remember, this happened when Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Because he tarried too long, the people longed to return to Egypt and its gods. Was this not a foreshadowing of what would happen in the Christian movement? When Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to the Father, he inaugurated a new exodus, an exodus out of religion. However, like the Hebrews, we find the people (Christians) were intimidated by the freedom they had in Christ and grew anxious over the fact that their Lord had tarried longer than they had expected. So many of them went back to religion and to the making of religious symbols, very similar to how the Hebrews had made the golden calf. God’s call today is for our generation of Christians to take up where the first generation of Christian left off: that is, in an exodus out of religion into the freedom of the children of God.

As we look anew at God’s new master symbols, we find that both of these, Christ and His people, are what we might call living symbols which are the most powerful symbols, for they are flexible and can fit into any cultural venue. This flexibility should be expected, seeing that God has invited the world to join His history. God’s history is no longer a history of a people, but rather a history of one man who now represents the new humanity that has been created by His resurrection from the dead. God now invites all to join in the history of His Son, which He is taking on to perfection in Christ.

Moreover, these living symbols of Christ and His people have the power to impart life, which other symbols do not have. “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John. 6:63). No symbol, even the sub-symbols of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, have any life in themselves but rather point to the work of Christ and His life giving Spirit. Only Christ and the Spirit have the power to impart life. Even the symbol of the Bible apart from the Spirit has no power to convey life (2 Cor. 3:6). Regrettably, the church has often eclipsed the quickening symbols of Christ and His Spirit with the lifeless lesser symbols of ritual and form, at the same time claiming that this is Christianity perfected.
The implications of all this are incredible. The symbol of Christ among His people symbolizes that God is among His people. Not only is He among His people, but also He has accepted them in their sin, forgiven them and has given them the Spirit to deliver them from the bondage of sin and religion. This was all enacted and symbolized in the life of Jesus when He ate and fellowship at the table with sinners. Therefore, the symbol of Jesus in the world is symbolizing that the world has become a theater of God being with man and for man. Moreover, the symbol of Jesus as the Godman symbolizes and foreshadows the unity of God and man in the new humanity; Jesus Himself being the first fruits of that new humanity (1 Cor. 15:22). Therefore, in the resurrection of Jesus we have a promise and a preview of where God is taking humanity. “For we shall be like him” (1 John. 3:2).

Another incredible implication is that man no longer has to hide from God in a forest of religious symbols, for he no longer has to try to justify himself before God or man. For in Christ, God has accepted him and forgiven him, not because of his religiosity, but because of God’s grace and the work of Christ. Because God has delivered him from the need to be religious, He in the same act has broken down the religious wall that separates man. Therefore, man has been reconciled not only to God though Jesus, but also to one another. Consequently, we must conclude that the division in the Christian church is an indication of just how far religion is from God. The Christian church, especially in America, is the direct opposite of revelation and its division is a symbol to all the world of its disobedience and its distance from God.

Here we need to ask this question. If Christ has removed the symbols of religion that divide men, what would be the consequence of reinstating the old symbols or symbols like them? The answer is obvious: division. When men have symbols in their belief system, other than divinely authorized ones, there will be division. For people will insist that others acknowledge their symbols in order for them to be acceptable. This is why the reinstating of unauthorized religious symbols is condemned so strongly in the New Testament. In the book of Galatians we find a group of Christians contemplating reinstating the symbol of Law into the Christian movement. In turn, the apostle Paul warns them, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Not only does Paul give this astringent rebuke, he goes on to reinforce the fact that the main symbol in the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:4-6). In this text we find that the only authorized symbols in the Christian movement are Christ, faith, and love. The symbol of circumcision, which is the symbol of the Law, has been negated in Christ. Law is never unauthorized Christian symbol, unless it is used as a symbol of Christ Himself, for He is the new Torah.

All other symbols of law must be rejected. Symbols like creeds, human traditions, and theological systems must not be imposed on believers as law. Even the New Testament Scripture must not be symbolized as law, for it is pure grace when mixed with a spirit of faith. Those who symbolize or image the New Testament Scripture as law will find it very difficult not to lapse into legalism. For the power of the symbol will negate and overcome any verbal effect to proclaim freedom from law. The symbol of law is one of the most powerful religious symbols because it has a cosmic counterpart behind it and is linked with the spiritual powers of sin and death (Rom. 7:7-25, 8:2, 2 Cor. 3:6-18, 1 Cor. 15:56,57, Col 2:13-15). Therefore, the symbol of law should be dealt with thoughtfully in the Christian movement, lest we crucify the Lord anew and insult the Spirit of grace (Heb. 6:4-6, 10:29).

There also are some psychological consequences to reinstating religious symbols into the faith of Christ. The most obvious would be that the more religious symbols a man has in his belief system, the more exclusive and rigid his religion will be. The danger is that this forest of religious symbols will become so thick that it will blind him to all new truth. Most religious people, especially those that are exclusionist, have layers of religious symbols that protect them from revelation and separate them from their fellow-man. The religious man fears revelation because it will strip away all the false symbols that he has trusted. It leaves him naked before God, stripped of all his self-righteousness. In this context, self-righteousness could be defined as all the religious symbols that men hide in, such as symbols that allow them to feel secure and righteous. The traditionalists hide behind the symbols of ritual. The fundamentalists hide behind the multi-level symbol of the Bible and the true church. Nevertheless, no matter how hard the religious man may try, he cannot hide his humanness behind these symbols because God is continually destroying them and exposing man’s nakedness. It is here, in his nakedness, that the religious man has the possibility of coming to faith and being clothed by God in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, nothing hinders authentic faith more than religion. In a true sense, religion is a vaccination against revelation.

In our quest for a better understanding of the distinction between religion and revelation, the symbol will help us immensely, for it will allow us to look at things from a different perspective. Most importantly for our study, the symbol will help us trace the evolution of the revelation of Christ from a simple way of life into a complex religious system. We can do this by noting when and why new symbols were introduced into the Christian movement. Through analyzing the introduction and meaning of new symbols added to the movement, we will be able to see the subtle shift in theology away from revelation to religion. We will begin that study in our next chapter

The Good News for America

The Good News for America

In a society that is all about comfort, ease, pleasure and feeling good, how can we call a person to suffer and die to themselves and live for others?  In other words, what is good about the good news of Christ?

What is the good news of Christ?  Is it good health and worldly blessing or is it something different? The gospel is that Christ died for our sins, and that God raised him from the dead,  nothing more and nothing less. Why are the death and resurrection of Christ the good news?  Well, it is only good news if you recognize that mans greatest enemies are sin and death.  If you recognize this, then the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news in all the world. Let’s take a look at the trouble that the apostle Paul called the law of sin and death.

The literal meaning of sin is, to miss the mark.  It was the term in which the spotter, who stood next to the target, would yell back to the archers when an arrow missed the bulls-eye.  You sinned; you missed the mark you were aiming at.  When the New Testament says you have sinned it is saying that you have missed the mark that God has set for you as a human being created in His likeness. You have missed what it means to be truly human.

What is his likeness?  Now the likeness of God is a deep subject, but we can easily grasp some things about it. The Bible tells us that God is love and from this, we can gather when we were created in his image that we were created for love.  That is we were created to have a love relationship with God and reflect that image to all around us.

But, how can this be if God is a spirit?  How can we love a spirit?  That is a tough question for a three dimensional being to comprehend.  Even so, one thing I do know is that we can reflect God by loving those that have been created in his image.  Human beings are living symbols of the living God. In fact, they are the only thing in all of creation that image’s God. So, to love or hug a person is to hug God. To smile at another human is to smile at God.  To do good to another human is to do it to and for God (Matt.25:30-40).  It is here we can also see what sin really is.  It is doing something to hurt a fellow human created in God’s image or neglecting to do something one ought to do to help a fellow human.  It is breaking or being unfaithful to the love relationship we have or should have with our fellow-man.  When you act in an unloving way toward your brother, you have sinned.  If you break faith with the image of God, you have sinned against God.

Now the next question is what is love? We have seen that God is love, and this is where Jesus comes in. Jesus came here to reveal the father (John 17).  He came to teach us what true love looks like.  In making known the father he made known what is true love.  He did it by living and dying a sacrificial life for others.  In this, he lived for God and fulfilled the great commandment “to love God with your whole heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  This work of revealing the Father as sacrificial love reached its peak and fulfillment in his death on the cross. As he died, he said, “it is finished.”  In this act of dying for others Jesus fulfilled the law of love and opened a new living way of approaching God, not through religion but through love, not just any kind of love but through the kind of love demonstrated by Jesus.

The atonement is God demonstrating his sacrificial love in Christ for his creation.  How can the death of Christ be reduced to a payment of a debt, to a broken law?  The atonement must be grounded in God’s love, not the law.  Love freely given,  never demands its pound of flesh as the law does. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”  In the death of Christ, God deals with the sin problem by covering it with his love; while at the same time demonstrating his love to man by covering over with his love their anger and hatred. “Father forgive them, for they know not, what they do.”  In this act of love, he revealed his love,  by forgiving freely, mans hatred and anger. (Colossians 1: 21, 22)

In the death of Christ, we also see a revelation or a revealing of man’s nature. Man is angry and filled with hate and a false sense of justice and righteousness.  Man needs his pound of flesh. The law is broken, someone must pay; someone must be punished for the law is their God.  I find it peculiar that many in the Christian movement have embraced a theory of the atonement which image’s God in exactly the same way as sinful man, strange indeed.

This work of revealing the Father is to be continued by his body, the church.  This revealing of the father begins in the church by believers loving one another, just as Christ has loved them. In loving one another as Christ has loved them, they show the world the Father even as Christ showed them the Father.  When the church fails to do this, it is missing the mark and is living in sin.  When it is living in sin it is living under sin and is walking in the flesh and cannot be pleasing to God.  It is a terrible sin to hurt or hinder the work of the church from revealing the Father.  This happens whenever a member of the church acts in an unloving manner toward a brother or for that matter, another human being.

We are not alone in this work of revealing the Father to the world. God has put his Spirit in the body of Christ and in each of its members, to help them in this great work of revealing the true God.  In truth, this work is the work of God and when he calls us, He calls us to join him in that work, and if we accept that call, we become his fellow workers.

We can gather from all this that we are most human and most godly when we are loving our brothers and honoring the love relationship with God and man. When we fail to do this, we sin. We miss the mark of loving one another, the very reason for which God has created us.

The gospel of Christ is the message that God has forgiven our unloving acts and has taken them on Himself. Furthermore, it tells us if we put our faith in Christ, he will put his divine life in our hearts to help us to become like the Father. When a person believes, they begin to find themselves being transformed into the image of God as their love for God and man grows.

