Did the New Covenant Make the Old Covenant Obsolete?

Did the New Covenant make the Old Covenant obsolete?

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first [old covenant] obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 8:13

In the course of a respectful (not sarcasm!) conversation on Facebook, a friend made this statement:

Based on other interactions, it’s clear that you hold that the New Covenant did not make the Old Covenant obsolete, and therefore you must have an alternative explanation to Hebrews 8:13 which – in English – appears to plainly state that the New Covenant DID make the Old Covenant obsolete.

I thought readers of American Torah might also appreciate my reply:

It depends on what you mean by “obsolete”. Whatever the author of Hebrews meant, it seems that he didn’t mean it was completely gone (annulled) at the time he wrote, decades after Jesus’ resurrection, because he wrote that the “old is ready to vanish away”, not that it had already vanished away.

In my opinion, Hebrews is the second most misunderstood book in the Bible (Revelation being the first). I’ll use a couple of metaphors to explain two core concepts that the writer discusses.

One, the writer compares Jesus’ priesthood with Aaron’s. Two, he compares the New Covenant with the Old (Sinai) Covenant. (I say one and two, not first and second, because he jumps back and forth and all around in making his points, which convinces me that Paul was the author, possibly through an intermediary.)

Two Priesthoods

Metaphor One: Think of the two priesthoods as a hammer and screwdriver. A hammer is great for driving nails, but terrible for driving screws. In fact, if you try to use a hammer to drive a screw, you’re likely to make a mess of the wood and break the screw, possibly a finger as well. Hammers were intended to drive nails, and that’s fine as long as you’re only nailing things together. But if you have a new task that requires driving screws, you’re going to need a new tool to drive them.

If the task at hand involves certifying a leper as clean or making a burnt offering in worship, you go to Aaron. That’s what he’s good for. The Aaronic priesthood is fine for what it does, but it was never capable of mediating eternal salvation. Aaron was completely incapable of permanently removing the stain of sin and restoring us to a right relationship with God for all eternity. If that’s your goal, then you need a new tool, a new priesthood: Jesus.

Hebrews doesn’t say that the Melchizedek Priesthood replaces the Aaronic. It says that, if you are dealing with a different covenant, altar, and domain, then you need a different priesthood too. One doesn’t replace the other, but operates in parallel on a different, higher level.

Two Covenants

Metaphor Two: Picture the Sinai Covenant as a full moon and the New Covenant as the rising sun. As the sun rises, the moon doesn’t cease to exist. It continues to “rule the night” and to influence the tides, but it does fade in comparison to the much brighter light of the sun. The moon gives light both at night and in daytime, but when the sun rises, the moon’s light becomes superfluous–osbsolete, one might say–as if it has faded with age.

Just like the moon, the Old Covenant has no light of its own. It is a reflection of a much greater covenant, that the Scriptures anachronistically call the New Covenant. It’s “new” because, although it was promised and existed in principle from the very beginning, the sacrificial blood that sealed it was shed relatively recently, and it is still not fully risen. Until the promise of Jeremiah 31 (quoted in Hebrews 8) is fulfilled, we can’t really say that the New Covenant has reached its zenith:

“And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”

Hebrews 8:11 & Jeremiah 31:34

When Will the New Covenant Be Fully in Effect?

According to Jeremiah and Hebrews, one of the distinctive qualities of the New Covenant is that God’s Law will be written on the hearts of the people. They will no longer need a written Law because they will know God’s character instinctively, and will know right from wrong without having to be told. This presupposes that the Law as written in the Old Covenant is an accurate reflection of God’s character and what he considers to be moral behavior.

As we internalize his Law, we obey what the Law says without having to continually reference the written word. This absolutely does not mean that we are free to throw out all of the moral standards detailed at Sinai because we have the Law written on our hearts. If we believe that, then it is clearly NOT written on our hearts and we still need to be told what to do.

“The Law was written for sinners, not for the righteous.” But “If any man says he doesn’t sin, he’s a liar and the truth isn’t in him.”

I believe that when–or sometime after–Jesus returns, he will complete the process of establishing the New Covenant. We will finally have God’s Law fully written in our hearts and nobody will need to tell anyone “Know God” because we will all know him at every level. When that happens, we can say that the Old Covenant has finally become completely obsolete because its light and purpose has been fully subsumed into the light of the Sun of the New Covenant.

