A Filter, A Lens, and A Prism: Three Ways Christ Applies the Law of Moses to New Covenant Disciples

law

One of the most challenging aspects of reading the Bible is applying the old covenant law to the new covenant follower of Christ. As the book Five Views on Law and Gospel illustrates, there are multiple ways in which Christians have sought to apply the Old Testament and its legal demands to the church today. And one of the most familiar ways is to differentiate three parts of the law.

Typically divided as moral, civil, and ceremonial, the tripartite approach to the Old Testament argues that some laws are eternal and unchanging (the moral); others are related to the theocracy given to  Israel (the civil); still others are related to the system of priests, sacrifices, and the temple (the ceremonial). In Christ, the civil and ceremonial came to their completion, while the moral law continues unabated.

The trouble with this approach is that the Old Testament never specifies the tripartite division and in many places the moral, civil, and ceremonial overlap. Still, we must make some sense of the way parts of the law continue and others do not. And historically, the tripartite division has a long tradition of helping Christians think carefully about the Bible, the Law, and the Gospel. Still, it is not the only way and there may be better approaches.
lunde

Addressing this subject, I have found help in the way Jonathan Lunde uses three images to describe the way in which Christ fulfills the law. In his book Following Jesus, the Servant Kinghe spends three chapters outlining the way Christ fulfills the law of Moses. Focusing much of his attention on the Sermon on the Mount, he specifies the way Christ functions as filter, lens, and prism. In some ways, Christ brings the laws of Moses to an end (filter); in others, he clarifies what the law already meant (lens); and still in other ways, he heightens the demands of the law (prism).

While these three approaches (filter, lens, prism) are extra-textual and only illustrative, I find them more helpful in getting at what the text says. They make us consider what Jesus does and does not say about the law. And instead of foisting an extra-textual grid on the Bible, like the tripartite division of the law, they make us listen closely to the text itself to see how Jesus mediates between old and new covenants.

Because this approach is explicitly Christ-centered, in a way that the tripartite division of the law is not, I find it to be a surer guide. Likewise, because it does not create a whole system of categorization (which the Bible does not have), it lets the text of Scripture speak. It also permits more freedom to disagree about certain points—as I do below in two ways—and helps us go back to the feet of Jesus to learn how he approaches the old and new covenants. Continue reading

Seven Evidences the Sermon on the Mount is an Exposition of the New Covenant

joel-filipe-241154-unsplashWhat is the Sermon on the Mount about? And more basically, what is the Sermon on the Mount? Is it a newer, more stringent law for Christ’s disciples? Is it an ideal which drives disciples to seek mercy? How should we understand it?

Many answers have been given, but I believe the best understanding of Jesus’s Sermon in Matthew 5–7 is that it is an exposition of the new covenant. Rather than a new law that exceeds that of the old covenant, I would propose that it is the eschatological word of Christ which fulfills the Law and the Prophets. And in what follows I want to outline seven reasons for that view.

Seven Evidences the Sermon on the Mount is an Exposition of the New Covenant

For sake of space, I am not going to expound every point with exhaustive detail. Rather, I will trust that the points are somewhat familiar and that stringing them together has the cumulative effect of proving the Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the way Jesus expects his kingdom disciples to walk according to the new covenant he is bringing. Continue reading

Unshakeable Faith: Seeking Christ Through Haggai’s Temple – Part 2 (Haggai 2:1–23)

haggai04

Unshakeable Faith: Seeking Christ Through Haggai’s Temple (pt.2)

The book of Haggai centers on God’s great promise to restore the temple during the days of Judah’s return from exile (520 BC). In this little book, there are four messages from the Lord. The second, third, and fourth messages in Haggai are all found in chapter 2, and respectively they speak about the temple (2:1–9), the priesthood (2:10–19), and the kingdom (2:20–23). These were the three focal points of this week’s sermon.

