eschatology, Passing of the Law of Moses, Responding to the Critics

Two Priesthoods and the Passing of the Law of Moses – #7 – Israel’s Festal Calendar

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Two Priesthoods and the Passing of the Law of Moses – #7 – Israel’s Festal Calendar

This series is investigating the question of whether two priesthoods, the Levitical and Christ’s could co-exist for the period between the Cross and AD 70. I affirm that the two priesthoods did co-exist for that “second exodus period,” but, that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple signaled the full end of the Old Covenant, with that ineffective priesthood. Be sure to read the entire series beginning here.

In our last installment I shared some of the major issues that lie latent in the traditional eschatological paradigms, issues stemming directly from the Sabbath. Let me say again that the confusion that abounds in the futurist world in regard to the Sabbath issue, indeed, in regard to the entire issue of Israel’s festal calendar, is incredible. I have documented some of that confusion in the previous two articles.

There can be no doubt that Israel’s festal calendar, with its new moons, feast days and Sabbaths, was the foundation of the Temple cultus. The priesthood presided over all sacrifices, all ceremonies, all feast days. It was the priesthood that offered the regular weekly Sabbath sacrifices (Numbers 28). If the feast days are not fulfilled, the priesthood is not fulfilled. If the feast days are not fulfilled, they have not passed away. If the feast days have not passed away, the Levitical priesthood remains valid (even though the Jerusalem Temple no longer exists. Remember that the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in BC 586 and yet, the priesthood remained valid).

There can be no doubt that Israel’s festal calendar, with its new moons, feast days and Sabbaths, was the foundation of the Temple cultus. The priesthood presided over all sacrifices, all ceremonies, all feast days. It was the priesthood that offered the regular weekly Sabbath sacrifices (Numbers 28). If the feast days are not fulfilled, the priesthood is not fulfilled. If the feast days are not fulfilled, they have not passed away. If the feast days have not passed away, the Levitical priesthood remains valid (even though the Jerusalem Temple no longer exists. Remember that the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in BC 586 and yet, the priesthood remained valid).

There can be no debate over the purpose of the feast days. They were, when Paul wrote Colossians, “shadows of the good things about to come” (Colossians 2:16). In addition, in Hebrews 9:24f we are informed that the earthly cultus was a type of the heavenly, spiritual Temple:

“Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another” (Hebrews 9:23-26).

Some – which I document in the book on the Sabbath that I am currently writing – seek to avoid the present active indicatives in these texts by claiming that the feast days were types and shadows of Jesus’ personal ministry and that the new moons, feast days and Sabbaths were therefore fulfilled on the Cross. However, that is only partially true. The reality is that only the first four of Israel’s feast days pointed to Jesus’ personal ministry! The last three of Israel’s feast days, the festivals of Colossians 2 – were eschatological. They did not relate to Jesus’ personal ministry in their ultimate typological foreshadowing.

So, the earthly temple and its cultus was a shadow, a copy, of the heavenly reality. The heavenly temple was the “True Tabernacle” as opposed to the Jerusalem Temple (Hebrews 8:1-2). By “true” the writer did not mean true as opposed to “false” but, as Beale notes:

“The former temple was not the ‘true one’ because it was a mere shadow of the one to come but because it would cease to exist. To believe that a physical temple will be built after the eschatological one has been inaugurated would be to return to the former ‘shadowy’ stage of temple existence. Once the end-time, eternal temple that corresponds to the reality of the heavenly one comes, it would be a strange reversal for God to commend a return to the shadows. To believe that Israel’s temple or one rebuilt by human hands would last forever is a false view because it mistakes the symbolic temple (Hebrews 9:8-10) for the real one (Hebrews 9:11).” (Greg Beale, Temple and Church’s Ministry, (Downers Grove, Ill; Intervarsity Press, 2004), 296).

In the Jerusalem temple, the feast days were honored, observed and administered by the Levitical priesthood. The Hebrews writer continues and tells us that those festal sacrifices, ablutions, festal observances would be “imposed until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:6-10). The time of reformation is the time of the fulfillment of all that the festal calendar and the priestly services foreshadowed and pointed to. Thus, the feast days, the entire “ceremonial cultus” – which of course would demand the priesthood – would remain “imposed” valid (as the Greek of the text indicates) until the time of reformation. These facts are incredibly important to any study of the passing of the Law of Moses.

Sabbatarians, the Passing of the Law of Moses and False Distinctions

The Sabbatarian view is that in Colossians 2 and Hebrews 9, the reference is strictly to the “ceremonial laws”, the ceremonial yearly and monthly Sabbaths, but not to the weekly Sabbath which they classify as a “moral law” and not a ceremonial law. It is also claimed that those ceremonial laws – The Law of Moses – passed away at the cross. But, this is an untenable position.

In addition, the Sabbatarians, and, we might add, the Dominionist view as shared earlier, is that the ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath have been done away. The Postmillennialists go beyond that to say that the Sabbath has been changed to Sunday and is now the “Christian Sabbath.” But, foundational to both schools is that there is a sharp distinction between the ceremonial Sabbaths (i.e. in Colossians 2 and Hebrews 9) and the seventh day Sabbath. This distinction is not Biblical and it is increasingly recognized even in Sabbatarian circles.