However, the gospel could not be the good news of God unless it addresses the problem of death. In actuality, most people think of death as a problem at the end of one’s life, but when we take a closer look, it is something that affects all of life.  It is as the Bible said, the king of terrors that cast a shadowing doom over all of life.  It is the shadow of the abyss that robs life of all meaning. In the classic book, the “Denial of Death,” Ernest Becker shows how the fear of death operating on a subconscious level influences and actually controls a lot of our thinking and actions.  In view of this, one would have to conclude that to bring one’s life under control you would have to have something to deal with death on a conscious and subconscious level. Well, God gave us this when He raised Jesus from the dead. The message of the resurrection is the best news that mankind has ever heard.  It frees us from the fear of death and empowers us to live a life of freedom and meaning.

Of course, we did not need Mr. Becker’s book to tell us about the power of death, for scriptures long go echoed the same thought.  The writer of the book of Hebrews says, ” Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death, he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 2:14-16).  The apostle Paul actually says that death is the catalyst for mans sinning. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:56-57).  Note that Paul does not say death is the sting of sin but rather that sin is the sting of death. Though Paul does not tell us how death causes us to sin it is  plain that he is pointing to the fear of death as the source of much of our sinning. However, he also shares with us the good news that Christ has overcome death in his resurrection.  In the resurrection, God has placed us with Christ above sin and death giving us a victory over them in Christ (Eph.2:6). Now, that is good news. LD





The Ten Commandments and the Law of Christ


The Ten Commandments and the Law of Christ

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:17-18).

There has been a number of groups in the Christian movement who have argued that Christians are more or less, still under the Ten Commandments, found in the Old Testament Scriptures.  Some have gone so far as to make an arbitrary distinction between what they call the moral law of the Old Testament and the ceremonial law.  They persist in claiming that the ceremonial law was done away with in Christ and yet the moral law remained in force.  However, when they make these distinctions in the law of the Old Testament, it is without any clear scriptural authority.  Some have tried to argue that there is a distinction between the law of the Lord and the law of Moses in Scripture.  But again, where is this taught in the Bible?  In fact, in Luke 2:22-24 scripture appears to use the terms interchangeably.

Before addressing some of the clear problems with maintaining the above position, it would be expedient to clear up some of the confusion that most Christians have concerning the Old Covenant or Old Testament. One of the greatest misunderstandings is that the Old Covenant was  created for all of humanity or the whole world.  In Scripture, the Old Covenant was made exclusively with the nation of Israel.  Though misunderstood by many Christians, it has always been clear to the Hebrews, for they understood that the covenant was made with them, not with the Gentile nations or even with their forefathers, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This is clearly taught in Deuteronomy 5:1-4.

“Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 It was not with our fathers whom the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.”

It is obvious from the above text that Moses was speaking directly to the nation of Israel and not to the whole world. It is also obvious, that the covenant which Moses gave to Israel was not the Everlasting Covenant or sure blessing of David made between God, Christ and the people of the world (Acts 13:34,  Isa 55:2-5).  Rather, the Old Covenant was a temporary covenant to take Israel to Christ, (Gal 3:23). It therefore, points to the Everlasting Covenant between God and Christ. In other words, the Mosaic Covenant was a shadow of the covenant that God made between himself and his son (Heb. 10:1). The Everlasting Covenant is the New Covenant that a person entered into when they are baptized into Christ (Rom 6:1-3). In entering Christ they share in the covenant that God made with his Son in eternity.

Further, proof that the Old Covenant was given to the Hebrews and not the world is that the fourth commandment of keeping the Sabbath was based on and was a remembrance of the Hebrews bondage in Egypt. In essence, it was a celebration and a remembrance of God as creator and the emancipator, and creator of Israel through delivering them from their bondage in Egypt (Deut 5:15, Ex 20).

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15).

“In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?”  tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders–great and terrible–upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household.  But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers.” (Deut 6:20-23).

For the Hebrews, the Sabbath as well as the Passover feast were memorials of their deliverance from Egypt.  However, for Christians both the Passover feast and the Sabbath were and are shadows, which pointed to the delivery of Christians from the bondage of sin.  For the Christian, the memorial of the Lord’s Supper or communion symbolizes their deliverance.  It was the tradition of Christians in the early church to gather on the first day of the week to celebrate their freedom in Christ (Acts 20:7, 1Cor 16:2). This is also supported by the early church fathers of the second and third centuries (note attached pages below).

It is interesting to note that the Sabbath commandment is based on the Sabbath beginning at sun set and ending at sunset, this is extremely hard to obey if you live and worship in the Arctic and parts of the northern region of Europe and Asia, where it is dark for six months out of the year. There is no sun rise or sun set for half of the year.  Sabbath keeping in those regions of the world would have to be quite arbitrary; therefore, we must surmise that the Sabbath commandment was given to the indigenous people of a particular region and not to the people of the whole world. This gives credence to the fact that the Old Covenant in its entirety was given to the nation of Israel and not to all nations (Gentiles).

In the first century as the gospel spread into the Gentile world,  the first big question that came up was, must gentile believers also be required to keep the law of Moses, which translated means, is the Old Covenant binding on them or would they have to convert to Judaism, which would mean that they would have to be circumcised and keep the Sabbath?  The act of Circumcision brought a man into Judaism and as a consequence, under the Old Covenant.  This question was brought to the leader of the church in Jerusalem and we have their meeting recorded in the book Acts (Acts 15:1-19). Now, it is important to note that the question put to them was, do believing Gentiles have to become converts to Judaism putting them under the law of Moses?

We first have the Apostle Peter’s conclusion on the question written in Acts 15:7-11.

Acts 15:7-11

“After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Then we have James’ conclusion on the question in Acts 15:19-20.

Acts 15:19-20

“It is my judgment; therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

Finally the conclusion of the whole church in Acts 15:28-29.

Acts 15:28-29

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:  You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”

Why the Confusion?

There a number reasons for the confusion about the covenants.  One of the reasons is that the scriptures were put into one volume making it one book and in turn the one book is given to people without explaining that it contains two different constitutions for two groups of different people (nations).

The Old Covenant and New Covenant

Jeremiah the prophet foretold the day when God would make a new covenant with Israel.

Jeremiah 31:31-32

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel,   It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

After quoting this passage the Hebrew writer says it was fulfilled by the New Testament and the work of Christ.

He adds, “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Heb 8:13).  The law and the Jew’s religion were completely destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. However, a hybrid form of it continues to this day.

Now, the New Covenant was made with the new Israel or people of God, by Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of  the New Covenant, just as Moses was of the Old Covenant. Every covenant not only has a mediator, but it also has a law and group of people.   The Apostle Paul speaks about The Law of Christ which is the law of love (1Cor 9:19-22) and the people of the new covenant are all those that believe in Jesus and look to him as the head of the new humanity and the new Israel (1 Pet 2:9,10).

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law” (1 Cor 9:19-22).

What is the Law and Commandments in The New Covenant?

Now the question is, what are the laws or the commandments of Christ; the commandments which Christ said one would keep if they loved Him.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command…. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:15, 21).

When you consider the above text, what are the commands Jesus is alluding to in verses 15 and 21 and are they the Ten Commandments, or are they simply the teachings of Christ?  The answer is not far away. In verses 23 and 24 Jesus tells us exactly what he is talking about.

“Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24).

In the writing of the Apostle John the law of Christ and the commandments of Christ’s are His teachings to believe on him (love Him) and to love your brethren.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” (John 14:1)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

“This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:16-17).

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:21-24).

It should be noted that in verse 23 the two commandments, to believe and love are referred to in the singular as His command. John also used this linguistic construction in 2 John 4-6.

“It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love” (2 John 4-6).

My conclusion is that in the writings of the New Testament the terms commandments, commands and command singular all refer to the teaching of Christ to love him and to love all those that believe in Him. When referring to the Old Covenant law the New Testament writers simply take it for granted that it was superseded by Christ (Gal 3:24-25). To New Testament writers, the highest revelation of God is Jesus Christ and that revelation supersedes and has replaced all other revelations of the Father. All that is needed to know the Father is the revelation of his Son. If you know the Son, you know the Father.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:17-18).

We are saved by believing in the gospel nothing more or nothing less. This means that the old law or commandments have nothing to do with are salvation. We come into Christ through faith and we stand in Christ by that same faith. Our justification comes through faith in Christ and our sanctification is through that same faith; as faith perfects our love for Christ and our brethren.


Early Christians Fathers on The Sabbath.