As we considered in this sermon the Lord encouraged the people by telling how he was restoring his dwelling place to Jerusalem, his priesthood to Levi, and the kingdom to Zerubbabel. Yet, we also learn that this restoration is not immediate or ultimate. Rather, like so many things in life, his plans fit into his larger aims bringing his Son to the world and leading his people to place faith in the Son.

In this week’s sermon, we place this book in the larger plan of God’s redemption and learn how Haggai helps us understand what God was doing and now has done in Christ. You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and resources for further study are found below. Continue reading

“I Will Shake the Earth”: Reading Haggai in Canonical Context

jay-dantinne-199087-unsplash.jpgHow should we understand the earth-shaking, temple-making promises of Haggai 2?

Twice in this short book, “Haggai the prophet” announces that heaven and earth will be shaken by the Lord (2:6–7 and 2:21) and that on the other side of this cosmos-shaking event (or events), the Lord will establish a greater temple (2:9) and restore hope for David’s throne (2:22–23). Because of the apocalyptic nature of these words, some have seen in them a prediction for a future millennial temple. For instance, Mark Rooker says when addressing the temple in Ezekiel 40–48, “Similar references to a temple in the messianic kingdom include Isaiah 2:2–4 and Haggai 2:9” (A Case for Premillenialism, 130–31). Likewise, David Turner writes,

The prophet Haggai alludes to the fact that this temple was unimpressive when compared with the first. However, the word of the Lord confirms to Zerubbabel the promise that God is with the nation. With words that anticipate Revelation 21:24–26 and 22:2, Haggai 2:6–9 promises that God’s judgment of heaven and earth (cf. Heb. 12:26) will result in the nations’ bringing their glory to the temple. Thus its latter end will be characterized by a greater peace and glory than that of the first temple. (David L. Turner, “The New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:1–22:5,” in Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church, 269).

Interestingly, none of the big books of dispensational eschatology that I have on my shelf (e.g., Millennialism: The Two Major Views by Charles L. Feinberg; Things to Come by J. Dwight Pentecost; Christ’s Prophetic Plans by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue; The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism by Robert Saucy) address Haggai exegetically. Pentecost lists Haggai 2:1–9 as one of the passages he will later expound on the concept of God’s kingdom in the Old Testament (442), but he never returns to this passage. In fact, the most comprehensive exegetical statement I’ve found on Haggai is contained in the MacArthur Study Biblewhere the comments interpret Haggai as testimony to a millennial kingdom with a rebuilt temple. Here are two examples.

2:6, 7 I will shake. The shaking of the cosmic bodies and the nations goes beyond the historical removal of kingdoms and the establishment of others, such as the defeat of Persia by Greece (Dan. 7). Rather, the text looks to the cataclysm in the universe described in Rev. 6–19, the subjugation of the nations by the Messiah, and the setting up of His kingdom which will never be destroyed (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Zech. 14:16–21; Matt. 25:32; Luke 21:26; Heb. 12:26; Rev. 19:19–21). (1334)

2:9 this latter temple. The Jews viewed the temple in Jerusalem as one temple existing in different forms at different times. The rebuilt temple was considered a continuation of Solomon’s temple (cf. v. 3). However, the eschatological glory of the millennial temple, i.e., the latter temple, will far surpass even the grandeur of Solomon’s temple (the former temple). I will give peace. This peace is not limited to that peace which He gives to believers (e.g., Rom 5:1), but looks ahead to that ultimate peace when He returns to rule as the Prince of Peace upon the throne of David in Jerusalem (Is. 9:6–7; Zech 6:13; Acts 2:30). (1335)

From these comments, we get a clear perspective of a dispensational reading of this passage. But is that the best reading? Should we conclude that Haggai, dated to 520 BC in the second year of the reign of Darius (1:1), is talking to the people of Israel about a future kingdom and temple that comes on the other side of the messiah, whose kingdom they have not yet seen or understood? I don’t think so, and in what follows I will aim to provide an interpretation of Haggai 2 that pays closer attention to the historical context of his message and the canonical message of the kingdom of God come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In other words, instead of constructing a brick and mortar temple in the future with the words of Haggai, we should see how his words speak to the remnant addressed in his book (1:12, 14; 2:2) and then how they speak to the people on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11). Continue reading

