Two Priesthoods and the Passing of the Law of Moses – #3
I have observed that the significance of Israel’s festal calendar for understanding the NT, eschatology and the issue of the passing of the Law of Moses is greatly ignored or overlooked. My friend Doug Wilkinson calls Israel’s feast days “The Rosetta Stone of Biblical Eschatology.” (Doug has written a helpful book on the time statements of Biblical eschatology “Preterist Time Statements.” That book is available from me). I will get back to the discussion of the feast days as we proceed, but, I want to lay some additional groundwork first.
In our previous two articles, #1 #2 I have briefly examined the typological meaning of the feast days, and how they relate to the passing of the Law of Moses and the fulfillment of eschatology. More on that as we proceed. Let me remind the reader that the dominant view in evangelical Christianity is that the Law of Moses was “cancelled” and “nailed to the cross.” This view is held by virtually all three futurist views of eschatology, yet, it is fundamentally wrong.
To buttress that claim, however, it is claimed that there could not be two priesthoods functioning at the same time with God’s sanction. Hebrews 7:10-12 is cited as proof of this: “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change of the law.” (Those who appeal to this text normally ignore the present active indicatives in the text). So, it is observed that Jesus had become the Great High Priest, and since Hebrews 8:5f says he could not be priest on earth, that must mean that the Levitical priesthood had been annulled. This argument fails on several points.
1. It ignores the fact that the Hebrews writer clearly affirms that the Levitical priesthood was still very much functioning (Hebrews 8:5). So, at the time of Hebrews, Christ was high priest, and the Levitical priests were likewise functioning, continuing to function. The only question that remains is, were both priesthoods sanctioned by the Lord?
2. The argument likewise ignores the fact that the two priesthoods were totally, radically different in form and nature!
✪ The Levitical priesthood was through human birth and choice; Christ’s priesthood was through the power of his endless life (Hebrews 5).
✪ The Aaronic priests were many because they were subject to death; Christ’s priesthood is endless (Hebrews 7:25).
✪ The Levitical priesthood could not bring perfection (5:5f; 7:10); Christ’s priesthood did and does (10:14).
✪ The Levitical priesthood was over the house of Moses; Christ was priest over his own house (Hebrews 3).
✪ The Levitical priesthood was the type and shadow; Christ was minister over “the True Tabernacle” (8:1-2).
✪ The Aaronic priesthood was sanctioned by the Law of Moses; Christ’s priesthood is according to the New Covenant of which he was, when Hebrews was written, “the surety of the New Covenant” (7:22).
✪ The Levitical priesthood was earthly; Christ’s priesthood is heaven (8:1-2; 9:24f).
Given the totally different nature of the two priesthoods, especially the typological nature of the Old, and the heavenly nature of Christ’s priesthood, why could the two priesthoods not function, side by side, as it were, at the same time? Christ was serving “in the heavenlies”; the Levitical priests were functioning in the earthly, typological temple. And yet, this causes many people to ask: Is it possible that the Lord actually continued to sanction, at least in some way, the Old Covenant priesthood as it continued to offer the sacrifices in which the Lord never had pleasure (Hebrews 10:5f)? After all, Christ had become the Great High Priest, at least partially fulfilling, the typological praxis of the Old Covenant priesthood (Hebrews 9).
In my 2017 debate with Dr. David Hester, he cited Galatians 5:1f in his effort to show that the Old Covenant priesthood had already been abolished. Paul told the Galatians that if they returned to the law for their justification, “You are fallen from grace… Christ shall profit you nothing.” Hester argued that since Paul condemned observance of the Law, this proves that the priesthood was already null and void. This position led him to affirm that in Acts 21:18f, where James, the eldership, the entire church at Jerusalem that was zealous for the Law– and Paul himself– was guilty of apostasy! You must catch the power of that! Hester’s view demands that he accuse the entire Jerusalem church of apostasy in Acts 21! To say the least, this is a stunning position to take. It is strange that Luke records not a word of condemnation of James, the eldership, the church or Paul. Would Hester argue that Luke was complicit also?
The Passing of the Law of Moses – Some Important Nuances to Honor
Hester, as so many, fails to honor the nuances of what the New Testament says about the fulfilling of the Law, in the period between the cross and AD 70. Here is what the NT sets forth:
☛ The absolute necessity for the total fulfillment of every jot and every tittle of the law in order for the law to pass away (Matthew 5:17-18).
☛ While certain elements of the Law, inclusive of the prophecies of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, had been fulfilled (Luke 18:30-31), the Law was still “in the process” of being fulfilled. It is, however, wrong to say that “all things” of the law, comprehensively speaking were fulfilled.
There was a huge difference between keeping the Law to be justified by Torah observance, and the necessity for every jot and every tittle to be fulfilled for the Law to pass away.
Do not fail to keep in mind that every jot and every tittle of the Law had to be fulfilled for the Law to be cancelled. So, who was going to keep that Law? The priests, serving in the Temple, and the Jews is Jerusalem!
But, at the same time that the Law was being kept, by both the unbelieving Jewish priesthood and the countless Christian Jews, the Christian Jews had come to see Jesus as the fulfillment of the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of weeks and Pentecost! So, in Acts 21, we see them faithfully observing the Law. They were not sinning! They were helping bring the Law to its fulfillment, just as the priests who continued to serve in the Temple were keeping the Law which was still a shadow of the good things about to come.
A similar, very much related nuance, can be seen in regard to circumcision. The Judaizers argued that circumcision was necessary to inherit salvation. Paul rejected that categorically. Yet, he assuredly did allow circumcision! Why? I suggest that there is more than “expediency” at stake. Physical circumcision was directly tied to the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:17f). Paul could, and did, teach that in Christ the physical act was no longer mandatory to receive that inheritance. After all, it was a type and shadow of the circumcision of the heart. And so, in the midst of the first century controversy over circumcision, Paul could say that by entering Christ in baptism, the Gentiles had indeed been circumcised (Colossians 2:11-12) while at the same time practicing circumcision on Jewish Christians. Not to be saved, but to help fulfill the Law.
So, on the one hand, in what some have seen as self-contradictory actions by Paul, he could have Jewish Timothy circumcised, and refuse to have the Greek Titus circumcised (Galatians 2:3f). Duplicity on Paul’s part? Hardly. Paul well understood the nuances of the reason behind the keeping of the Law, and the necessity for its fulfillment. Modern students would do well to look a bit closer at these nuances and honor them, instead of accusing Paul of apostasy and sin in regard to the Law.
We will continue this discussion in our next installment.