A related post on Galatians: Galatians and Torah, the short version.
And for more on the false dichotomy of “Grace vs Law”: Grace vs Law.

The Letter Kills, but the Spirit Gives Life… What Did Paul Mean?

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 2 Corinthians 3:5-8

…Our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
(2 Corinthians 3:5b-11)

The passage above is often treated as if it’s contrasting the Old Covenant with the New or God’s Law with a new “Law of the Spirit”.

Interpreting it to mean that the Old Covenant or God’s Law kills, while the New Covenant or new law gives life is natural in light of the antinomian standard of modern Christian theology, but, as with all erroneous interpretations of Paul, it sets the reader up to get hopelessly lost in contradictions.

Paul also wrote these passages:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law….Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
(Romans 3:28,31)

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
(Romans 7:12-14)

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.
(Romans 7:22)

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.
(1 Timothy 1:8)

When Paul wrote that “the letter kills, but the Spirit brings life”, he was clearly not saying that the Law of God as given through Moses kills, and that we must reject the written Law in order to live in the Spirit. Throughout his letters in the New Testament, Paul continually based his teachings on the Torah (aka the Law of Moses). If he then told the Corinthians that they had to reject the Torah in order to be saved, he would be telling them to reject all of his prior teachings, including the very letter in which this statement was written. (The fact of Paul basing all of his teaching on the Torah also refutes the idea that the Torah is only for the physical descendants of Jacob.)

Not only has God’s Law not been superceded by the New Covenant, but God’s Law is an inherent part of the New Covenant.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(Jeremiah 31:33)

Without God’s Law, there is no New Covenant, for one of its central promises is the writing of the Law on the hearts of God’s people rather than on stone. The content of the Law doesn’t change from one covenant to the other, but only the medium on which it is written.

So what did Paul mean?

Let’s take the 2 Corinthians passage phrase by phrase.

…our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…

We know that we are capable of the mission that God has assigned to us, because God is the one who has assigned it. He knows us and what we are capable of, and he would not have given us a commission to preach the good news to the whole world if he did not believe we were capable of it.

…not of the letter but of the Spirit.

God has not commissioned us to carry only the news of the coming Kingdom, but also its fullest meaning, its wonder, and the hope that it carries with it to transform us into new creatures able to serve God with our whole beings. We need to understand the Scriptures and God’s Law in such a way that we are able to apply it in new circumstances that aren’t addressed by the letter without creating unintended burdens as the Pharisees have done.

It’s not enough to tell people that Jesus died for their sins without also giving them reason to hope that this means something real. We must allow God to soften our hearts into suitable media for his Law so that we are able to help others do the same. We have not been commissioned to teach men to obey, obey, obey, but to teach them to become sons of God who love him and desire more than anything to live as Yeshua lived.

For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

If we only teach men do this and don’t do that, we aren’t doing them any favors. We’re just setting them up for a lifetime of stressing over rules. Striving always to live between the lines is like treading water. Sure, you’ll avoid drowning for awhile, but you’ll never reach the shore either. Eventually you’re going to tire and sink despite your best efforts.

Yes, God’s Law contains rules, and they’re important, but the rules can’t save anyone’s soul from eternal damnation. Our goal shouldn’t be to mark off all the boxes on a checklist, but to become the kinds of people who no longer need the checklist, to have God’s Law written on our hearts instead of only in our memories.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end…

God’s Law is a great thing no matter what it’s written on, but the glory of the written law was always intended to be temporary. Not the law itself, but the necessity of it being written.

…will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

To live according to the letter of the Law in either the Old or the New Covenant is to live by rote, to be bound on every side by blind regulation and empty ritual. To live according to the spirit of the Law is to live by faith and in harmony with the ultimate role for which we were created.

In truth, there is no conflict between the letter and the spirit of the Law. They speak in unison. The conflict comes when we attempt to live by the letter without the spirit. Then we are in conflict with ourselves because we are holding ourselves to an impossible standard. No one, except Yeshua, has ever been able to live out the letter of the Law perfectly, and he only did so because he always lived by the Spirit.

The Spirit has no existence apart from the Law because the Law is a reflection of God’s own character. Yet the Law is empty without the Spirit, a body with no life in it.