  • 90AD DIDACHE: “Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day: 1. But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. 2. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. 3. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.” (Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Chapter XIV)
  • 100 AD BARNABAS “We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead (The Epistle of Barnabas, 100 AD 15:6-8).
  • 100 AD BARNABAS: Moreover God says to the Jews, ‘Your new moons and Sabbaths 1 cannot endure.’ You see how he says‘The present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but the Sabbath which I have made in which, when I have rested [heaven: Heb 4] from all things, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world.’ Wherefore we Christians keep the eighth day for joy, on which also Jesus arose from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven. (15:8f, The Epistle of Barnabas, 100 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, pg. 147)
  • 110AD Pliny: they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to (do) any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of good food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. (About three years after the death of Ignatius in 250, an important official communication was sent from one Pliny to Trajan the Roman emperor. Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, wrote of the Christians who had been congregating there probably from at least A.D. 62 onwards. In this remarkable it is explicitly stated that these early Christians observed the substance of most of the Ten Commandments, and it is implied that they observed all ten as far as they were able to do so. As far as they were able, for as most of the early Christians were of slave stock or from other lower classes’-, and those who had heathen masters or employers—the vast majority—would be forced to work on their day of rest, which was unfortunately an official working day throughout the empires’ until Constantine’s “Sabbath” Edict in 321 A.D. gave them some measure of public protection. Hence one reads that after meeting “on a certain fixed day before it was light”, the first century Bithynian Christians had “to separate”—many of them having to labor for their masters and/or employers from dawn to dusk—”and then reassemble to partake of . . . food”. The “certain fixed day” [stato die”‘] on which the Christians met, is regarded by Seventh-day Adventists as Saturday’-. Certainly the expression would seem to indicate a regular day of meeting, probably each week. But Sunday is far more likely to have been the “certain fixed day” than Saturday. For if Pliny had been referring to the old Saturday Sabbath, as a Roman he would doubtless have referred to the “later” meeting first and only then to the morning meeting on the day alter the “certain fixed day”, seeing that the old Saturday Sabbath was demarcated from the evening of one day to the evening of the following day. But Pliny makes no such reference. Instead, he mentions that the pre-dawn meeting took place first—and only afterwards the later meeting; and that both meetings took place on the same “certain fixed day”. This rather points to the Roman (and—more importantly!—New Testament) midnight to midnight demarcation of modern Sunday-keepers than to the evening to evening demarcation of the Jews and the Seventh-day Adventists. (The covenantial Sabbath, Francis Nigel Lee, Pg 242)
  • 150AD EPISTLE OF THE APOSTLES.- I [Christ] have come into being on the eighth day which is the day of the Lord. (18)
  • 150AD JUSTIN: “He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify His name, and that you profane [it]. The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.”. (Justin, Dialogue 41:4)
  • 150AD JUSTIN: …those who have persecuted and do persecute Christ, if they do not repent, shall not inherit anything on the holy mountain. But the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts. Assuredly they shall receive the holy inheritance of God. (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, page 207)
  • 150AD JUSTIN: But if we do not admit this, we shall be liable to fall into foolish opinion, as if it were not the same God who existed in the times of Enoch and all the rest, who neither were circumcised after the flesh, nor observed Sabbaths, nor any other rites, seeing that Moses enjoined such observances… For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham. (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, page 206)
  • 150AD JUSTIN: “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.” (First apology of Justin, Weekly Worship of the Christians, Ch 68)
  • 150AD JUSTIN: Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned [after mentioning Adam. Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Melchizedek, and Abraham], though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God; and after them Abraham with all his descendants until Moses… And you [fleshly Jews] were commanded to keep Sabbaths, that you might retain the memorial of God. For His word makes this announcement, saying, “That you may know that I am God who redeemed you.” (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, page 204)
  • 150AD JUSTIN: There is no other thing for which you blame us, my friends, is there than this? That we do not live according to the Law, nor, are we circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers, nor do we observe the Sabbath as you do. (Dialogue with Trypho 10:1. In verse 3 the Jew Trypho acknowledges that Christians ‘do not keep the Sabbath.’)
  • 150AD JUSTIN: We are always together with one another. And for all the things with which we are supplied we bless the Maker of all through his Son Jesus Christ and through his Holy Spirit. And on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a city or a rural district. (There follows an account of a Christian worship service, which is quoted in VII.2.) We all make our assembly in common on the day of the Sun, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun the appeared to his apostles and taught his disciples these things. (Apology, 1, 67:1-3, 7; First Apology, 145 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , Vol. 1, pg. 186)
  • 155 AD Justin Martyr “We too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined [on] you–namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your heart. . . . How is it, Trypho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us–I speak of fleshly circumcision and Sabbaths and feasts? . . . God enjoined you [Jews] to keep the Sabbath, and impose on you other precepts for a sign, as I have already said, on account of your unrighteousness and that of your fathers” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 18, 21).
  • 180AD ACTS OF PETER.- Paul had often contended with the Jewish teachers and had confuted them, saying ‘it is Christ on whom your fathers laid hands. He abolished their Sabbath and fasts and festivals and circumcision.’ (1: I)-2
  • 180AD GOSPEL OF PETER: Early in the morning when (the Sabbath dawned, a multitude from Jerusalem and the surrounding country came to see the scaled sepulchre. In the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, while the soldiers in pairs for each watch were keeping guard, a great voice came from heaven. [There follows an account of the resurrection. Early in the morning of the Lord’s day Mary Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord …. came to the sepulchre. (9:34f.; 12:50f.)
  • 190AD CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: (in commenting on each of the Ten Commandments and their Christian meaning:) The seventh day is proclaimed a day of rest, preparing by abstention from evil for the Primal day, our true rest. (Ibid. VII. xvi. 138.1)
  • 190AD CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: He does the commandment according to the Gospel and keeps the Lord’s day, whenever he puts away an evil mind . . . glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself. (Ibid. Vii.xii.76.4)
  • 190AD CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Plato prophetically speaks of the Lord’s day in the tenth book of the Republic, in these words: ‘And when seven days have passed to each of them in the meadow, on the eighth they must go on.” (Miscellanies V.xiv.106.2)
  • 200AD BARDESANES: Wherever we are, we are all called after the one name of Christ Christians. On one day, the first of the week, we assemble ourselves together(On Fate)
  • 200AD TERTULLIAN: “We solemnize the day after Saturday in contradistinction to those who call this day their Sabbath” (Tertullian’s Apology, Ch 16)
  • 200AD TERTULLIAN: It follows, accordingly, that, in so far as the abolition of carnal circumcision and of the old law is demonstrated as having been consummated at its specific times, so also the observance of the Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary. (An Answer to the Jews 4:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 3, page 155)
  • 200AD TERTULLIAN: Let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day because of threat of death, teach us that in earliest times righteous men kept Sabbath or practiced circumcision, and so were made friends of God. .. …Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised, and inobservant of the Sabbath, consequently his offspring also, Abel, offering Him sacrifices, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was by Him commended… Noah also, uncircumcised – yes, and inobservant of the Sabbath – God freed from the deluge. For Enoch, too, most righteous man, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, He translated from this world… Melchizedek also, “the priest of most high God,” uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was chosen to the priesthood of God. (An Answer to the Jews 2:10; 4:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 3, page 153)
  • 200AD TERTULLIAN: Others . . . suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is well-known that we regard Sunday as a day of joy. (To the Nations 1: 133)
  • 200AD TERTULLIAN: To us Sabbaths are foreign. (On Idolatry, 14:6)4
  • 220AD ORIGEN “On Sunday none of the actions of the world should be done. If then, you abstain from all the works of this world and keep yourselves free for spiritual things, go to church, listen to the readings and divine homilies, meditate on heavenly things. (Homil. 23 in Numeros 4, PG 12:749)
  • 220 AD Origen “Hence it is not possible that the [day of] rest after the Sabbath should have come into existence from the seventh [day] of our God. On the contrary, it is our Savior who, after the pattern of his own rest, caused us to be made in the likeness of his death, and hence also of his resurrection” (Commentary on John 2:28).
  • 225 AD The Didascalia “The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation, because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven” (Didascalia 2).
  • 250AD CYPRIAN: The eight day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s Day.” (Epistle 58, Sec 4)
  • 250 AD IGNATIUS: “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death-whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master-how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead. If, then, those who were conversant with the ancient Scriptures came to newness of hope, expecting the coming of Christ, as the Lord teaches us when He says, “If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me; ” and again, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad; for before Abraham was, I am; ” how shall we be able to live without Him? The prophets were His servants, and foresaw Him by the Spirit, and waited for Him as their Teacher, and expected Him as their Lord and Saviour, saying, “He will come and save us.” Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness; for “he that does not work, let him not eat.” For say the [holy] oracles, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread.” But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week]. Looking forward to this, the prophet declared, “To the end, for the eighth day,” on which our life both sprang up again, and the victory over death was obtained in Christ, whom the children of perdition, the enemies of the Savior, deny, “whose god is their belly, who mind earthly things,” who are “lovers of pleasure, and not lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” These make merchandise of Christ, corrupting His word, and giving up Jesus to sale: they are corrupters of women, and covetous of other men’s possessions, swallowing up wealth insatiably; from whom may ye be delivered by the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ! (Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter IX)
  • 250AD IGNATIUS: “On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried. During the Sabbath He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathaea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord’s day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord’s Day contains the resurrection.” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, chapter 9)
  • 250AD IGNATIUS: If any one fasts on the Lord’s Day or on the Sabbath, except on the paschal Sabbath only, he is a murderer of Christ. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians, chapter 8)
  • 250AD IGNATIUS: “This [custom], of not bending the knee upon Sunday, is a symbol of the resurrection, through which we have been set free, by the grace of Christ, from sins, and from death, which has been put to death under Him. Now this custom took its rise from apostolic times, as the blessed Irenaeus, the martyr and bishop of Lyons, declares in his treatise On Easter, in which he makes mention of Pentecost also; upon which [feast] we do not bend the knee, because it is of equal significance with the Lord’s day, for the reason already alleged concerning it.” (Ignatius, Fragments)
  • 300 AD Victorinus “The sixth day [Friday] is called parasceve, that is to say, the preparation of the kingdom. . . . On this day also, on account of the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, we make either a station to God or a fast. On the seventh day he rested from all his works, and blessed it, and sanctified it. On the former day we are accustomed to fast rigorously, that on the Lord’s day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks. And let the parasceve become a rigorous fast, lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews . . . which Sabbath he [Christ] in his body abolished” (The Creation of the World).
  • 300AD EUSEBIUS: “They did not, therefore, regard circumcision, nor observe the Sabbath neither do we; … because such things as these do not belong to Christians” (Ecc. Hist., Book 1, Ch. 4)
  • 300AD EUSEBIUS: [The Ebionites] were accustomed to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish customs but on the Lord’s days to celebrate the same practices as we in remembrance of the resurrection of the Savior. (Church History Ill.xxvii.5)
  • 300 AD Eusebius of Caesarea “They [the pre- Mosaic saints of the Old Testament] did not care about circumcision of the body, neither do we [Christians]. They did not care about observing Sabbaths, nor do we. They did not avoid certain kinds of food, neither did they regard the other distinctions which Moses first delivered to their posterity to be observed as symbols; nor do Christians of the present day do such things” (Church History 1:4:8).
  • 300 AD Eusebius of Caesarea “The day of his [Christ’s] light . . . was the day of his resurrection from the dead, which they say, as being the one and only truly holy day and the Lord’s day, is better than any number of days as we ordinarily understand them, and better than the days set apart by the Mosaic Law for feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths, which the Apostle [Paul] teaches are the shadow of days and not days in reality” (Proof of the Gospel 4:16:186).
  • 345 AD Athanasius “The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation” (On Sabbath and Circumcision 3).
  • 350 AD APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTIONS: Be not careless of yourselves, neither deprive your Saviour of His own members, neither divide His body nor disperse His members, neither prefer the occasions of this life to the word of God; but assemble yourselves together every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lord’s house: in the morning saying the sixty-second Psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth, but principally on the Sabbath-day. And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent Him to us, and condescended to let Him suffer, and raised Him from the dead. Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day to hear the saving word concerning the resurrection, on which we pray thrice standing in memory of Him who arose in three days, in which is performed the reading of the prophets, the preaching of the Gospel, the oblation of the sacrifice, the gift of the holy food? (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, book 2)
  • 350 AD APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTIONS: For if the Gentiles every day, when they arise from sleep, run to their idols to worship them, and before all their work and all their labors do first of all pray to them, and in their feasts and in their solemnities do not keep away, but attend upon them; and not only those upon the place, but those living far distant do the same; and in their public shows all come together, as into a synagogue: in the same manner those which are vainly called Jews, when they have worked six days, on the seventh day rest, and come together in their synagogue, never leaving or neglecting either rest from labor or assembling together… If, therefore, those who are not saved frequently assemble together for such purposes as do not profit them, what apology wilt thou make to the Lord God who forsakes his Church, not imitating so much as the heathen, but by such, thy absence grows slothful, or turns apostate. or acts wickedness? To whom the Lord says to Jeremiah, “Ye have not kept My ordinances; nay, you have not walked according to the ordinance of the heathen and you have in a manner exceeded them… How, therefore, will any one make his apology who has despised or absented himself from the church of God? (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, book 2)
  • 350 AD APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTIONS: Do you therefore fast, and ask your petitions of God. We enjoin you to fast every fourth day of the week, and every day of the preparation, and the surplusage of your fast bestow upon the needy; every Sabbath-day excepting one, and every Lord’s day, hold your solemn assemblies, and rejoice: for he will be guilty of sin who fasts on the Lord’s day, being the day of the resurrection, or during the time of Pentecost, or, in general, who is sad on a festival day to the Lord For on them we ought to rejoice, and not to mourn. (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, book 5)
  • 350 AD APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTIONS “Which Days of the Week We are to Fast, and Which Not, and for What Reasons: But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week. But do you either fast the entire five days, or on the fourth day of the week, and on the day of the Preparation, because on the fourth day the condemnation went out against the Lord, Judas then promising to betray Him for money; and you must fast on the day of the Preparation, because on that day the Lord suffered the death of the cross under Pontius Pilate. But keep the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day festival; because the former is the memorial of the creation, and the latter of the resurrection. But there is one only Sabbath to be observed by you in the whole year, which is that of our Lord’s burial, on which men ought to keep a fast, but not a festival. For inasmuch as the Creator was then under the earth, the sorrow for Him is more forcible than the joy for the creation; for the Creator is more honourable by nature and dignity than His own creatures.” (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, book 7)
  • 350 AD APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTIONS “How We Ought to Assemble Together, and to Celebrate the Festival Day of Our Savior’s Resurrection. On the day of the resurrection of the Lord, that is, the Lord’s day, assemble yourselves together, without fail, giving thanks to God, and praising Him for those mercies God has bestowed upon you through Christ, and has delivered you from ignorance, error, and bondage, that your sacrifice may be unspotted, and acceptable to God, who has said concerning His universal Church: “In every place shall incense and a pure sacrifice be offered unto me; for I am a great King, saith the Lord Almighty, and my name is wonderful among the heathen.” (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, book 7)
  • 350 AD Cyril of Jerusalem “Fall not away either into the sect of the Samaritans or into Judaism, for Jesus Christ has henceforth ransomed you. Stand aloof from all observance of Sabbaths and from calling any indifferent meats common or unclean” (Catechetical Lectures 4:37).
  • 360 AD Council of Laodicea “Christians should not Judaize and should not be idle on the Sabbath, but should work on that day; they should, however, particularly reverence the Lord’s day and, if possible, not work on it, because they were Christians” (canon 29).
  • 387 AD John Chrysostom “You have put on Christ, you have become a member of the Lord and been enrolled in the heavenly city, and you still grovel in the Law [of Moses]? How is it possible for you to obtain the kingdom? Listen to Paul’s words, that the observance of the Law overthrows the gospel, and learn, if you will, how this comes to pass, and tremble, and shun this pitfall. Why do you keep the Sabbath and fast with the Jews?” (Homilies on Galatians 2:17).
  • 387 AD John Chrysostom “The rite of circumcision was venerable in the Jews’ account, forasmuch as the Law itself gave way thereto, and the Sabbath was less esteemed than circumcision. For that circumcision might be performed, the Sabbath was broken; but that the Sabbath might be kept, circumcision was never broken; and mark, I pray, the dispensation of God. This is found to be even more solemn that the Sabbath, as not being omitted at certain times. When then it is done away, much more is the Sabbath” (Homilies on Philippians 10).
  • 412 AD Augustine “Well, now, I should like to be told what there is in these Ten Commandments, except the observance of the Sabbath, which ought not to be kept by a Christian . . . Which of these commandments would anyone say that the Christian ought not to keep? It is possible to contend that it is not the Law which was written on those two tables that the apostle [Paul] describes as ‘the letter that kills’ [2 Cor. 3:6], but the law of circumcision and the other sacred rites which are now abolished” (The Spirit and the Letter 24).
  • 597 AD Gregory I “It has come to my ears that certain men of perverse spirit have sown among you some things that are wrong and opposed to the holy faith, so as to forbid any work being done on the Sabbath day. What else can I call these [men] but preachers of Antichrist, who when he comes will cause the Sabbath day as well as the Lord’s day to be kept free from all work. For because he [the Antichrist] pretends to die and rise again, he wishes the Lord’s day to be had in reverence; and because he compels the people to Judaize that he may bring back the outward rite of the Law, and subject the perfidy of the Jews to himself, he wishes the Sabbath to be observed. For this which is said by the prophet, ‘You shall bring in no burden through your gates on the Sabbath day’ (Jer. 17:24) could be held to as long as it was lawful for the Law to be observed according to the letter. But after that the grace of almighty God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has appeared, the commandments of the Law which were spoken figuratively cannot be kept according to the letter. For if anyone says that this about the Sabbath is to be kept, he must needs say that carnal sacrifices are to be offered. He must say too that the commandment about the circumcision of the body is still to be retained. But let him hear the apostle Paul saying in opposition to him: ‘If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing’ (Gal. 5:2)” (Letters 13:1).






