Understanding when each of the two Covenants starts and ends, as well as to whom each is directed, is essential for Christians to envision God’s plan for human history.
For instance: what portion, if any, of The Law given to Israel, pertains to Christians today? If we are not “under The Law,” does any of it apply to our lives now; and if so, which parts? Major denominations divide over these fairly simple issues. Some discard the Old Covenant totally while others choose to add selected pieces of it into their preconceived religious positions. Common positions include tithing or a non-biblical hierarchy (Priests, Bishops, Denominational Membership). Still others claim that the Church is just a replacement for Israel and that, therefore, God will not literally fulfill His promises to Israel in history. Without knowing (or just carelessly overlooking these distinctions), the mainstream Christian church often wrongly interprets key passages in Scripture.
Let me emphasize, Israel is not The Church, and The Church is not Israel. Before ANY accurate interpretation of Scripture can be determined, we MUST know who is speaking to whom about what, where, when, and why. I pray that this month’s study will help to explain the two covenants and some of their distinctions. Even more importantly, I pray that the reader will have a better understanding of how these covenants affect his or her life.
Caution: Some of the following conclusions may conflict with those you previously have accepted. If so, you should not take my word for them but research the Scriptures for yourself as God praised the Berean’s for doing.
These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily [to find out] whether these things were so (Acts 17:11). [Comment: We should note that the Berean’s intention for searching the Scriptures was not to find fault with their teachers but to see the messages for themselves.]
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). [Comment: Technically, this passage is directed to Pastors and other Bible teachers who will study and teach the Scriptures. Nevertheless, every believer has the responsibility to place themselves under teachers who are capable of and committed to study with this diligence.]
The Law God Gave to Moses for the Nation of Israel
The Old Testament law includes all of the laws given to Israel in the Pentateuch, not just the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:1-6:19). The first thing to understand is that this law system was given to Israel alone as the chosen people of God. It was instituted by God as a Theocracy that He would rule as king. Although it contains many great moral and civil laws by which any nation would do well to consider for its government, it does not apply to any other nation in history. It was established for several specific purposes.
It was to establish this nation as a beacon (light) pointing toward the only true God of creation.
I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; see also Isaiah 49:6, Luke 2:25-35, and Acts 13:47).
It was to set Israel apart from all other nations on earth as a possession belonging to God that would be protected by His power.
Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3; see also Deuteronomy 26:18-19).
It was to display a nation that had a unique spiritual relationship with the God of absolute righteousness and justice.
Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4:6-8).
Also today the LORD has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the LORD your God, just as He has spoken (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).
I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me. Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it (Jeremiah 33:8-9).
The laws given to Israel are divided into three categories:
- The commandments: These are the moral laws that lay out the rules to govern a just nation as well as the consequences of justice (unlike the game of law as practiced by today’s legal system) that are necessary to enforce them. Any nation would do well to adopt many of the moral laws given to Israel (such as personal accountability for all crimes and utilizing capital punishment for first-degree homicide as well as other horrific crimes named in Scripture). Important: Every moral law established in the Mosaic Laws, which was meant to continue into the Church Age, is carefully restated in the New Testament-these laws were not eliminated by Christ’s coming.
- The civil laws: These are the judgments, which declare interpersonal considerations for the rights of others within a common culture. Again, any nation would benefit greatly by adopting many of the Biblical codes for agriculture, public welfare, and common decency. These also were not eliminated by Christ’s coming.
- The ordinances: These were the religious part of The Law that governed the sacrificial system of Israel’s worship. As such, it foretold of the Messiah. These ordinances were fulfilled, done away with, and brought to no effect by the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. [Note: Christ’s sacrifice only ended this portion of The Mosaic Law. The moral and civil laws reveal God’s standards for interpersonal relationships within a nation. Any that is repeated in the New Covenant should be enforced.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4; see also 2 Corinthians 3:7-11).
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Ephesians 2:14-15).
In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13).
He takes away the first (Covenant) that He may establish the second (Covenant). By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:9b-10; description added).
Therefore, Israel’s priesthood and all of the sacrificial system of worship and its holy days do not apply to the Church. Example: tithing was the method of taxation God designated to support the priesthood and the nation’s welfare system. It is no longer commanded. (Click to obtain FBR’s free download, “Giving in the Church Age.”)
And be found in Him, not having my righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3:9; emphasis added). [Comment: In this verse Paul acknowledges that he discovers himself possessing God’s Righteousness solely by means of faith in Christ, not by his good deeds.]
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Galatians 3:2).
To suggest since Christians are now under the administration of the Holy Spirit instead of the Old Testament laws, that we are free to sin against God and man would be insane (Romans 6:15). No, we are not under Old Testament law; we are under a Spiritual law that is far stricter than a mere moral or physical code. We are not only forbidden to commit murder, live in fornication or adultery, or to steal; we are not even to hate, think immoral sexual thoughts toward another person; nor covet (lust for) the possessions of another (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34-37, and 44).
Christians are under the higher law of love, the law of Christ, and the law of the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:6 and 8:1-5).
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10; see also Galatians 5:14, 6:2, and James 2:8).
We are to express love for others by following God’s Commandments concerning how a believer should treat them. Believers are in debt to treat others with love by doing them no wrong. (Jesus defines who is a neighbor in Luke 10:29-37.)
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14; see also Romans 13:10 and James 2:8).
The Christian ethic is also found in Christ’s definitive words:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).
If we follow these two great commands, we will not break any aspect of the Ten Commandments or any other aspect of God’s moral law. Our ethic is thereby displayed by our faith in and love for Christ, rather than from our fear of breaking the law.
May God bless your desire and commitment to learn His Word.
J. Richard Fugate