The Covenant of Moses Prefigures the New Covenant.
The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming?not the realities
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard
to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow
of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
The Law of Moses Prefigures the Law of Christ
Imagine the scene. After freeing his people from slavery in Egypt by great wonders
and signs, God brought them to Mount Sinai. Here God established a Covenant with
his people. God told Moses to set boundaries at the foot of the mountain because anyone
who set foot on the holy mountain while God appeared to Moses would be killed. Fo
r two days Moses consecrated the people. All the people washed their bodies and their
clothes and abstained from sexual relations. Tension was building, as the people knew
something great was about to happen. God had his people?s attention.
Exactlly as Moses had told them earlier, God came upon the mountain with great
power on the third day.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick
cloud over the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on
it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain
trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder?. When
the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain
in smoke, they trembled with fear. (Exodus 19:16-19, 20:18).
Given this awe-inspiring sign, it is not hard to see why the people were terrified.
And thus was the Law received by Moses and the people of God. God has a way of
announcing great changes with powerful signs. The reception of the first covenant
was certainly no exception to this rule. About four hundred years earlier, God had
chosen Abraham as the man through whom to bless the world. It was at this time at
the foot of Mount Sinai that God set up his covenant and gave his Law to Abraham?s
descendants. On this day, the Jewish religion began.
If the temple was the focus of religion and worship for the Jews, then the Law
of Moses was the focus of their daily lives, at least for those who remained
faithful to the Old Covenant. What to eat, when to plant crops, health practices, marriage,
death, taxes,? it seemed as if even the most minute aspect of the lives of God?s
people was governed by the Law given at Sinai.
What was the essence?the heart?of the Law of Moses? Was it the Ten Commandments? Many would say
that the Ten Commandments are the essence of the Law of Moses. The Ten Commandments
certainly meant a lot to the Jewish people, as they were placed in the ark,
but the Ten Commandments are definitely not the heart of the Law of Moses. The heart
?of the Law could be stated as follows:
The man who does these things will live by them. (Leviticus 18:5).
The essence of the First Covenant was a compact with a promise, sealed in blood.
?God told his people that if they would keep all the laws he gave them at M
ount Sinai, they would be greatly blessed in the land he was going to give them. At fir
st glance, this may have seemed like a great thing, but consider the implications. The prob
lem comes in having to keep all the laws:
Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them
out. (Deuteronomy 27:26).
Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that
you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. The
y are not just idle words for you?they are your life. By them you will live long
in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 32:46,47).
You must distinguish between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and
the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given
them through Moses. (Leviticus 9:10,11).
Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:1).
If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you
rain in its season? But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and
if you? fail to carry out all my commands, and so violate my covenant, then I will do
this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases? (Leviticus
The problem with the covenant God established through the Law of Moses on Sinai
is that the people were unable to keep up their end of the contract. Who could live
a life in which they never failed at any point of the law given to Moses? As
Paul said in Galatians 2:21, righteousness could not be gained through the law.
But what about all those sacrifices? Surely all that blood of bulls and goats was not
being shed for nothing. Were they not intended to make up for the difference between
the Jew?s performance and God?s expectations? The answer is yes? and no?. The sacrifices instituted
at Sinai were a shadow, as was the law they were based on. Shadows do not bring
forgiveness, they do not make perfect. Only the real thing can bridge the awesome
chasm between our attempts at right living and true righteousness in God?s sight.
And thus we had the need for the antitype to the Law of Moses: the Law of Christ.
Consider Hebrews 10:1-4;
The law (at Sinai) is only a shadow of the good things that are coming?not the
realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly
year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they
not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for
all, and would not have felt guilty for their sins. But these sacrifices are an
annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and
goats to take away sins.
There you have it. The law, in other words the Law of Moses, was a foreshadow. God had never
intended it to be the final answer for his people. As the life of Moses was a prefigure
of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, so the Law of Moses was a prefigure
of the Law of Christ. Moses was a prophetic prefigure of the reality in Christ. The same
is true of the law given to Moses at Sinai. It is a foreshadow of the fully realized
Law of Christ.
Perhaps some might find this hard to accept. How could one thousand four hundred years
and literally millions of sacrifices?millions of gallons of blood shed?be meaningless?