Clinton Baldwin, says, “The moral/ceremonial distinctions continues to form the bedrock of SDA interpretation of the Law.” In spite of the critical need to maintain that distinction he points out that “Ancient peoples did not think in such categories. They had no problem with all kinds of laws mingled together in on code. Actually, that aspect of the law which we describe as purely moral (the ten commandments) has ceremonial aspects to it, and that section which we call ceremonial is replete with commands which can only be described as moral.” (Clinton Baldwin, Ph.D, The Person of Jesus, God’s Obligatory Sabbath, (Silver Springs, MD; Dikoima Publishers, 2017), 28. Baldwin has a long history in the Seventh Day Adventist church and has achieved to the highest levels of academy. His work effectively exposes the fallacy of the claim that Christians must observe the seventh day Sabbath. This is a very significant book for the study of the Sabbath controversy and the passing of the Law of Moses).

Baldwin also takes note that many, if not most of the leading scholars within the SDA understand that this “bedrock” distinction cannot be scripturally maintained, but, for fear of losing their positions, continue to take the party line in public: “The fact that the laws are not segmented into moral and ceremonial divisions is pedestrian among Adventist scholars” (p. 29). If this is in fact true, it is a highly significant – but troubling – reality.

Sabbatarians seek to avoid the problem of Colossians 2 and Hebrews 9 by making three claims:

1. Paul in Colossians was speaking strictly of the “ceremonial Sabbaths” and not the weekly (moral) Sabbath. The ceremonial sabbaths were removed at the cross, but the weekly Sabbath remains.

2. Even though Paul used the present active indicative in Colossians 2 to speak of the “New Moons, Feast Days and Sabbaths” as still being a “shadow of good things about to come” we should understand the present active indicative, not as a referent to Paul’s present situation but, “things to come’ means things that lay in the future when the observances were first ordained. Thus, the ‘things to come’ have already come with Christ.” (Ron du Preez, ThD, Dmin, PhD, Judging the Sabbath, Discovering What Can’t Be Found in Colossians 2:16, (Berrien Springs, MI; Andrews University Press, 2008), 84. Du Preez’ book is a scholarly work but, has several fatal, fundamental flaws in it. I am currently writing a book on the Sabbath, entitled Celebrating the Eighth Day. In that book, I discuss those shortcomings).

I will not develop it at length here, but, Paul’s use of mello in the infinitive falsifies du Preez’ claims as well. Mello, when used with the infinitive, indicates imminence. (Blass-DeBrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 1961), 181); “mellein with the infinitive expresses imminence”).

It should be patently obvious that when those feast days were first ordained, i.e. in the Pentateuch – what they foreshadowed was not imminent. Those things were not “about to come.” But, they were, however, as we will show, “about to come” when the NT epistles were written.

Are we to ignore the verb tenses and postulate that the festivals were shadows when they were given, but they were no longer shadows when Paul wrote- contrary to what the verb tenses would indicate. Do we not have a right to at least ask: Why didn’t Paul just say those feast days “had been” shadows of “the things that have now come”?

Notice the implications if we honor the present active indicatives and the future significance of Paul’s use of mello. That would mean that at the time he wrote, those Jewish feast days, the Jewish cultus over which the Levitical priesthood presided and ministered was still fully in place! Thus, two priesthoods were valid at the same time.

3. Du Preez and other Sabbatarians (e.g. Samuele Bacchiocchi, author of From Sabbath to Sunday, Pontifical Gregorian University Press, 1977. Bacchiocchi’s work was hailed as one of the most scholarly and powerful apologies for the Sabbatarian view) claim that the “New Moons, Feast Days and Sabbaths that Paul mentions were types and shadows of Jesus’ earthly ministry, “they pointed forward to the life and ministry of Christ.” (Du Preez, 2008, 86).

Du Preez’ claim will not work in light of what those New Moons, Feast Days and Sabbaths in Colossians 2 actually foreshadowed. And you must catch the power of this indisputable fact: They did not foreshadow Christ’s personal, Incarnate ministry.

Now, make no mistake, the first four of the Jewish feast days did entail the Incarnate work of Jesus. Those feast days of Passover, Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks and Pentecost, pointed to Jesus’ sacrifice, his resurrection and the Day of Pentecost (The Feast of First Fruit). Thus, those festivals were clearly fulfilled. However, those first four feast days were not, let me emphasize this, they were not the New Moons, Feast Days and Sabbaths of Colossians 2. The feast days in Colossians did not point to Jesus’ earthly ministry. If this is true – and it is – then the entire question of the passing of the Law of Moses, and the Sabbath, must be re-examined by all futurist views! For an in-depth look at the issue of the passing of the Law of Moses, get a copy of my book, The End of the Law; From Torah To Telos. It will open your eyes!

We will continue our discussion of the passing of the Law of Moses and Israel’s festal calendar in our next installment, so stay tuned!