The eternal state to which we aspire and to which God has ordained us is that of having his Law written in our hearts, so that it is no longer necessary for anyone to study and memorize it in the form of words and symbols. When we live in the Spirit, we keep God’s Law naturally and inevitably because it has become who we are. We will live in purity of knowledge, of understanding, and–most glorious of all–of relationship with our Savior.

Moses said that if we keep God’s Law, we will live by it. The letter alone kills, but Yeshua took the eternal penalty of our disobedience on himself, so that the Spirit can write the letter on our hearts, and we can live to the fullest, as God intended us to live.

David Wilber on the Epistle of James

When Faith Works: Living Out the Law of Liberty According to James by David Wilber

Martin Luther believed that the Epistle of James shouldn’t be in the Bible because it contradicted the letters of Paul. Fortunately, most theologians for the last 2000 years have disagreed with him. On the contrary, James might be the most earthy and “real” of all the Apostolic letters in the New Testament.

When Faith Works: Living Out the Law of Liberty According to James by David Wilber
When Faith Works: Living Out the Law of Liberty According to James by David Wilber

In his new book, When Faith Works: Living Out the Law of Liberty According to James, David Wilber examines James’ letter, passage by passage, and in the process, illustrates two things beyond any doubt: First, that James aligns perfectly with the rest of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. Not only does James not contradict Paul, but they complement each other nicely. Second, that James is imminently relevant to the daily lives of believers in all nations, all cultures, and all strata of society. Whatever your pain, whatever your temptation, whatever your joy, James wrote for you.

If you have ever wondered if Luther was right when he called James an “Epistle of Straw”, you need to read this book. Wilber proves that James is among the most relevant, consistent, and impactful of all the Epistles. When Faith Works is a great book. I highly recommend it.

What about Colossians 2:16?

Colossians 2 is about man-made rules, not God's Torah.

A follower on Twitter asked me about Colossians 2:16 last week.

I’m including the rest of the chapter here for context:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Does Colossians 2 Cancel the Torah?

Does this mean all of God’s commandments about food and drink, sabbaths and feast days, etc., have been nullified? Not unless you think God’s instructions are “elemental spirits of the world”, “human precepts and teachings”, and “self-made religion” with only “an appearance of wisdom”. Certainly many atheists would agree with that, but I don’t see how anyone who accepts the Bible as authoritative could.

Have you heard the phrase “Torah terrorist”? It jokingly refers to someone who is always telling other people they’re doing it wrong. Paul was saying, “Don’t let people condemn you for not eating, drinking, or keeping a feast day in exactly the way they think it should be done. It’s okay if you don’t do everything exactly right or if you disagree with someone else about the details of what’s good for food and what isn’t.”

Paul was addressing two categories of erroneous teaching:

  1. The elevation of the forms of religion over the substance. See verse 17. For example, many people were teaching that new converts must be circumcised in order to be considered truly saved. There is NO commandment in Torah for a grown man to be circumcised in order to be considered an Israelite. You can’t eat the Passover unless you are circumcised, but otherwise, the only commandment is to circumcise newborn boys on the 8th day.

    This is directly related to the ruling of the Jerusalem Council in the Book of Acts. New converts shouldn’t be expected to keep the whole Torah perfectly, let alone all of the man-made rules that we have added to Torah. Start with the basics and learn the rest as you go, not letting anyone condemn you for the things you haven’t mastered yet.
  2. The elevation of man-made tradition over God-given instruction, whether it be Christian, Jewish, or pagan. As an example, consider the rabbinic rule against eating dairy and meat together. Some people will say you are sinning if you eat a cheeseburger, but this is based only on the opinion of some rabbis, not on what the Torah actually says.

    Other examples would be the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, mandatory attendance at church, the celebration of Easter, etc. These are man-made traditions with little or no foundation in Scripture, yet many will insist you can’t possibly be a Christian or a Jew unless you follow the Pope or the rabbis or your local pastor instead of the clear commandments of God.

Don’t let those people pile their rules on your shoulders as if you are beholden to their weak consciences. Their rules, no matter how wise they sound, are not even a “shadow of the things to come”, but only a shadow of their own minds.

And don’t let people condemn you for being imperfect. God knows we all sin. We all fall short. I think him all the time that my salvation does not depend on my perfect obedience, but on my repentance and on his grace to forgive.

Live in peace with those people as much as you can, but don’t let them poison your relationship with the Father, with Yeshua, or with your fellow believers.

Shadows of Jesus in Joshua

There are shadows of the multiple roles of Messiah revealed in the anointing of Joshua to succeed Moses.

 

The role of the Messiah is a complex subject, and like most complex subjects, you can often convey more information with a story than with a simple list of facts. And for this topic, just one story won’t do the trick. Fortunately, the Scriptures are full of them–Isaac, Joseph, David, etc.–like multiple shadows cast by the same man struck by light sources at different angles. Each character shows a different facet or role of who Messiah is supposed to be. Sometimes the same character plays several roles.

Moses and Joshua are two such types of the Messiah.

Moses set the people free from slavery, led them through the Red Sea after a three day journey, taught them from a mountain top, and guided them to the border of the Promised Land. He even told of another “prophet like me” to come.

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’
Deuteronomy 18:15-18

After Moses died, Joshua took the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He led them in war and destroyed their enemies. He fulfilled the promises that God made to Abraham to give that land to his descendants. He even had the name of the Messiah: Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) literally means “salvation”, but it was a common diminutive form of the longer Yehoshua (Joshua’s Hebrew name), which means “YHWH saves”.

There is an interesting set of phrases in the anointing of Joshua as Moses’ successor in Deuteronomy 31. (There are a number of interesting things going on in the structure of that chapter. See here: A Chiasm in Deuteronomy 31.) Take a look at these two verses:

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it.”
Deuteronomy 31:7

And the LORD commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”
Deuteronomy 31:23

Notice that when Moses commissioned Joshua in verse 7, he said “You will go with this people,” but when God commissioned him in verse 23, He said, “You will bring the people of Israel.” It is a subtle difference that is easy to miss and even easier to dismiss as inconsequential, but there is a difference, so we know that there must be a reason for it.

Consider the idea of the two Messiahs as illustrated in the stories of Judah and Joseph (mentioned here May It Please Our Lord, We Will Be Servants of God and here The Betrayal of Mashiach ben Yosef).

Messiah ben Yosef comes to serve, to teach, and to suffer for his people, while Messiah ben David comes to throw off the yoke of foreign oppression and to lead his people to victory.

Moses’ told Joshua to “go with this people”. This implies that he must be one of them. He must not elevate himself above his fellow Israelites, but lead by example. Yeshua did exactly that. He lived among the people as a man, he experienced our pain and our temptation, spoke with us, ate and drank with us, he taught us how to live according to Moses’ instructions, and lived those instructions perfectly. Finally he died the most humble of deaths for us. As Messiah ben Yosef, the suffering servant, he truly “went with” his people.

God, on the other hand, told Joshua to “bring the people of Israel”. To bring a people anywhere requires authority and power. A commoner doesn’t bring his people anywhere unless he first earns or captures a place of influence over them. Yeshua didn’t need to take control, because the Father caused him to be lifted up (John 3:14). He was resurrected and elevated to the right hand of the Father, preceding his people into eternal life. He was made to be King, not only of Judah, but of the whole re-united Kingdom of Israel, wherever her people might be. He was the first across the River of Death and Resurrection into the ultimate Promised Land and will one day take the rest of us with him.

When Yeshua returns, Paul wrote that those who died believing in him will be resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Yeshua does not need to return to the grave to bring them out. He will command it, and they will rise because they are his subjects. He will also send fishermen to draw out those of Israel who are ready to receive him and hunters to flush out those who are hidden (Jeremiah 16:16). These too might have no choice in the matter, and it will not be a pleasant experience for all involved–there are sins to be recompensed and character flaws to be rectified–but they belong to the King, and he will not lose a single one of those whom God has given him.

Like Moses, Yeshua will lead his people out of bondage again, and, like Joshua, he will bring them back to the Promised Land as the Father promised through Moses and the Prophets. But he will not come again as the suffering servant. Our debt has been paid in full; his blood is fully sufficient to remove the stains of all our sins, and his resurrection has opened the way for us to follow.

Instead of him humbling himself to become like us, we will be exalted to become like him. Yeshua will always be our King, but by God’s grace, we will finally be made subjects worthy of him.

The Curse and Curses of the Law

A few thoughts on The Curse of the Law and the many individual and national curses within the Law…

The Curse of the Law is the eternal condemnation warranted by every individual who fails to live by God’s standards of behavior. Since nobody except Yeshua has ever lived a sinless life, this curse would apply to everyone alike if God had not made a way for us to escape it. No amount of obedience to the Law can ever deflect the curse. Once the soul is stained with sin, no amount of obedience without faith in God can ever cleanse it.

The Grace of God is his willingness to forgive our sins and make a way for us to be reconciled to him, IF we repent of sin (behavior that is contrary to the Law) and put our full faith and allegiance in him. Yeshua takes our curse upon him, and his blood cleanses what we could not. This happens outside the provisions of the Law because the Law was never intended to provide a way of permanently restoring a man’s soul to God. (This is what Paul meant when he wrote “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” in Romans 3:21.)

The Curse of the Law and the individual curses contained in the Law are different things. The former is eternal and only individual, while the latter are temporal and both individual and national.

A person who has been forgiven his sins and has been brought into relationship with God is not free to behave in any way he pleases. Absolution from a crime is not a license to commit more crimes.

Yeshua said that not a single mark will be removed from the Law, and that includes the various curses for individuals who commit serious crimes and the national curses for failing to keep God’s Law collectively.

These are curses in the here and now, in the temporal world, not the world to come. A promise of resurrection and eternal life in the future doesn’t mean there are no (or should not be) consequences for idolatry, murder, and sexual perversion today. Crime must be punished (cursed) by God’s people or else God’s people will eventually suffer national punishment (curses) that will be much more severe.

The Law actually predicted that Israel would fail to maintain God’s standards and would suffer the consequences. Those national curses are still in effect today as most of Israel remains in exile among the nations and will only finally return in full when the nation returns to obedience.

The Contempt of God

Fear God. There is no other way to have a healthy relationship with him.

You can read the Bible in many ways. You can read it silently or aloud, or you can listen to someone else read it. You can take it in pieces, by verse, section, or chapter, or you can take it in great big chunks, whole books at a time.

I recommend all of those. Your brain will process the text differently each time, partly because it’s entering by a different route.

My wife and I were driving home from visiting her family this last weekend, and to pass the time we listened to an audio version of the Gospel of Luke, pausing now and then to talk about some point or other. It’s about a five hour drive, so we got most of the way through the book before we got home.

One great thing about listening to the Bible this way is that it lets you see broader trends that you might otherwise miss.

For example, Luke liked to present dichotomies. Do this, not that. This thing, not that thing.

The humble, poor, kind, and obedient, not the rich, proud, disdainful, and disobedient. The worshipful prostitute, not the inhospitable Pharisee, Simon. Treasures in heaven, not treasures on earth. Rock, not sand. The one grateful leper, not the ten who were ungrateful.

I hadn’t noticed that before.

There is one example of these comparisons that connects to another pattern I heard in Luke: Foreign cities that have never heard the Gospel will fare better in the final judgment than will Israelite cities that refused to heed the great miracles that were done there.

People usually had intense emotional reactions to Yeshua’s miracles. They ran the gamut from joy to terror.

Except in Nazareth, Yeshua’s home town. At Nazareth, Yeshua did a few miracles, but their apathy and disbelief kept him from doing much more. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they said.

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24 ESV)

Even demons had a more positive response than did Yeshua’s own family and friends. In Luke 4:34, a demon acknowledged his power and position: “I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Then it obeyed him. In 8:28, another demon called him “Son of the Most High God” and begged him for mercy. In 9:42, yet another demon, who respected none of Yeshua’s disciples, immediately obeyed his command to leave.

What was the biggest difference between Nazareth and those demons? Familiarity.

The people of Nazareth knew Yeshua when he was a child. They grew up with him, and they saw him playing with other children. They knew his parents, his grandparents, and his siblings. They were comfortable with Yeshua, because they thought they knew him.

The demons, on the other hand, really knew him in a way that no mortal ever could. They didn’t like him, as I’m sure many of his neighbors did, but they knew the reality of his raw, unparalleled power, and they were terrified of him.

The people of Nazareth had no fear of the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, and so he could do nothing for them. Wherever the people feared God and the growing reputation of Yeshua–at Nain in chapter 7, for instance–he raised the dead, healed the sick, and drove out unclean spirits.