Unshakeable Faith: Seeing Christ Through Haggai’s Temple — Part 1 (Haggai 1:1–2:9)

haggai04.jpg

Unshakeable Faith: Seeing Christ Through Haggai’s Temple

This Sunday we began a two-week series on the book of Haggai. If you are not familiar with this little book, it is the tenth book in the Minor Prophets, and its four-fold message serves as a turning point in the Twelve, as the Book of the Twelve shifts from looking at God’s judgment (Nahum–Zephaniah) to the restoration of God’s people (Haggai–Malachi).

In this week’s sermon, we considered the hopeful message of this prophet, who called the people to seek God first and to finish rebuilding the temple. In his first message (1:1–11), Haggai rebukes the people, the leaders, especially, for prioritizing their own comfort before the Lord’s worship. Thankfully, unlike the previous minor prophets, the people  obeyed God’s word and repent (1:12–15). In response, Yahweh promised to be with them and strengthen them as they rebuild his temple (2:1–9).

In this word of encouragement, God tells them that a day is coming in the future when he will shake the heavens and the earth, only to establish a greater kingdom with a greater temple. Thus, Haggai not only has a message for the Jews returning from exile in 520 BC, but also has a message for us. And by listening to his message, we see more clearly all God has done and is doing in Christ.

Therefore, Haggai is far more than a short word from the Lord to an ancient people. Rather, like a sturdy hinge, it swings the message of the Twelve towards God’s grace and the coming of Christ.

For those interested, you can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading

Finding Theological Unity in The Twelve: Reading the Minor Prophets with Richard Fuhr and Gary Yates

roman-kraft-136249-unsplash.jpgHow do we put the Minor Prophets together?

That has a been a topic of discussion on this blog and at our church over the last few months. As we’ve preached Jonah, Nahum, and (now) Haggai, we’ve paid careful attention the literary structure of the Twelve. With help from Paul House and David Peterson and Jim Hamilton, we’ve considered how the Twelve is put together and how that arrangement influences our reading and interpretation.

Today, we continue that study with a fewbook qualifications and theological considerations from Richard A. Fuhr and Gary Yates. In their recent book, The Message of the Twelvethese two Liberty professors provide a reading of the Minor Prophets that finds unity in the “theological message . . . that emerges when these books are read as a collective whole” (42). In this approach, they engage with the differences between the Hebrew Bible (i.e., the Masoretic Text) and the  Septuagint (LXX), the chronology of the books, the catchwords that may contribute to their order, and the overall theological message that unites these books. While more reserved in their approach than Paul House and his plot line reading of the Twelve, their theological approach helps identify some key themes in the book.

In order, we will consider some of their observations, which help us read the Minor Prophets as a theological whole. Continue reading

In What Did Old Testament Saints Believe?

daniel-mccullough-539577-unsplash.jpgIn discussions about salvation and interpretation of the Old Testament, two related questions are often asked.

  1. How were the Old Testament saints saved? Or, in whom or what did they believe?
  2. How much did the Old Testament know about the coming Christ?

marriw

Recently, in reading through The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, I came across a succinct, if slightly archaic, answer to these questions. In conversation form, Fisher explains how the Old Testament saints beheld Christ through the types and shadows of the Law. In short, he answers that the salvation we possess is of a piece with those under the old covenant. There are not two ways of salvation, but one, as Hebrews 11 suggests.

The difference between Israel and the church (which is today composed of Jews and Gentiles) is less about how they are saved, but how they came to know the one savior, Jesus Christ the Son of God. The former saw Christ through a veil of old covenant shadows and types; the latter have seen him in the substance of his person and work, now proclaimed through the witnesses of his apostles.

