Mike Fuhrer: Way back in the third century, a Jewish rabbi named Simlai mentioned in a sermon that the commandments (mitzvot, "commands," "orders," "precepts") found in the Old Testament number 613. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
With the giving of the New Covenant to God's called and chosen people, the church, problems arose among both Jewish and Gentile converts. God inspired the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews to answer the difficult questions church members were struggling with during the tumultuous first decades of the church. John Ritenbaugh begins to unravel the reasons early Christians needed the book of Hebrews.
Mark Schindler, focusing on the events occurring between Christ's resurrection and ascension, offers some speculation as to specific details occurring within this period of time, shedding light on the second part of the Atonement sacrifice. During these hours, Jesus Christ qualified to be our High Priest because He experienced the horrendous effects of sin and separation from God the Father for our sins, undergoing purification, typified by the cleansing of the priestly garments by the man who released the goat laden with sin, enabling him to return to the camp (Leviticus 16:23-28). The absence of the 100 pounds of aloes, the folded "turban," and the rolled away stone indicates much activity had taken place and that a thorough cleansing and purification had occurred, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane amidst a company of angels, a mere 45-minute walk from the tomb. As we count toward Pentecost, we need to reflect as to how Christ qualified to fulfill His role as our empathetic High Priest.
David Grabbe, focusing on the two goats of Leviticus 16, points out that there is not a clear definition scripture for the Hebrew word "azazel." In apocryphal tradition, Azazel is the name of a fallen angel, yet the roots of the Hebrew word indicate a goat of departure, or "going away," "disappearance" or "complete removal." The two goats of Leviticus 16:5 represent one sin offering. Jesus Christ was and is our perfect sacrifice for sin, fulfilling the roles of both goats. The idea that Christ fulfilled the role of one goat, Satan the role of the second goat, is not viable. Because the Bible is consistent in its use of symbols, and because God Himself is consistent, the Bible interprets itself. If Christ fulfilled all the other offerings rehearsed in the Book of Leviticus, the offering of the second goat, the one rehearsed in Leviticus 16, would be a major departure from all the others. In the Pentateuch, there were 40 injunctions that the animals selected for offering be without blemish. Because the priest had to cast lots to decide the fate of these animals (indicating that God alone would decide their fates), we know that both these goats were without blemish or defect, symbolism that could not be applied to Satan, as he is totally unqualified to be represented by an unblemished sacrifice. The first goat is a blood sacrifice to cleanse the altar; the second goat is led away and freed (not bound by a chain). In the Scriptures, no one is bound for our sins. The problem of sin is not solved by only paying the death penalty. The function of the second goat will be explained in a future installment.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
Many Bible students scratch their heads over a seeming discrepancy in timing between the Old Testament instructions about Passover and Christ's fulfillment of it in His crucifixion. Contending that the spiritual fulfillment is far more important than physical rites, David Grabbe relates that Jesus did indeed fulfill the Passover—just not as one might expect.
Charles Whitaker, using the example of the word "lollapalooza," which was used in World War II as a shibboleth (Judges 12:5-6) to detect Japanese infiltrators, whose language habits obliterated the r/l distinction common in English, suggested that a shibboleth could be viewed as any cultural custom which makes one different. The members of God's true church have a distinctive shibboleth as we practice the weekly Sabbath or the annual holy days, putting them under the scrutiny of a society which treats those customs with contempt. As Christians practice love, displayed by keeping God's laws, they draw attention to themselves. It is necessary to continue to keep God's holy laws (our own non-verbal shibboleth), even when it hurts or proves embarrassing.
David Grabbe, acknowledging the longstanding controversy over when to keep the Passover, asks the question of why Jesus Christ was crucified late on the 14th day instead of at the beginning of the 14th. Not having the correct answer to this has led some to keep the Passover at the incorrect time. The afternoon of the 14th is significant because of God's covenant with Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15, which foreshadowed the release from bondage on the self-same day 430 years later, and the crucifixion of our Savior (an event taking place outside of a Holy Day, and apart from the time of any commanded sacrifice) which occurred once, displacing the multiple sacrifices required in the Old Covenant, which were only types of the Heavenly Original. We keep the Passover on the beginning of the 14th day because Jesus Christ commanded us to do that and set that example. The timing of Christ's sacrifice late on the 14th points back to the covenant God made with Abraham for his spiritual descendants to be justified by faith, be given eternal life, and be part of a holy nation.
Martin Collins reminds us that God's Law is a permanent and eternal entity. Because of its everlasting guideposts, people can order their lives by it; it is intended for human benefit, and should be used for illumination. Many denominations foolishly proclaim that God's laws have been abolished, replaced by a milder form of cheap grace, even though Jesus Christ teaches that until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle of the Law will disappear. Christ insisted that He did not do away with the Law; the apostle Paul insists that we establish the Law, and Christ elaborated and magnified the Law, taking it from the physical and the tradition-bound activities, to the broader spiritual dimension and original intent. The Law must be internalized to enable us to keep it both in the letter and the spirit. Jesus Christ, through His life, modeled for us how to live our lives, demonstrating that God's Law should constitute our second nature, deeply embedded in our heart. Christ's sacrifice enabled us to have forgiveness for our sins. We commemorate His sacrifice annually on the eve of Passover. The Law of God must be perpetual by its very nature; right is always right. Could we worship a God who gives us an imperfect or mutilated law? Our flaws or weaknesses do not present a reason to abolish the Law. The Law is just and good; every command of God is for our protection, flagging areas of potential danger. God's Law is not intended for salvation, but for revealing to us our sins so that we may overcome them. When we tamper with Law, we do away with all standards, nullifying all accurate measurements. In all things, we must seek God's will, but we will not find it in human reasoning. The Law of God is pure, perfect, and sure. Paul assures us that God's Law is holy and spiritual, even though the law of sin militates against it continually until we mortify our human nature. When we are conformed to Christ through His Holy Spirit, holiness will be our nature.
Martin Collins contends that the effectiveness of a law is found in its purpose and intent rather than the letter. The blind spots to God's Law unfortunately are found in the spiritual application or principle rather than a specific motor behavior. Christ taught that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to fulfill the law's requirements. Love and mercy constitute the essence of the spiritual fulfillment of the Law. God's Holy Spirit enables us to carry out the spiritual intent of the Law. By continually using God's Spirit, we gradually or incrementally take on God's nature in our innermost beings. As we judge other people, we must realize that the things that offend us mirror our own (hidden from us but transparent to others) faults.
In this pre-Passover sermon, John Ritenbaugh compares God's flawless works to the imperfect works of mankind. In addition to being flawless, God's works have a multiplicity of purposes, while man's works have limited utility and many flaws. Like air, having multiple uses, God's Word also has many uses; any one scripture can be used in dozens of different applications. The closer one looks at the multifaceted aspects of Christ's offices (Creator, King, Redeemer, High Priest, Savior, etc.) the more we realize the preciousness of His life and the high cost of the sacrifice for our sins. The focus of our self-examination should not be self-centered or comparing ourselves with others, but on the awesome significance of His sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the unique emphasis made by the apostle John in his gospel. Unlike the emphasis on Christ's humanity, shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John's depiction of Christ seems to be more spiritual, depicted in the image of the eagle, whose ability to soar, having keen eyesight and the ability to transport its offspring out of harm's way, gives Christ His proper God-dimension. John realized that he had been in the presence of God Incarnate—a Being indescribably transcendent?the very source of eternal life. Christ provides a model of how to live a godly life in the flesh, living life the way God lives it. Using His light, we can negotiate our way in this dark, hopeless world, finding eternal life and partaking of His divine nature.
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