Joshua and the Cross, A View of the Atonement

Joshua and the Cross

A View of the Atonement

Many of you may be already aware of the fact that the name Joshua in Hebrew is the same as Jesus in English. The meaning of Joshua and Jesus is “Yhawah Saves.” We might say that a man who bore the name Joshua or Jesus was to be a living symbol that God was a God who saved His people. He is a God who is faithful and always rescues His people from the injustices of the wicked.

When we look at the life of Joshua and Jesus Christ we see many similarities. Therefore, it would be correct to look at Joshua as a type of Christ. By type, I mean that many of his characteristics and actions point to Jesus Christ. We might say that Joshua was a living prophecy of what Jesus would be like and what he would do. What I would like to do in this lesson is to look at the life of Joshua and see how it points forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will see that there are many striking parallels between the life of Joshua and the life of Jesus.

The section of scripture that we want to look at is actually a prophecy made by Moses concerning Joshua. However, it applies to Jesus as well. It is found in the book of Deuteronomy, and it reads, “Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The LORD has said to me, ‘ You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the LORD said. And the LORD will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:1-8).

From the above scripture let us try to draw some similarities between Joshua and Jesus. Most of the similarities are found within the areas of the work and mission given to them by God. Joshua was given the work and mission of leading God’s people into the land that God promised to their fathers. In like manner, the mission of Jesus is and was to bring many sons to glory [Heb. 2:10]. In order to fulfill God’s mission, Joshua had to cross over the Jordan River be­fore the Israelites. In like manner, Jesus had to cross the river of death into glory to blaze the trail for all those who would believe on him. Joshua had to defeat the inhabitants of the land before the Israelites could possess the land. Again, in like manner, Jesus had to enter into the heavenlies and defeat the principality and powers in the heavenly places before the new creation could be formed. Finally, both Joshua and Jesus had to believe in the abiding pres­ence of God in order for them to accomplish God’s purpose. In order for them to be faithful, they had to cling to the promise, “I will never leave you or for sake You.” We will come back to the importance of this promise later.

Moses, Joshua, and Jesus

We can also see a remarkable parallel between Joshua and Jesus in their relationship to Moses, who was a symbol of the Law that he gave to the people. Under the leadership of Moses, the people lived under the law and yet never received the promise. However, under the leadership of Joshua, they received the promise. In essence, Moses pointed God’s people to the one that would lead them into the promised inheritance. This is similar to the law of Moses that points men to Jesus who in essence is the true promise and the true law. “The Law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul says, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). The law leads to the promise, but it will not take us into the promise. The promise can only be entered by believing the promise and the Promised One, who is Jesus Christ. If we are going to receive the promise, we must follow the Promised One into the promise. In light of this, the words of Jesus, “follow me” takes on a new significance.

Unfortunately, there have always been those in the Christian church who have believed that the way into the promise is by following the Law of Moses or some religious system. This error in one form or another has plagued the church from the beginning and continues to this very day. It was this error that crept into the Galatians churches after the apostle Paul left and is rebuked sharply in his letter to those churches. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing— if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard” (Gal. 3:1-5)? From this scripture, it is quite obvious that the way into the promise is for the promise to get into us, and it is also obvious that it gets into us through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ apart from the law of Moses or any other law or religion (Gal. 3:21).

The modern preachers of law, who believe that the law of Moses (Ten Commandments) must be preached to convict the sinner of his sins before the gospel of Christ can be received, has no precedents in scripture. The gospel of Christ is the bearer of the spirit and has all the power that is needed to convict the sinner of his need to follow Christ. In fact, it is in this area that we see one of the weaknesses of the law of Moses and religion; that is, they are too weak to convict the religious man or the morally good man of sin. Both the religious man and morally good man love to hear the law preached for it confirms their righteousness. However, when Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit, the lie of self-righteousness is exposed and the truth that “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God” shines into men’s hearts.

An example of this is the apostle Paul himself before knowing Jesus Christ. Even though he lived under the law of Moses he believed he was righteous (Phil. 3:6). It was not until he saw the glory of God in the face of Christ on the Damascus Road that he realized his spiritual poverty. It was a revelation of Christ that convicted him of his sin, not the Ten Commandments or a written code of any kind. In essence, the answer to all self-righteousness and perfectionism is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The very presence of self-righteousness and the preaching of law is a sign of an absence of a revelation of Jesus Christ. How could the preaching of law bring about a revelation of Christ? When the law is preached a veil remains over the hearts and minds of the listeners (2 Cor.3:14). My friends, Christ must be preached if men are to receive the grace of God in its fullness.

Still another example of what I am saying is found in the story of the rich young ruler. Once I head a well-known conference speaker use this story to prove that the law of Moses must be preached and the sinner must be convicted by the law before he can come to faith in Christ. But does the story teach that or just the opposite? In the story we find a rich young man coming to Jesus and asking him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In turn, Jesus asked him “What do the commandments say?” and then cites a number of the Ten Commandments. But the question is, did this convict the rich young ruler? The answer is no. It did not. His answer was, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” This is not the answer of a convicted sinner. So, here we find a case where the law of Moses is too weak to convict a religious man of his need for Christ. But what did convict him of his need? Did Jesus call him a liar for saying that he keeps the commandments? No! In fact, it is inferred by Jesus that he had kept the commandments for Jesus said, “One thing you lack.” The thing that convicted this man was not the law, but rather the words of Jesus, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:18-23). The simple words, “follow me,” had power to convict this man and any sinner, which all of the law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments could not convict. Therefore, if you really what to convict people of sin, preach Christ. However, be assured that religious men will not hear it long before they go away sad. If you want large numbers of religious men to respond to your preaching, preach religion and law, for in so doing, you will simply confirm the religious man’s self-righteousness and the good moral people of their own goodness. Yes, the world will flock to hear you tell them how righteous they are for keeping the law.

