The Fulfillment of the Law
The relationship of the Old Covenant to the New is a longstanding discussion. Thinking that the Old was simply abolished and has little to no impact on the New is not uncommon. Yet if there is one thing the New teaches, it’s that the Old is so foundationally important as a whole that it is not be ignored. These were the Scriptures that made one wise for salvation (2 Tim 3:15-17).
Let’s be clear: no one keeps the Law of Moses today. In fact, such would be impossible, for the physical requirements of keeping that Law simply cannot be met today. God put the nail in that coffin when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. Now, who today can trace their lineage to Aaron’s family and establish that they can serve as the High Priest? How can an Aaronic priesthood function today within God’s holy temple in any physical sense? We cannot argue that the stipulations of the Law are still functioning, particularly in any ceremonial sense. The Law was being made obsolete, paving the way for the New Covenant in Christ (Heb 8). It was not meant to be the last and final word. Rather, it moves in progression to the goal of the Word who came in the flesh (John 1).
None of this means that we throw out the Law of Moses and the rest of the Old Testament. Rather, we need to recognize and honor its place in God’s plans and purposes. The Old underlies the New and gives the New its foundation. Christ made it clear: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). Jesus fulfilled “all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:24), fulfilling “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (vv. 44-45). Christ was always the goal of the Law (Rom 10:4), and If we are going to understand Jesus, we need the Old Testament Scriptures to get the whole picture.
Paul argued that the Law was a servant, a “pedagogue” to bring the children to the Schoolmaster, who is Christ (Gal 3:24). Once that destination was met, the people would no longer be under that pedagogue. The lessons of this pedagogue are vast and vital to help us in understanding God’s character and purposes in Christ. Again, it is not to be ignored, but appreciated and studied for its great value (e.g., Rom 15:4). Yet let us go a step further in seeing its fulfillment.
In Hebrews 8, the writer mentions that the tabernacle was made according to the pattern shown on the mountain. Those items of the Old Covenant were a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (v. 5). While the copies and shadows were completed and fulfilled, the heavenly pattern remains. The pattern was never abolished but was first represented by the copies and shadows. Then as the copies and shadows were brought to fulfillment, the representation of the pattern became even greater. This pattern is heavenly and eternal. In fact, both covenants are based squarely on the same heavenly pattern.
The way that the New Covenant differs from the Old is not that one is based on a pattern and the other is not. The difference is not that one had regulations of divine worship while the other does not (Heb 9:1). There are changes in stipulations and there are more details given in the Old, but that is not the point the Hebrews writer is making. Rather, Christ is the completion of the copies and shadows, and His people share in that fulfillment. The major difference is that Christ, as the ultimate sacrifice, provides for forgiveness through His blood and now serves as the great High Priest over God’s house. Read Hebrews 8-10.
Christians are a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9), offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ (Heb 13:15; Rom 12:1-2; 1 Pet 2:4-5), serving as God’s singers and instruments of praise (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16-17), offering up a sweet aroma of incense with prayer (Rev 8:3-4), and doing so as God’s holy temple and household (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5). Christ is our great High Priest who has offered up Himself as our atoning sacrifice (Heb 5:1-8; 10:1-10).
This represents a beautiful picture of the fulfillment of the copies and shadows of the Law (Heb 8:5). The pattern remains in heaven, and God’s people ought to realize the spiritual fulfillment of those copies and shadows. This is one of the reasons we do not wish to return to the Law with its shadows, for the shadow is not more important than the substance. Once the shadows reached their goal in Christ and His New Covenant people, they are no longer to be sought after. Why would those who find completion in Christ ever desire to do such? Christ is the difference. He is the reason the new is “not like” the old (Heb 8:9). What a powerful testimony to the effects of the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ!