Beyond Moses — To Messiah
J. Dan Gill
Abraham and Sarah did not keep the Law of Moses. Moses was not even born for around two and one-half centuries after they died. His law did not come for nearly another century after that. Even Moses himself did not keep the law for the majority of his life. It was not given to him until he was about 80 years old (Ex. 7:7).
Abraham was declared righteous by God centuries before the Law of Moses and even before he was circumcised (Gen. 15:6). We see then that a person can be righteous in the sight of God by faith — without keeping the Law of Moses and without being circumcised. Paul rightly observes:
Is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! (Rom. 4:9, 10, NLT).
The facts are that Abraham was righteous before God:
- Without circumcision
- Without the Law of Moses
- Without keeping the Sabbath and other calendar observances
- Without keeping the dietary restrictions of the law
The observance of the Sabbath was a unique sign between YHWH and the children of Israel when they became a nation. It was a beautiful observance of rest which symbolized the nation’s unity with God. In the creation narrative in Genesis, God had rested on the 7th day. Now, this nation would rest from their labors on the 7th day of each week (Ex. 31:17).
This unique observance was reserved for the nation of Israel. It was a national day. Again, it was not given to Adam, Noah, Abraham or the other fathers (Deut. 5:2). It was not given to the children of Abraham who were descended from Ishmael. Even Moses did not observe the Sabbath through the majority of his life. For Gentiles to observe the Sabbath would have taken away from its uniqueness as a sign between God and the nation of Israel.
In the greater plan of God, the Sabbath, together with other calendar observances and dietary restrictions of Moses’ Law, were all a “shadow” of a person. That person is the Messiah. By him, Israel and all of the nations will be given an unending rest and made clean and pure before God in all things (Col. 2:16, 17).
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:13).
God never promised Abraham “a law.” He did promise him that through his descendants all nations would be blessed. It was not Moses and his law through whom that would ultimately be accomplished. Rather, it is fulfilled through God’s new covenant in Jesus. It is the Messiah’s covenant in which God’s ultimate moral code is revealed. It is in his covenant that true hope of unending life comes to humanity.
The Law of Moses embodied some things that remind us of God’s dealings with Israel’s fathers in times before the law. Likewise, there are things in the law which pointed forward to the Messiah and his great Torah. Even the 10 Commandments engraved on stones were an imperfect shadow of the Messiah’s new covenant which is written by his spirit in the hearts of his people (2 Cor. 3:7, 8; Heb. 7:19). We should never be mistaken: All of the things that went before the Messiah were intended ultimately to bring the Jews to the Messiah.
Therefore the law was our guardian to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Gal. 3:24, 25).
Now, the Messiah has come. He has given us God’s great new covenant: the Torah of Life. Now, even the descendants of Abraham must come to God through the Messiah. Those who cling to Moses’ law as their hope will ultimately die. Those who cling to the Messiah and his new law of life will live forever!
The children of Israel who came out of Egypt were wonderfully blessed. God delivered them, made them a nation and gave them a great law. They were further blessed to have had that law as a “stepping stone” to bring them to the Messiah and to God’s new covenant. The Apostle Paul recognizes and respects that it was to these people that the Messiah first came, and that these people were intended to be the first to come to the Messiah (Rom. 1:16).
The law given to Moses was not God’s first word, nor his final word, to humankind. Moses’ law was a wonderful step forward. But it was indeed a stepping stone. It was a stride for a very small but important segment of humanity. The law was for the purpose of bringing the nation of Israel to God’s Messiah and God’s new and final covenant. Ideally, when they would arrive at the new covenant, it would be Israel which would then call the Gentiles to come to Messiah.
What Moses brought to the people was awesome. It was an amazing law with wonderful provisions. Yet both Moses and his law were a stepping stone to bring Israel to the Messiah. It is tragic for Jews today to stop on the stepping stone and not advance to God’s ultimate and final plan. To stop there is to miss the greatest point of Moses’ law. Jesus told Jews of his day:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life. But it is these very Scriptures that testify about me! Yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39, 40).
It is likewise tragic when Gentile Christians today are sometimes found attempting to observe Moses’ law. They are unwittingly seeking to get onto a stepping stone that was never theirs to begin with. They do not realize that the Law of Moses itself forbade them as Gentiles from being a part of that covenant. The law even specifically forbade Gentiles from observing the Passover (Ex. 12:48). The Law of Moses was God’s private arrangement with those children of Abraham who came out of Egypt and their descendants. It was not God’s plan for us as Gentiles. As Gentiles, we cannot begin observing the law of Moses without breaking it by doing so. Gentiles were not allowed to participate in the Law of Moses. Jesus never instructed Gentiles to keep the Law of Moses.
It is by the Messiah that all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, must come to God. It is the new covenant, the new Torah with which God is concerned. YHWH has made Messiah to be Lord over all (Acts 2:36; 10:36). It is him we must hear; him we must obey. In one of the most important statements found in the Hebrew Bible, God instructs Moses about the coming Messiah:
I will raise up a prophet like you from among their brothers, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will speak to them everything that I command him. It will come to pass that anyone who does not listen to my words which he will speak in my name, I will hold that person accountable (Deut. 18:18, 19).
It is not by Moses that we will have peace with God. It is by the Messiah. It is not by Moses’ law that we will come to unending life. Rather it is by the Messiah’s Torah of Life. Jesus said:
I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
It is not Moses who is “the way,” “the truth” or “the life.” It is the Messiah. It is not Moses through whom we now come to the Father. It is through Jesus. The Messiah is that particular one of Abraham’s descendants through whom all peoples of the earth will be blessed.
We as Gentiles are not a part of the covenant that God made with the children of Israel who came out of Egypt. We can, however, participate in the greater covenant that God made with Abraham long before the law. We can be partakers of that covenant by faith in the Messiah. He is ultimately the one by whom all of the nations will be blessed. Through the Messiah, Jews and Gentiles can find the resolution of matters that even predate Abraham. By Messiah we can all come to peace with God and everlasting life.
(1) For an overview of the issues regarding Christians and the Law of Moses see, Anthony Buzzard, The Law, the Sabbath and New Covenant Christianity: Christian Freedom Under the Teaching of Jesus (Morrow, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2005), http://www.21stcr. org/multimedia-2012/1-pdf/ab-sabbathbook.pdf.
(2) Beyond Moses and the 10 Commandments, it is Messiah himself who brings us God’s ultimate moral compass. In him is revealed the fullness of God’s moral character. Messiah wonderfully models the character of God in the life he lives (John 14:9–11). It is for this reason that the Scripture says that we are “complete” in Messiah (Col. 2:10). In his teachings, Jesus was not revising the law or creating a better version of it. Rather, he was laying out the terms for his new arrangement. The Law of Moses had helped prepare the people for Christ and led them in the direction of the New Covenant. Jesus explains and critiques provisions of the law in the light of God’s greater covenant: the covenant that Jesus himself was now bringing to the people. This can be seen in his various, “but I say to you” teachings in Matthew 5:21–48 as well as other contrasts and distinctions he makes between the law and the new covenant (e.g. Matt. 19:8, 9; Mark 7:18, 19).
(3) Translators propose a variety of possibilities for paidagogos (“guardian,” above). The Amplified uses “trainer” with the sense of “guardian” or “guide.” Translations tend to carry the idea of tutor (NASB) or even schoolmaster (AV). The better sense, however, is not so much “educator” but rather “guardian” or “supervisor.” A pedagogue has the responsibility for delivering a child “to the teacher.” Thayer defines it as “leader,” “escort” — “a guide and guardian of boys.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 472.
(4) There is some debate regarding the participation of the nations in the Feast of Tabernacles (Zech. 14) during the millennial reign. It is clear that whatever takes place in the millennial reign will be under Messiah’s immediate direction and is not a matter of routine observance of Moses’ law.
(5) Misguided Gentile Christians, failing to understand the sufficiency of Messiah (Col. 2:10), sometimes propose to keep “parts” of the Law of Moses. To Moses, the law he gave at Sinai is indivisible. His requirement is that people keep the law in its entirety (Gal. 3:10; Deut. 28:15). According to the law itself, people are not given the option of keeping “part” or “parts” of it. The law is an “all or nothing” covenant between God and the Jewish people who came out of Egypt (Gal. 5:3). Likewise, the theory that there were two laws (or a “dual” law) is unscriptural. There was only one law given by Moses at Sinai. Moses knows nothing about a moral law versus a ceremonial law, etc.
(6) This is not to disregard the fact that over time some Gentiles have converted to Judaism — become proselytes. The Apostle Paul strictly directs Gentile Christians not to do that (Gal. 5:2–4; 1 Cor. 7:18).
(7) For Jesus to have encouraged Gentiles (other than proselytes) to keep the Law of Moses would have put him in opposition to the law itself. Jesus does not alter the fact that Gentiles are excluded from Moses’ law.
(8) Peter tells the Jews that the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 is fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 3:22–26; cp. Acts 7:37).