OLD vs NEW TESTAMENTS
– Part One –
The Old Testament taught that sins should be punished eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Yet the New Testament teaches unconditional forgiveness. How can both come from the same, unchanging God? If Jesus said, “I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil the law,” why does Paul say, “Christ is the end of the law?” These and other questions need answering if we are to understand the Bible’s instructions for today.
THE LAW OF GOD
This is the first of a 5 part series on the differences between the Old and New Testaments. Our discussion will go through the following phases in answer to our question:
Section 1-3: We begin our discussion with a look at how the law was perfect but the people who kept it never could be. Therefore it was only ever God's temporary plan.
Section 4-5: Next we look at who Jesus Christ was and what He came to change.
Sections 6-10: Then we will clear up some common questions on the law, faith, and works.
Section 11-13: We end our piece by concluding what the nature of the law is in the New Testament.
1 - THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH
In the Old Testament, the Jews were guided into righteousness by the Mosaic Law. That law was delivered to them by God, through Moses. God’s intention in giving them the law was to teach them what righteousness is, and by extension they learned what sin is as well. However, the entire Old Testament is evidence that despite the presence of the law, there were none who could perfectly keep it. Even the best of them, those who loved God and devoted themselves to Him completely, came short of the measure of the law. David sinned (the man after God’s heart), Moses sinned (the most humble man on the earth), Abraham sinned (the Father of God’s people), along with all the others, despite the guidance of the law.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23
It was not possible for the law to produce perfect righteousness in any man, because the law depended on the strength and efforts of man. Still the law served a crucial purpose, it exposed the sin within the man. Because of the law, men recognised their fallen state and their need of God’s mercy. But with their sin exposed, the law had no power to remedy them. It showed the way of righteousness but could not produce fruit of it in the hearts of men.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20
The simplest way to explain what we mean might be to use an analogy. Let us say, hypothetically, that the law of a country declares it illegal to view pornographic material. There is now a law. The law teaches righteousness. Has the presence of a law made the subjects of the country less interested in viewing pornography? Absolutely not. Quite possibly, as the forbidden fruit, it has awakened an even stronger desire to do so. And if a man should choose to abstain from doing it, though with all that is in him he is burning break the law, is he a transgressor? No, he has done nothing wrong yet – not by the judgment of the law. The law holds a man accountable for his actions, not his heart. But does his heart echo the will and righteousness of the law? No, he abstains to avoid punishment.
And for another man who cannot abstain but breaks the law, the law serves to increase his guilty conscience. But it is not within the power of the law, as perfect as that law may be, to change the heart of the man. All the law has done, by showing the man that his desires are evil, is expose the nature of the man. It has revealed sin, but it cannot cure it. This is what Paul is saying in the following passage:
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead... And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” – Romans 7:7-8, 10-13
So the Bible teaches us that despite the perfection of the law, it failed to bring men to righteousness because of the evil in their hearts. Something more than the law was needed in order to bring men’s hearts into harmony with the law. Something had to happen to make the man want to abide by the law and do what is righteous. And beyond that, something had to happen to give man the power to remain righteous, even in moments of temptation. For this reason, God brought about a remedy that could cure the sin within the man, not simply one that would deter him from outwardly acting on the evil still resident in his heart.
“If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have
been by the law.” – Galatians 3:21b
God’s remedy to man’s sinful nature came in the form of a second covenant (or New Covenant). In this covenant, God now writes His laws in the hearts of men. He places the desire for godliness within them, something the first covenant could never do.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them He says, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a New Covenant... For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” – Hebrews 8:7-8, 10-12
This New Covenant, being better than the first, has superseded the first one.
“In that He says, ‘A New Covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” – Hebrews 8:13
2 - FROM THE BEGINNING
We should note that this New Covenant was never God’s plan B. God did not discover a mistake, a flaw, in His first plan and then decide to remedy it with a new one. Instead it was the intent of God from the very beginning to first send the Mosaic Law for a season, before bringing the fullness of His perfect plan.
God’s perfect plan, that brought with it a New Covenant, came in the form of His Son. That is why we find in Genesis (long before the law), that it is prophesied that the seed of a woman would produce One who would conquer Satan (Genesis 3:15). Therefore it was always God’s intention to remedy sin with Jesus. Even before the Garden of Eden, before God even formed the earth, He had already determined to send His Son. That is why Jesus is called, "the Lamb slain for the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8b).
“...the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” – 1 Peter 1:19b-20
Even when the law was given, it pointed to the crucifixion and the Son of God that would come. All its symbols and ceremonies attest to this. The “lamb without blemish” was a symbol of Jesus “who knew no sin”. The design of the tabernacle was “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” The lamb’s blood brought to the Holy of Holies was symbolic of Jesus’ blood brought to the throne of God in heaven, “the true tabernacle which the Lord erected” (Hebrews 8:1-6).
“You were not redeemed with corruptible things... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” – 1 Peter 1:18-19
“Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens (the earthly tabernacle) should be purified with these (blood of animals), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these (the blood of Christ). For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (as our High Priest).” – Hebrews 9:23-24
3 - THE DOVETAIL BETWEEN THE OLD AND THE NEW
The Mosaic Law was (and could only ever have been), a temporary measure. It was never a stand alone system but functioned only because it ushered men towards Jesus Christ. The law never could, or was ever intended, to offer men righteousness apart from Jesus. It pointed toward the cross.
“But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” – Galatians 3:22-25
The law did not have its own power to remove men’s sins.
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.’ ”...(by saying) “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all... For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” – Hebrews 10:1-7, 9-10, 14.
The passover lamb of the Old Testament then served to appease God’s wrath for a season. It was only to bring God’s anger to patience, waiting for the day that the penalty of Israel’s sin’s could truly be paid in full by His Son.
“Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood... because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” – Romans 3:21-26
“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” – Galatians 3:19
So we can see that the law was necessary until Jesus Christ. But what about after His coming – what form or purpose does the law serve in the New Testament? To answer this we need to look at who Jesus was and what He came to do. After all, He is the dividing line between the two Testaments and the catalyst of any change that occurred.
4 - THE SON OF GOD
The Gospels of Mark and John open with these words:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” – Mark 1:1
“And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:34
What does it mean that Jesus was the Son of God? The phrase “son of God” is used many times in the Bible to describe both men and angels. So to understand why Mark and John felt the need to specifically testify that Jesus was “the Son of God”, we need to look at the ways the Bible uses the term. In the first sense of its use “a son of God” is any man or angel who serves God. See how the angels are called God’s sons:
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.” – Job 1:6