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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Jesus in the Torah: Leviticus

At its core, Leviticus is a manual explaining how a sinful people can have fellowship with a righteous God - by becoming righteous! (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, and 20:7) This, of course, is precisely what Christ's sacrifice accomplishes for Christians (Romans 3:21-26, 5:1, Philippians 3:9, Isaiah 61:10, etc.). The book outlines the way that the children of Israel could become Holy before God; and this was accomplished primarily through obedience, sacrificial offerings, and rituals (which all pointed to Jesus Christ).

In the first seven chapters of the book, five different kinds of offerings are outlined for God's people. In the order of their appearance in the book, they were the burnt, grain, peace, sin, and trespass offerings. In connection with these offerings, it is interesting to note that ALL of them required the presentation of the very best that was available to the Israelites from their livestock and grain crops. In other words, they had to be free of any defects - flawless (Leviticus 1:3, 10, 2:1, 4-5, 3:1, 6, 4:3, 23, 28, 32, 5:15, 18, 6:6, 20, 9:2-3, 14:10, etc.). This, of course, points to the sinless (in this sense, flawless) life which Christ lived (II Corinthians 5:21 and Hebrews 4:15) - "a lamb without blemish and without spot." (I Peter 1:19)

As it relates to Jesus Christ, it is interesting to note that the burnt offering was not a compulsory offering. In other words, it was completely voluntary (Leviticus 1:3) - just as Christ freely offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins (John 10:11-18). Also, as part of the ritual associated with this offering, the entire animal was to be consumed by fire (Leviticus 1:7-8, 12-13, 17). Naturally, as the sacrificed was burned, it would produce a copious amount of smoke - which the book describes as a sweet-smelling savor <pleasant aroma> unto the Lord (Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17). In his letter to the saints at Ephesus, Paul described Jesus as having "given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor" (Ephesians 5:2).

As for the grain offering, we have already noted in the previous post how Christ was compared to the "firstfruits" of the grain harvest. However, in connection with this particular offering, we should also note that frankincense, olive oil, (Leviticus 2:1, 16) and salt (verse 13) were to be mixed with the grain. Interestingly, frankincense is recorded as one of the gifts that was presented to the newborn Jesus by the wise men from the East (Matthew 2:1-12); and, once again, this was added to ensure that the Lord would receive a pleasant aroma when the offering was burned in the fire (Leviticus 2:2). Likewise, we know that olive oil was used to symbolize the Holy Spirit in the anointing of an individual (as in Luke 4:18 and Acts 10:38). Finally, in Scripture, salt is considered to be a precious commodity and was used to symbolize the efficacy and binding nature of something (see Matthew 5:13, Numbers 18:19, and II Chronicles 13:5).

The Open Bible (Expanded Edition) informs us that, "The peace offering is a figure of the fellowship believers have with God through the work of the cross." Like the grain, sin, and the trespass offerings, the "fellowship" or "peace" offering was to be shared between God and the priests (Leviticus 6:14-30 and 7:1-36). This stood in stark contrast to the burnt offering which belonged exclusively to the Lord (Leviticus 6:8-13). In the Gospel of John, we read that Christ told his disciples: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27) Paul told the saints at Rome that "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). He also wrote to the saints of Colosse that God had made his peace with us through the blood of Christ's cross and had reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20-21).

Finally, the sin and trespass/guilt offerings were made for both unintentional and deliberate sins, were mandatory when offenses were committed, and are the offerings which most clearly point to Christ (Leviticus 4, 5, 6:24-30, 7:1-10). Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be made an offering for sin (53:10). Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus and Colosse that they had received forgiveness for their sins through the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14). Also, the first epistle of Peter and the book of Revelation reveal that Christ redeemed us to God (I Peter 1:18 and Revelation 5:9). However, unlike the offerings/sacrifices outlined here in the book of Leviticus which were offered continually, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews informs us that Christ offered himself one time for all sins for all time (Hebrews 9:26 and 10:10-12).

After outlining and explaining the various offerings, the book of Leviticus goes on to explain the role that Aaron and his sons would play as priests (chapter 8). Once again, the anonymous author of the epistle to the Hebrews has a great deal to say about Jesus acting in the capacity of high priest for his followers. Indeed, we read there that Christ was "made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." (2:17) That Christ was superior to the Aaronic priesthood is emphasized in this epistle over and over again. In the fourth chapter, we read: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Verses 14-15) Likewise, in the seventh chapter, we read that "Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore." (Verses 22-28) Moreover, the thought was continued and summarized in the following chapter. We read there: "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." (8:1-2) Hence, for the author of this letter to the Hebrews, we see that Jesus Christ was clearly regarded as being representative of the ultimate priesthood.

As for the laws which differentiated between clean and unclean (Leviticus 11-15), we know that Jesus had a great deal to say about what defiles a person, and that he played an integral role in making us clean in God's sight. When the Pharisees observed that Christ's disciples had not followed traditional protocols about washing their hands (no doubt, they were based on the ceremonial washings found here in the Torah), they confronted him about and demanded to know why they had ignored these Jewish traditions (Mark 7:1-5). Christ then proceeded to school them in what really makes someone unclean. He said: "There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man." (Verse 15) Later, he more fully explained to his disciples what he was talking about. He said: "whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man." (Mark 7:18-23) Likewise, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being concerned with the outward appearance of cleanliness instead of concerning themselves with the filth within (Matthew 23:26-26) In the same gospel, we are informed that Christ made clean a man who was afflicted with leprosy (Matthew 8:2-3) Finally, after his ascension to heaven, we know that Jesus revealed to Peter that he shouldn't regard any person as being unclean (Acts 10).

In the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, we read about the rituals surrounding the Day of Atonement. In this ceremony, Aaron would officiate as high priest and would serve as a figure of Jesus Christ. As part of the preparation for this ceremony, Aaron was also instructed to present two goats to the Lord "at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." (Verse7) Next, he was instructed to "cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat." (Verse 8) These goats would represent two different aspects of the atonement: one would provide the blood necessary for the high priest to make the atonement, and the other would symbolically carry away/remove the sins from the people and God's presence (verses 9-10). Then the high priest took the Lord's goat, sacrificed it, and used its blood to make atonement for the people of Israel (verses 15-19). Next, the live goat was to be brought forward and the high priest was to lay his hands on its head, confess over it all of the sins of the people, and release the goat to wander in the wilderness (verses 20-22).

As it relates to Jesus Christ, this symbolism is explained in the book of Hebrews and in a few other scriptures scattered throughout the Bible. In the ninth chapter of Hebrews, we read how "the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience...But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (Verses 6-12) Moreover, this explanation of Christ's role in the atonement is continued through verses that we have already cited in connection with his role as an offering for sin (verses 13-28). However, in connection with the scapegoat, we should also note that Isaiah observed that "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) Likewise, we have already quoted that passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus is identified as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (1:29)

Finally, in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, we read that the Lord told Moses to instruct the children of Israel "concerning the feasts of the Lord." (Verses 1-2) Paul wrote to the Colossians that these festivals were shadows of the reality found in Christ (2:17). In this regard, once again, I would like to recommend Ron Dart's excellent book titled The Thread: God's Appointments with History (2006) for anyone who is interested in a more thorough treatment of how these days apply to Jesus Christ. For our purposes in this post, however, a brief summary will suffice.

In our previous post about Christ in the book of Exodus, we saw that Christ was the ultimate Passover Lamb, and that he was the precious unleavened Bread of Life! We have not, however, previously discussed the wave sheaf offering (Leviticus 23:9-11). The priest was to wave a sheaf of the firstfruits of the grain harvest before the Lord during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Moreover, as Ron Dart has pointed out in the above-mentioned book, this ceremony could NOT be performed on a Sabbath day (as it required work (the harvesting and preparation of the offering). Now, the New Testament makes clear that Christ was sacrificed on the Jewish Passover, and it is also clear from the four gospel accounts that he was resurrected just after the Sabbath which followed the Passover - the very time when the high priest would have been presenting the wave sheaf offering to God! Moreover, this was to be followed by counting fifty days to arrive at the next festival mentioned in this twenty-third chapter of Leviticus (verses 15-16).

Pentecost is one of the Old Testament festivals with which almost all Christians are very familiar. Why? Because it was on this day that the New Testament Church was founded! In the book of Acts, we read: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (2:1-4) And, after delivering a fiery sermon (verses 14-36), we are informed that Peter told the crowd: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Verse 38) This, apparently, resulted in the addition of about three thousand souls to the Church (verse 41). Hence, for Christians, Pentecost is regarded as a kind of foundational Holy Day for their religion!

The next festival mentioned in the book of Leviticus is the Feast of Trumpets (23:23-24). In terms of a connection to Jesus Christ, it is interesting to note that the writings of the New Testament clearly associate the "blowing of trumpets" with the resurrection and his return to this earth in power and glory! Indeed, Christ told his disciples that "then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:30-31) Likewise, Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth that "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (I Corinthians 15:52) He also wrote to the saints of Thessalonica on this wise: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (I Thessalonians 4:15-17) Finally, the book of Revelation is literally full of trumpets!

As for the Day of Atonement, we have already discussed the ritual associated with this Holy Day, but there is another aspect of the day which also points to Jesus Christ. In the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, we read: "Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people." (Verses 27-29) In this connection, Isaiah's prophecy about the Messiah is of particular interest to us. We read there: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted...He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." (Isaiah 53:3-7) Hence, we can see that in accomplishing our reconciliation to God that Christ was clearly afflicted in the performance of that task.

In similar fashion, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Temporary Dwellings) and the holy convocation on the eighth day also clearly point to Jesus Christ. During this festival, the Israelites were instructed to construct booths, or temporary shelters, to live in for the duration of the festival (Leviticus 23:40-42). In this connection, it is interesting to note that Jesus Christ "tabernacled" in the flesh for a little while. We read in the Gospel of John that "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) Indeed, this tabernacling in the flesh was necessary for Christ to suffer the affliction and death that would result in our atonement/reconciliation to God! This is made very plain in the epistle to the Hebrews. We read there: "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." (2:9-10) And, a little later, we read: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." (Verse 14)

Finally, we read in the Gospel of John that Christ attended the Feast of Tabernacles at Jerusalem during his lifetime on this planet (chapter 7). And, during his time there, he once again enjoined them to not make superficial judgments about righteousness (verses 22-24). Then, we read: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" (Verses 37-39) Interestingly, on the eighth day - the day of that holy convocation, Christ referred to that same living water that he had mentioned to the Samaritan woman at the well, and invited everyone to partake of it!

Once again, for Christians, the evidence of Christ's presence in the Torah is overwhelming. Moreover, if any of them ever had any doubts about Christ representing the fulfillment of the Torah, they would surely be dispelled by what we will observe in the final two volumes of the Pentateuch (Numbers and Deuteronomy)!


Saturday, May 28, 2022

Jesus in the Torah: Exodus

Like Genesis, the book of Exodus is literally full of allusions to Jesus Christ. And, as with the previous book, the historicity of the events and people portrayed in the narrative is immaterial to the spiritual reality the author(s) was/were attempting to portray. In other words, in this treatise, we are NOT concerned with whether or not a person named Moses actually led a large group of Israelites out of physical servitude in Egypt. Likewise, we are not concerned with the historicity of the birth narratives in two of the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it takes nothing away from the thesis that Jesus can be found throughout the book of Exodus to acknowledge that scholars have pointed out problems with the historicity of both the Old and New Testament narratives. Obviously, for Fundamentalists, such concerns will not even appear on their radar, but I think that even Christians of a more scholarly or progressive inclination will see the spiritual value and significance of these allusions as we proceed.

As the book opens, we find that "there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph." (Exodus 1:8) Hence, no longer protected by their savior (Joseph) or Pharaoh's favor, the people of Israel found that they had slipped into a state of servitude to the Egyptians and had begun to suffer mightily at the hands of their oppressors (Exodus 1:10-22). In this connection, it is interesting to note that, just as Moses was charged with delivering God's people from slavery to the Egyptians and the control and whim of Pharaoh, Jesus Christ was charged with delivering God's people from their slavery to sin and the control and whim of Satan the Devil! (John 8:34-36) And this brings us to one of the principal ways that Christians can see their Savior in the pages of the book of Exodus: Moses was a figure of the Messiah that was to come later. Indeed, we are informed by the book of Deuteronomy that Moses predicted that "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken." (18:15)

How was Christ like Moses? Like Moses, Christ served in the capacity of a prophet to (and leader of) God's people. Like Moses, Christ began his life as an innocent and helpless infant whose life was threatened by an edict of a ruthless king to exterminate all of the male babies of the Israelites in the region. Like Moses, Christ expounded upon God's Law and served in the capacity of the mediator of a covenant between God and his people. And, as has already been mentioned, like Moses, Christ led God's people out of bondage.

In the third chapter of the book, we read: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: AND SAID, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." (Verse 14) In this connection, it is interesting to note that the Gospel of John relates a story where Christ clearly identified himself with this passage from Exodus. We read there: "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him." (John 8:58-59) The Pharisees tried to stone Jesus, because they were just as aware of that passage in Exodus as he was and believed that he was blaspheming by applying it to himself!