?How could the one true God institute such a thing? Let the dozens of examples already
given stand as irrefutable proof of the principle that God uses the people and
events in the Old Testament as foreshadows of the reality he was to reveal to
us in Jesus Christ. They had great meaning as a foreshadow.
Besides, the sacrifices performed all those years in the desert and in Jeru
salem certainly were not meaning
less to the Jews themselves. They were pregnant with meaning. Thr
ough the sacrifices in the Old Testament, God was teaching both the physical
and the spiritual children of Abraham some fundamental principles about our
relationship with him, as we will see.
To the Jew who might complain, ?Why did you make us go through this whole charade??
God might reply, ?This was no charade. In my mind, it was as if my son Jesus had been
slain all along. I gave you the Law of Moses as a teacher, a tutor. I needed to prepare
a people through whom to bless the world. And besides, it is not as if I did not
tell you I would be making a new and greater covenant founded on better promises
. What did my prophet Jeremiah tell you??
?The time is coming,?declares the LORD,
?When I will make a new covenant with the
house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their
forefathers when I took them by the hand out
of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,?
declares the LORD.
?This is the covenant I will make with the house
of Israel after that time,? declares the LORD.
?I will put my law in their minds and write it on
their hearts .
I will be their God and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a
man his brother, saying ?Know the LORD,?
because they will all know me, from the least
of them to the greatest,? declares the LORD.
?For I will forgive their wickedness and will
remember their sins no more.? declares the
It is not as if the Law of Moses was bad. It is just that the antitype is so much
greater. The Law of Christ is the fulfillment?the completion, of the Law of Moses. Is tha
t not what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount? ?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.? (Matthew 5:17). The antitype did not abolish the type. It brought it to completion
and fulfilled all its requirements. How much greater is the New Covenant, established and
sealed by the blood of Jesus!
The Law given on Mount Sinai was truly an awesome thing. The fire and smoke which covered
the entire mountain was an unmistakeable sign of that. However, if we have learned
anything from the types and antitypes in the Old and New Testaments, surely
it is that the latter is greater than the former. This author will not be able to
improve on the writer of Hebrews:
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and is burning with fire;
to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking
words, so that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them?
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the
living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,
to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to
God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to
Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks
a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24).
When Jewish readers came to this point in the Hebrew letter, they knew exactly
what the writer was referring to when he mentioned the mountain, the fire, darkness
and trumpet blast?Hebrews twelve is a reminder of the giving of the Law of Moses
on Sinai. God?s first covenant was great, but the new covenant was infinitely greater.
It brought in perfection.
Again, one might be tempted to ask why God introduced something which was not
perfect in the first place? ?The former regulation is set aside because it was weak
and useless (for the law made nothing perfect). (Hebrews 7:18). Why not skip
right to the perfect Law of Christ? There were many reasons. One of these is faith. It takes more
faith to accept the second covenant because it involves things which are unseen.
The Jews could see the temple in Jerusalem. They could not mistake the implications
of the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. When the Sea of Reeds parted
, the people of God did not struggle with interpreting the message: March!
The antitypes of all these things are spiritual. They are invisible. In the words of Jesus to
a skeptical Thomas, ?Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are
those who have not seen and yet have believed.? We are of those who have not seen, and
yet whom God expects to believe. As Paul said, ?we live by faith, not by sight.? (2
Corinthians 5:7). When God created the types in the Old Testament and their fulfillment
in the New, he provided for us amazing proof of the reality of the second and
greater covenant. God expects Christians to live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians
5:7). However, with the prophetic nature of the types in the Old Testament, it is
far from a blind faith. The fulfillment of type and antitype in the law is a major
part of the evidence to support that faith.
A second reason the Law of Moses is of great value is that the Law given on
Sinai was a great teacher. So much about the nature of God and the kind of relationship
he wants with his people can be gleaned from a careful study of the Law of Moses.
The Law prepared the Jews both intellectually and spiritually for the change
of covenant God had in mind. If only more had been willing to make the change of
mind and heart to become followers of the second Moses.
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known
what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what it was to
covet if the law had not said, ?Do not covet?.? Did that which is good, then, become
death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced
death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might
become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:7,13).
