Limitations of the Old Covenant
Mar 18, 2009
Under the Old Covenant the law was applied with the goal of establishing a stable godly society. While that was good, it also had certain inherent limitations in dealing with many problems. An earthly court of biblical law could judge men's actions, not their thoughts. So Leviticus 19:17 says,
"You shall not HATE your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but you shall not incur SIN because of him."
In other words, hate is a sin, and the law forbids it. Jesus taught this as well (Matt. 5:22). But there is no penalty attached to hatred in itself, because under the Old Covenant, the courts are not empowered to penalize it. It is only when that hatred is acted upon that there is a penalty. Deut. 19:11 says,
"But if there is a man who hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and rises up against him and strikes him so that he dies . . ."
When hatred is acted upon, the law may use it to establish MOTIVE. That is the limitation of the earthly court under the Old Covenant. Why? Because even though the judges were supposed to be godly men, they were always imperfect at the least, and it was inevitable that some would be evil men. Since it is especially difficult for judges to discern and to know the hearts of men, God limited their authority to judge sinners.
Likewise, the biblical death penalty was a tacit recognition of the inability of the earthly court to bring restitution to the victim or his family. Premeditated murder requires the death penalty, because it was not likely that the victim could be raised from the dead and restored. The same is true with all cases that demand capital punishment.
The death penalty does not really establish justice. Just ask most of the victims' families. They express satisfaction when the murderer is sentenced, but they usually add that this does nothing to bring back their loved one. There is always something incomplete about such "justice." And they are right. Only God Himself can establish true justice, and hence there is a Great White Throne where no limitations exist.
Unfortunately, most people are taught that the Great White Throne is a place where God will complete His justice by casting them into a literal fire for eternity. But if He did that, the very fact that such punishment never ends is proof that God Himself is helpless in bringing justice to completion. Eternal punishment does not establish justice by the law of God. True justice is done only after full restitution has been paid to all the victims of injustice. That is the only way to restore the lawful order and bring harmony ("reconciliation") to the universe.
The "fire" of God is His law (Deut. 33:2), and the law is the "fiery stream" flowing from His throne upon the people (Dan. 7:9, 10). The stream forms a "lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14, 15). But the law never judges a sinner with being burned ALIVE in fire. The worst punishment is death, where the dead body is burned afterward. I have written about this in detail in my book, The Restoration of All Things.
My point here is to say that the biblical earthly court, established under the Old Covenant, was limited in its ability to bring true justice to the nation. This was due primarily to the fact that the judges themselves were mortals and subject to limited discernment and even corruption. For this reason, God has been raising up and training overcomers in all the past generations, so that they may reign with Christ (Rev. 20:6) on the earth (Rev. 5:10). In the biblical context, reigning day to day had to do largely with judicial matters.
One of the primary purposes of the first resurrection is to re-instate godly judges upon the earth who are fully equipped to teach the law and to implement it with a perfect combination of justice and mercy.
Jesus foreshadowed this when he was being arrested in the garden. Peter tried to defend Him and succeeded only in cutting off the ear of one of the servants. By law, Peter would have lost his own ear as a penalty. But Jesus picked up the servant's ear and restored it. Justice was done with mercy, and Peter kept his ear.
This brings up another related legal issue, one which people have asked about in the past. The law in Exodus 22:1-4 speaks of double restitution as the normal payment for theft. However, it increases to fourfold if the stolen animal (or object) cannot be returned alive or intact. It is fivefold if one steals the tools of a man's trade ("an ox," or tractor).
But what about a case of murder? What about cutting off someone's ear? Or poking out his eye? The restitution in such cases is not double but equal restitution. Exodus 21:23, 24 says, "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." In such cases, there is no double restitution, but equal restitution.
Murder, then, must be repaid "life for life," not two lives for one. One guilty of premeditated murder in this present life is normally unable to raise his victim from the dead, and so his case must be set aside to the higher court at the Great White Throne Judgment, where it can be adjudicated properly.
When those guilty of murder are brought before Him in that day, they need not repay double, but only make equal payment. And because God has the power to raise the dead, He instantly makes the payment demanded by the law, for all are raised on that day. Yet because the sinner had to utilize God's labor and power, he now owes God a debt as a Redeemer--one who pays the penalty for another.
By the law of redemption, the sinner is then subject to God--that is, he is God's slave (or servant)--and must serve Him until the year of Jubilee, according to Lev. 25:53,
"Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him, he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight."
This is true not only of murderers redeemed by the power of resurrection, but it is also applicable to ALL cases in that day. The Great White Throne has the power to hear all cases and do full justice in a merciful way. All the injustices of one's past life will be judged here, except for those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who paid the full penalty for sin on the cross. All others are incomplete cases, whether they were judged on earth or not.
So all who are judged in that day will become God's servants. That is the "fire" of the law. But more than that, they must remain in that "fire" until the year of Jubilee when all of creation receives "the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21).
That age of judgment in "the lake of fire" will not be a time of torture, for that is specifically forbidden in Lev. 25:53, "he shall not rule over him with severity."
At the present time, Christ is the Redeemer of those who believe that He came as the Sacrifice for sin. But at the GWT, it will be a court-ordered redemption. In court, the decision is made by the judge, and the accused sinner has no authority to refuse. Even so, his Redeemer cannot abuse the sinner, but is responsible to teach him righteousness and to bring correction to him. This will not take place in a prison atmosphere, for there are no true prisons in biblical law. Sinners will learn righteousness by remaining under the authority of the righteous, who will overcome evil with good and replace their anger with love.
So this is one of the many biblical laws forbidding torture, not only in this life but in the age of judgment to come.
Dr. Stephen Jones