The only difference between Nazareth and Nain was the level of familiarity and comfort that the people had toward Yeshua. The people of Nazareth saw him as an odd but friendly boy, while the people of Nain had heard the amazing stories that were spreading across the countryside, and they were afraid. They approached him on the road eagerly, but nervously. When he healed their sick and raised their dead, they were astonished. They were both joyful and even more fearful than before.

Perhaps we don’t see the miracles they saw because we don’t see the God and Messiah that they saw.

Consider the songs we sing in our churches.

He touched me. He guides me. He’s my hope, my support, my rest. I love him dearly, and I’ll follow him everywhere. Yadda yadda.

There’s nothing wrong with those specific words; they’re all great sentiments. There are many Psalms that sound very similar. The problem is that they’re all sentiment and no fire. They’re all “Me and Jesus,” and very little glory and majesty.

Why don’t we sing more hymns like Psalm 9 (written by David)?

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

When my enemies turn back,
they stumble and perish before your presence.
For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.

You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.

But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
And he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness….

(Verses 1-8 ESV)

Or Psalm 76 (of Asaph, also from the ESV)?

In Judah, God is known;
his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.
There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah.

Glorious are you, more majestic
than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep;
all the men of war were
unable to use their hands.
At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.

But you, you are to be feared!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth. Selah.

Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.
Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;
let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared,
who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.

Wow! What a God our Savior is!

God’s power is truly incomprehensible and it is all concentrated in the one man we know variously as Jesus and Yeshua. As Asaph wrote, our God, YHWH Elohim, is to be feared even by the most powerful men on earth. They are nothing to him. He brushes them aside like gnats.

We must never be overly familiar and comfortable with God. He is a consuming fire and a jealous God who will not stand by forever while his name is profaned and his people ignore his laws. Eventually, there will be an accounting, and every person will be repayed according to his deeds.

Many preachers today love to talk about how forgiving and gracious God is (And they’re right!), but they mistake his patience for apathy. They tell their flocks that God no longer cares about sin, that anything you do after the cross will never count against you. It’s all just love and bacon pancakes from here to the streets of gold.

Sin is a non-issue with God, but religious people make it a major issue. This is because they do not understand the new agreement. -Creflo Dollar

The Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. -Joseph Prince

In 2005, we were the first church in America to endorse marriage equality. We’re doing justice. -United Church of Christ

What nonsense! “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) I know that those preachers have read the Bible, but they are truly the blind leading the blind, because they haven’t even seen what is so clearly written.

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. -Yeshua (Luke 13:5 ESV)

Yes, our Lord is patient. Yes, he is forgiving. No, your good works will never earn you a place in heaven. But none of that means that his standards of behavior have slackened by a single letter.

God’s Law still stands today as the eternal measuring stick for those who would call themselves his people. There is no division in that Law. There is one Law for one People, and unless you repent, you too will hear those dreadful words one day:

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ -Yeshua (Matthew 7:23 ESV)

Trust in God’s faithfulness to forgive, in Yeshua’s blood that removes the stains of sin from our souls, but never forget that God is a force more powerful than anything today’s cosmologists have yet imagined, and he has rules for his house.

Go ahead and memorize Psalm 23–it’s beautiful and definitely worthwhile–but memorize Job 38 and 39 along with it.

Until we learn to fear God in all his power, I fear that we will never see his true power in our lives.

Storming the Gates of Hell

We don't always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.
Jamie Carper in the studio at WAIF FM in Cincinnati, Ohio. 1960-2018

My brother Jamie died last week.

He fought cancer for almost two years, holding on long enough to provide as much financial security to his family as he could, and to spend a few of his last few days with his parents. Having settled his affairs and given a little comfort to mom and dad, he finally let go.

But the impact his life had on the world is here to stay.

For more than thirty years he promoted Christian music of all kinds and sometimes performed himself. He was part of the worship team at church for almost his entire adult life. As a DJ, sound man, musician, and organizer, he helped untold artists gain an audience and touched uncountable lives in ways great and small.