In the twelfth chapter of Exodus, we are given an account of the first Passover that the Israelites celebrated. We read there: "Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house...Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening." (Verses 5-6) In this connection, it is interesting to note that John the Baptist identified Jesus of Nazareth as the "Lamb of God." (John 1:29 and 36) Moreover, all four of the canonical gospels equate the Passover with the events surrounding Christ's death (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John13). In his first letter to the saints of Corinth, Paul clearly identified Christ as the Passover of New Testament Christians (I Corinthians 5:7). Likewise, in the first epistle attributed to Peter, we read: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (I Peter 1:18-19) Finally, the book of Revelation identifies Christ as "the Lamb that was slain." (Revelation 5:12) And, God's people who "came out of great tribulation" are depicted as having "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:14)

After the Israelites had celebrated that first Passover, we are informed that Lord led them out of Egypt by the hand of Moses (Exodus 12:51). Unfortunately, according to the narrative, Pharaoh changed his mind about letting Israel go and decided to pursue them and attempt to bring them back to Egypt (Exodus 14:1-9). Even so, God miraculously opened up the Red Sea and allowed the Israelites to pass through the midst of the waters (verses 13-31). For the Apostle Paul, this experience of the Israelites had special significance for Jesus Christ's followers. He wrote to the saints of Corinth: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." (I Corinthians 10:1-11)

Even so, the Israelites feelings of gratitude for their deliverance from Egypt proved to be short-lived. In fact, we read in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus that "the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, "because they were hungry" (verses 2-3). As a consequence, we read that God told Moses: "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no." (Verse 4) Then, we are told that God caused a heavy dew to fall on the camp of Israel (verse 13). Later, when the dew had finally evaporated, we read: "Behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat." (Verses 14-15)

What does all of that have to do with Jesus? In the Gospel of John, we are informed that Christ fed a large crowd with five loaves of bread and two small fishes (John 6:5-13). Impressed by the fact that Christ had fed them, the crowd pursued him into the wilderness (verses 24-25). And, when they finally caught up to him, they reminded him that God had given their ancestors "bread from heaven to eat." (Verse 31) In response, Christ told them: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (Verses 32-39)

Nevertheless, after God gave them manna to eat, we are informed that the Israelites complained that they were dying of thirst (Exodus 17:1-3). Once again, God provided for their needs - giving them water to drink (verses 4-6). In this connection, the Gospel of John informs us that Christ had some interesting things to say about thirst and water to a certain Samaritan woman at a well (John 4:5-9). After asking her for a drink of water (which shocked the woman that a Jew would even deign to talk to a Samaritan), Christ told her: "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (Verse 10) The woman expressed some skepticism and supplied a brief history of the well (verses 11-12). Jesus responded: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (Verses 13-14)

In the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, Moses and the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai and set up camp (verses 1-2). Then Moses went up into the Mount, and God proposed a covenant between himself and the people of Israel (verses 3-6). Next, acting in the capacity of a mediator, Moses carried the Lord's offer to the people, and they happily accepted his terms (verses 7-8). In this connection, it is interesting to note that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews observed that Jesus Christ "is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." (Hebrews 8:6) Indeed, earlier in the letter, the author of the epistle had written to his Christian audience about the respective roles of Moses and Jesus relative to God's plans. The author observed: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." (Hebrews 3:1-6) Hence, although both men had clearly been chosen to mediate a covenant between God and his people, Christ was superior to Moses, just as the New Covenant was superior to the Old.

Nevertheless, the book of Exodus informs us that God did go on to give Moses his "Ten Commandments" (20:1-17). Now, in the beginning of this series, we observed that Christ had said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law...I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17) And, in other posts on this blog, I have pointed out that part of that fulfillment of God's law involved him distilling the Law of Moses into two great principles (and this distillation of the law is nowhere more apparent than as it relates to the "Ten Commandments"). When asked about the greatest commandment of the Mosaic Law, the Gospel of Matthew informs us that Christ replied: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (22:37-40) Later, the Apostle Paul further condensed the principle by stating that love constitutes the fulfilling of the Law (Romans 13:10).

After the giving of the "Ten Commandments," the book of Exodus records that God gave Moses further judgments and instructions for the people of Israel (chapters 21-23). Of particular interest to us with regard to the thesis of this post, is the outlining of three festivals which the Israelites were to observe as part of the terms of the Old Covenant (23:14-17). They were: The Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Ingathering. In this connection, we have already noted that Christ referred to himself as the "Bread of Life." Likewise, we have already referenced Paul's statement that Christians are unleavened because "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." (I Corinthians 5:7). With regard to the second festival outlined in Exodus, we know that Paul referred to Jesus as "the firstfruits of them that slept." (I Corinthians 15:20, 23) Paul also told the Romans that we (Christians) have "the firstfruits of the Spirit." (Romans 8:23) Likewise, several of the New Testament authors referred to early Christians as a kind of firstfruits (Romans 16:5, I Corinthians 16:15, James 1:18, and Revelation 14:4). Finally, relative to the great harvest at the end of the agricultural year which was celebrated by the Feast of Ingathering, we know that Christ compared his salvific work to a harvest of souls (Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43). Likewise, when Christ sent his disciples out to preach to the people, the Gospel of Luke informs us that he told them: "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest." (10:2) Indeed, the Gospel of John informs us that Jesus told his disciples that the fields were "white already to harvest." (4:35) Hence, Christ and his followers clearly compared his work with the observance of these Exodus harvest festivals.

In the twenty-fourth chapter of Exodus, we are informed that Moses built an altar and sacrificed some animals to God (verses 4-5). Next, we read that "Moses took half of the blood and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words." (Verses 6-8) In this connection, it is interesting to note that on the occasion of his last meal with his disciples (just prior to his death) that Jesus "took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28) Along the same lines, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews observed that Christ's sacrifice and blood was superior to the sacrifices and blood which confirmed the Old Covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15). This anonymous author then went on to observe that "when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:19-26)

Now, the remaining chapters of Exodus (25-40) are primarily concerned with the construction of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, and the establishment of a priesthood under Moses' brother, Aaron. Once again, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews nicely summarizes for us just how all of this related to Jesus Christ. He/she wrote: "Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (Hebrews 9:1-12) Moreover, in the first post in this series, we discussed how Christ was called by God to be a "high priest after the order of Melchisedek" - replacing the Aaronic priesthood (Hebrews 5).

Thus, we see that Christians find Jesus of Nazareth throughout the second book of the Torah, Exodus. For them, the allusions to Christ are numerous and deeply embedded in the content and structure of the book. Nevertheless, as we will see in the posts about the remaining three books of the Torah (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), for Christians, Jesus Christ embodies/personifies/represents the entire corpus of the Torah!