The Mission of Joshua and Jesus

It is important for us to understand the mission of these two men, for though there are many similarities, there are also many differences. The mis­sion and purpose Joshua was to bring the children of God into the Promised Land. This would fulfill the promise that God had made to their father Abra­ham. However, here is where the differences begin to surface. The land promise itself was only a type that pointed to the true promise that pointed to the true inheritance kept for us in heaven ( 1 Pet. 1:4). The writer of the book of Hebrews says no less than this when he says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day” (Heb. 4:14). In this, the writer of Hebrews-is telling us that Joshua and the promise of the land were types pointing to another person and another place. The other person is Jesus and the other place is the heavenlies.

The Word of God Verses a Theory

In reality, the story of Joshua and his mission of taking the children of God into the Promised Land is a type that points to the eternal purpose of God, which is to have Jesus Christ lead the sons of God into glory to rule the eternals with His Son Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:10). Unfortunately, there still are many in the Christian church who believe in the type instead of the reality of the type. That is, they believe that our final inheritance is the physical earth made new. Though we believe that this earth will be a part of our inheritance as the Sons of God, it will only be a very small part of that inheritance. For in the new heaven and new earth the sons of God will rule with their Lord as the one new man. In essence, the eternal purpose of God is that one new man created in the image of the eternal Son will rule over both the seen and un­seen. Who could ever imagine the eternal Son being limited to the earth when he is and was the creator of the entire creation both seen and unseen? Why would anyone believe that he is coming back to the earth to rule when he is now ruling the entire creation from the right hand of his Father (Acts 2:29-32)?

Did God Forsake Christ?

There is a very popular theory that teaches that God did forsake Christ on the Cross and that this is the reason why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. The truth of this theory cannot really be tested until we establish what the test of Jesus was as he faced the Cross. Was the test, whether or not he would face a God forsakenness or sell out to Satan? If God forsakenness was the fear or test, would he had not experi­enced the same God forsakenness for selling out? We believe that the thing which he feared in the garden was not the cross per say nor God forsaking him, but rather he feared, in the face of the king of terrors he would lose faith in the promise that God would never forsake him. In other words, the test would be whether or not he would believe the promise and the word of God that said, ” I will never leave you or forsake you.” The theory which we are discussing says that God either broke His promise or Christ lost faith in the promise and came to believe, because he was suffering in bearing the sins of the world, that God had indeed forsaken him. In essence, this theory is saying that Christ sinned in breaking faith in the promise of God which said that He would never leave or forsake His Son. This theory not only makes Jesus the sin-bearer of the world, but it also makes him a sinner in breaking faith with the Father. In this, the theory ultimately charges him with committing the same sin that fleshly Israel committed in denying the continuing help of God and the promises of God in His word.

We believe that it is religion that says that God must turn away from sinful man and not God. In fact, the cross and resurrection teach that God will not forsake His people even in their sin. He will save them and deliver them from their sin. This is what the cross teaches. It does not teach that man is forsaken by God, even though he may feel forsaken. He must cling to the promises of God, even in his sin. The Lord left us that example. Even though he was bearing the sins of mankind, he claimed the promise, “Unto you I commit my Spirit.” Even if he was actually bearing the guilt of the sin of the world, he did not draw back and hide from his Father as Adam did, but rather he committed himself to a loving God that had promised to never forsake him. In his faithfulness to the promise of his Father he met the test; the test that whether in suffering, death, and darkness he would trust God to be the kind of God who never would forsake His child. When you are tempted to doubt God’s presence or to think that He has forsaken you, just remember to ask, “Is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ that kind of God?” The answer is revealed by the cross-resurrection event and is no. He is a loving, forgiving, God who will never leave you or forsake you. Only believe, trust the prom­ise, and cling to it with all your might.

Some may be struck by what was just said, but please do not leave me as yet; give me a hearing. The concept that God forsook Christ on the Cross is not taught anywhere in the Bible and is only inferred in the cry of Jesus, “My God my God, why have you forsaken Me?” But the question arises, is this a question, a plea for help, or a statement of fact? If it is a question, this would raise several very difficult problems. One of these would be if Jesus knew ahead of time that God was going to turn away from him on the cross as he was bearing the sins of the world, why did he ask such a question? It seems as if Jesus would have already known why God was turning away from him if this theory is right. And if he did not know that God would turn away from him, why was he so upset about the cross? Was he simply a coward who was afraid of the cross, a form of death that thousands of men had faced before with much more courage? Or was it the test itself that he feared know­ing that the destiny of the universe and all of mankind would be determined by belief or unbelief in the promise as stated in scripture and confirmed at his baptism? Would he believe in God’s abiding presence and Sonship in the face of the most hideous power in all of creation, the power of death or would he shrink back, believing that God had forsaken him?

In essence, the temptations that the Lord faced on the cross were the same that he faced at the beginning of his ministry. In facing these tempta­tions, the cost of failure was beyond human imagination. The eternal purpose of God and the destiny of man hung in the balance. If we can understand the nature of his first temptation, it may help us in understanding the nature of his encounter with Satan on the cross. In the first temptation story, we find Satan trying to tempt Jesus to deny his Sonship, which was based on God’s word. He tried to get him to go beyond the word of Sonship and to seek conforma­tion in the miraculous. If Jesus had succumbed to this temptation, he would have shown a lack of faith in God’s word and in the God who speaks through scripture. He then, in essence, would have denied his Sonship and the Father­hood of God.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, we again see that it was his Sonship and God’s fatherhood that was at stake. If Jesus was truly the Son of God and if God was his Father, he must trust the promises of his Father. The promises that God would never leave him or forsake him and that God would hear his cry and deliver him as his very name Jesus [God delivers] symbolized. Doubting the promise of God’s faithfulness would be equal to Jesus questioning his Sonship and the very Fatherhood of God. It also would have been equal to unbelief or sin. But Jesus did not sin or doubt the promises of God, but rather he was faithful as a Son clinging to the faith­fulness of his Father. Therefore, Jesus has now become a symbol that prom­ises deliverance to all those who will put their faith in him. In Jesus, we see the promise that God will answer the cries of His people for deliverance and justice (Luke 18:6-8). In Jesus, we have a guarantee that God will never leave us or forsake us.

Let look a little closer at the words of the Lord, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words are a quotation from the Psalms 22 and were first spoken by King David. With just a casual reading of the Psalm, one is immediately struck by the fact that the Psalm is not a statement of fact about the condition of David, but rather a plea for help. But even more than that, it is a positive affirmation that God is present and will not forsake His holy one. “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Ps. 22:24). It is clearly stated in this passage that David’s words are a “cry for help” and there is no doubt that when you look at the gospel record that those standing by the crucifixion interpreted the Lord’s cry as a cry for help from God (Matt 27:46-50). In response to his cry, the Father sends his angels to rescue him from the powers, but only after the Father’s heart was revealed in the loving sacrifice of His Son. It is finished. The Father had been made known to the world through the cross of His Son. The power of the cross is that it is a revelation of the Father’s heart. It also reveals a God that will never forsake His people and a God that will always be with those who cry out to Him.

I also have some serious doubts about a forsaken Christ because there are so many plain passages of scripture that explicitly teach that God would not forsake his elected one. One of those passages is the one sighted above; Ps. 22:24, that plainly teaches that God would not turn His face away from Christ. Another passage that seems to add doubt to a forsaken Christ is found in the Book of Acts. David said about him: “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Acts 2:25-28). This passage raises the question; was there ever a time when the face of God was not before Jesus the Christ? According to this passage, there was not. Throughout the gospels, we see the same thing; a Christ who had an absolute unbroken fellowship with the Father.

If the idea of a forsaken Christ is not taught in scripture, where did it come from? I believe we can trace the source of this theory to still another theory. The other theory is the Penal Theory of the Atonement that was set forth by some of the early fathers of the church and then by some of the reformers. The Penal Theory of the atonement is formed on the inviolability of God’s Law and the justice of God. In short, the divine law cannot be set aside and sin must be punished. Someone must die to satisfy the demands of The Law. “For the wages of sin is death.” When death is interpreted as sepa­ration from God, the death of Jesus must infer that he was at some time separated from God; thus, My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” This all sounds logical, but only if you carry in your mind as your principal model of God as judge. For the person or culture whose main model of God is that of a loving Father, this view not only sounds strange but also unjust. The image of God which teaches that God is a judge who demands that the letter of the laws’ punishment be handed out, does not seem to go along well with the image of the Father, who Jesus painted for us in the story of the prodigal son. In that parable, there is not even a hint of any form of retribution or payback for the son’s misbehavior. The Father simply forgives as a free act of love, and no one is punished for sin. But why is no one punished? Because that is the kind of God we worship. He is a God who will never leave you or forsake you. So let us follow the example of the author and perfecter of our faith our Joshua, Jesus Christ, who has crossed the Jordan before us by hanging on to and believing the promises of God; the covenant promise that says, “I will never leave or forsake you.” Let us commit to walk by faith and not by sight. Let us not ask for God to prove His presence by signs and wonders as the Israelites did, but let us simply believe the word of the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Ex. 17:2-7, Matt. 4:7).


“Law” and “Commandments” in the Gospel of John

“Law” and “Commandments”
in the Gospel of John

Robert D. Brinsmead

Although the term “the Law” and the word “commandment” are often used interchangeably in the Bible, the Gospel of John makes a distinction between them. The expression “the Law” appears fourteen times in the Gospel of John. The word “command” or “commandment” also appears about fourteen times.

It has long been noted that the Gospel of John is a book of controversy. The book depicts a great confrontation between Jesus and the Law, between Christ’s or the Father’s commandment and the Law, between Jesus and Judaism, and between the church and the synagogue. Gutbrod declares that John “has no particular interest in the Law as a possibility for regulating human or even Christian action.He also says that in John “the Law is never used as the rule of Christian conduct for the community. On the other hand, in the book of John Jesus repeatedly urges his disciples to keep his commandments.

In all but one of the fourteen instances in which the term “the Law” appears in the Gospel of John, it is accompanied by the definite article. It is not any law that is referred to; it is always “the Law.” Thus:

For the law was given through Moses.–John 1:17.