I knew all of that before, but until now I had no idea how deep and how signficant his influence had been.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been contacted by several people who told me about the enormous impact that Jamie had on their lives simply by being a friend and introducing them to spiritually healthier music choices without being judgmental about who and where they were at the time. At his memorial last Saturday, one person after another spoke about how they were in a bad place in life until Jamie opened his home or his studio or just treated them respectfully like real human beings. The love he showed to friend and stranger alike drew people in a better direction and changed their lives.

He was a good man and remains so today in the care of the Father.

Hearing those very personal stories reminded me of this conversation that Yeshua had with Peter:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:15-19 ESV

I’m not going to get into all the many and divisive interpretations of this passage. (Although you have to appreciate the fortuitous coincidence of Jamie’s primary focus being on rock music and it’s many close relatives.) Instead, I want to talk about a way that you and I can assault the very Gates of Hell in our daily lives. I’m not talking about casting out demons or praying in tongues. I’m after something more immediate and relevant to each and every one of us on any given day.

Let me start with an example from my own experience.

If you spend enough time on social media, you’re bound to encounter people with some pretty strange opinions. For example, there is a significant number of people who believe that the earth is flat and that NASA and the United Nations have been conspiring to fool us all into believing it’s round. They believe that this conspiracy somehow keeps people from believing in God.

There are also people who believe very strongly that the proper spelling of Jesus’ name is a matter of eternal salvation. If you don’t spell it Yahashuwa (or whatever), then you’re not calling and believing on the right name, and so you’re not saved.

I think that’s absurd nonsense, and I have very little patience for people who push those ideas. I’ve tried arguing with them, mocking them, and ignoring them, but in the end, I usually unfollow them so I don’t see them anymore.

But I learned something very important this past week from my brother’s many friends: Even people who say and believe stupid stuff need to be heard and loved. They’re already working hard to cut themselves off from the rest of the body of the Messiah, and they don’t need my help. Making them invisible doesn’t take away their loneliness and confusion.

Now maybe I won’t be able to convince many of them that the earth is round or that Jesus loves them no matter how they pronounce his name, but Jamie didn’t stop reaching out and loving people just because 99% of them didn’t respond. The few, with whom he was able to connect and develop a lasting relationship, were ready for what he had to offer, but they didn’t necessarily advertise themselves. Jamie had to talk to them all in order to find the few who were ready. They responded and they were snatched right out of the very bowels of hell because Jamie didn’t fear to stroll through the gates, listen to a bit of music, and share some food and conversation.

Sodom was a vile city that needed to be destroyed, but righteous Lot lived there. What would have happened if God had said, “I don’t need to go in there. I’ve already heard the stories. Let’s just burn it all.” Lot would have been lost.

Jericho needed to fall, but we can’t abandon Rahab.

Moab was a wicked nation…but remember Ruth.

We don’t always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.

God is love, and upon this rock he will build his kingdom from a multitude of lonely, hurting people, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against you and me loving them as Yeshua loved us.

The End of the Law

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) Did Jesus come to put an end to the Law? Or is he the aim of the Law?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:4

I can’t tell you how many times someone has quoted this verse to me as “proof” that Jesus (also known as Yeshua) annulled God’s Law. At first glance, it looks like a killer argument. QED. How much clearer could it be?

Eh. Not so fast.

Remember that not a single word of the Bible was written in English and, by the very nature of human languages, no translation can ever be perfect. The key word in this verse seems to be “end”, so lets take a look at the original Greek.

τελος γαρ νομου χριστος εις δικαιοσυνην παντι τω πιστευοντι

The first word, telos, is the word translated into English as “end”.

Thayer’s Greek Definitions defines it thusly:

1) end
1a) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time)
1b) the end
1b1) the last in any succession or series
1b2) eternal
1c) that by which a thing is finished, its close, issue
1d) the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose
2) toll, custom (i.e. indirect tax on goods)

Termination of the Law would seem to be a reasonable translation, but Thayer gives us a number of other options too, including “aim” and “purpose”. “The aim of the Law” also seems pretty reasonable to me. Coincidentally, the English word “end” can be interpreted either way as well.

But is telos used in the sense of “aim” and “purpose” anywhere else in Scripture? Several places, in fact, by Paul, James, and Peter.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
(James 5:11)

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In the above three quotes, I bolded the English words used to translate the Greek word telos. Can the Lord ever be terminated (James 5:11)? Is our faith terminated by our salvation (1 Peter 1:8-9)? Should we stop avoiding pointless controversies once we have attained love (1 Timothy 1:5)? Of course, not! In these cases, translating telos as “termination” would be absurd.

