Life in the Messiah
J. Dan Gill
The supreme advantage of God’s new covenant is that it brings a resolution to humankind’s greatest problem: Death!
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).
What the Law Could Not Do
When Moses came on the scene, the people had a much greater problem than slavery in Egypt. That problem was death. These people died! Before them, Abraham, Sarah and the greatest of their ancestors had died. When God gave the Law of Moses to those who came out of Egypt, he never told them that it would change the circumstance regarding death. Even Moses himself died (Deut. 34:5), leaving Joshua to carry on until he also died (Josh. 24:29). Neither Moses nor his law made provisions for resurrection or an unending life.¹ The Law of Moses wonderfully did what God intended it to do. However, that law was not for the purpose of addressing humanity’s greatest problem: Death!
The Apostle Paul in the New Testament rightly observes that the death of an individual is not just the result of that person’s wrong doing. It is also God’s penalty against all of humanity for Adam’s disobedience. Paul writes that the harsh reality is that even when people have no sin personally counted against them, they still die (Rom. 5:13, 14).
The Law of Moses significantly affected the lives of the people at the time. Keeping the law could change the quality of their lives. It could result in the lengthening of people’s lives because of obedience (Ex. 20:12) or could shorten their lives because of disobedience (Ex. 21:12).
Moses’ law was for the good of the people. However, with that good also came an undesirable consequence: It added to the reasons why people die. The law’s great number of requirements² presented literally hundreds of opportunities to fail — to sin personally. The law did not resolve the underlying problem of death due to Adam’s transgression. Because of human weakness and the tendency to err, its many provisions did add to the reasons that people die. It is for this reason that Paul writes:
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56).
So then what the law could not do was deliver those under it from death. The law never made a promise of unending life to those who would keep it.³ Even if the Jews kept it perfectly, that would not undo the penalty of death which had long preceded the law because of Adam’s disobedience. Again, Paul writes:
If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would have come by the law (Gal. 3:21).
It would take the coming of a radically new arrangement to deal with death — the most severe of our human problems.
The Covenant of Life in the Messiah
For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).
God’s new covenant does precisely what the Law of Moses could not do. With the coming of the Messiah, we now see the unveiling of God’s ultimate plan for humanity. It is by the Messiah that YHWH sets all things right that have been askew since Adam erred in the beginning. It is the Messiah who leads us back to the harmony and peace that Adam and Eve had with God before their disobedience. Paul writes:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).
Paul goes on to explain:
For as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one man [ Jesus] the many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:19).
God’s final covenant with human beings hinges on our relationship to the Messiah and obedience to him. It is because of our connection to a man, Adam, that we are subject to death. Now, in God’s greatest plan, it is connection to a man, the Messiah, by which we can be made free from death. The blessings of God upon the Messiah overflow to those who obey the Messiah.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:3).
(1) The law’s lack of a promise of eternal life may have given opportunity for the disputes between factions over the very concept of resurrection. The Sadducees insisted that there is no resurrection of the dead while the Pharisees held to a resurrection (Acts 23:8). Jesus presents them with a definitive scriptural answer to the question (Matt. 22:31, 32). However, even then his answer is taken from a passage which predates the law as given at Sinai. He quotes God’s declaration to Moses in Exodus 3:15, 16. Likewise, the words, “shall live by them [the statutes]” in Leviticus 18:5, et al., fall short of being a reference to eternal life (note Deut. 6:2: “as long as you live — so you may enjoy a long life”). Paul clearly sees the words “live by them” (Gal. 3:12) as referencing the duration of a person’s lifetime and not eternal life (Gal. 3:21). He indicates, regarding the righteousness that was under the law, that he had been “blameless.” Yet he counted that as nothing so that he might “attain to the resurrection from the dead” through Christ (Phil. 3:6–11).
(2) “613” is the traditional count of separate requirements of the Law of Moses. That count is generally traced to the medieval Jewish sage Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon).
(3) There is no reference in the Law of Moses that says keeping that law would result in eternal life. Jesus saw the keeping of the law by Jews as being a stepping stone which would bring them to him. They would in turn find eternal life through him ( John 14:6). In Matthew 19:16–22, a Jewish man asked Jesus what “good thing” he must do in order to obtain eternal life. Jesus told him that if he wished to enter into life that he should keep the commandments. Jesus further told him to sell his possessions, give to the poor and “come and follow me.” In this interaction, we see a picture of God’s plan for the law as a stepping stone to bring the Jews to Christ and to eternal life through him. (Also note Luke 18:18–23; 10:26–28.) Again, a more complete statement of Jesus’ words to the Jews regarding eternal life is: “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). When Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life” ( John 10:10), it is Jews under the law who are the immediate subjects of his statement. Also note Galatians 4:4, 5.