A Catechism on God’s Law (Part 18)

Based on Greg Bahnsen’s “By This Standard,” (1991).

Are there discontinuities between the Old and New Covenants? (Continued)

  1. The New Covenant Reality Supersedes the Old Covenant Shadows:

One of the greatest points of dissimilarity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is found in the area of the redemptive rituals, for example the Old Testament sacrifices, priesthood, temple, covenant signs, etc. The way in which the laws pertaining to such redemptive ritual were observed prior to the coming of Christ is much different than the way in which they are observed today. By bringing in the substance foreshadowed in the old covenant and realizing the hope anticipated in the old covenant, the New Covenant gives us a new perspective on the laws which regulated expiation, priestly service and the like.

Whereas the Old Covenant believer looked ahead to the work of the Saviour and showed faith by observing the redemptive ritual of the Old Covenant, the New Covenant believer looks back upon the finished work of the Saviour and shows faith by clinging to Him for salvation totally apart from the old ceremonies. From scripture it is evident that the New Covenant arrangement is better than the Old Covenant pertaining to redemption, and accordingly those redemptive laws have been made outwardly inoperative. Here is a discontinuity between the Covenants which can be suppressed only at the cost of totally misunderstanding the teaching of the New Testament.

The logic of the writer of Hebrews is that, if a New Covenant has been given, then it must be a better covenant which as such makes the Old Covenant outmoded. Moses himself witnessed to the provisional glory of the administration of God’s grace found in the Pentateuch by looking beyond the shadow and promise to the realisation to come (Heb.3:5b). Likewise, Jeremiah spoke for God of a “New” covenant to come, and that very fact (according to the author of Hebrews) indicated that already the Mosaic administration was deemed obsolete and passing away, ready to vanish (Heb.8:13).

Saying this leads the author of Hebrews right into a discussion of the first covenant’s ritual ordinances (9:1ff). The work of Christ is in every way superior to these. He is “the surety of a better covenant,” “a better hope” (7:22, 19) because His priesthood is everlasting (7:21, 24-25), and His sacrifice of Himself is totally efficacious (7:26-28). The very repetition of the Old Covenant sacrifices demonstrated that they were temporary and imperfect (Heb.10:4ff.)

The superiority of Christ’s ministry over the Old Covenant’s Levitical ministry is found in the fact that Christ’s priestly work is exercised in the true, heavenly tabernacle rather than the earthly, shadowy one (Heb.8:2-5). The priestly work carried on in the earthly tabernacle was figurative or anticipatory (Heb.9:19), whereas Christ’s ministry is the realisation carried on in a greater tabernacle in heaven (9:11-12, 23-24)…

The Old Testament saints greeted the promises of God from afar (Heb.11:3). By contrast, Christ fulfils the promises and secures redemption, the promised redemption, the promised inheritance, and transforming power of His saving work (9:15; cf.8:6-10). The redemptive rituals of the Old Testament law the, could not perfect the believer; they were but a shadow of the good things to come (Heb.10:1) (p.162-164).

  1. The New Covenant redefines the Covenant People of God:

Under the Old Covenant order, Israel was constituted as a nation and adopted as the people of God, but under the New Covenant the people of God is an international body comprised of those who have faith in Christ. The kingdom has been taken from the Jews (Mat.8:11-12; 21:41-43; 23:37-38; I Cor.14:21-22), and the church is now “the Israel of God” (Gal.6:16), “the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph.2:12), the kingdom of priests” (I Pet.2:9), the “twelve tribes” of the Dispersion (James 1:1; I Pet.1:1), and the seed of Abraham (Gal.3:7, 29).

Faithful Israel of old is included within one household of God comprising the church (Heb.3:1-6); Israelites and Gentiles are separate branches, part of one olive tree of faith (Ro.11:17-18). Thus, the New Testament church is the restoration of Israel (Acts 15:15-20) and the New Covenant to be made with Israel and Judah is actually made with the apostles who are foundational to the church (Luke 22:20; cf.Eph.2:20). This Biblically grounded redefinition of the people of God brings with it some corresponding alterations in the application of the Old Testament law.

Because the New Covenant does not define God’s people as an earthly nation among others, it does not require political loyalty to national Israel as did the Old Covenant (Phil.3:20). Christ’s kingdom, unlike Old Testament Israel, is not to be defended with the sword (Jn.18:36; cf. II Cor.10:4).

Because the significance of Canaan as the promised land of inheritance has passed away with the establishment of the kingdom which it foreshadowed (cf. Gal.3:16; cf.Gen.13:15; Heb.11:8-10; Eph.1:14; I Pet.1:4), Old Covenant laws which are directly concerned with this land (for example, divisions of the land into family portions, locations of the cities of refuge, the Levirate institution) will find a changed application in our day.

The separation from unholy peoples required by God through the dietary laws, which symbolised this separation by means of a separation made between clean and unclean meats (cf. Lev.20:22-26), will no longer be observed by avoidance of the Gentiles (Acts 10) or typified by abstaining from certain foods (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15; Ro.14:17). For the Christian, this now requires separation from any ungodliness or compromising unbelief anywhere they may be found (II Cor.6:14-18) (p.165-166).

  1. The New Covenant surpasses the Old Covenant Law in Clarity:

With the giving of further relevant information in the scriptures of the New Covenant, God’s moral requirements are made even clearer to us. For instance, Christ corrects misinterpretations and narrowing of the law’s demand (Mat.5:21-48). Moreover, His own life is an illustration of what the law would have us do and thus is a new example of what love requires. The radical character of love is so dramatically displayed in the atonement that the old commandment of loving one another can be considered a “new command.” Christ’s explanation of love surpasses that of the Old Covenant when He says that His people are to love one another “even as I have loved you” (Jn.13:34-35; cf. 15:12-13; I Jn.2:7-11; 3:11-18, 22-24; 4:7-11) (p.167).

Copyright © Christian Family Study Centre