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Jesus in the Torah: Genesis

Jesus Christ said that he came to fulfill the Torah and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). He also said that the Hebrew Scriptures testified about him (John 5:39). Moreover, we know that the only Scriptures available to Christ and his followers were that collection of writings which we now refer to as the Old Testament (the writings which we now refer to as the New Testament did not emerge in their present format until the Fourth Century). In other words, when Paul wrote to Timothy that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16), he was speaking about the Old Testament Scriptures. Hence, the apostles and early Christian Church used the Hebrew Scriptures to teach about Jesus. Indeed, we see the evidence of this in the fact that the Old Testament is quoted so extensively in the New Testament.

For Christians, seeing Jesus in the Old Testament is a central tenet of their faith, and they literally see him everywhere in those documents! However, folks on the outside of the Christian community do not see what Christians see in those writings. They claim that Christians twist those writings to mean things that the authors never intended for them to mean. They believe that Christians have projected Jesus Christ into those writings and have effectively hijacked the Jewish Scriptures! Why can't they see what Christians see in those writings? For Christians, the answer to that question is simple - because they don't have God's Holy Spirit! Christians believe that the Holy Spirit enables them to see Jesus in the writings of the Old Testament, and that this explains why nonbelievers cannot see what they see in them. Hence, for unbelievers, the exercise in which we are about to engage will be futile and meaningless. Nevertheless, for Christians, seeing Christ in the Torah is faith affirming and inspirational!

The first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are referred to as the Torah, Pentateuch, or Law. These writings will be the focus of this series, and we will begin with the book of beginnings, Genesis. To be clear, the purpose of these posts is to underscore Jesus Christ's presence in those writings for Christians. Once again, those outside of that community will find little of interest or value in what follows.

The book of Genesis opens with the most famous line in all of literature: "In the beginning, God created the heaven(s) and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) The Gospel of John informs us that Jesus Christ was the one who actually created all things (John 1:3), and the Apostle Paul told the saints at Colosse the same thing (Colossians 1:16). Moreover, as the Creator of human life (Genesis 1:26-27), many Christians have pointed out that Jesus Christ's life was worth more than the rest of humankind combined (enabling him to pay the penalty for our sins - see Romans 5:8-9). Continuing in the first chapter of Genesis, we read that God said, "Let there be light" (verse 3). In this connection, it is interesting to note that this creation of light happens prior to the creation of the sun in this narrative (verses 14-19). For the author of the Gospel of John, this too pointed to Jesus Christ. He wrote that Christ's "life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not (or did not swallow it up or overwhelm it)." (John 1:4-5) This is also consistent with two statements by Jesus about himself recorded later in the same gospel account (John 8:12 and 9:5).

In his letter to the saints at Rome, Paul said that Adam was a "figure of him that was to come [Christ]" (Romans 5:14). In Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth, he pointed out that Christ was a type of the Adam of Genesis. He wrote: "The Scriptures tell us, 'The first man, Adam, became a living person.' But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man." (I Corinthians 15:45-49, NLT)

In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, we are informed that "God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it." (Genesis 2:2-3) In this connection, it is interesting to note that the anonymous author of the epistle to the Hebrews tied this Sabbath rest to Christ's work. After referencing the passage in Genesis (Hebrews 4:4), the author observed: "For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." (Hebrews 4:8-11) Hence, for the Christian author of this epistle, the Sabbath of Genesis found its ultimate fulfillment in the rest which Christ's work provided for the people of God.

At the end of the second chapter of Genesis, we also find a passage (verse 24) that Christ quoted in his answer to a question posed to him by the Pharisees about divorce. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Christ told them: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Matthew 19:4-6) For Christ, this passage from Genesis about the first man and his wife informed us of God's will regarding human marriage.

In the third chapter of the book, we have what most Christians regard as the first prophecy referring to Jesus Christ. After the Serpent coaxed Adam and Eve to disobey God and partake of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (3:1-7), we read of God's judgement on all of the offending parties - beginning with the Serpent (verses 14-24). However, the verse that is seen by most Christians as offering a preview of the great cosmic conflict between Christ and the Devil is found in the fifteenth verse of the chapter. We read there that God told the Serpent: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." OR, as it is rendered in the NIV: "I will put enmity [rendered 'hostility' in some modern translations] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

The next Genesis narrative that is referenced in the writings of the New Testament in connection with Jesus Christ is the story of Cain and Abel. In two of the synoptic gospels, it is recorded that Christ warned the religious leaders of that day that they would "be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar." (Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51) Also, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews noted that Abel's offering was superior to Cain's offering (11:4), and Christ's sacrifice was superior to Abel's (12:24). We could also note that Abel was a shepherd (Genesis 4:2), and that Christ referred to himself as the "Good Shepherd" (John 10:11, 14). Moreover, just as Abel was killed by his brother, Christ was killed by his Jewish brethren (John 1:11 and Matthew 27:20-25).

As for Noah, Christ compared the time just prior to his second coming to the time just before the flood. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus told his disciples: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." (Verses 36-39) Also, when we compare the story of Noah to the story of Christ, we see the contrast between God condemning a sinning humanity to death (Genesis 6:5-7), and Christ coming into the world not to condemn mankind - but to save him (John 3:17).

In terms of the genealogy of Genesis, the New Testament authors noted that Jesus was a descendant of Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel) and Judah (see Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38 and Romans 9:5). In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul compared faith in Christ to Abraham's faith in God's promises (Galatians 3:1-13). He also noted that Christ was the heir to the promises made to Abraham; and that, through him, his followers had been made heirs to the same promises (Galatians 3:15-29). In the same letter, Paul also equated the children of the New Covenant with Sarah, and the children of the Old Covenant with Hagar (Galatians 4:22-31). In the Gospel of John, we read that Christ upbraided the Jews for taking refuge in their physical descent from Abraham and told them that if they were really Abraham's children that they would follow his example of belief and obedience (John 8:33-40) He went on to tell them that "'Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.' The people said, 'You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!'" (John 8:56-58)

In the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, there is a curious story about the mysterious King Melchizedek of Salem (Verses 17-20). In this account, we are informed that Melchizedek "was the priest of the most high God," and that Abraham "gave him tithes of all." Once again, the anonymous author of the epistle to the Hebrews tied this story to Jesus. He wrote: "So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec." (Hebrews 5:5-10) Later, in the same epistle, we read: "For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better." (Hebrews 7:1-7)

In the seventeenth chapter of Genesis, we read that God told Abraham: "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed." (Verses 10-12) Hence, in accordance with this covenant with Abraham, we read in the Gospel of Luke: "And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb." (2:21) Now, later, in our discussion of the book of Deuteronomy we will also see that Christ transformed circumcision into a spiritual exercise for New Covenant Christians. Even so, we see that Christ's parents fulfilled this requirement of the Torah when Jesus was just a baby.