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”–John 1:45.

“The Law,” of course, refers to the Law of Moses. It is the body of teaching revealed to Moses which constituted the foundation for the entire social and religious life and thought of Israel. It is the body of divine revelation given to Moses. In a broader context in the Gospel of John, however,”the Law” refers not only to the five books of Moses but also includes the Psalms and the prophetic books of the Old Testament and, indeed, the entire Old Testament itself. For example: “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods”?'” (John 10:34; cf. Ps. 82:6). And again: “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.'” (John 15:25; cf. Ps. 35:19; 69:4).

In some Johannine passages the expression “the Law” may refer to the Law of Moses in the sense of a specific commandment. Thus:

“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” –John 7:19.

“Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?”–John 7:23.

In still other situations the term “the Law” has the specific meaning of a legal ordinance:

Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?–John 7:51.

But whenever the term “the Law” is used in the Gospel of John, it always refers to the Old Testament Law known as the Jewish Torah. John teaches that this Law of Moses points to Christ. It is a prophecy of Christ. When the Jews confronted Jesus and charged him with breaking the Law by healing on the Sabbath day, they pronounced him a sinner before the Law and then tried to kill him. In doing this, John points out that the Jews were unfaithful to the Law (see John 7:19). Furthermore, John shows that Moses, who was the Law personified, testified of Christ. If the Jews had been faithful to the Law, they would have embraced Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour rather than attempting to kill him (John 7).

John also teaches that the Law not only points to Christ; it is not only a prophecy of Christ; but the Law is replaced or superseded by Jesus Christ. This thought is woven throughout the book of John but is especially presented in the prologue–John 1:1-18:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men ….

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. –John 1:1-4, 18, RSV.

Scholars have discovered that this Johannine prologue is derived from a pre-Christian hymn composed by rabbinic poets in praise of the Jewish Torah. The rabbis said that the Torah was the Law, wisdom, word. They said that the Torah was with God from the beginning and was the instrument by which God made the world. It was God’s treasure, his firstborn. The Torah lay in God’s bosom from the beginning. It was full of grace and truth. John deliberately takes this pre-Christian hymn in praise of the Torah and transfers the honor from the Law to Christ. Jesus Christ replaces the Torah; he supersedes it.

Elsewhere in the book of John expressions such as light of the world, water of life, bread of life, good shepherd, way, truth and life, which rabbinic teaching ascribed to the Jewish Law, are now transferred to Jesus Christ. Christ is the One to whom the Law points, the One who is the fulfillment of the Law, the One who now replaces the Law and supersedes the Law as the final revelation of the will of God. Because Christ has now come, the Law cannot have the same value, the same meaning to John or to the Christian community that it has to an unbelieving Jewish community. The revelation of God is no longer in Moses, but the supreme revelation of God has now been given in his Son. For this reason the supreme rule of life to the Christian community cannot be the old Torah; it must be the word that comes directly from God to his Son in the commandments of Jesus.

It is significant that the book of John presents the Law as the Law of the Jews. On the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of John, the Law invariably becomes your Law, their Law–namely, the Law of the Jews. Thus:

In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid.–John 8:17.

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?”–John 10:34.

“But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ “–John 15:25.

John puts similar words in the mouth of Pilate, of Nicodemus and of the Jews:

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”–John 18:31.

“Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”–John 7:51.

The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die.”–John 19:7.

From the evidence in the fourth Gospel, Pancaro has concluded that “the Law is quite consistently characterized as ‘the Law of the Jews’.”3 In commenting on this further, Pancaro says that John, writing near the close of the Christian dispensation, reflects the same view of the Law as did Jesus. As John takes the expressions, “your Law,” “their Law,” “our Law,” and places them in the mouth of Jesus, of Nicodemus, of Pilate and of the Jews, “One has the distinct impression of a certain distance–that the Law is being looked upon as associated in some special way with the Jews, that it means more or at least something else to them than it does to Jesus and to the evangelist.4 Therefore, to consider the Law as the revelation of God and the way of life after Christ’s coming means to have misunderstood it or never to have understood it at all.

In John the Law is not used as a rule of life for the Christian community, because Christ, to whom the Law pointed, has come. He has superseded the Law as a revelation of God. All the titles of honor that rabbinic Judaism gave to the Law, John ascribes to the very person of Christ, so that the Law has now become “your Law,” “their Law,” “the Law of Moses,” the Law of the Jews. While the Law is valuable because it has prophetically pointed to Christ, John can no longer value it as a Jew values it. To him devotion to the Law no longer characterizes the children of God. Rather, the Christian community is now characterized by devotion to the Christ.

Christian faith obligates us to do the will of God, not as revealed in the Law, but as revealed in the person of Christ. The revelation that came through Moses was a mediated revelation. It did not come directly from God, because even Moses could not see God. “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18, RSV). Throughout his writings John claims that the revelation through Jesus Christ is superior to Moses because Christ is directly taught of God. He is indeed the Word of God incarnate. In the words of Jesus the will of God which we are obligated to do or to keep is not “the Law”; it is the “command” or the “commandment.”

First, it is the Father’s own command to Jesus to lay down his life for the sheep and then to take it up again:

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
John 10:18.

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life.”
John 12:49, 50.

“But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
John 14:31.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
John 15:10.

Thus, the commandment of the Father that Jesus keeps is not the Law of Moses; it is the commandment to lay down his life, to give his life a ransom for many and then to take it up again.

Second, the word “commandment” has the meaning not only of the Father’s commandment to Jesus, but also of Jesus’ commandment to his disciples:

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”John 13:34.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15.

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” John 14:21.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.”John 15:10.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12.

“You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14.

Jesus’ command is that we “love each other as I have loved you.” The expression “I have loved you” is what the Father commanded, so that, for the disciples, keeping the commandment is to reflect the love of the Father’s commandment in Christ.

Thus, in summary we recognize that John distinguishes the Law that came through Moses from the commandment that comes through Jesus Christ. John avoids using the term ‘law” or “new law” for the will of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ. Instead, he uses the word “command” or “commandment.” John does not use the expression “law” at all in his epistles or in the book of Revelation. It seems that he abandons the term “law” when trying to express our obligation to do the will of God because of its tendency to become depersonalized and legalistic. Such a connotation cannot do justice to the goal of love to God and neighbor which Jesus set forth as the center of God’s will for his children. It therefore seems desirable to use some term other than “law” to describe God’s will for the Christian life. In John Jesus does not define a new code of regulations for the Christian community. And unlike Paul, John amazingly does not give any detail on Christian ethics. His teaching is deeply spiritual. It is centered in the very person of Christ. John emphasizes that the believer lives out of him who kept the Father’s commandment and that the believer keeps Christ’s command, his commandment, his word by reflecting that same kind of sacrificial love in relation to others.

Notes and References

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

  1. W. Gutbrod, art. “The Law in the New Testament,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, tr. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 4:1082-83.
  2. Ibid., p. 1084.
  3. Severino Pancaro, The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), p. 517.
  4. Ibid., p. 519.

Myths about the Ten Commandments

Myths about the Ten Commandments

Robert D. Brinsmead

The Ten Commandments deserve a place of honor among the most celebrated documents of sacred history. For thousands of years the Jews have reverenced them as the words of the covenant made between God and their people at Mount Sinai. The Christian church has also recognized that the Decalogue contains a summary statement of the moral obligations resting upon all mankind. The Ten Commandments have been used as a catechism by the church since the time of Augustine. And this practice was reinforced after the Reformation.

From time to time voices have been raised within the church in favor of eliminating the Ten Commandments as inimical to Christian teaching. But just as the church catholic has retained the Old Testament as profitable for Christian instruction, it has likewise retained the Ten Commandments for the same reason (2 Tim. 3:16).

Such great teachers of the Christian church as Irenaeus, Augustine and Luther have recognized a qualified use of the Ten Commandments. They have understood that the covenantal document which God gave to the Hebrew nation must be interpreted Christianly and allowance made for the new situation which has emerged through the inbreaking of the new age of the Messiah. But just as the church’s acceptance of the Jewish Scriptures has exposed it to the danger of misusing them, so its adoption of the Ten Commandments has incurred the risk of their misuse. A number of popular myths have developed around the Ten Commandments in some parts of the Christian church. These myths are not innocuous and should therefore be challenged, because they constitute a serious misunderstanding of the Christian gospel and its bearing on Christian ethics.

Myth 1: That the Ten Commandments Are a Divine Legislation Given to All Men for All Time

The Ten Commandments appear in the narrative regarding God’s making a covenant with Israel. They are called “the words of the covenant” (Exod. 34:28), “his covenant” (Deut. 4:13) and “the Testimony” (Exod. 34:29). Research over the last thirty years has established that the Ten Commandments follow the form of a Hittite suzerainty treaty. 1 As Meredith Kline suggests, the Decalogue was the treaty which the great King made with the nation of Israel. In the preamble and historical prologue (typical of the Hittite treaty form) God addressed Israel, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). The actual commandments which follow constituted the stipulations of obligation which the covenant imposed on Israel.

Sampey is correct when he says, “It was to Israel that the Decalogue was primarily addressed, and not to all mankind.” 2Harrelson calls the Ten Commandments “the summary statement of the covenant requirements between Yahweh and Israel.”3

We must retain the biblical terminology in this matter. The Decalogue is called “the covenant” (Exod. 34:28)–that is, the Sinaitic, Mosaic or old covenant. Strictly speaking, the Old Testament (covenant) is not the thirty-nine books which bear that title in our modern Bible. Those books are documents which grew out of the covenant. The covenant itself is the Ten Commandments (Deut. 4:13). Paul is therefore terminologically correct when he identifies the old covenant with that “which was engraved in letters on stone” (see 2 Cor. 3:6-11).

