“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38-39 NIV)
There are many faith-building stories in the Old Testament (OT) – a redemptive narrative of God’s salvation, particularly for Abraham’s children, the Jews, had become the most perceptive to the Word of God speaking to them. Abraham was one of the first men in his era to begin to discern the presence of God, His principles, and His leading via prophetic insight. He was asked to leave the Ur of the Chaldeans and move to an entirely new land in Canaan (see Genesis 11:31;12:1; 12:1 ESV)
Those living in that time, before Christ, were recorded by the prophets in the OT narrative. They were not entirely aware that some of their major stories and symbols were revelatory of the coming cross and death of Jesus Christ. The narrative of their life did not hold a lot of value as epistemological tools (ways of knowing) for them. They did not then know about the New Covenant (NC) truth that would be unpacked from their story after the event of the cross when the redemptive ransom would be paid by Christ for the true atonement for all man’s sin.
How they knew, what they knew, why we now know, was not as evidently true for them then, because the symbols and shadows about the future reality took time and guidance by the apostles to apprehend.
The cross of Jesus Christ brought awareness to Jews and all of mankind, as the New Testament (NT) prophets compared the old narratives beyond the limits of that historic knowledge. Apostle Paul was the man chosen by the resurrected Jesus to reveal to the world, first, the importance of the cross and secondly, a new way of comprehending the past in light of the arrival of Christ. In the letter to the Ephesians he confidently wrote of his inspiration given to him from Jesus, fully aware that a new perception, not previously made known, was dawning in the kingdom of God:
“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” (Eph. 3:4-5 ESV)
As we look at the Old Testament narrative, we find that many of the symbols are types of the progression towards a fuller understanding of principled thinking – as mankind was led by God to see life through the paradigm of love – the basis of a new inner motive operandi – a new process of reformation of the character of mankind motivated by love.
Prior to the New Testament, when Jesus came on the scene, there were many true events depicted as living symbols of Jesus Christ acted out in real life such as:
- Abraham obeying God, ready to offer his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah replaced by a lamb caught in a bush;
- The sacrificial lambs being killed morning and evening in the Jerusalem temple;
- The day of Atonement once a year where bulls, goats, and sheep were slaughtered to appease the sins of the Israelite as guilt offerings.
These living symbols were revealed as Bible stories – narratives, later to be revealed by the apostles as shadow-types designed to lead us to understand fully that the advent and mission of Jesus Christ was to redeem man. This plan was established even before the ancient narratives were enacted in life: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3-4 ESV)
The plan to redeem man had begun before sin entered. Jesus came to fulfill the ancient symbols by offering His life, as the anti-typical atonement for sin: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith” and “He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Rom. 3:25 NIV; Eph. 1:9-10 NIV)
Paul made it clear that the purpose of Christ was only to be understood much later, “to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment” (vs. 10) The priesthood of the temple would bring Jesus before Pilate with the intent to have him killed. What they did not understand was that the narrative of the priesthood was coming to a climactic ending in actionable reality. The “Lamb of God”, as the Apostle John referred to Jesus, was about to be slain in the place of all sinning mankind to “take away the sin of the world” and make the final at-one-ment for man – to free man from the penalty of death – to openly reconcile him to God, His Father.
Jesus said “it is finished” on the cross just as He died. The curtain to the Most Holy place in the Jerusalem temple, into which only the High Priest could enter once a year, was torn in two. This indicated the winding down of the Old Covenant period – the closing of the educative narrative for that period that had been used as a tutor – as a guide to lead us to Christ.
The New Covenant entirely replaces the Old Covenant
The New Covenant period was instituted at the cross as Jesus noted at the last supper to his disciples: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk. 22:20 NIV) It had been prophesied by Jeremiah: “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.” (Jer. 31:31 NIV)
Paul confirmed this: “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. 3:6; 1 Cor. 11:25 NIV)
- The new covenant is superior to the old Christ was the antitypical ransom offering, High Priest and mediator for man before God the Father: “the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” (Heb. 8:6 NIV)
- The new covenant makes the old covenant obsolete: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Heb. 8:13 NIV)
Christ died to ransom mankind from the sins of the ancient and prior generation and our current lives: “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb. 9:15 NIV)
The new covenant is not a mere continuation of the old covenant, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” (Heb. 8:7 NIV) It is “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant.” (Heb 8:9 ESV) It all comes down to the arrival and death of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all the symbols of the ancient children of God from Abraham on: It is now to the new covenant – the new agreement – “to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (vs. 12:24)
New principles, new thoughts expressed in new action supersede historical narrative. Nobody worries that a child is ignorant of the numerous laws of physics allowing him to suspend himself vertically while happily pedaling his new bicycle.