As for the story about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), it is interesting to note that Christ is recorded to have said that it would be more tolerable for those cities in the Judgment than it would be for any cities which didn't welcome his missionaries (Matthew 10:15, Mark 6:11, and Luke 10:12). In similar fashion, we read in the Gospel of Matthew that Christ upbraided the city of Capernaum for its failure to respond to his works. He said: "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee." (Matthew 11:23-24)

In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, we are informed that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. However, before Abraham could perform the deed, God intervened and prevented him from harming his son (and provided another sacrifice). Now, in terms of a connection to Jesus Christ, there is one passage from this account that is of particular interest to us. We read there: "And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." (Verses 15-18) First, the fact that Abraham did not withhold his son, his ONLY son calls to mind one of the most famous passages of the New Testament: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) Moreover, Christians have traditionally recognized the promise that all of the nations of the earth would be blessed in Abraham's seed as having been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

Finally, The Open Bible (Expanded Edition) [Thomas Nelson Publishers] points out that: "Joseph is also a type of Christ. Joseph and Christ are both objects of special love by their fathers, both are hated by their brethren, both are rejected as rulers over their brethren, both are conspired against and sold for silver, both are condemned though innocent, and both are raised from humiliation to glory by the power of God." Hence, we can see that Christians have always seen Jesus Christ in the book of Genesis. Moreover, for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, the evidence is extensive and compelling.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Death, Pestilence, and Destruction Around the World Today!

The title of this post could be the opening line of most newscasts and many sermons. Indeed, our obsession with gloom and doom is legendary and pervasive! Let's face it, we tend to focus on the bad, the failures, the tragedies - the more spectacular, the better! Apparently, the good stuff is too commonplace and mundane. The car wreck that results in horrific death deserves our attention more than the millions of folks who safely navigate their way to their destination on a daily basis. Death has priority over birth. Mourning is more compelling than joy and celebration. The Apocalypse is more exciting than folks beating their swords into plowshares and every teardrop being wiped away from our eyes!

Fortunately, over the last few years, the folks in most of the newsrooms around the United States have recognized the value of devoting the final story of the newscast to something positive/uplifting/inspiring in nature. I guess it finally dawned on them that the focus of the newscast was just too depressing and negative for viewers! "We've got to give them something to pull them out of the nosedive that our other stories have provoked!" In other words, they have finally seemed to grasp the truth of the old adage: "Better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness."

Likewise, for too many of our preachers, the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are just too good to ignore! Antichrists, war, famine, pestilence and death are more interesting than Christ, peace, plenty, healing and life! Horrific beasts, plagues and blood flowing in copious amounts are more riveting than the Good News about Jesus Christ and what comes next! Unfortunately, all too many of our pastors delight in expounding upon the gory details of punishment and warning us about the horrific consequences of our sins. For them, the notion of God zapping someone is more compelling than the notion of God lifting someone out of the mire and saving them!

They forget what Paul wrote to the saints of Philippi so long ago. He instructed them to "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." (Philippians 4:8) Likewise, he wrote to the saints at Rome: "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." (Romans 8:1-2) Paul concluded his thought here with one of the most uplifting passages in the entire Bible. He wrote: "I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

What about you? Are you ready to embrace a different perspective? Are you willing to focus on the positive things around us, and the good things that have been predicted for our future? OR Are the pain, suffering and torment simply too compelling to abandon? Do you prefer sadness to joy, and warning to encouragement? In this regard, it seems to this blogger that we all have a choice to make. This is entirely a matter of perspective. Will we choose to look up or will we choose to stare into the abyss?

Monday, May 16, 2022

CGI's Response to the ACOG Covenant Dilemma

In response to my article about the dearth of Armstrong Church of God literature addressing the differences between the Old and New Covenants, one of the Church of God International's leadership team forwarded me a copy of an old booklet on the subject that was out of print. The copyright date on the booklet was 1992, and it was titled "The New Covenant – Does It Do Away with God’s Law?" The booklet purports to answer the following questions: "Did Christ do away with the Ten Commandments?  Was the law 'nailed to the cross?'  Are Old Testament laws about the Sabbath, clean meats, tithing, and annual holy days 'done away?'  Did Christ make Christians free from any obligation to obey God?  Need Christians just 'believe' on Christ, but need not fulfill requirements of any of God’s laws?"

Of course, those of you who have read my posts on the subject will understand that these questions seek to argue the topic by erecting a straw man to attack - instead of addressing the actual relationship of the New Covenant to the requirements of the Old! No, Christ didn't "do away with the Ten Commandments" - he fulfilled them! No, the Law wasn't "nailed to the cross" - the "record of the charges against us" (based on our failure to keep God's Law) was! No, the Sabbath, clean meats, tithing, and Holy Days weren't "done away" - Christ fulfilled them! No, Christ didn't free Christians from any obligation to obey God - He made it possible for us to obey the spirit of the Law! Christians must believe in Christ and accept him as their personal Savior and walk in newness of life as Christians!

As for the CGI booklet, oddly enough, it begins with a "television evangelist" espousing the correct perspective on the New Covenant! According to the booklet, the evangelist said: "Clinging to the legalism of the Old Covenant is like walking around outside in the sunshine, trying to see where you’re going with a flashlight." The televangelist then went on to say that "The Old Covenant was complex, but the New Covenant is simple." He continued: "Christ gave only TWO LAWS! One: ‘Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and all your mind,’ and two: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself!’" In other words, CGI was ridiculing the TRUTH about the New Covenant in this booklet!

The booklet then attempts to answer the question "What Was the Old Covenant?" Laying aside the fact that it attributes the anonymously authored epistle to the Hebrews to the Apostle Paul, CGI does acknowledge that there is a distinction between the two covenants by quoting Hebrews 8:13 (In that He [Christ] saith, ‘A New Covenant,’ He hath made the first old.  Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away). This was followed by, yet another set of straw man loaded questions: "Why did Christ come as a Messenger of a 'New Covenant?'  What was wrong with the old one?  Was it flawed?  Did God make a mistake?  Was the Old Covenant a harsh, cruel, rigorous set of dos and don’ts; a legalistic, complex system of laws that were impossible to obey; a heavy burden on the backs of poor, suffering people who could never measure up?"