For the Jews, and for anyone else willing to look carefully at the Law of Moses,
the true nature of sin and its effect on our relationship with God was made
very clear. It is hard to fully understand the good news of eternal forgiveness under
the New Covenant without first fully understanding the bad news of the depravity
of sin and our inability to stop sinning. The Jew?s fruitless attempts to follow the
Law of Moses perfectly teaches both them and us that lesson. The message is that human
effort can not and will not produce a right relationship with God.
Paul expresses the idea that the Law is a great teacher in Galatians as well:
What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added because of transgressions
until the Seed (that is Jesus Christ) to whom the promise referred had come?.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?
; Absolutely not! For if a law
had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have
come by the law?. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be
justified by faith. (Galatians 3:19,21,24).
Until we are ready for the big exam, we need a tutor. Until we are ready for the
?pros? we need a coach. Until we are ready to take on full responsibility, we need
a mentor. That is what the Law of Moses was. It explained God to us, it led the way;
it showed us what was coming. The Law of Moses did not get the Jews to heaven, but
it led them to Christ. But when Christ came, it was time to put behind childish things
and time to take up the fulfillment of God?s plan in the New Covenant.
The Law of Christ has already been mentioned several times as an antitype to
the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses has been described in its essence as, ?The man
who does these things will live by them.? What is the Law of Christ? What is this
New Covenant that replaced the law of sin and death?
Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive
the promised eternal inheritance?now that he has died as a ransom to set them
free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
In this section of Hebrews, the writer goes on to explain the type/antitype
relationship between the first and the second covenants in more detail. Both were
essentially like a will. Both were only sealed by the death of the one who made
the covenant. The Hebrew writer quotes Moses from Exodus 24:8; ?This is the blood of the
covenant, which God has commanded you to keep,? going on to explain that this
was why Moses sprinkled blood both in the tabernacle and on all the items used
in the ceremonies of the first covenant. ?Without the shedding of blood there is no
forgiveness.? (Hebrews 9:22).
As with the type, so with the antitype. The New Covenant could only be put into
effect and sealed with the death of him who sealed it: Jesus Christ. His blood was required
to cleanse the items in the heavenly tabernacle. The writer of Hebrews could summarize
the antitype?the Law of Christ?as follows:
So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will
appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are
waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28).
Just like the first covenant, the second covenant was a compact with a promise,
sealed in blood
FORESHADOWS IN THE LAW OF MOSES
There are many parallels between the Old and the New Covenant in which the foreshadow
is a physical thing while the New Covenant realization is a spiritual thing. The
?bulls and goats whose blood was used in the sacrifices under the Law of Moses
were required to be unblemished physically. How much greater is the sacrifice in the New
Covenant! In the antitype, the sacrifice, Jesus Christ led an unblemished life, not
physically but spiritually.
As a second example of the physical/spiritual parallels between the covenants,
following the former covenant led to largely physical blessings. ?See, I set before you
today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the L
ORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws;
then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the
land you are entering to possess.? (Deuteronomy 30:15,16). Many miss this point, so let
it be said again. The promise of the Old Covenant was principally that God would
give physical blessings. God promised good crops, many children, rain at the proper time,
milk and honey and freedom from attacks from their enemies. Because the sacrifice in
the New Covenant was unblemished spiritually, not physically, the blessing under
the second covenant is spiritual. It includes forgiveness of sin and a relationship with
God. ?Praise be to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed
us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.? (Ephesians 1:3). Th
e first chapter of Ephesians goes on to list these spiritual blessings, including
being holy and blameless, being adopted as sons of God, receiving his glorious
grace, redemption, forgiveness of sins, being chosen, included in Christ and
marked with the seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Every single one of these spiritual gifts
are foreshadowed in the physical blessings given to Israel in the Promised Land.
So, what do we learn about God and about the New Covenant through its foreshadow;
the Law of Moses? One thing that can be learned from the Old Covenant is that God
wants a relationship with his people through which he can bless them. One does not
have to read very far into Leviticus to notice that God gave to Israel, throu
gh Moses, a lot of laws. Let us get the big picture. What was the purpose of these laws? F
or us who read the New Testament, they are foreshadows, of course, but what
did these laws mean for Israel? In general, the laws given to Israel were given
, either to give them direct physical benefit or to keep them pure so that they
could be in a relationship with Jehovah.
