The Law and the Early Church

The early church was first composed of Jews who were "led by the Spirit" (Gal.5:18) to leave their condemned state under Law only, and to believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. On Pentecost there were 3,000 who were no longer in bondage to condemnation through law only, and who were led by the Spirit to the liberty in Christ Jesus. This was liberty from sin by means of Jesus' blood, and liberty from a law system that did not have power to justify a sinner or save the sinner (Rom.3:19,20).

The Jews on Pentecost who did not commit their trust and obedience to Jesus were left under the system of Law, where the sinner is not justified, but rather condemned (Gal.3:10,11). As the early church celebrated their salvation and freedom in Christ Jesus, it became an occasion for the unbelieving Jew (those who did not believe in Jesus, but did believe in God, they thought) to critique the early Christians as blaspheming or speaking against the Law of Moses.

It was a situation where the Law of Moses, to the unbelieving Jew, was EVERYTHING, and Jesus was nothing, and they used their long-held tradition of loyalty to the Law that God gave through Moses as their favored argument against this new "sect of the Nazarenes". To them, this "sect of the Nazarenes" was trying to destroy God's law and exalt a man. Prejudice for the Law of Moses and against anybody that seemed to "speak against" it and exalt a man over it was a "stronghold" that the early Christians had to battle and cast down with the spiritual weapons of their warfare (2 Cor.10:3-5). It was no easy task to keep running into this prejudice.

It was a delicate situation where the early Christians had to cover two bases at once: 1) We are not dishonoring the Law of God, or the glory of the Law of Moses, but actually honoring it more than those who reject Jesus, and 2) Jesus is the long-awaited Savior prophesied and typified in the Law of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets. It actually dishonors the Law of Moses to reject the Savior that Moses' Law established that we needed and promised we would have. Theirs was now a mission to Jews to show that Jesus was someone special who honored the Law of Moses and kept it, that Jesus should be honored as the long-awaited Savior-King.

At times the early Christians had to lean over backwards to keep from appearing to discredit Moses. Although the Law was abolished at the cross (Eph.2:11-15), and this was understood by the early Christians, there was a strong need to walk carefully, and show that serving Jesus does not mean "ANTI-law-OF-Moses". Their mission was to overcome the prejudicial barrier by showing that you can honor God's Christ without appearing to discredit Moses.

It was also a growing time for the early Christians. While walking gently around the prejudiced Jews, trying to show rightful honor for the Law of Moses, they also had to realize that the law itself was only a staging for the far-more-glorious Savior-King, Jesus. The law was glorious, but it was a fading glory, because the glory of the new covenant was far more glorious (2 Cor.3). The Law, like John the Baptist, must decrease, while Jesus increases.

Serving Jesus, who kept the Law of Moses perfectly in His moral principles of behavior, inward discipline, and priorities, would mean that His disciples would behave in such a way as to "fulfill the righteousness of the law" (Matt.5:19,20; 7:12; Rom.8:3-4; 13:8-10; Eph.6:1-4), and since Jesus was the antitype of all the types and shadows of the Law, we also have the SUBSTANCE of all those ceremonial types and shadows fulfilled in Jesus. So, the early Christians were not dishonoring the feasts and sacrifices of the Law, but actually honoring their purpose that was now fulfilled and completely satisfied in Jesus (Col.2:12-17). In accepting Jesus as "our Passover" (1 Cor.5:7) we do not dishonor the Law of Moses by dropping the shadowy ceremony that was done in anticipation of the Savor and instead letting Jesus be our sacrificial Lamb of God, Our Passover, our Sabbath, our High Priest, etc. The type and shadow had a time and purpose that prepared for the better thing to come, and when the better SUBSTANCE arrived, it would be a "time of reformation" (Heb.9:1-10) where the shadowy types and ceremonies would find fulfillment in spiritual counterparts and spiritual sacrifices in Christ in the heavenly relationship. The Law of Moses was actually honored and established in the Christian more than it had ever been honored by the Jews who did nothing but break it and use it hypocritically against others.

So, while the early Christians were trying to walk carefully before their brothers according to the flesh, they were also being led by the Spirit to the ultimate goal. What is the ultimate goal? It is a goal where Jesus is ALL, and in all (Col. 3:11). It is a goal where all Jews do not hold equally to Moses AND Jesus, as if Moses is SOME and Jesus is SOME. It is a goal where Jews become convinced that Jesus should be ALL. He should be preeminent, the head over all things to the church. He should be glorified above all. His glory far exceeds the temporal glory seen in Moses' face. We should be captured by the glory of Jesus' unfading and eternal glory. Every thought should be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

It is a goal where all Gentiles become convinced that Jesus should be ALL. The driving mission of the church of Christ today should be a powerful unifier, the strong conviction that Jesus should be "ALL and IN ALL". If every local church will emphasize letting Jesus be everything in everybody, we will see much stronger members, much stronger churches of Christ. When Jesus is all to you and all to me, we have a common bond that unites us. It does not matter what our background is. When Jesus is all in all, we think that we have something special together. We don't care what football team you like as long as it is clear that football teams are insignificant to you compared to Christ who is ALL that really matters. We don't care what your economic status is as long as it is clear that to you, your greatest treasure is in Jesus, Jesus in you and you in Jesus. We don't care if you were brought up under the Law, as long as you let the law bring you to Jesus. Let Jesus be ALL that matters, and you will be truly strong and truly wealthy. If Jesus was "ALL and in ALL" we'd have a strong force, a strong team, and a wonderful unity. Please, let Jesus be my all and your all. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen!

By Terry W. Benton

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