As always, such questions require elongated consideration about the whole Bible. But for short answers, what follows helpfully explains how the Old Testament saints beheld Christ. Continue reading

Getting Into Nahum, or Finding Comfort in the Lord of Wrath (Nahum 1:1–8)

nahum05Getting Into Nahum, or Finding Comfort in the Lord of Wrath (Nahum 1:1–8)

This week we began our second of three series out of the Minor Prophets, better known as the Book of the Twelve. After considering God’s grace in the book of Jonah, we began to consider the complementary aspect of his holy justice from the book of Nahum. In two more weeks, we’ll finish our study of the Minor Prophets by looking at Haggai.

As for Nahum, it serves as Part 2 inf God’s message to the city of Nineveh. Whereas the book of Jonah is Part 1, a message of God’s grace inviting repentance; Nahum returns to that city to show the wrath of God when a people return to their evil ways. In this message, we looked both at how to read Nahum in the context of the Twelve and how Nahum’s record of God’s judgment on Nineveh serves as a word of comfort to people who seek refuge in the Lord.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below, as well as further resources for additional study. Continue reading

Reading the Bible Better: Finding Unity in the Book of the Twelve

tanner-mardis-612668-unsplash.jpgWhat are the Minor Prophets about? Should we read them together, as one unified book? Or should we read them as twelve discreet books, written (Nahum) or spoken (the other 11) by twelve different prophets?

These are questions worth asking when we study the Book of the Twelve. And as our church has studied Jonah, is starting Nahum, and will soon look at Haggai, I wanted to share another post on ways we find unity in the Twelve. Already, I’ve shared the helpful work of Paul House. If you haven’t read that, start there and then come back here.

In this post I will look at the work Old Testament scholar David L. Petersen (not to be confused with David G. Peterson, the New Testament scholar) and biblical theologian Jim Hamilton. In David Peterson’s survey of research (“A Book of Twelve?” in Hearing the Book of the Twelve, ed. James D. Nogalski and Marvin A. Sweeney, pp. 1–10), he lists five evidences of unity in the Twelve. And in Jim Hamilton’s book God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgmenthe shows how each book is connected to the others through various catchwords and themes. We’ll look at each of these studies to better read the Bible and better understand the unity of the Twelve. Continue reading

The Good News of God’s Vengeance: Nahum’s History and Literary Style

nahum05.jpegWriting about the misguided disinterest many generations of Christians have had towards the Minor Prophets, Thomas McComiskey states,

The corpus of biblical books we call the Minor Prophets has not enjoyed great prominence in the history of biblical interpretation. It is not difficult to understand why this is so. Where is the edification for.a modern Christian in a dirge celebrating the downfall of an ancient city? How can the gloomy forecasts of captivity for Israel and Judah lift the heart today? The Minor Prophets seem to have been preoccupied with nations and events that have little relevance to today’s world. How unlike the New Testament they are! (McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, ix)

If disinterest is a common feature with the Minor Prophets, Nahum may be one of the most ignored or unknown books of this already unknown section of Scripture. Written as a “war-taunt” against Nineveh, the book is replete with God’s judgment on this wicked city. Yes, in response to Jonah it repented of its evil (see Jonah 3), but a century later God sent Nahum to prophesy that the time of this city’s prosperity was over.

Reading this book nearly 3000 years later, we can easily miss its message because its diplomatic history, image-filled poetry, and covenantal theology make its message difficult to grasp. Yet, as McComiskey rightly avers, “A careful study of these prophets [Nahum included] reveals that many of the themes they expound transit the Testaments. They speak of the love of God as well as his justice. Their prophecies are not all doom, but are often rich with hope” (The Minor Prophetsix)

Certainly, this is true with Nahum. In the midst of its darkness and gloom, there are nuggets of gold which the worshiper of God can trust and treasure. As Nahum 1:15 says, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace!” There is good news in Nahum and it benefits the student of the word to wrestle with the whirlwind revealed in this poetic prophet. Still, to understand the fullness of the message it will require careful study (Psalm 111:2; 2 Timothy 2:7).

So, as we get ready to study this book for the next few weeks, let me highlight some of these features—namely, the history behind the book, the poetry in the book, and the good news which emerges from this book. Continue reading