Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Law

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled Jesus on Every Page; these are my notes from those classes.

I. Law in the Context of Grace

A. Freed unto Worship

  • “Before God gave Israel his law he gave them himself, as their redeemer. . .  In his grace and in faithfulness to his covenant promise, he had acted first and redeemed them.  He had not sent Moses with the ten commandments under his cloak to tell Israel that if they would keep the law, God would save them.  Precisely the other way around.  He saved them and then asked them to keep his law in response. . .  Obedience flows from grace; it does not buy it.”[1]

B. The Testimony of Scripture

  • The Nature of the Promise

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise (Galatians 3:16-18).

What is Paul’s point here?  How does he explain the relationship between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants?  Paul is explaining that God’s promise to Abraham, like the one in the garden, finds its fulfillment not in Abraham’s offspring in a general or plural sense but specifically in the singular offspring who is Jesus Christ.  Jesus will possess the gates of his enemies and in Christ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  Because this promise came before the promise to Moses it supersedes it and therefore law keeping cannot be a means of obtaining the inheritance.

  • Grace and Redemption Precede the Giving of the Law

1On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  2They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness.  There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3while Moses went up to God.  The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:1-6).

  • The Law Comes as a Result of the Promise

20“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt.  And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  22And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.  23And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.  24And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.  25And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us’ (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

Because of His promise the Lord rescues His people from bondage and gives them the law.

II. Principles for Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Law

A. The Law Keeping is Not, Nor was it Ever, an Alternate Way to Establish Relationship with God

  • “The law of God is not a system of merit whereby the unsaved seek to earn divine favor but a pattern of life given by the Redeemer to the redeemed so that they might know how to live for his good pleasure.”[2]  Tim Keller puts it this way,

Traditional religion teaches that if we do good deeds and follow the moral rules in our external behavior, God will come into our hearts, bless us, and give us salvation.  In other words, if I obey, God will love and accept me.  But the gospel is the reverse of this: If I know in my heart that God has accepted me and loves me freely by grace, then I can begin to obey, out of inner joy and gratitude.  Religion is outside in, but the gospel is inside out.[3]

So we must be careful not to confuse the religion of the Pharisees with the gracious giving of the law to Israel.

B. Because of His Grace and in Fulfillment of the Promise Christ Keeps the Law on Our Behalf

  • We have seen this clearly outlined for us as we have gone through the Gospel of Luke.  From His birth, circumcision, baptism to His desert triumph over the Tempter and teaching; Luke presents Him as the keeper of the law as the true Adam and faithful Israel.  Jesus lives, dies, and is resurrected on our behalf.

C. The Division of the Law into Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial is Arbitrary at Best

  • The Ten Commandments set forth how we are to image and worship God then “after stating the law in broad, prescriptive, and principial terms, Moses begins the process of applying the Ten Commandments to the historical situation of Israel.”[4]  The law is therefore to be viewed as a unified application of the Ten Commandments to the whole of Israel’s life.  This “is what we find in the teaching of Jesus.  It was not just a repetition of all the laws, like a shopping list.  Nor was it a new law that disregarded the original.  Rather, he restored the true perspective and essential point of the law.  He brought back the urgent appeal of Moses for a single-minded, uncomplicated loyalty to God.”[5]
  • There are differing views on this.  David Murray, the author of Jesus on Every Page, argues that the moral law was given to Adam and Eve and is imbedded in the human conscience and was given to Moses in written form.  The ceremonies prescribed by the Ceremonial law were abolished as Christ has replaced the tabernacle and temple.  The civil law of Israel ceased to exist with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  I do not, however, find Murray’s argument to be convincing.

D. The Structure of the Pentateuch Anticipates a Time of Eschatological Fulfillment

  • “The outlook is eschatological and anticipates a time when that which the law did not achieve in Israel will be the reality.”[6]  From the rebellion of Adam to the golden calf and culminating in the covenant in Deuteronomy the narrative structure of the Pentateuch points to a fulfillment beyond itself (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

III. Encouragement Along the Way

A. Looking Beyond the Covenants Thus Far

  • “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
  • With the mention of heart circumcision as a divine enabling to fulfill the greatest commandment the Pentateuch closes and anticipates something beyond the covenant with Abraham and the covenants with Moses/Israel.

IV. Examples of Jesus in the Old Testament Law

  • The Confirmation of the Covenant – The covenant is inaugurated with the building of an altar, the burning of a sacrifice, and the pouring of blood upon the redeemed covenant community of Israel (Exodus 24:1-8).  What was spread upon the doorposts at Passover in poured out upon the covenant community with the confirmation of this covenant and as redemptive history unfolds and the anticipation of a greater covenant grows so does the apparent need for a greater sacrifice.
  • The Patient and Gracious Covenant Lord – “The inescapable truth is that the grace of God continues to shine upon a people whose major claim to fame is the suicidal ability to break the covenant.”[7]  “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).
  • The Curse of the Law – The covenants were structured with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.  Galatians tells us that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).


[1]Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), 192-93.
[2]J. A. Moyter, “Biblical Concept of Law,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter E. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 624.
[3]Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 47.
[4]Michael D. Williams, Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 164.
[5]Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 191.
[6]Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 165.
[7]Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,158.


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