According to Deuteronomy 5:2-4 the Lord did not give this covenant (of the Ten Commandments) to the fathers of the Hebrew people. Paul certainly knew how to distinguish between the covenant given to Abraham and the one given 430 years later at Sinai (Gal. 3:16-19; 4:24-26). As a covenant, the Ten Commandments were addressed to the nation of Israel on its way to the promised land (Exod. 20:12). The Sabbath commandment was enjoined with reference to Israel’s bondage in Egypt (Deut. 5:15). It should be clear that the Ten Commandments are historically conditioned and contain cultic elements adapted to the situation of the nation of Israel. Sampey is reasonable when he says:

It is possible, then, that even in the Ten Commandments there are elements peculiar to the Mosaic system and which Our Lord and His apostles may not make a part of faith and duty for Christians.4

We know of no biblical statement which declares that the Ten Commandments are God’s Law for all men for all time. The New Testament does at times cite several of the Ten Commandments from the so-called second table. But nowhere does it insist that Christians are duty-bound to take the entire Decalogue as their rule of life. The question arises, therefore, why the Christian church has honored the Ten Commandments at all if they contain cultic elements which have reference to the nation of Israel alone. Aside from these cultic elements, it has been recognized that the Ten Commandments are largely concerned with moral principles which are self-evidently binding upon all mankind. We way “self-evidently” because it has been well attested that Israel’s ancient neighbors (Egypt, Babylon and Assyria) had laws remarkably similar to the ethical stipulations of the Ten Commandments. Jewish tradition said that seven of the Ten Commandments were known to the sons of Noah and had always been binding on all mankind.5

Because man’s moral consciousness consents to the moral and ethical prohibitions contained in the Decalogue, theologians since lrenaeus have often called them “natural laws.” And since the Ten Commandments provide such a concise and convenient summary of “natural law,” the Christian church has always appreciated their significance. But such recognition of the value of the Ten Commandments differs from the more rigid and systematic mind-set which wishes to maintain the entire document in unaltered form. The New Testament nowhere says that Christians should relate to the Ten Commandments in this way. Nor was this the teaching of the fathers of the early church who followed the apostles.6

Myth 2: That the Ten Commandments Constitute the Highest Expression of God’s Will for Men

Some have regarded the Ten Commandments as though they were the ultimate biblical expression of God’s will. But such a position is a fundamental denial of the claims of Christ. Every revelation of God which comes before Christ is preliminary, veiled and partial. Christ is the full expression of the Father’s will (Col. 2:9). He is God’s final Word to the human race (John 1:1, 2; Heb. 1:1-3). One of the main theses of the Gospel of John is to show that Jesus has removed the Law from the central position it occupied in Judaism. He has taken its place as the Word, the living Water, the Bread of life, the Light of the world, the guiding Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life.7

The Ten Commandments themselves share the inadequacies which characterize the entire Old Testament. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, the revelation given in the old covenant was glorious, but its glory has been rendered obsolete by the surpassing glory of the greater revelation given in Christ. Rather than being a final statement of the will of God, the Ten Commandments are actually an inadequate expression of Christian morality. For example, in requiring masters to allow their slaves and slave girls to rest on the Sabbath, the fourth commandment implicitly condones the institution of slavery (Exod. 20:8-11, NEB). The tenth commandment likewise condones this institution when it prohibits coveting the neighbor’s slave and slave girl.

As we have already seen, the Ten Commandments were the words of the covenant which God addressed to Israel on their way to the promised land. God clearly accommodates his revelation to the needs of his people in their historical and cultural situation. The Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments, tolerated slavery, polygamy,8 wars to exterminate national enemies, and other practices which fall short of God’s final revelation in Christ. Furthermore, in such matters as exposing the sins of the spirit or commending the practice of positive virtues, the Ten Commandments fall far short of the spirituality of New Testament ethics.9 Rather than imagining that the Ten Commandments forbid every failure to reflect God’s glory and commend every virtue, we should realize that they express the minimal obligations for life within the old-covenant community. The unique feature of the Ten Commandments is not that they demand the highest moral and ethical ideals–for Israel’s heathen neighbors had laws which expressed identical demands. The Ten Commandments were unique because they subsumed such ethical stipulations under a covenant of loving obedience to the personal Lord of the covenant, thereby achieving a unity of monotheistic religion and ethics unknown among other nations.

Jesus brings the Old Testament (including the Law) to completion. He is the Word, the Will of God incarnate, the living Torah. In his unveiled reality, he was all that the Law could only foreshadow.

As a Pharisee, Paul had understood the Torah to be the highest revelation of the will of God to man. But in his vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul recognized in him a fuller, eschatological revelation of God. In other words, Christ, the bearer of the image of the invisible God, has superseded the Torah as the revelation of God and of his will for mankind (2 Cor 4:4-6)10

For the Christian, the Decalogue is no longer the highest summary of human duty. He must ever read it with sincere respect as one of the great monuments of the love of God in the moral and religious education of mankind; but it has given place to the higher teaching of the Son of God, all that was permanently valuable in the Ten Commandments having been taken up into the teaching of Our Lord and His apostles.11

For the Christian the greater reality on which his duty is founded is life in Christ. Christ has expressed this blessed reality in the form of the new law through His words and example, and above all through the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew ch. 5-7) and the farewell discourse (John ch. 14-17). The Decalogue falls far short of this directive toward perfection. To attempt to represent it as a summa of Christian morality implies an inadmissible impoverishment. 12

Myth 3: That the Ten Commandments Are Central in New Testament Ethics

Robert Banks says:

It would appear.., that the central position given to the Decalogue in much Catholic and Protestant thinking is open to question.13

On the evidence of the New Testament, Banks is justified in calling the centrality of the Ten Commandments into question. The great theme of the New Testament is the person and authority of Jesus Christ. He unquestionably forces the Law from its key position, and he occupies the central place both as a way of salvation and as a rule of life. All that the Law was to Judaism, Christ is to the New Testament community. It is not what Moses says or even what the Ten Commandments say which constitutes God’s final word, but the person, work and teaching of Jesus. He is the living Torah, who supersedes the authority of Moses (Matt. 5; 12:1-12). In him the Old Testament prophecies concerning the going forth of God’s law from Zion (as distinct from Sinai) are fulfilled (Isa. 2:1-5; Micah 4:1-5; Heb. 12:18-24). The New Testament has a new covenant, a new mountain, a new Teacher and a new law. In this all that is of permanent and enduring value in the old order is taken up in Christ and given greater force. In a penetrating comment on the significance of Christ’s transfiguration, Hartmut Gese says:

The synoptic gospels contain another account which gives a basic answer to the question of Torah, the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8; Matt. 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). It gains great importance through its position in the composition of the gospels and cannot be explained as a “misplaced Easter story.” We should read this account too through the eyes of the Old Testament. Jesus ascends a mysterious “high mountain” that is not further identified. The text says “after six days” without giving any starting point for this period of time. But we know that after six days during which a cloud covered Mount Sinai Moses went up the mountain into the light of God’s glory (Exod. 24:16). He was accompanied by Aaron the high priest and the original pair of brother priests, Nadab and Abihu (Exod. 24:1). Here Jesus is accompanied by Peter and the brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee. Just as Moses entered the cloud and the divine light (Exod. 24:18) with the result that his face shone (Exod. 34:29-35), so Jesus was transformed by a light not of this world. Beside him appeared Moses and Elijah, the only ones in the Old Testament who received a revelation on the “mountain,” and they converse with him. Peter naturally thought that this was the place where the tents should be erected for the three recipients of revelation, the tents which the Old Testament describes (Exod. 33:7-11) for use in the ritual observance of the Sinai event. But Peter did not know what he was saying. The Old Testament says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode (shakan; Gk: hoti epeskiazen ep auten he nephele) and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34-35). Here they themselves were covered by the divine doxa, and they heard the revelation of the new covenant. In the ancient event at Sinai God revealed himself in the formula of self-introduction, “I am Yahweh,” and then he gave the Decalogue. Here, however, God introduces his son, “This is my beloved Son,” and then he continues, “listen to him.” Jesus himself has become the revealed Word. The gospel writers could not present it more powerfully: Jesus himself is the Torah.. 14

Nowhere do Jesus and the apostles exhort us to study the Law except for the purpose of finding in it a testimony to Jesus Christ. in all his letters to the young Gentile churches, Paul has much to say on Christian ethics. But the apostle does not generally reason from the Ten Commandments to Christian duty. His reference point for ethics is not the Decalogue but Christ, his gospel and his Spirit. If Paul subscribed to the Puritan-Reformed idea that the Law (with special reference to the Ten Commandments) was the great rule of life for Christians, he missed many excellent opportunities to expound and illustrate this. It cannot be argued that he took this matter for granted, for he was writing to newly-established Gentile churches which had no background in the Old Testament Law. Aside from two or three incidental references to the Law and the Ten Commandments, Paul reasons from Christ and his gospel to the content of the Christian life. The apostle made no synthesis of New Testament grace with Old Testament ethics as did the false teachers at Galatia. That which determines how a man stands with God–namely, Christ and his gospel–is that which also determines how a man ought to live. The heart of New Testament ethics is faith in Christ and submission to his authority as Lord.

Myth 4: That Because the New Testament Cites Some of the Ten Commandments, This Proves That the Entire Covenantal Document Is Binding

In several instances the New Testament cites some of the commandments from the so-called second table. This is sometimes used as evidence that the entire Decalogue is still binding for Christians. But such logic is fallacious. In 1 Corinthians 9:9 Paul cites the Law of Moses concerning muzzling the ox which treads out the corn. But would any Christian use this as evidence that the entire Law of Moses is still binding for Christians? The Australian constitution cites the words of the first amendment of the constitution of the United States of America. It has thereby incorporated features of American constitutional law in its own constitution. But this does not prove that Australians live under the American constitution.

The new covenant retained what was of universal application in the old covenant. These provisions, however, are not binding on Christians because they are found in the Ten Commandments but because they are self-evident “natural laws” which are not weakened but intensified by Christ and his apostles.

Those who advocate the inviolable claims of the Ten Commandments as a rule of life, yet fail to keep the Jewish Sabbath, are inconsistent. However much they may search for texts which indicate that the New Testament revised the fourth commandment, they are only indulging in a futile exercise to support a tradition that began centuries after the apostles.15 But there is an even stronger argument against their inconsistency. The Ten Commandments constitute the words of the covenant which God gave at Sinai. Every word and letter of a covenant must be taken exactly as it is stated. It is not possible to revise a single clause of a covenant without rendering the whole document null and void. Either the Ten Commandment covenant is entirely binding as God gave it or the covenant is not binding at all. Thus, Seventh-day Sabbatarians are more consistent than their Puritan-Reformed friends from whom they have taken the concept of the Ten Commandments as the great rule of life for Christians.

Myth 5: That the Ten Commandments Are Wholly Devoted to Moral Law As Distinct from Ceremonial Law

The idea of making a sharp distinction between moral and ceremonial laws in the corpus of Mosaic legislation arose in post-biblical times. “The division between the strictly moral and the ‘ceremonial’ in our modern sense was entirely unknown to the Jews. 16 When the New Testament refers to “the Law,” it generally means the entire Mosaic corpus of law. New Testament scholars seem to agree that Paul makes no distinction between one part of the Law and another.

This is not to deny that some contrast between moral-ethical principles and ritual-ceremonial ordinances is valid. But we should not read the distinctions of modern theological language back into scriptural texts where the writers had no burden to make such distinctions.