The life of Christ and His teachings, and His unwarranted death were instrumental, moving us radically from the historic dependence on the OT narrative of living symbols into functional realities with simpler principles for mankind’s more abundant life. This requires a new motivational drive to enable us to live freely by a new maxim of love. Love informs the New Covenant between God and mankind and leads the renewed man to care for his fellow man. The child, while riding his bike does not review the laws of aerodynamics or propulsion. He just engages in life, lives joyfully, loving his new experience, and thankful for his new gift.
A Covenant means an Agreement
It was prophesied that a new agreement was coming in the future, “not like the agreement I made with your forefathers.” At the Cross, upon His death, the curtain was torn in two, symbolizing that the old Jerusalem with its priesthood with the daily sacrificial slain lambs (symbolic of the coming death/ransom of Christ) now had been replaced by the New Jerusalem temple of the New Covenant, now a Spirit-led temple of united minds in Christ: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV; 2 Cor. 6:16; Rev. 3:12 ESV) This took the prophetic insight of men like the apostles Peter, Paul, and John, to see the deepest unrecognized historic epistemological value.
The kingdom is predicated on united like-minds who can fathom the love maxim Christ taught in His Royal law, which had always been latent and prophesized by a few yet misunderstood in the OC era: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts [i.e. minds], and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Heb. 8:10, 16) Further: “But now that Christ has come, we don’t need those laws any longer to guard us and lead us to him.” (Gal. 3:25)
Love is the maxim of law that guides the balance of right action, justice and mercy. Jesus taught that “on these two laws”, love for God and love for man – hang all the OT moral laws – the Decalogue (10 commandments), and the OT’s forward-looking prophetic books. Jesus taught that “all scripture” (symbolically: the Rock from which poured water for the Jews in the wilderness, Lion, Lamb, Father, Prince of Peace, Wonderful, Counselor, Life, Water of Life, Spirit as the Wind, Wisdom, Messiah, Teacher, etc.) revealed insights about Him and His coming final Atonement and the New Covenant.
God put into effect a different plan
The essence of the new agreement, which I refer to as the Manifesto of God’s Love, was to help men realize that they cannot base their lives on exterior laws and check-lists and must evolve out of this fear-based bondage to written law into a love-based covenant (the Jews had 613 laws, the 10 commandments being central). Unfortunately, the Jewish leaders added many interpretations and burdens such as “you cannot carry your mat on the Sabbath”. To avoid legalism, we must understand that we are not saved by keeping the law. We will express the Spirit-led guidance that fulfills the law of God when we agree with the Spirit to engage our will to obey; and if we come short of obeying, immediately repent of any sin. Christ our Advocate is ready to hear our confession of sin, and our turning from sin: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1).
And our walk with Christ will indicate that the Spirit is achieving grace within us, acknowledging that the law is holy, just and good: “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”. (Rom. 8:4 ESV) Any obedience to the law of God is achieved in us only if and when we submit and cooperate to obey God’s Spirit, as the Spirit does the work within – not by legalistic efforts, works or braggadocio that we keep the law. Even if you worship on the 7th-day Sabbath – the 4th commandment – give the Spirit of Jesus Christ the glory – Sabbath-keeping will not save you, only Jesus does that for you, first on the cross, and ongoingly He saves you from desiring to commit sin (if you allow Him to achieve this work within by obeying without hesitation).
“We aren’t saved from sin’s grasp by knowing the commandments of God because we can’t and don’t keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours—except that ours are sinful—and destroyed sin’s control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins” (Rom 8:3 TLB) and “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (vs. 14) The secret is to be led by God by His Spirit every moment and yield your will to obey on whatever point Jesus Christ speaks to you via your conscience.
The problem with human nature is that man wants to interpret how others should live. The Jews had prescribed additional add-on laws as to how to keep the Sabbath, for example, even though Jesus debunked these additional commandments of men, referring to Himself as “Lord of the Sabbath…made for man” (Matt. 12:8) His purpose was to create one new humanity based on love and living in peace. And this New Covenant was accomplished “by setting aside…the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity…thus making peace” (Eph. 2:15 NIV)
Jesus lived out love in the now
Jesus displayed love in action among His disciples and the people right up to the cross, precisely to show the effect of love on mankind to motivate them differently in the heart and mind and conversely, to reveal the injustice, blind sightedness, sin, scheming and gross deceit expressed in the intense hatred of those who tried to block and discount Christ’s New Covenant teachings. Why? To protect their priestly system, pontifical life, popularity, and prestige and their economic survival with large temple incomes extracted from the people.
We need to look at Jesus as a man to see His glory as our creator (Col. 1:15-19) who came as an incarnated man to this earth to express the character of the Father’s love to man plus and show His new agreement of reconciliation to man. We must look at the entire OT bible leading up to His arrival on the scene, only through NC eyes, else we see it as a gory mess, and get trapped in the old narrative.
We must transcend the tutoring narrative of the old covenant once we are led to Christ and through His life and teaching to be reconciled to God as One people united with Him via His Spirit.