Category: What should Christians learn from the Mosaic Law?

During the lifetime of Jesus, the holy temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life. The temple was the place where animal sacrifices were carried out and worship according to the Law of Moses was followed faithfully. Hebrews 9:1-9 tells us that in the temple a veil separated the Holy of Holies—the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence—from the rest of the temple where men dwelt. This signified that man was separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:1-2). Only the high priest was permitted to pass beyond this veil once each year (Exodus 30:10; Hebrews 9:7) to enter into God’s presence for all of Israel and make atonement for their sins (Leviticus 16).

Solomon’s temple was 30 cubits high (1 Kings 6:2), but Herod had increased the height to 40 cubits, according to the writings of Josephus, a first century Jewish historian. There is uncertainty as to the exact measurement of a cubit, but it is safe to assume that this veil was somewhere near 60 feet high. Josephus also tells us that the veil was four inches thick and that horses tied to each side could not pull the veil apart. The book of Exodus teaches that this thick veil was fashioned from blue, purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen.

The size and thickness of the veil makes the events occurring at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross so much more momentous. “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51a).

So, what do we make of this? What significance does this torn veil have for us today? Above all, the tearing of the veil at the moment of Jesus’ death dramatically symbolized that His sacrifice, the shedding of His own blood, was a sufficient atonement for sins. It signified that now the way into the Holy of Holies was open for all people, for all time, both Jew and Gentile.

When Jesus died, the veil was torn, and God moved out of that place never again to dwell in a temple made with hands (Acts 17:24). God was through with that temple and its religious system, and the temple and Jerusalem were left “desolate” (destroyed by the Romans) in A.D. 70, just as Jesus prophesied in Luke 13:35. As long as the temple stood, it signified the continuation of the Old Covenant. Hebrews 9:8-9 refers to the age that was passing away as the new covenant was being established (Hebrews 8:13).

In a sense, the veil was symbolic of Christ Himself as the only way to the Father (John 14:6). This is indicated by the fact that the high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies through the veil. Now Christ is our superior High Priest, and as believers in His finished work, we partake of His better priesthood. We can now enter the Holy of Holies through Him. Hebrews 10:19-20 says that the faithful enter into the sanctuary by the “blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the veil, that is, through his flesh.” Here we see the image of Jesus’ flesh being torn for us just as He was tearing the veil for us.

The veil being torn from top to bottom is a fact of history. The profound significance of this event is explained in glorious detail in Hebrews. The things of the temple were shadows of things to come, and they all ultimately point us to Jesus Christ. He was the veil to the Holy of Holies, and through His death the faithful now have free access to God.

The veil in the temple was a constant reminder that sin renders humanity unfit for the presence of God. The fact that the sin offering was offered annually and countless other sacrifices repeated daily showed graphically that sin could not truly be atoned for or erased by mere animal sacrifices. Jesus Christ, through His death, has removed the barriers between God and man, and now we may approach Him with confidence and boldness (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The first time we see the word lampstand in the Bible is in Exodus 25:31, as God gives detailed instructions about the golden lampstand to be placed in the tabernacle the Israelites were building. It’s interesting to note just how precise God is in explaining how He wanted the lampstand to look. Since we can be assured there are no “wasted words” in the Bible, we know each detail and specification are important for some reason.

The lampstand was to be made of pure gold, hammered out to the perfect accuracy of God’s decree (Exodus 25:31). Gold was the most valuable of all metals (Psalm 119:127; 19:10). Gold is often spoken of in terms of being “tested by fire”; the Bible compares the testing of gold with the testing of the church in 1 Peter 1:7. Out of testing, or refining, will come the true people of God (see Zechariah 13:7–9; Job 23:10). Those who withstand the “fire” will be purified (see Numbers 31:23).

The lampstand as a whole was to be fashioned as a tree with the base and center shaft representing the trunk and with three “branches” on each side. The top of the shaft and of each branch was to be made like an open almond flower; each flower held an oil lamp (Exodus 25:32, 37). There are several passages in the Bible that speak about the almond tree, which was always the first tree to blossom and bear fruit in the spring, as early as February. The apostle Paul calls Christ the “firstfruits” because Jesus was the first to rise from the dead to everlasting life, and because of His resurrection all believers will also be raised (1 Corinthians 15:20–23; Romans 8:23).