As far as the entire Mosaic legislation is concerned, there is such a profound mingling of ethical elements with the so-called ceremonial that it is impossible to clearly distinguish the two. One thing is obvious: the line dividing these two elements does not run between the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic legislation. Even casual reading of the laws in Leviticus 19 will quickly show that moral and ethical laws are mingled with laws for the Jewish cultus. In the same way, the Ten Commandments show the mingling of ethical and cultic elements. Luther, for example, argued that the conmandments concerning both images and the Sabbath were ceremonial. Paul, who taught that idols were nothing, would have broken the second commandment according to accepted Jewish tradition. And the great apostle to the Gentiles certainly gave no heed to the Old Testament Sabbath prescriptions (Rom. 14:5; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16).

Leviticus 23 not only declares the Sabbath to be a festival, but links it to the entire system of Jewish festivals. A festival is a ceremony of remembrance and is not one of the “natural [moral] laws” which are written on the hearts of the Gentiles (Rom. 2:15).

While the Ten Commandments are chiefly concerned with common morality, they are a covenant between God and Israel. Therefore a festival or ceremony of covenant renewal–applicable to the Jewish religious cultus alone–is included among the moral stipulations.

Myth 6: That the New Testament Exhorts Christians to Keep the Commandments Is Proof That the Ten Commandments Are Binding upon Them

When the New Testament urges Christians to keep God’s commandments, we cannot assume that it literally means keeping the entire Decalogue.17 By “commandments” John generally means faith and love (John 13:34; 14:1, 15; 15:12-14, 17; 1 John 3:23).

John also refers to God’s commandments in the book of Revelation (Rev. 12:17; 14:12). But while it is true that the revelator uses Jewish imagery throughout his book, such terms as twelve tribes of Israel, seal, ark of the covenant, testimony, tabernacle, Babylon and Euphrates do not have a literal Jewish meaning but are given a Christian meaning.

In 1 Corinthians 7:19 God’s commandments are those mediated to the church in the apostolic teaching (1 Cor. 7:10; 14:37).

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus specifically refers to obeying “everything I have commanded you.”

When the New Testament refers to “the Law,” it generally means the Law of Moses (e.g., John 1:17; Acts 15:5; 1 Cor. 9:8, 9, 20). “The Law” is the equivalent of what the Jews called the Torah. The word “Law” is always in the singular and means the entire Law or even the entire five books of Moses (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 3:21). Scholars are agreed that when the New Testament refers to “the Law,” no distinction is made between moral and so-called ceremonial laws.18 “The Law” (i.e., the Law of Moses) includes the Ten Commandments as well as regulations regarding uncleanness. According to the rabbis there were 613 commandments in the Law. The New Testament sometimes refers to the Ten Commandments as the Law of Moses (Mark 7:9, 10; John 7:19; Heb. 10:28; cf. Deut. 17:2-6).

In view of the foregoing, if texts such as Matthew 5:17 and Romans 3:31 are “proof” that Christians should keep the Ten Commandments, they are also “proof” thai Christians should keep all 613 commandments of the Law. Obviously, that is not the meaning of such texts. They are telling us that the Law pointed to Christ and testified of him (John 5:39; Rom. 3:21). He therefore came to confirm all that Moses and the prophets had written. The true end of the Law is to lead us to place our faith in Christ and to obey the gospel. He who does this has fulfilled the Law according to its true intent.


  1. Is it therefore legitimate for Christians to use the Ten Commandments? To this we answer Yes, provided they are approached through Christ and interpreted Christianly. Irenaeus, Augustine and Luther used the Ten Commandments legitimately. They interpreted them according to the new situation brought about by the new age of Christ. But many groups of Christians have not followed these great teachers of the church. They have adopted a more rigid and literal mind-set which trys to apply even the religious and cultic details of the Ten Commandments as a rule of life.

Ridderbos points out “that with Christ’s advent the law, also as far as its content is concerned, has been brought under a new norm of judgment and that failure to appreciate this new situation is a denial of Christ (Gal. 5:2).”19 Haring makes this sensible comment on the Ten Commandments:

Whoever wishes to consider it, following Augustine, as the basis for a moral schema must present it in the light of the New Testament and New Testament law (Sermon on the Mount and the farewell discourse) and thus in the light of Christ and of life in Christ.20

  1. Yet having conceded this, we must say that using the Ten Commandments as a basis for a moral schema is not the New Testament approach. Here Jesus Christ replaces the Law, including the Ten Commandments, not only as a way to God but as a rule of life. All that the Law was to Judaism, Christ is to the New Testament community. In his Epistles Paul’s great reference point for ethics is not what the Law stipulates but what Christ and his gospel demand. According to Paul, wrong behavior is that which is “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14) or whatever “is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:10, 11). Christian behavior is determined by Christ–his person, his work and his teaching. Paul’s Epistles demonstrate conclusively that Christ is the great Guide, Shepherd, Teacher, Word and Rule of life for his people. As the apostolic fathers of the early church pointed out, Christ himself has become the living Law or Torah. This new revelation of God’s law comes out of Zion rather than from Sinai in fulfillment of what the prophets declared would take place in the new age of the Messiah (Isa. 2:1-51.

Notes and References

  1. Hittite suzerainty treaties were treaties or covenants imposed by Hittite kings or emperors on their vassal kings. See Robert D. Brinsmead, Covenant (Fallbrook, Calif: Verdict Publications, 19791, p. 10.
  2. John Richard Sampey, art. “The Ten Commandments,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 19391, 5:2944B.
  3. W.J. Harrelson, art. “Ten Commandments,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 19621, p. 569.
  4. Sampey, “The Ten Commandments” p. 2944B.
  5. These were called Noachian commandments. See The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. Isidore Singer (New York: KTAV Publishing House, n.d.), 7:648-50.
  6. See the works of Ignatius, Justin Martyr, lrenaeus and Tertullian. Actually, Irenaeus (A.D. 120-2021 seems to have been the first of the fathers to single out the Decalogue as an expression of moral obligations applicable to all mankind. The tradition of using the Ten Commandments for catechetical purposes gradually developed in the Catholic Church. Yet lrenaeus (and those following his tradition) did not consider the Sabbath commandment binding on Christians in any literal sense. The Ten Commandments were interpreted Christianly. There is no evidence that the apostles singled out the Ten Commandments from the rest of Old Testament law and used them for catechetical purposes.
  7. Judaism had invested the Law with all these titles of honor.
  8. While the seventh commandment condemns adultery, it does not condemn polygamy. Many great O d Testament saints had more than one wife.
  9. For an example of how the New Testament has an ethical maturity far beyond the OId Testament, compare Ephesians 4 and 5 with the Ten Commandments.
  10. Brian Wintle, “Paul’s Conception of the Law of Christ and Its Relation to the Law of Moses,” Reformed Theological Review38, no. 2 (May-Aug. 19791: 45.
  11. Sampey, “The Ten Commandments,” pp. 2946-47.
  12. B. Häring, art. “Ten Commandments,” New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 19671, 4:8.
  13. Robert Banks, Jesus and the Law in the Synoptic Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19751, p. 244.
  14. Hartmut Gese, Essays on Biblical Theology, tr. Keith Crim (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 19811, pp. 88-9.
  15. See H. L. Ellison, art. “Sunday,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 19741, p. 940.
  16. Jakob Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ: The Relationship between Church and Synagogue, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 19491, p. 68.
  17. Matthew 19:17-19 is not an exception, because Jesus was addressing a Jew. In any case, Jesus only used the commandments as a springboard to press his own claims for total allegiance as the only way to become complete.
  18. See Jocz, Jewish People and Jesus Christ, p. 68. See also W. Gutbrod, art. on the Law, in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. 1967 1, 4:1069, 1072.
  19. Herman Ridderbos, Paul.’ An Outline of His Theology tr. John Richard de Witt (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 19751, p. 284.
  20. Häring, “Ten Commandments,” p. 8


The End of The Law

It is Finished

 After this Jesus, knowing that all things are now finished, that the scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst.  There was set there a vessel full of vinegar: so they put a sponge full of the vinegar upon hyssop, and brought it to his mouth.  When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30) ASV

Not long ago I was in a discussion with a person that talked so much about the finished work of Christ on the cross, that I began to think this man was obsessed with the word “finished”.  Of course Jesus did say, just before dying, while hanging on the cross, “It is finished…”.  But the question is what did he mean by this expression?  Did he simply mean that his life on earth was finished or should we look for something deeper?  Those that believe in the forensic view of the atonement, with few exceptions, believe that Jesus was making reference to the atonement and his death on the cross was the fulfillment of the atonement.  However, there is a problem with this view.  The problem is that in order for the atonement to be fulfilled, the blood of the sacrifice had to be offered up to God.  Now the writer of the Book of Hebrews seemed to indicate that the blood of Christ was offered up to God in heaven after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the Father (Heb 9:11,12).

This would indicate that the atonement was not complete until Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to the Father where he offered the sacrifice of his blood for the sins of the world. This would also create some problems in interpreting “It is finished” as a reference to the atonement. If the atonement was accomplished at the cross, the resurrection would be reduced to nothing more than evidence that Jesus is the Christ. This would seems to give it less importance to it than a number of clear statements in Scripture. (Rom 4:25, 2Cor 5:15, 1Cor 15:17).

I think a far better interpretation of “It is finished” is that the death of Christ fulfilled the Old Testament or covenant scriptures and the expression “It is finished” was used by Jesus in reference to the fulfillment and end of the law of old covenant.  John also uses this fulfillment of the scripture as a proof that Jesus was the Christ. This seem to be indicate, by the context starting with verse 28, of chapter  19 of John, where the same Greek word is used for finished as used in the expression, “finished”, in verse v30.

To expand on this interpretation you could say that at the death of Christ the Old Testament scriptures were fulfilled in two ways. The first being that everything they predicted was fulfilled about the death of the Christ including the small detail of him being given vinegar to drink.  The second is, they were fulfilled in the since they had served their purpose to bring the Jews to faith in Christ (Gal 3:24,25).  The apostle Paul said, “that Christ is the end of the Law to those that believe” (Rom 10:4).  Christ told the disciples that the Law would be enforced until everything would be fulfilled.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5: 17,18).

Please take note that the word until specifies a time period in which the Law of Moses would remain.  The condition for its repeal was that it be fulfilled.  Jesus said it was fulfilled and therefore, finished on the cross at his death. The writer of Hebrews said a New Testament or covenant is ratified by the death of the one making it.  In the death of Christ, God set aside the old and established a new (Heb 9:11-22, 10:9).

When Christ died on the cross the Law died with him and every believer who has died with Christ also died to the Law with him (Rom 7:1-6, Eph 2:14-18).  Christians now lives by the new law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus and are no longer in any fashion under the old Law for they died with Christ to it. “It is finished”.