It was that very idea that Paul addressed in 2 Corinthians 3. Paul had already spoken about the differences between the old and new covenant in terms of the old being a “ministration of death, written, and engraven on stones” (vs. 7) and the new being a ministration of the spirit and of righteousness (vs. 8-9). But then he said this:
“Seeing then that we have such a hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ” (vs. 12-14).
It’s interesting that he used the word “abolished” to describe that old covenant because those Jews in New Testament times still very much bound themselves to it. But every single part of that law, from the distinction between clean and unclean meats, to the expectations for tabernacle/temple design, to the Levitical priesthood, to the burnt offerings, and even the ten commandments have been blotted out and nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). We have been placed under a better covenant that has been enacted upon better promises (Heb. 8:6). But why was that old covenant abolished and replaced in the first place?
The first covenant was intended to be temporary while the second is intended to be eternal. Comparing the two the Hebrews writer said that “if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second” (Heb. 8:7). So the first covenant was imperfect for man’s ultimate need, which is redemption. That doesn’t mean that God is imperfect, it simply means that He designed that covenant with a specific purpose and only intended for it to be temporary. The second, though, will last forever (Mat. 24:35).
The first covenant only covered man’s sins while the second is able to redeem them. The Hebrews writer dealt with this fact extensively, particularly in Hebrews 10:1ff:
“For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect…But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (vs. 1-4).
What the law did for sin was only temporary. Sin was covered, but still present and had to be dealt with again each year. However, Jesus’ covenant with man offers total redemption (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 10:10).
The first covenant was a law of division while the second is intended to unite.Writing to Gentiles, Paul reminded them that once they had been “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). There was an acknowledged division that existed between Jew and Gentile and it all centered around that old covenant which had been given to the Jews. But even though that was their past, Paul reminded them that their present and future was rooted in the fact that “now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2: 13). That division no longer exists because Jesus came and broke down that wall of partition and abolished the law that made them two (vs. 14-16). Through Him they were made one.
So does Moses’ law contain any authority for us today? No, because it has been abolished. Moses has been overshadowed and now we serve the perfect Savior and the Son of the living God (Mat. 17:1ffl Col. 3:17).
Andy preachers for the Phillips Street church of Christ in Dyersburg, TN
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