Having served the purpose of misdirecting the argument, the questions were followed by a definition of the English word "covenant." However, it appears that the author's primary objective in nailing down the fact that a covenant is an agreement between two parties "to do or not to do a certain thing" was to demonstrate that the covenant is NOT the Law. And, while we could all easily acknowledge the truth of this assertion, it is strange that so much effort is put into making the distinction since the author immediately went on to admit that the Law was part of the "terms" of the Old Covenant! Even though, we know that the Torah did not appear as the five books we recognize as part of our canon until hundreds of years after Moses' death, the CGI narrative is that Moses laid out God's Laws, statutes and judgements and the people replied: "All that Thou hast spoken we will Do!" For their obedience, God promised to bless them. Moreover, if they failed to obey God's Laws, he promised to curse them! According to the author of the booklet, "The Ten Commandments formed a foundational part of the Old Covenant, but the laws Israel agreed to keep included dozens of other points, included in 'statutes' and 'judgments,' or written laws (statutes), and oral decisions rendered by God’s appointed judges (judgments)."

The next section of the booklet was titled "A Proposal of Marriage." In this part, the author likened the Old Covenant to a marriage contract between God and the people of Israel. However, as the author pointed out, Israel proved to be an unfaithful wife. The author concluded: "So the flaw was not the law, or any part of it.  It was not even the covenant which was flawed – but the people!  Theirs was the fault.  They rebelled, broke their word!  God’s law is perfect; His covenant was beautiful.  They were the problem!"  The author then proceeded to quote a number of verses that underscore that God's Law is perfect, holy, just, good, and righteous. Once again, so far - so good (we have no problem acknowledging that this is consistent with what appears in Scripture). The problem arises when they conclude that this is WHY God decided to offer a New Covenant. Unfortunately, the author only quotes a portion of the appropriate passage from the epistle to the Hebrews in this context.

In the book of Hebrews, we read: "But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said: 'The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.' When God speaks of a 'new' covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear." (Hebrews 8:6-13) So, from God's perspective, we see that there were a number of problems with the Old Covenant. According to this passage of Scripture, the New Covenant would be based on 1) a superior priesthood, 2) better promises, 3) a more intimate relationship with God's Law, 4) a better understanding of God and his will, and 5) the complete forgiveness of their wickedness and sins. Thus, this passage makes clear that the New Covenant would be superior to the Old and would render it obsolete!

How was a more intimate relationship with God's Law and a better understanding of Him and His will accomplished? Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets perfectly on our behalf. Christ explained the spiritual intent of the Law and condensed it into two great principles (Love for God and love for neighbor). Christ became the sacrifice for sins that the Law required and replaced the Levitical priesthood. Christ became the ultimate Sabbath rest for the people of the covenant - allowing them to rest from their own works. Christ circumcised the hearts of the people of the covenant and transformed what it meant to be clean and unclean. And, finally, Christ commanded his followers to love each other and live a new life in him, and he sent them the Holy Spirit to help them to perform these tasks.

The final segment of the booklet is titled "A Spiritual Law - Eternal Promises." In this section, the author reverts to the favorite prooftext of Amrstrongists regarding a Christian's continuing obligation to observe the tenets of the Old Covenant (Matthew 5:17-18). So, let's take a closer look at this very abused passage of Scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So, if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matthew 5:17-20) Once again, Christ came to this earth to fulfill or "accomplish" the Law's purpose! And, having accomplished that, he has also wiped away all of our sins and paid the penalty for them (death). Likewise, he has transformed the Law (which is made very clear in the remaining verses of chapter five) and made it possible for our righteousness to surpass the righteousness of the Jewish teachers and Pharisees and enter God's Kingdom. NOTHING in the Law was done away - it was FULFILLED/ACCOMPLISHED and TRANSFORMED!

CGI, however, refuses to acknowledge these truths about how the Law relates to Christians under the New Covenant. Instead, they insist on attacking the straw man which they have carefully constructed. They say: "Yet some preachers seem to believe that because Christ 'fulfilled' the law, you and I no longer have to obey it! In other words, they twist what Jesus said to mean 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law – I merely came to do away with it!'  This is more than merely stupid – it is blatantly dishonest! You have seen, with your own eyes, that anyone who claims Christ abolished the law is either completely ignorant of God’s Word, or deliberately lying!" Nevertheless, I am saying that Christians aren't bound by the dos and don'ts of the Old Covenant. I am NOT saying that Christians aren't obligated to obey the Law of Love which Christ commanded his followers to observe. I am NOT saying that Christ came to do away with the Law. I am saying that he came to accomplish its purpose and transform it for the purposes of a New Covenant (one that Scripture says is UNLIKE the Old Covenant). So, who is twisting what Jesus said? Who is displaying ignorance of God's Word, or deliberately lying? I'm beginning to understand why this booklet was taken out of circulation!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Unity in God's Church

The Christian Church has dealt with strife and division within its ranks for almost two thousand years now, and there have been many unsuccessful attempts over the same period to foster or impose unity on those discordant ranks. Why? What has caused all of this strife? Why have all of the Church's efforts to stifle this discord and promote unity within its ranks met with such utter failure? and Why has God allowed this situation to exist?

To begin to answer these questions, we must first clearly define the objective, UNITY. Indeed, the failure to clearly understand the concept of unity has been one of the principal reasons that the Church has never achieved it! Now everyone understands that "unity" indicates that everyone is united or acting as a whole, but most of us don't seem to comprehend what that implies for the individuals who make up that whole. In other words, for a bunch of individual humans to be united as a whole requires each one of them to commit to a common objective/goal. In Biblical terms, this is expressed as "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" [Amos 3:3, KJV] Notice too some of the other English translations of this verse: "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" [NIV] "Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?" [NLT] "Can two walk together without agreeing where to go?" [BSB] Hence, if a group of individuals cannot agree on their objective at the beginning of their joint venture, they will NEVER achieve unity!

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of an instance when Jesus Christ was accused of casting out demons by Satan's authority [Matthew 12:24]. Continuing, however, we read that "Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.'" [Verse 25, NIV] Once again, the clear implication being that there must be agreement about the objective on the front end of any venture that is going to have any hope of success. Christ went on to explain: "If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." [Verses 26-30] Hence, any individual who has not accepted the common objective of the group on the front end will NEVER be in harmony with the other members of the group! He/She will NEVER be able to work together with the other members of the group and coordinate with them because he/she is working toward a completely different goal/objective!

Moreover, the Church has always had individuals who have not shared the goals/objectives of the wider community. Jesus Christ likened them to weeds that have been sowed among the grain [See Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43]. Because of the pulls of human nature, some folks have inevitably succumbed to lust, envy, and selfish ambition, and strife and disharmony have been the consequence of that failure [See James 4:1-3]. Unfortunately, others have taken their eyes off of God and have begun to look to human leaders with the same result [See I Corinthians 1:10-13]. We must also understand that people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and dispositions will only become unified through a spiritual process that requires time to change and mold individuals into a harmonious whole [See Ephesians 4:1-13]. Likewise, we must all come to acknowledge that some of the differences which naturally exist among any group are not detrimental to achieving the primary goal of the group [See Romans 14]. Finally, we must also realize that harmony within the Church can sometimes be harmful when the shared objective is amiss. Although the entire Corinthian Church had decided to tolerate/accept a member's incestuous adultery, Paul warned them that they had all allowed themselves to be corrupted by what they had tolerated together as a community [See I Corinthians 5].

Thus, we see that conflict within the Church was clearly anticipated by Christ and his apostles. Indeed, all serious students of the New Testament are aware of Christ's instructions for dealing with problems that arise between brethren [See Matthew 18:15-20]. Likewise, most of my readers are familiar with Paul's instructions to the saints at Rome: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." [Romans 16:17, NIV] In this connection, I found the commentary of Pastor Scott Harris of Grace Bible Church in New York to be very helpful in understanding exactly what Paul was talking about in this passage. After pointing out that Christ had said there would be these discordant voices within the Church, the Pastor observed: "Paul is specific here that the divisions and hindrances he is talking about are arising because there are those that are contrary to what Paul and the other apostles have taught. There are people that make professions of faith in Christ and become part of a church. They can even exhibit a lot of good qualities and could become part of the church leadership. But there is a problem within their hearts and minds. They love themselves more than the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. They think themselves to be wiser than the word of God. They pervert Biblical doctrine and twist the scriptures to fit their own desires. They end up being contentious to one degree or another and try to persuade people toward their personal view." [See Dealing with Dissension] And, unfortunately, these types of people will often accuse the folks who are pointing out their shenanigans as the ones who are sowing discord!

So, after reviewing some of the scriptures associated with the subject of unity within God's Church, we can see that the Church has always had to deal with issues of disharmony and strife within its ranks. Moreover, many of those same scriptures make plain that the Church will continue to deal with these issues until Christ returns to this earth. Hence, it is incumbent upon those of us who constitute the Body of Christ to be aware of the sources of these divisions and discordant voices and to deal with them in the manner which Christ and his apostles specified in Scripture. In other words, it is futile to try to pretend that these forces do not exist within the Church or to think that we can impose unity on the members of God's Church. Instead, we must strive to deal with the situation as it exists and strive to achieve the unity that we understand will take time, patience, and determination. And, finally, we should not blame God for our own propensity to be opinionated, quarrelsome, and arrogant!   

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Terms of the New Covenant

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus Christ said: "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. For truly I tell you, 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. Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)

The Greek word translated here into English as "fulfill" is "pleroo" (pronounced play-ro-o). Moreover, I think that the way that Blue Letter Bible outlines the word's usage in Scripture is particularly applicable to its usage in the passage quoted above. They outline its Biblical usage in the following terms: "to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full - to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally...to render full, i.e. to complete - to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim - to consummate: a number - to make complete in every particular, to render perfect - to carry through to the end, to accomplish, carry out, (some undertaking) - to carry into effect, bring to realization, realize - of matters of duty: to perform, execute - of sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish - to fulfil, i.e. to cause God's will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God's promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment" [See G4137 - plēroō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org)]

In previous posts on this blog, we have noted how Christ accomplished this fulfillment of the Law by 1) keeping it perfectly, 2) distilling it to its essence [LOVE - for God and neighbor], 3) revealing God's intent and will in various provisions of the law - clarifying and expanding their meaning [e.g. anger as it relates to murder, lust as it relates to adultery, revenge as it relates to forgiveness and mercy, physical circumcision of males juxtaposed to spiritual circumcision of the heart, a physical Sabbath rest juxtaposed to resting from our own works in Christ], 4) revealing the meaning of the symbolism of the rituals outlined in the Law, 5) inaugurating a new priesthood, and 6) offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins - becoming the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Likewise, we noted in previous posts how Christ also fulfilled the writings of the Prophets [See Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 17, 23, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:14, 35, 21:4, 26:54, 56, 27:9, 35, etc.] Hence, we see that NOTHING really disappeared from the Law or was abrogated/done away with by Christ. Instead, he made clear that both the Law and the Prophets FOUND THEIR FULFILLMENT IN HIM! In other words, Christ represents the culmination or filling up of the Old Testament/Covenant!

Which brings us to the point of this post: What then are the terms of the New Covenant? Christ's Golden Rule is a good starting place in answering this question. We read that Christ told his disciples: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." [Matthew 7:12] Later, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Christ replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." [Matthew 22:37-40] These observations of Christ's about the Law set the stage for the "new" commandment which Christ gave to his disciples. We read in the Gospel of John that Christ told his disciples: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other." [John 15:9-17]

Hence, we see that Christ identified the principle of love as encompassing the entirety of the Law, and then made it part of the terms of his New Covenant with his followers! However, unlike the Old Covenant, the people who are made a party to the New Covenant were required to live their new lives according to the Spirit of the Law as an expression of their gratitude for what Christ had done on their behalf - NOT as a means to receive the promises which Christ alone has made possible for them to receive! As Paul characterized it, "we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." [Romans 7:6]

Indeed, in that same letter to the Romans, Paul makes plain the relationship of Christians to Torah laws. First, he makes plain that both Jews and Gentiles have sinned - transgressed the Law. [Romans 3:10-12] Continuing, he explained:  "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." [Romans 3:21-31] In his letter to the Galatians, Paul makes this even more clear. He wrote: "We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified." [Galatians 2:15-16]

All of this, of course, underscores the fact that Christ is at the center of everything related to the New Covenant. Indeed, it is through his perfect performance of the requirements of the Old Covenant on our behalf that we are made a party to the New Covenant! This is made clear by the first part of Christ's discourse to his disciples referenced earlier in the Gospel of John. He told them: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 'I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." [John 15:1-8] Hence, even though Christians are saved by their faith in Christ, Jesus made clear that they are expected to bear the fruits of righteousness in him. And, once again, both Paul and John made clear that this was accomplished by Christians practicing love [Romans 13:8-10 and I John 3:11-19].