There are many examples of laws which God gave Israel so that they could be
blessed with physical health and with happy relationships with one another. For exampl
e, God commanded that they abstain from certain meats. It just so happens that each
of the meats which God commanded they not eat (pork, meat of carnivores, shellfish
etc.) carry a relatively high likelihood of causing deadly disease, while the
meats they were allowed to eat (fish, lamb, beef, etc.) tend to be much safer to
eat, even if not thoroughly cooked. Other examples could be cited. God gave laws for quarantine
in the case of certain diseases. God gave laws about the touching of dead bodies and
rules about sexual behavior, all of which brought great health benefit to I
srael if they would obey the Lord.
God made it clear that he wanted to give them good health. ?If you listen carefully
to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay
attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you
any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD who heals you.? (Ex
odus 15:26). Despite the complete lack of scientific knowledge of the time, the Mosaic
Law is filled with what seem to be unexplainably wise health laws. Unexplainabl
e, that is, if one assumes that the Law of Moses is of human origin. It is interesting
to notice the historical fact that the Jewish people have always been able to
recover from great tragedy, war and persecutions. One contributing factor is that to the
extent that they followed the laws given them by Moses, they lived healthier
lives and grew numerically.
The type in the Law of Moses is good physical health. The antitype in the New Testament
is good spiritual health. The wasting diseases such as leprosy which were prevented
by following God?s commands given to Moses, which also made the
unclean, foreshadow sin and its debilitating effect in our life which is prevented
by following the Law of Christ. The Jews who followed the Law of Moses were protected
from the devastating effects of the physical diseases of the Egyptians. Those who follow
the Law of Christ will avoid the devastating effects of the spiritual disease
of Egypt: sin. We will not be perfect in this life, but God will give us every
spiritual blessing. ?Praise be to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.? (Ephesians
1:3). Physical blessings are a wonderful thing, but spiritual blessings?peace of
mind, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, personal relationship with the God of
the universe?surely these are greater blessings!
CLEAN VERSUS UNCLEAN
As already mentioned, many of the Laws handed down through Moses had health
implications. Good physical health for the Jews has as its antitype good spiritual health
for the spiritual children of Moses. An even greater proportion of the laws given
to Israel at Sinai had to do with regulations for maintaining ceremonial cleanness.
There were laws for maintaining cleanness for all the people of Israel. Th
ere were also special laws for ceremonial cleanness for the priests, and still
more stringent laws for maintaining ceremonial cleanness for the high priest. It is
easy to get lost reading Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy in all the rules
for avoiding uncleanness.
In order for a Christian to understand the relevance of all these laws, it is
useful to bear in mind the antitype to ceremonial cleanness. Being ceremonially clean
to the Jews meant that they were able to present acceptable sacrifices and to
worship God. It is not hard to see what this is foreshadowing in the New Covenant. Cer
emonial cleanness is the type, while the antitype in Christ is being cleansed
from sin. In order to present our lives as living sacrifices to God, which is our
spiritual worship (to paraphrase Romans 12:2), we must avoid being polluted
by the world. One thing which is made crystal clear from the Law of Moses is that
keeping our life free of sin is very important to God.
Just to give a feeling for some of the rules regarding uncleanness for the Aaronic
priests, consider a list taken from Leviticus chapter twenty-one. In order to be ceremonially
clean, and therefore able to minister before their God, the high priest was
not even allowed in the room with a dead person. They priests were not allowed to
shave their heads or the edges of their beards. ?A priest must not make himself ceremonially
unclean.? (v. 1). ?They must be holy to their God and must not profane the name
of their God.? (v. 6). They were not to marry a woman who had been a prostitute
or had been divorced. In the same chapter, the high priest was disqualified for serving
before God for any of a number of physical defects. The list goes on. Rules for all the
people, not just the priests included such prohibitions as mating different
kinds of animals, planting fields with two kinds of seeds, eating meat with
blood still in it, and so forth. There were laws against cruelty to animals, various
sorts of sexual relations, as well as rules for dealing with rebellious children. M
any of these laws are physical foreshadowings of spiritual principles for those
who are under the Law of Christ.
All these regulations are foreshadows of the sort of purity and freedom from
sin that God expects from his children under the second and greater covenant. Remem
ber that the forgiven disciple of Jesus is a priest. He or she must make every possible
effort to avoid spiritual uncleanness.
Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of
wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses
himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy,
useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.