V. A New Covenant, A New Commandment, A New Exodus
A New Covenant
The shedding of Jesus' blood constituted the sealing of a "New Covenant" (1 Cor. 11:25) between God and his people and as such became the ultimate display of the love of God. Because the fallen descendants of Adam could not keep the terms of the Old Covenant, it has stood as a broken contract and impenetrable barrier to fellowship with an offended God (Jer. 31:32). The New Covenant in Christ's blood, however, was put into effect and prevails because it is founded on "better promises."
A New Commandment
It is in connection with the blood of the New Covenant that Jesus issues his "New Commandment." It is imperative for us to see that with any covenant comes a demand upon the covenant people. The Old Covenant was consecrated with the blood of animals (Heb. 9:18) and with it came the requirements upon the covenant nation of Israel. Can we not rightly see that the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of God's spotless Lamb, also brought with it Christ's "New Commandment" to love one another?
It is impossible to grasp what is "new" about the New Commandment unless the historical element in John 13:34 is considered. The command to love is old (Lev. 19:18). But the command for brethren to love as Christ loved them at the cross is new. In other words, in the text it is a strictly historical factor that renders the command to love new. The Old Covenant brought with it a law of works (Exod. 20). The New Covenant brought with it a "New Commandment" - a new law of "faith expressing itself through love" (Gal. 5:6). It is a command that flows out of the vicarious death of Christ: "love . . . as I have loved you."
As Rudolph Stier points out, "to a covenant belongs a law-giving."28 The "law of Christ" is the law of love (Gal. 6:2). The Christian is to order his life in the light of the all-encompassing demand of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
A New Exodus
To emphasize the relationship of a covenant to its law, we can compare two redemptive events: the exodus that separated Israel unto God and the blood sacrifice that purchased the church. Israel's deliverance from bondage in Egypt precedes the demands of the Old Covenant placed upon her. A gracious act of God comes before the imposition of covenant stipulations. The Egyptian exodus was not an end in itself, but rather a foreshadowing of a greater exodus that would be accomplished in the Messianic age. F.F. Bruce observes:
Jesus' contemporaries freely identified Him as a second Moses - the expectation of a second Moses played an important part in popular eschatology at the time - and with the expectation of a second Moses went very naturally the expectation of a second exodus.29
Thus, it should not surprise us that with the mighty deliverance effected by Christ in his death, burial and resurrection, came a pervasive call to loving servanthood (John 13:14-17; 15:12-13). Arising out of the loving act of Christ is the summons to love.
What I do you know not now; but you shall know hereafter. (John 13:7b)
It was not until after the resurrection of Christ - and specifically until the promised Holy Spirit had been given on the Day of Pentecost - that the apostles came to more fully understand the implications of Christ's washing of their feet (cf. John 2:22). In his First Epistle, John exhorts his readers in terms that echo the John 13 example of Christ. "Hereby we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us [redemptive event]: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren [moral demand]" (I John 3:16). "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world . . . to be the propitiation for our sins [redemptive event]. Beloved, if God so loved us [at the cross], we ought to love one another" [moral demand] (1 John 4:9-11).
Is it not clear enough that when the New Testament writers wish to press duties upon Christians, their starting point is the cross - "as I have loved you"? This is not the sole approach to unfold duty in the New Testament, but it is certainly the most basic and important approach. We can say such a thing because Jesus taught this perspective at the end of his earthly ministry. Bruce Kaye summarizes all of this by saying:
The fundamental idea of the Christian as someone in relationship with Christ provides not only the best way to see the basis of the Christian's ethical life, but also the form and content of that life.30
Perhaps in light of John 13:34-35 we can understand why so much material in the Gospels focuses on the final "hour" of Christ. John Blanchard points out that two-fifths of Matthew, three-fifths of Mark, one-third of Luke, and about one-half of John "record the events surrounding the week Jesus was crucified."31
The Words of Christ
After much study in the standard systematic theologies and in books dealing with the Ten Commandments, I have concluded that justice has not been done to an obvious emphasis in the New Testament. The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are usually isolated as the "abiding will of God" and treated as an ethical unit which provides the "rule of obedience" for the Christian. While this method certainly ends up saying many necessary and practical things for the believer's conduct, it fails to reckon seriously with the redemptive-historical shift from Old Covenant to New Covenant. For example, Samuel Bolton says, "while you are in the wilderness of this world, you must walk under the conduct of Moses."32 But the New Testament teaches that the norms for Christian behavior are to be located in the words of Christ.
