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Second Quarter 2014 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON CHRIST AND HIS LAW
Week 2: April 5–11
COMMENTARY ON CHRIST AND THE LAW OF MOSES
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
This week’s lesson attempts to show that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, came to keep and honor the law, giving us an example to follow if we would please God.
In reality, Scripture paints a very different picture. The Bible reveals that there are two kinds of covenants, conditional and unconditional. Conditional covenants can be broken when one or the other party doesn’t keep its end of the agreement. The Mosaic covenant was a conditional covenant. It was made between God and Israel, and Israel’s promises were powerless. They had no choice but to fail because they were sinful and unable to keep their word.
The covenant God made with Abraham, on the other hand, was unconditional. It was ratified by God Himself in the forms of a smoking pot and a blazing furnace (Genesis 15) while Abraham was taken out of the process by being put into a deep sleep. When God makes a promise, He cannot break it. It cannot fail. The Abrahamic covenant, therefore, is unconditional.
Likewise the new covenant is unconditional. God said He would put a new heart into His people and put His Spirit in them (Jer. 31:31-33), and after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, He did exactly that.
Without an understanding of the covenants, there is no explaining Jesus’ relationship to the law. Galatians 4:4-5 tells us,
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Jesus came as a Jewish man and lived out all the expectations God had for Israel. In the ways and places Israel failed, for example in their wilderness wandering, Jesus succeeded, He perfectly trusted His Father and fulfilled all the requirements of the law. Moreover, He came as a spiritually alive person. He never was separated from His Father.
Today’s lesson attempts to establish the point that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus adhered stringently to the ritual laws and observed the purification rituals and the circumcision requirements. The lesson points out that circumcision was so important that, even if a baby’s eighth day fell on Sabbath, circumcision had to be done that day.
In reality, circumcision trumped Sabbath. Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. It was the sign of belonging to God’s covenant people, and it pre-dated the nation of Israel and the Mosaic covenant. It was written into the Mosaic covenant because it was a prerequisite for being a member of Israel. It was the sign of the unconditional covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants.
Sabbath, on the other hand, was the sign of the Mosaic covenant—the conditional covenant. Structured in the pattern of a Hittite suzerain-vassal treaty, the Sabbath was the sign that the vassal agreed to perform as an ongoing proof of his agreement to live under the conditions of the conquering suzerain king. The sign of a Hittite treaty was written into the center of the laws governing the relationship between a conqueror and his conquered people.
Moreover, circumcision was the shadow of the circumcision of the heart that would be the mark of the new covenant (see Colossians 2:1). Circumcision, both the physical foreshadowing and the spiritual reality of the new covenant, is the sign of belonging to God. Both the Abrahamic and the New Covenants are unconditional, and circumcision—of the flesh in the Abrahamic and of the heart in the New—is the unconditional enduring mark of belonging.
Sabbath was temporary along with the temporary conditional Mosaic covenant. Galatians 3:16-18 says,
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
The Mosaic covenant had a beginning and an end. It was never intended to be eternal—and its sign could not, therefore, be eternal either. Circumcision trumped the Sabbath. Jesus emphasized the priority of circumcision over the Sabbath in John 7:19-24:
Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
Jesus’ life was not an example to show us the eternality of the law. Rather, He came and fulfilled the law in order to be the perfect Israel who redeemed the nation’s idolatrous past so He could be the Perfect Sacrifice foreshadowed by the temple service.
Monday: Jewish Feasts
Today’s lesson outlines the feasts of Israel and what they commemorated. Interestingly, the feast of Pentecost was not explained in the Scriptures, but the lesson points out that the rabbis believed it commemorated God’s giving the law to Moses. Significantly, this law-giving marked the beginning of the Mosaic, or the old covenant. Acts 2:1-4 describes the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in the miraculous event of the Lord Jesus establishing His church. The New Covenant was set in motion on the Day of Pentecost.
The Lord Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant feasts, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as God established the church marked the beginning of the New Covenant on the Day of Pentecost.
Tuesday: Jesus in the Temple
Today’s lesson attempts to establish the Jewish, law-abiding character of Jesus and His family. Moreover, it seeks to teach a moral lesson about our need to be submissive as Jesus was to His parents. The example used in this lesson is found in Luke 2:41-52:
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
This story of Jesus is not intended to be an example for us to follow. Rather, it was a significant moment in the life of Jesus as He approached the age of His bar mitzvah (if He had one) that reveals His true identity. He was God the Son, and He stayed in the temple after Passover to discuss Scripture with the priests. Jesus’ life was a series of signs showing that God had fulfilled His promises to send a Messiah and Redeemer. Adventism misses the profound significance of Jesus’ life and ministry by interpreting it as an example for people to follow.
If we were to follow Jesus’ example in order to be righteous, we would have to undergo flogging and crucifixion. Jesus was not our example for salvation or sanctification; He was our Substitute. We are to look at His life and bow our knees in reverence and repentance. He, the Son of God, took mortal human flesh and became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
This lesson tells the story of Jesus’ disciples being asked if Jesus paid the temple tax. He replied to them by pointing out that kings demand taxes of those who are not their sons; sons are exempt. Nevertheless, He complied with the tax and directed Peter to find the money for the tax in the mouth of a fish.
The discussion question at the end of the lesson asks, “What should this tell us about our obligations to be faithful in our tithes and offerings, regardless of whatever problems we believe exist?”
Once again, the lesson veers suddenly off-course. Jesus paid the temple tax—a tax that helped to cover the costs of upkeep on the temple. Adventist tithes and offerings, however, are not the same thing.
The tax Jesus paid went to the costs of running the temple—the edifice where the worship of God occurred. Adventism, however, demands tithes and offerings of its members—but Adventism is not part of the unbroken apostolic church established at Pentecost. Adventism is an “off-shoot” that came into being in the mid-1800s. It is not part of the historic church, and its tithes and taxes are more like “club dues” than was the “temple tax”.
Moreover, the temple tax was not established by God but was levied by the rulers who had to manage the costs of the extensive building project. Jesus paid the tax in order to be submissive to the established authorities. Adventism, however, requires tithes and offerings of its members in order to function. If one realizes that Adventism does not teach the gospel of the Lord Jesus as outlined in Scripture, he has no obligation to give his money to a false organization.
Thursday: Law Enforcement
Today’s lesson seeks to drive home the point that it was not Jesus’ purpose “to abolish ‘the Law or the Prophets’”. The author uses the Mosaic law of divorce as part of his argument. The end of the last paragraph says,
“Thus, we see that even when Jesus critiques a Mosaic law, He does not set it asked.Jesus was a faithful Jew in every way, adhering to the laws of Moses.”
This statement, however, is disingenuous. Jesus DID set aside the law of divorce as Moses had granted it. Matthew 19:8-9 says,
He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
In the new covenant believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit of promise when they hear the gospel of their salvation (Eph. 1:13-14). the gospel and the resultant indwelling Holy Spirit for those who believe and are born again makes it possible for people NOT to live with hard hearts. The state of spiritual death into which we all are born is undone when we believe, and the Holy Spirit gives us insight and strength and wisdom to live as God asks us to live.
Divorce is not allowed as it was in Moses’ day, and to say that Jesus did not set aside the law of Moses is to be blind to the actual words of Scripture.
Friday: Ellen White retrospective
Instead of reading Ellen White quotes, spend your time today reading the six chapters of Galatians. Ask God to show you what He wants you to know, and submit your mind and heart to the Lord Jesus as revealed in His word.
Finally, to understand the biblical covenants, go through this online study: