That’s right – an old-school comparison chart, right here!
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
In this next cycle of blogging through “Eschatology 101” we examine these words of John about Christ, their meaning, and what impact they have on our study of prophecy. The Law contained a foretaste or a shadow of what was to come. The “real deal” fulfillment would come through Christ, but the Law gave us images and concepts to help us understand the spiritual reality that is ours in Christ. Things like the tabernacle, the priesthood, sacrifice, the temple, etc., all pointed to the coming everlasting world where righteousness dwells.
To fully understand prophecy and the nature of fulfillment, we must look at the difference between the Old and New covenants.
The many pairs of contrasting words – flesh and spirit, works and faith, earthly and heavenly – point to the differing natures of these covenants.
John writes in his gospel, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John. 1:17). Since it is clearly stated that Moses gave the law, and Christ gave truth, it is evident that two paradigms existed that are different by nature. This raises the question: What law is spoken of, and what is meant by truth? Responding to this question may not be as easy as we think. To define truth, for instance, it would be easy to go to John 17:17 and apply the statement of Christ,
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
While the word of God is truth, this is not “truth” being spoken of in John 1:17! The “word of God” contains the law, as Exodus 20:1 tells us: “And God spoke all these words….” There was nothing contained in the law devoid of divine revelation. Paul said, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). One cannot make truth in John 1:17 mean merely the word of God without making the law something other than the word of God. The law was not the truth given by Christ, nor was this truth the law, but both were the word of God. What, then, is the difference?
If we can understand what the law was, especially in this context, we will be in a better position to understand what truth is. The book of Hebrews is devoted mainly to describing the nature and purpose of the law system. Hebrews 10:1 says,
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things….
The law, to some extent, was a temporal system of services and ordinances that were shadows or types of “good things to come,” but there’s not a 1:1 correlation. The “good things to come” were spiritual realities – “truth” – the very Good News of the in-breaking reign of God (“the gospel” itself). The purpose of the law was to foreshadow these spiritual things by their types, or shadows. This is the only way we can really understand spiritual dimensions. The physical realities, the types and shadows, had to be established so that they might serve as metaphors for spiritual reality. The picture here is of God as a divine author, establishing characters and settings in the first chapters so that the climax might make sense to the reader. The law was first necessary as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), or to the truth. This relationship is illustrated in this delightfully old-school figure you see here. (We’ve been exploring these ideas since the early 1970s, y’all!)
This relationship between the law and truth is further explained as a pattern (KJV) or copy. The writer states,
So it was necessary for the copies [patterns] of the heavenly things to be cleansed with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things had to be cleansed with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:23)
“Patterns” here refers to elements of the law system that were purged or sprinkled with the blood of animals. The heavenly elements were purified with better sacrifices, the sacrifice of Christ rather than animals. The law system contained the copies (patterns) of the gospel system, with the patterns being “only about food, drink, and various ritual ways to wash with water. They are regulations that have been imposed until the time of the new order.” (Hebrews 9:10) The things reflected by the copies were heavenly – or spiritual – in nature. The temporal ordinances were imposed on them until the time of the new order, or the time that truth would be brought by Jesus Christ.
This truth also is presented in Hebrews, that describes the priests under the law:
Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For [God] said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ (Hebrews 8:5)
The tabernacle built by Moses never was intended to be anything more than a pattern or copy for the purpose of leading humanity to the archetypal – the heavenly or spiritual tabernacle – the one made without hands (Hebrews 9:11).
Those who served in this first tabernacle served to foreshadow heavenly things. Moses gave the temporal patterns, but the heavenly or spiritual product came by Jesus Christ. Those who are looking for a rebuilding of a temporal temple, and a restoration of national Israel to Palestine, fail to see the spiritual application of those temporal patterns given under the law. The pattern period has been completed, never again to be restored with divine blessing. These patterns have served their purpose – they have illuminated the spiritual copy that was intended.
Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Join us next week as we take a deep-dive into the symbolism of the Tabernacle!