God used Aaron’s rod as a sign to the Israelites of his unique priesthood. At one time, when Aaron’s priesthood was being challenged, God caused Aaron’s rod to bud and grow ripe almonds overnight; this miracle reaffirmed that the privilege of being chosen as High Priest only came through God’s appointment (Numbers 16:3;17:10). This was a “shadow of things to come” experience that pointed to Jesus, our God-ordained, life-giving High Priest forever (Hebrews 7:21).

In the tabernacle, the lampstand was to be placed in the first section, called the Holy Place (Hebrews 9:2). The lamp was to be tended by Aaron and his sons so that its light never went out. The lampstand was to give forth light day and night (Exodus 27:20–21). The lampstand’s being the only source of light points directly to Christ as being the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). Jesus is the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9) and the only way anyone can come to the Father (John 14:6).

Jesus also calls His church the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), not of their own doing but because Christ is abiding in the church (John 1:4–5). A Christian who is shining with the light of Christ will live a godly life (1 Peter 2:9). Scripture is overflowing with references that compare and contrast light and darkness, believer and unbeliever, right up through the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:20 Christ says the “seven lampstands are the seven churches.” The churches of Christ are to walk in the light of God (1 John 1:7) and spread the light of the gospel so that all people will glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

There is other symbolism in the lampstand: it was made of one piece, as Christ is one with His church (Colossians 1:8); the six branches (6 being the number of man) plus the main shaft equals seven lights (7 being the number of completion)—man is only complete in Christ (John 15:5).

The most important thing to note about the lampstand is that it points to Christ, as do all the elements of the tabernacle. The Bible is from beginning to end a testimony about Christ and God’s merciful plan of redemption. Praise the Lord, He has taken His children out of the darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Biblical separation is the recognition that God has called believers out of the world and into a personal and corporate purity in the midst of sinful cultures. Biblical separation is usually considered in two areas: personal and ecclesiastical.

Personal separation involves an individual’s commitment to a godly standard of behavior. Daniel practiced personal separatism when he “resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” (Daniel 1:8). His was a biblical separatism because his standard was based on God’s revelation in the Mosaic law.

A modern example of personal separation could be the decision to decline invitations to parties where alcohol is served. Such a decision might be made in order to circumvent temptation (Romans 13:14), to avoid “every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), or simply to be consistent with a personal conviction (Romans 14:5).

The Bible clearly teaches that the child of God is to be separate from the world. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17; see also 1 Peter 1:14-16).

Ecclesiastical separation involves the decisions of a church concerning its ties to other organizations, based on their theology or practices. Separatism is implied in the very word “church,” which comes from the Greek word ekklesia meaning “a called-out assembly.” In Jesus’ letter to the church of Pergamum, He warned against tolerating those who taught false doctrine (Revelation 2:14-15). The church was to be separate, breaking ties with heresy. A modern example of ecclesiastical separation could be a denomination’s stance against ecumenical alliances which would unite the church with apostates.

Biblical separation does not require Christians to have no contact with unbelievers. Like Jesus, we should befriend the sinner without partaking of the sin (Luke 7:34). Paul expresses a balanced view of separatism: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). In other words, we are in the world, but not of it.

We are to be light to the world without allowing the world to diminish our light. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The Mosaic Law takes up a large portion of the Old Testament and was of vital importance to the Hebrews of old. Even though we who are in Christ are no longer under the Law (Galatians 5:18), there is much we can learn from this part of God’s Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Mosaic Law reveals God’s holiness. “The law of the LORD is perfect” (Psalm 19:7) because it is given by a perfect God. The stone tablets Moses received were “inscribed by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10). The Law clearly reveals God’s standard for His people living in a fallen world. The behavior it demands is righteousness in action. “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12; cf. Nehemiah 9:13). God’s desire is for that holiness to be reflected in His people (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16).

The Mosaic Law defines sin and exposes its heinous nature. “Through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20). With the giving of the Ten Commandments, God once and for all codified morality. Ever since Sinai, there can be no question of God’s opinion of adultery, murder, theft, etc.—they are wrong. And the severe penalties that befell transgressors underscore the serious nature of sin as rebellion against God. In defining sin and setting a divine standard, the Law indirectly discloses our need for a Savior.