So there is ample precedent for translating telos as aim or purpose instead of end, but how can we know for certain which one Paul meant in Romans 10:4?

Easy. Jesus said so.

Do not think that I have come to abolish (καταλυσαι: tear down, destroy, dissolve, overthrow) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill (πληρωσαι: make full, complete, carry out, perfect) them.
(Matthew 5:17)

Does it really make sense for Yeshua to say “I have not come to tear down the Law, but to put an end to it”? No. If we interpret Romans 10:4 to mean that Yeshua ended the Law, then we make his own words in Matthew 5:17 into nonsense. However, if we interpret Romans to say “The aim of the Law is Christ…”, it agrees with Matthew perfectly: Yeshua did not come to terminate the Law, but to perfect it.

“The end of the Law” means exactly the opposite of what many people today claim that it means.

And if my word isn’t good enough, here’s what a few venerable Christian commentaries have said concerning Romans 10:4:

  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown: For Christ is the end — the object or aim.
  • Matthew Henry: The design of the law was to lead people to Christ.
  • Geneva Bible: The law itself points to Christ, that those who believe in him should be saved.
  • Adam Clarke: The law is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ; it cannot save, but it leaves us at his door, where alone salvation is to be found.
  • Albert Barnes: It also means the design or object which is had in view; the principal purpose for which it was undertaken.
  • John Wesley: The scope and aim of it. It is the very design of the law, to bring men to believe in Christ for justification and salvation.

QED, indeed.

So, let’s have an end of this foolish controversy so that we may allow the Law to fulfill its manifold purposes: to teach men about sin and their need for a Savior, to illustrate the identity and purpose of that Savior, and to show us how to love God and one another. All of these together are the telos of the Torah.

 


I recorded a video to go with this article. You can watch it on YouTube or PewTube.

In Yeshua’s Instructions There Is Neither Jew nor Greek

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  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.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19

Some people insist that Yeshua’s (Jesus) words in this verse don’t necessarily mean that we should be keeping and teaching Torah (aka God’s Law) either because 1) Yeshua said people who throw out Torah “will be called least in the kingdom” and therefore must still be in the kingdom or 2) these words were spoken to Jews alone and were not intended for Gentile Christians at all.

On point one, I agree completely. Those who have put their faith in Yeshua for their eternal salvation are part of the kingdom of heaven even if they reject God’s Law and teach others to do the same, provided they do so from an honest misunderstanding of scripture and not from rebellion against God.

However, on the second point, we have a more serious difficulty. I’ll set aside whether or not the statement is factual or not for the moment and move on to the implications. This one verse (19) is part of a longer bit of oratory known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, all of which was addressed to a single gathering of people. No portion of the sermon was separated out as being addressed to one subset of the gathering more than another subset. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some other lines from the sermon:

  • v3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • v11 – Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
  • v13 – You are the salt of the earth…
  • v14 – You are the light of the world…
  • v22 – I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…
  • v28 – I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
  • v37 – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
  • v41 – If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
  • v44 – I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

There’s much more, but I’m sure you recognize most or all of the passages listed above. I hope the problem is already apparent to you: If verse 19 is intended only for Jews, then verses 3 and 44, etc., are also intended only for Jews, and Gentile Christians are free to hate their enemies and retaliate against those who persecute them.

Almost everything Yeshua is recorded to have said in all four Gospels was addressed to Jews. The idea that anything he only said to Jews was only intended for Jews requires that non-Jews ignore almost the entire text of the Gospels. How absurd!

The Apostles wrote that we ought to live according to Yeshua’s instructions. He himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

And here is one thing that Yeshua instructed:

(14) You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  (15)  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  (16)  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  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.  (18)  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  (19)  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (20)  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:14-20

Many translations put a break and a topic heading in between verses 16 and 17, but these two statements are placed together for a reason. Verse 16 speaks of “good deeds”, and verse 17 defines those deeds: Following God’s commandments as detailed in the Law and the Prophets.

This was addressed to a group of people who were probably mostly Jews with a few Gentiles, but they were intended for everyone who might wish to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So go do them, and, when you have accumulated some practice and understanding, teach them. I think I have some articles around here somewhere on how to do that.