This moral requirement of the people who are parties to the New Covenant is also made plain in what Paul had to say about one of the other primary tenets of that covenant: baptism. Once again, he wrote the saints at Rome: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God." [Romans 6:1-10] So, Christians were expected to live moral lives after baptism - even though they were saved by grace, not by the works of the Law. Moreover, that baptism was made a part of the terms of the New Covenant is underscored by Christ's final instructions to his disciples recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. He told them: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." [Matthew 28:19-20]

What are the other provisions of the New Covenant? Well, Peter told the people who were soon to become the foundation of the Church that they should REPENT and be baptized [Romans 2:38]. This is consistent with the moral behavior that Paul said would be expected of people after they were baptized. It is also consistent with those folks receiving God's Holy Spirit to help them in their new walk and to place God's law of love in their hearts. Of course, the other primary ritual associated with the New Covenant is known by many different names, but its place within the Christian faith is almost universally recognized - that is the ceremony known as the Communion, Eucharist, Lord's Supper, New Testament Passover, etc. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we find that Christ instituted a ceremony whereby his followers would drink some wine to symbolize the blood which he would shed for them and eat some bread which would symbolize his body which would be broken for them [Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22]. Christ also instructed the saints at Corinth about the proper observance of this New Covenant ceremony [I Corinthians 11}.

Moreover, just as the Old Covenant was based on certain promises (blessings for obedience), the New Testament makes clear that the New Covenant is based on better promises [Hebrews 8:6]. (Although Christ also makes clear that Christians will share in his inheritance of the promises originally made to Noah, Abraham, and David.) What are those better promises? The most important promise is that Christ's sacrifice would accomplish the forgiveness of our sins. The Prophet Isaiah predicted that Christ would effect the forgiveness of our sins and reconcile us to God [Isaiah 53]. Under the terms of the Old Covenant, a system of animal sacrifices had been instituted to deal with Israel's sins. Under the terms of the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ accomplishes the complete removal of sin and reconciles the sinner who accepts that sacrifice to Almighty God.

In the epistle to the Hebrews, the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice is contrasted with the animal sacrifices of the Old. We read in the ninth chapter of that letter that, as the High Priest of the New Covenant, Christ offered himself as a superior sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 9]. We are informed there that just as the High Priest entered the tabernacle each year to offer the blood of animals, Christ "did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 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." [Verses 12-15] Continuing, the anonymous author of the epistle wrote: "For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." [Verses 24-28]

What is the promise that this sacrifice makes possible? The gospel of John frames that promise in what is probably the most often quoted passage of the New Testament. We read there: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." [John 3:16-17] Paul framed the promise in these terms: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." [Romans 6:22-23] He also explained the process of how this promise of eternal life would find fulfillment in his first letter to the saints of Corinth [I Corinthians 15]. Christ even tied this promise to the Eucharist when he said, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day." [John 6:53-54]

Finally, Christ implied in some of his discourses and parables that he would one day return to this earth and establish a literal kingdom on this planet [Matthew 24, Luke 19, Revelation 19, etc.]. Moreover, an angel explicitly promised his disciples that he would one day return to this earth in the same manner in which they had seen him leave [Acts 1:11]. There are also a number of scriptures which indicate that Christians will have the opportunity in this life to improve the position they fill within that kingdom by the effort that they put into growing the moral character which God and Christ expect of all of his followers [Matthew 20:20-28, 25:14-30, 37-40, Luke 6:22-23, 35, II John 1:7-8, etc.].

And, after reviewing all of these Scriptures, we can finally summarize the terms of the New Covenant: 1) Christ has fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law for humankind, 2) By doing so and offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins, he has cleansed us of our sins and reconciled us to God, 3) Christ has also magnified and distilled the Law for us and commanded us to love each other as the symbol of our participation in the New Covenant, 4) Christ has commanded us to repent of our past sins and has instituted two rituals [Eucharist and Baptism] associated with the New Covenant as a physical representation of our faith in him and acceptance of the work he has done on our behalf, 5) Christ has promised us eternal life with himself and the Father, and that he would one day return to this earth, and 6) He has given us the opportunity to be rewarded for the effort that we put into developing the moral character which God expects of us anyway. These are the terms of the New Covenant.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

A Global Pandemic

According to official sources, the United States will soon pass one million deaths from Covid-19 (some independent sources claim that it has already reached and surpassed that number. (see CDC COVID Data Tracker) Globally, the official tally is now over 6.2 million deaths! (See WHO Coronavirus Dashboard) Moreover, there is very good reason to believe that the official numbers are low, perhaps very low!

Currently, the United States is averaging almost 65,000 new cases and 334 deaths per day. Globally, we're averaging over half a million new cases being reported each day. Of course, no one really knows how many cases go undiagnosed and unreported. In other words, we know that this pandemic has been horrific, but it probably is (and has been) much worse than the official tallies indicate!

We've also known for some time now that older folks and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus. Likewise, we've known for some time that restrictions on large public gatherings, the wearing of face masks, the maintenance of social distancing, and timely testing reduces the transmission/spread of the virus. A number of vaccinations have also been available to most folks in the United States for over a year now.

Even so, we continue to have folks who profess to be Christians - who profess to have God's Holy Spirit - who profess to have the love of God dwelling within them - who refuse to practice any of the measures which public health professionals have identified as being useful in battling the spread of this disease and protecting the vulnerable. Instead, they complain about infringements on their rights, talk about civil disobedience, insist that the severity of our situation has been overblown by fearmongers, and claim that their selfishness is evidence of their faith in God. Talk about calling bad that which is good, and good that which is bad! 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Is that Christian?

A situation recently came to my attention that underscores the lack of Christian compassion, kindness, and love that is all too often so apparent within Armstrongism. Some disabled folks who were interested in Armstrong theology and wanted to keep the Feast of Tabernacles were intentionally ignored and denied any assistance from church members in helping them to follow what they now firmly believed to be God's will in the matter. Apparently, church members were discouraged from helping them because of the fact that they were handicapped, and church leaders were afraid that they would have to look after, watch, or keep track of them! Later, when one of the same handicapped individuals had injured his toe and needed a ride to seek medical attention, no offer of help was forthcoming from the "saints" in question.

In this connection, a couple of scriptures came immediately to my mind:

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. - I John 2:10, ESV

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. - I John 3:16, ESV

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? - I John 3:17, ESV

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” - Matthew 25:41-46, ESV

The Apostle James defined pure and undefiled religion as being willing "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." - James 1:27 Jesus Christ once told his disciples that "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35) Paul told the saints of Galatia that "the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23) Finally, Paul also wrote the saints of Corinth: "If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing." (I Corinthians 13:2)

These ACOG folks just don't even begin to understand what it means to be a Christian! They are all puffed up about the "TRUTH" which they possess, but they are blind to the heart and soul of the religion they profess to represent! I'm thinking that all of the Sabbath and Holy Day keeping of men who refuse to help a brother/sister in need isn't going to help them very much on Judgement Day - What do you think?