The Mosaic Law confirms our need to be separate from sin. Many of the Law’s regulations were aimed at making Israel distinct from the surrounding nations. Not only was their worship different, but they had different farming practices, a different diet, different clothing—they even had a different way of growing their beards (Leviticus 19:27). Truly, the Hebrews were set apart from the rest of the world. God’s people today are still to be set apart—not in the same ways as the children of Israel—but morally, ethically, and spiritually. We are in the world but not of it (John 15:19; 17:14, 16). We are to let our light shine (Matthew 5:14–16).

The Mosaic Law shows how God’s plan unfolds gradually and progressively. The progressive nature of God’s revelation is alluded to in passages such as Acts 14:16 and Acts 17:30. As has been noted, the Law brought clarity and definiteness to the meaning of sin, and the precision of the commandments allowed us to easily identify infractions. But the Law itself was meant to be temporary. It was, in fact, “our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Christ is the One who fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17). In taking the Law’s curse upon Himself, Christ brought an end to the curse and instituted the New Covenant (Galatians 3:13; Luke 22:20).

The Mosaic Law expounds on God’s two most basic commands. Everything in the Law can be boiled down to two commands. The primary one is found in Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The secondary, related command is in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus ranked these commandments as number one and number two and said they were the quintessence of the entirety of God’s Law (Matthew 22:36–40).

The Mosaic Law predicts that God will not forsake His children. There were blessings promised to Israel for keeping the Law and curses for breaking it (Deuteronomy 30). God predicted, through His prophet Moses, that Israel would be disobedient and spurn the Law (Deuteronomy 32:21–22). Yet, in His great mercy, God promised to “vindicate his people” (Deuteronomy 32:36) and “make atonement for his land and people” (verse 43).

The Mosaic Law establishes the principle of sowing and reaping. The Old Covenant was conditional; God promised to bless Israel in the Promised Land only if they adhered to the Law. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today” (Deuteronomy 11:26–28). The underlying principle of reaping what one sows is a natural law and one repeated in the New Testament (Galatians 6:7).

The Mosaic Law demonstrates the value of an intercessor between God and man. The whole concept of the Levitical priesthood was based on the need for an intercessor between man and God. Only the priests could enter the tabernacle, and only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies—and that only once a year with the blood of a sacrifice. Even then, there were special requirements placed on the priests concerning their behavior, physical appearance, clothing, and ceremonial cleansing. The point was that God is holy, and we are not. We need a go-between, and God is the One who chooses the mediator. Under the Mosaic system, the intercessor was a son of Aaron (Numbers 3:3); under the New Covenant, the Intercessor is the Son of God (1 Timothy 2:5).

The Mosaic Law shows the efficacy of a substitutionary sacrifice. The Law graphically depicts God’s requirement of the blood of an innocent sacrifice to atone for the sins of the guilty. As the author of Hebrews says, “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). The burning carcass on the altar was a vivid reminder that the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). Without such a substitute, the wrath of God would fall on the transgressor. The Law allowed for an animal sacrifice to be a propitiation for sin, and the Law called the sacrifice “a pleasing aroma” to the Lord (Numbers 28:6).

The Mosaic Law provides many pictures of Christ and His redemption. Every lamb that was offered under the Old Testament Law was a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God and His sacrifice on the cross (see John 1:29; Hebrews 7:27). Every priestly duty heralded the work of Christ on our behalf. The lampstand in the temple prefigured the Light of the World (John 9:5). The table of showbread was a picture of the Bread of Life (John 6:35). The veil separating the two compartments of the tabernacle was a symbol of Christ’s body, destined to be torn to provide access to the very presence of God (Luke 23:45; Hebrews 10:20). In fact, the entire sanctuary built under Moses’ superintendence was filled with “copies of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 9:23).

Christians today can benefit much from a study of the Mosaic Law. We understand that the Law was not meant for the church, and we are responsible to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But, properly understood, the Law remains “our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24, NAS). Once we come to Christ, we find He “is the culmination of the law . . . for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).