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine [5:7 - 7:23] and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock (v. 24) . . . When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his teaching: for he taught as one having authority and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:24-29)
Since the context indicates that Christ includes 5:17-18 among "these sayings," it is imperative to emphasize that his teaching is in no way set against Moses' law. But Christ's teaching in 7:24 is set up as the standard for ethical behavior in the Gospel age. John Gill points out how the term "Lawgiver" applied to Christ:
The Son of God . . . is King of saints, and Lawgiver in his house, and has given out commandments to be observed, and laws of discipline for the right ordering of his house . . . and particularly the New Commandment of love, which is eminently called the law of Christ.33
The rain and the flood in 7:25, says Gill, represent
. . . the temptations of Satan, the persecutions of the world, the corruptions of a man's own heart, and the errors and false doctrines of men; from all which a man is safe, who is built upon the rock Christ Jesus . . . the wind of divers and strange doctrines may blow hard upon him, but not cast him down.34
Thus, it is the man who builds his life on the sayings of Christ who is unshakable when the trials of life come upon him (Luke 6:48). Does this not, then, indicate that the Christian's attention is particularly directed to the words of Jesus Christ?
In John 7:28-29 the authority of Christ as a teacher is manifested. John R.W. Stott describes the Rabbinic method which was void of real authority:
They conceived their duty in terms of faithfulness to the tradition they had received. So they were antiquarians, delving into commentaries, searching for precedents, claiming the support of famous names among the rabbis. Their only authority lay in the authorities they were constantly quoting.35
John Gill, then, shows why Christ's method was so striking:
This [authority] chiefly regards the method he used in preaching, which was by delivering truths of himself in his own name and by his authority . . . he spoke as a lawgiver, as one that had authority from heaven . . . Scarce ever would they [rabbis] venture to say anything of themselves, but said, "the ancient doctors say this and that" . . . one Rabbi speaks in the name of another; but our Lord spoke boldly of himself . . . and did not go about to support his doctrine by the testimony of the elders.36
These verses, coming at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, clearly reveal that the source of all kingdom authority was now invested in Christ. His sayings were to constitute the focus of attention in the new age. We must also understand that Jesus' words were not isolated from the context in which he lived. His hearers were well versed in Rabbinical tradition where "God himself is conceived of as tied to the Torah, studying it and observing it," and where the Torah is viewed "as the one and only mediator between God and man, indeed between God and the world."37 As Bandstra observes, however, "there was [also] a widespread Jewish tradition that with the coming of the Messiah the law, in its old form, would either terminate, or be radically altered."38 D.E.H. Whiteley also points out that Rabbinical writings taught that "the Torah which a man learns in this life is vanity compared with the Torah of the Messiah."39 It was in this context that Jesus indicated that the reference point for godly behavior is to be found, not in the Torah, but in his own words. Thus, as Gutbrod observes:
For the disciples their relationship to the Torah, for example, is replaced by their relationship to Jesus as his disciples, and this finds its appropriate expression in the law of love . . . .Thus in so far as Jesus as the Son of God takes the place in every respect of all the other mediators and so of the Torah too, the Torah is thereby at the same time abolished and fulfilled.40
While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said; "this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him" . . . And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, except Jesus only." (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-9)
In this very significant passage, two of the most revered Old Testament figures appear with Christ in the presence of three of his Apostles (v. 3). Moses, the great leader of Israel, was most closely associated with the giving of the law. His presence on this occasion surely testifies that a greater Lawgiver has come. Elijah, the great prophet, is associated with powerful signs, but none as great as the last sign to be soon accomplished in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Clearly, Moses and Elijah's presence at this astonishing event mark the fulfillment of Moses' own prophetic words in Deut. 18:15,18: "the Lord your God will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brethren, like unto me; to him you shall hearken." As he would testify later, Peter saw this passage as fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22-23). The transfiguration of Christ taught his Apostles something that was epochally significant. Namely, that they were now to listen to Christ as the final Prophet sent in fulfillment of Deut. 18 (cf. Heb. 1:1-2).
It seems to me that any presentation of Christian ethics which would seek to be Biblical must have as its starting point the perspective set forth in the Transfiguration. We must do justice to the redemptive-historical shift from the authority vested in Moses to the absolute authority now vested in Christ (John 17:2). We have been commanded by the voice of the Father from heaven to listen to his beloved Son. We have been summoned by Moses' prophetic words in Deut. 18 to hear the Messiah or be cut off. Dare we, then, lend our ears to any other source for sufficient authoritative ethical commandments?
Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
As the gospel, beginning with the Jews first, ultimately goes forth to all the nations, what is pointedly designated as the content in evangelism? What are faithful servants of the New Covenant to proclaim? Again, our Savior, who possesses all authority in heaven and earth (28:18), tells us that we have warrant to be blessed in preaching all that he has commanded. This does not mean that we have nothing to do with Moses, but it surely means that we must see Moses as he is viewed in the light of redemptive-historical progress. As Herman Ridderbos puts it:
The law no longer has an unrestricted and undifferentiated validity for the church of Christ. In a certain sense, the church can be qualified as "without the law" . . . The continuing significance of the law can be qualified as "being bound to the law of Christ."41
And if any man hear my words, and believes not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejects me, and receives not my words, has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:47-48)
What will be the touchstone of judgment in the final day? The Ten Commandments? No! The authority for all judgment has been placed in the hands of Christ (John 5:22, 27). While his judgments will certainly be in line with the greatest commandments in Moses (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18), we must do justice to the fact that the words of Christ are the final standard. Not the Mosaic law, but the gospel is clearly stated to be the criteria of judgment in the last day (Rom. 2:16; 2 Thess. 1:8). This distinction, keep in mind, is not so much one of content, but one that comes because of the advance of history to a "better covenant": "the new creation brings a new canon, a new standard of judgment, along with it. This is above all redemptive-historical in character."42
If you love me, keep my commandments . . . he that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me . . . If a man loves me, he will keep my words. (John 14:15, 21, 23)
In light of the passages surveyed, you should now appreciate where the emphasis falls in the New Covenant. Our attention is to be focused on the words of Christ, the all-sufficient Prophet in the new age. These words in John 14 further confirm this emphasis. Not that the commandments of Christ are contrary or opposed to Moses; God forbid! But because a better covenant has been ratified, the Christian is to consciously direct his heart to the commands of Christ, not to the economy of Moses - a covenant administration no longer in force (2 Cor. 3:13).
The treatments of the "moral law" in Reformed theology generally omit the relevance of the perspective presented in these passages. For example, Fairbairn states that the moral law, as revealed in the Old Testament, had with the apostles of our Lord a recognized place in the Christian Church, and was plainly set forth by them as the great test of excellence, and the authoritative rule of life.43
While our Lord was certainly in harmony with the law, I cannot, in light of the centrality Christ gives to his own commandments, accept the position that the Mosaic moral law is the Christian's "authoritative rule of life." Is not the authority now vested in the Prophetic office of Christ? Moses himself would plead with us to listen to that Prophet of whom he spoke in Deut. 18:15, 18.
If we grasp this redemptive-historical shift from Moses to Christ (John 1:17), many of the tensions present in Calvinistic treatments of the relationship of law to the believers would be alleviated. An example of this tension is set forth by Samuel Bolton: "It is a hard lesson to live above the law, and yet to walk according to the law . . . to walk in the law in respect to comfort."44
If we see our duties as resting in the words of Christ, and not, as Bolton put it, "under the conduct of Moses," then this unnecessary tension of being both under the law of Moses for conduct, but not under it as a covenant unto justification disappears.
Furthermore, Reformed theology has usually isolated the Mosaic "moral laws" as "the special instrument . . . for keeping alive in men's souls a sense of duty."45 But in the verses we have studied in this section, love to Christ is supplied as the central and sufficient motive for total obedience to his commandments (2 Cor. 5:14). Our sense of duty is wrought by the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), not by the constant "reminder" of the Mosaic code. F.F. Bruce summarizes this beautifully by saying:
The "law of Christ" is a repromulgation of the injunction of Leviticus 19:18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14). But when "law" is used in this way, it cannot be understood "legally": the law of love is incapable of being imposed or enforced by external authority. Rather, it is the spontaneous principle of thought and/or action in a life controlled by the Spirit of Christ; it is willingly accepted and practiced. Paul was persuaded that the freedom of the Spirit was a more powerful incentive to a good life than all the ordinances or decrees in the world.46
Love in the New Covenant, of course, should not be thought of as command-less (1 John 5:3). But the attention of the believer is to be focused on the Lord's commandments (John 13:34; 2 John 5-6), not on the Mosaic administration of law.
28. Rudolph Stier, The Words of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 6, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1865, p. 161.
29. F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976, p. 49.
30. Bruce Kay, "Law and Morality in the Epistles of the New Testament," Law, Morality and the Bible, Downers Grove: IVP, 1978, eds. Bruce Kay and Gordon Wenham, p. 84; p. 85.
31. John Blanchard, Right with God, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978, p. 80; DeBoer, p. 67.
32. Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, London: Banner of Truth, 1964, p. 76.
33. Gill, Vol. 2, p. 798
34. Gill, Vol. 1, p. 61.
35. John R.W.Stott, Christian Counter Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, Downers Grove: IVP, 1978, p. 214.
36. Gill, Vol. 1, p. 62.
37. W. Gutbrod, Law, London: Adam & Charles Black, 1962, pp. 73-74.
38. Bandstra, The Law and the Elements of the World: An Exegetical Study in Aspects of Paul's Theology, Kampen: J.H. Kok, l964, p. 179.
39. D.E.H. Whiteley, The Theology of St. Paul, London: Basil & Blackwell, 1964, p. 86.
40. Gutbrod, pp. 133-134.
41. Herman Ridderbos, Paul - An Outline of His Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, p. 284.
42. Ridderbos, p. 286.
43. Fairbairn, p. 275.
44. Bolton, pp. 219-220
45. Fairbairn, p. 289.
46. F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 187, 201.
This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him. Jon Zens. Searching Together. Summer-Winter 1997, Vol. 25:1,2,3. Pages 13-19.