“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’”(Psalm 40:6-8, from the Septuagint translation. Attributed to Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-7).
People who don’t think of the Bible as one message for everyone, but see the Old Testament as the part for the Jews while the New testament is the part for the Church miss out on a lot. They don’t see that while the two parts of the Book are obviously different they are also tied together.
The Old Testament explained how the Israelites were supposed to behave while the New Testament takes some of those behavioral imperatives and presents them in the spiritual sense to show us what we’re supposed to believe. If you look closely you’ll find that things that obviously call for external, physical, and national behavior in the Old Testament often become internal, spiritual and personal beliefs in the New.
The Sign Of The Covenant
Let’s start with the very foundation of Israel’s relationship with God to show you what I mean. Shortly after God made His covenant with Abraham He required him and everyone in his household to be circumcised as a sign of their covenant. He said from that time on every male eight days old or older had to be circumcised or he would be excluded from being part of God’s people (Genesis 17:10-14). It was an external sign, it was physical, and it was national.
Now listen to Paul in Romans 2:28-29. A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.
Circumcision was an external, physical sign, an identifying mark that every male Israelite had to take to be part of the nation. The mark that replaced it in the New Testament is a spiritual one that no man can see, and that God gives to us. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Cor. 1:21-22)
And in Galatians 3:28-29 Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Circumcision had become internal, spiritual, and personal.
The Giving Of The Law
Later, at Mt. Sinai, God said, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”(Exodus 19:5-6) He was adding the most elaborate and detailed system of religious and social behavior ever devised. 613 laws to keep, dietary restrictions to follow, sacrifices every day for all manner of violations, and everyone had to obey. It was external, physical, national behavior.
And what became of all those laws, restrictions, and sacrifices? The endless religious work that God required of all Jews? According to the quote from Psalm 40:6-8 above, none of this was pleasing to God. Its only purpose was to set aside the penalties due the Israelites for their sins until the Redeemer came to pay those penalties on their behalf. Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Law but fulfill it (Matt. 5:17).
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”(John 6:28-29).
External, physical, national behavior from the Old Testament had become an internal, spiritual, personal belief in the New.
The Sabbath was a day of rest, a holy day. God had labored for six days in the Creation. On the seventh day the work of creation was finished and He rested (Genesis 2:2-3). In memorial, He commanded the Israelites to do the same (Exodus 20:8-11). Anyone caught working on the Sabbath was to suffer physical death (Numbers 15:32-36). External, physical, national behavior.
But Jesus worked on the Sabbath (John 8:14-16), and Paul wrote that while some consider one day to be more sacred than another, others consider every day to be alike. He said each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5). Had the Sabbath become optional?
Then the writer of Hebrews explained that the Sabbath Law was symbolic of the rest a believer enters upon being saved. Just as the Lord rested when the work of creation was done, we are to rest in the Lord when we’re saved because as soon as we accept the pardon He purchased for us the work of salvation is done. We’re a new creation (Hebrews 4:9-11, 2 Cor. 5:17). Internal, spiritual, personal belief.
Those who continue to work to either earn or keep their salvation are saying they aren’t really saved yet. In effect they’re relying on their own work and are not resting in the Lord’s completed work on their behalf. Since their work can never be sufficient they will be scheduled for spiritual death.
Bread From Heaven
Or how about the manna God sent the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16)? Everyone had to go out and collect their own, no one could collect it for anyone else, and everyone got just enough. It kept them alive in the wilderness. External, physical, national behavior.
Jesus called Himself the bread from Heaven and said said the manna symbolized Him. Anyone partaking of him would never go hungry (John 6:31-35). But everyone has to get Him for themselves, no one can get him for anyone else and everyone gets just enough to save them forever. Internal, spiritual, personal belief.
There are more examples we could use but I think you get the idea. Hebrews 10:1 says the Law is only a shadow of the good things to come not the realities themselves. The reality is Jesus and the whole Book speaks of Him.
A New Creation
The Pharisees were the best examples of proper Old Testament behavior ever, but Jesus said our righteousness has to surpass theirs in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:20). He said they looked great from the outside but on the inside they were full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean (Matt. 23:27). Tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom ahead of them (Matt. 21:31).
He said this because their obedience to the Law was an act of their own will and a matter of self discipline rather than a changed heart. It was external, physical behavior. They were not born again. Their spirit was not one with the Spirit of God. They had trained themselves to look good on the outside but on the inside they hadn’t changed themselves at all. They were not a new creation.
That’s because no one can recreate themselves. We’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners. It’s in our nature. We can only escape judgment because God sent His Son to pay the penalty due us for our sins. Our behavior alone will not suffice, no matter how exemplary.
Paul said no one will be considered righteous by keeping the Law, but that a righteousness apart from the Law has been made known. It’s a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21-22). Internal, spiritual, personal belief.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17,21).
From God’s perspective everyone who is born again has already become a new creation even though we still see ourselves the same old way. Paul even went so far as to say that when he sinned, God looked at him as though it wasn’t really he who had sinned but the sin nature that still lived within him (Romans 7:20).
He also said that everything that was written in the past was written to teach us (Romans 15:4). In this case the lesson we’re supposed to learn is that man’s best external, physical behavior falls hopelessly short of God’s standards.
Israel proved that applying will power and self discipline to behave the way God commanded them always led to rebellion, because it was all external behavior they grew to resent. There was no internal change. Mankind will prove this point again in the Millennium. 1,000 years of perfect in person rule by the Lord Himself with Satan bound in chains will result in rebellion on a world wide scale (Rev. 20:7-10).
Only a new heart will solve our problem, and this will only happen when our mortal, perishable, corruptible bodies are changed. The wages of sin is death, Paul wrote (Romans 6:23), and death will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). As long as there are natural humans in the world there will be sin, no matter what external circumstances exist.
Beginning with the rapture of the Church, Jesus will be focused on destroying this enemy. He has to reign until this is accomplished (1 Cor. 15:25). At the rapture we the living, together with the dead in Christ, will be changed from mortal to immortal (1 Cor. 15:51-53). At the Second Coming Old Testament saints and Tribulation believers who died for their faith will have a similar experience (Daniel 12:1-2, Rev. 20:4). At the end of the Millennium the same will happen for Millennial believers. (Although the focus of the Great white Throne judgment is on unbelievers of all ages, Rev. 20:15 gives us a hint that believers from the Millennial Age will be spared.)
During this time Jesus will have destroyed all dominion, authority, and power that conflicts with God’s will (1 Cor. 15:24). The Greek word translated destroyed means to deactivate or render inoperable. The one for dominion means origin. Authority means agency, the ability to do as one chooses. And power means strength. This means when we’re perfected the Lord will disable our power of choice. Whether our origin was angelic or human, we’ll no longer have either the desire or the strength to rebel against God’s will. Sin will be no more. Death will have been conquered.
At that point all of God’s Creation will finally be at peace, in perfect harmony with the will of our Creator forever. Hallelujah.