The Impartiality of the Law--Part 1
Aug 12, 2011
Misinterpretations of the Word, by their very nature, misrepresent the character of God in some way. This problem really can only be resolved by knowing God, who He really is, how He thinks, and how He relates to us. If we truly know HIM, then we will know how to interpret what He says without twisting His words.
It is therefore also important to know that Jesus Christ is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. If we do not realize this, we tend to think that there is a rather mean-spirited or very stern God of the Old Testament, but that He is somehow "balanced off" by a loving New Testament Jesus. Perhaps, in such a belief system, the Holy Spirit becomes the moderator to keep peace in the "family."
I am not trying to address "Trinity" questions here. I am only saying that Jesus Christ was the God who created all things (John 1:1-3), the One who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by the name of El Shaddai and to Moses by the name of Yahweh (Ex. 6:2, 3), and that Yahweh has become my Yeshua (Ex. 15:2; Isaiah 12:1-3).
In other words, God has revealed Himself to mankind under a variety of names, but He is the same God. When He was incarnated on earth in the form of a man, He was named Yeshua in Hebrew, Iesous in Greek, or Jesus in English. Yet He had already pre-existed in heaven, where in the form of Spirit, He interacted with the saints of the Old Testament.
This means also that Jesus Christ was the Yahweh who gave the Law to Moses. To obey the Law is to obey Jesus Christ. Built into the Law was the promise of a better FORM, because all of the sacrifices were prophetic of Himself. Hence, we no longer need to sacrifice animals or to deal with the blood of rams, goats, bulls, or birds. These were only temporary forms to teach people the basic principles of the divine plan until such time that the final Sacrifice would come.
There was a specific moment in time when the plan called for this final Sacrifice "once for all," and so something was needed until then to teach men the principles found in the mind of God. Even the Old Covenant itself was temporary, for Jeremiah 31:31-34 prophesies a New Covenant. Here was an Old Testament prophet speaking of the need of a New Covenant after the first covenant was broken.
Moses prophesied also of the heart circumcision that would come as the result of this New Covenant, saying in Deut. 30:6,
(6) Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.
Hence, in order to receive immortality ("live"), men must have their hearts circumcised. Such immortality, then, cannot come by means of the Old Covenant, regardless of one's genealogy. Physical circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant, but when the Old Covenant was broken, its sign too was rendered irrelevant (insofar as one's relation to God is concerned).
The Law as a whole, however, remained as an expression of the divine character, as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. By the time He was born on earth, the priests and people had reached the place where they had seriously misinterpreted the Law. This was due primarily to the fact that while they studied the Scriptures, they interpreted them in ways that did not reflect the mind of Christ. Hence, Jesus ran into conflict with them often. It was not that Jesus violated the Law, but that the leaders and teachers were interpreting the Law incorrectly.
The entire Sermon on the Mount was about correcting their misinterpretations of the Law. Some Christians think that Jesus was abolishing the Law in this "Sermon" by saying, "You have heard it was said. . . but I say to you." But actually, He was correcting their views about the Law, for He said in Matt. 5:17,
(17) Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
We could study many points of Law where Jesus presented a different interpretation from the "traditions of men" taught by the religious leaders of the day. But let us look at the big picture. The problem of misinterpretation was prevalent at least as early as the days of Isaiah, who said of his own generation (29:13),
(13) Wherefore the Lord said, "Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men..."
A century later, we find the problem still prevalent among Jeremiah's generation, for he writes in Jer. 5:20, 21,
(20) Declare this in the house of Jacob and publish it in Judah, saying, (21) "Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes and see not; which have ears and hear not."
By the time of Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, we find that the problem had not yet been resolved. Malachi 2 says,
(1) And now, this commandment is for you, O priests . . . (7) For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. (8) But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts. (9) So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways, but are showing partiality in the instruction. (10) Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us?
The Law is very clear in telling us that it is to be applied impartially. Malachi tells us in verse 10 the underlying reason, because he understood the mind of Christ in this matter. The Law is applicable on the grounds that "we all have one Father," i.e., that God has created all of us. We are therefore all subject to the same laws of creation. God owns all that He created and expects equal obedience from all men--and even the animals, down to the lowliest bug.
The priests were not instructing the people in the principles of impartiality. And so, after another 400 years had passed, and when Jesus then began to teach the Law, we find that He had the same criticism of the priests in His day. By this time the principles of partiality were so ingrained into the culture that even the disciples had a difficult time ridding their minds of its evil influence.
Even after Pentecost, when Philip went to Samaria to preach the gospel among the despised Samaritans, he had to call Peter and John to come and administer the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the new believers there (Acts 8). Until Philip's evangelistic trip, no one had thought to preach the gospel to the Samaritans.
Philip seems to have been the first to understand the impartiality of the gospel, for he was then led by the Spirit to another location, where he explained the word to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).
Then Peter himself preached the gospel to Roman soldiers and their friends in Caesarea (Acts 10). When the Spirit came upon that group, Peter had to explain to the Church in Jerusalem that "the promise to the Father" (Acts 1:4) included those hated Roman soldiers as well. Peter's lesson is in Acts 10:34, 35,
(34) And opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, (35) but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.
When the Spirit came upon the Romans, the Judeans were "amazed" (Acts 10:45). Why? Because they were raised in a culture of partiality that needed serious correction.
This is the first part of a series titled "The Impartiality of the Law." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones