It can be very helpful to learn that a change has taken place. When our five girls were young, I used to entertain them by going through a particular intersection at just the right speed. The intersection was elevated just enough from that of the roadway so that one’s stomach would respond as if one were riding on a roller coaster. The girls always squealed as I went through that spot. We had been on vacation for several weeks, and when we returned we happened upon our favorite intersection. I went through it just as I had always done, only to learn that there had been some changes made while we were away. When we passed through that intersection, the wheels cleared the ground (or so it seemed) so that it appeared we were momentarily airborne. That was a change I would have liked to have known about ahead of time.
A friend told me that the men’s restroom in a certain school was temporarily converted to a women’s facility during certain nights because there were women students on those evenings. Unfortunately, the custodian forgot to change the signs, which caused some consternation for the man who chose to use that restroom. Suffice it to say that he had company.
This is the third lesson in our study of the New Testament church. The question before us in this lesson is this: How does the coming of the Lord Jesus and the inauguration of the New Covenant impact the way we should “serve church” today? But before we seek to answer this question, let us stop for a moment to review where we are in this series. Let me begin by summarizing the essence of the first two lessons.
Why is the church important? The church must be important to us because it is important to God. Our Lord shed His precious blood to purchase the church (Acts 20:28). The church is the instrument by which God’s purposes are accomplished and the presence of Christ is revealed on earth today. If we fail to “serve church” properly, then our disobedience will impact the work of God, things like evangelism, discipleship, missions, the work of ministry, and worship. The church is the apple of God’s eye, and He cares deeply about it. The church is God’s dwelling place on earth (Ephesians 2:22). On a more negative note, the church is important because there are serious consequences for failing to live up to the high calling of the church (see, for example, 2 Samuel 6; 1 Corinthians 11; Revelation 2 and 3).
This is where we have been in our first two lessons. Now let us look at what lies ahead. In this third lesson, we will explore the relationship between the church and Israel. To what degree does the Old Testament direct us as to how we “serve church” today? Then in the following lesson, we will look at the relationship between the contemporary church to the church described in the New Testament. How “New Testament” are we as a church today, and to what degree has the practice of the church over the past 20 centuries impacted us, for good or for evil? Following this, I want to devote a lesson to setting down guidelines for how we relate to the church of the New Testament. Based upon these guidelines, I will endeavor to identify the key elements (the universal, non-negotiables) of a New Testament church, and to suggest how these can and should be implemented in churches today, with a particular emphasis on how we “serve church” at Community Bible Chapel.44
We will begin at the beginning, at the Garden of Eden, as we read in Genesis 2 through 4. Before the fall of man in the garden, Adam and Eve appear to have enjoyed intimate fellowship with God, a fellowship that was immediately and dramatically interrupted by sin:
6 When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:6-9)46
The “wisdom” Adam and Eve gained was the knowledge that they were sinners, separated from God, and naked in His sight. Their response was to try to cover their nakedness and to hide themselves from God. It was God who sought them out and who declared judgment on all the participants (Adam, Eve, the serpent). It was also God who promised Satan’s downfall and salvation through the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). The curse (death) would be reversed and would become the cure through the death of the Savior. But fellowship with God was greatly hindered until the coming of the Christ. Adam and Eve were kept from the garden, and (it would seem) the kind of fellowship they enjoyed there.
22 And the Lord God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken. 24 When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).
How this separation between God and man could be resolved is the story line of the entire Bible, and it will only be permanently resolved at the second coming of Christ.
Not only did the fall impede man’s fellowship with God, it also impacted man’s relationship with his fellow man. And so in Genesis 4, we read of Cain’s false and unacceptable worship (he “did it his way”) and his murder of Abel. The story of Lamech, which follows in Genesis 4, only shows how quickly things went from “bad” to “worse.” And then, as the chapter concludes, we read these words (just after a reference to the birth of Seth):
And a son was also born to Seth, whom he named Enosh. At that time people began to worship the Lord (Genesis 4:26, emphasis mine).
We are not told what form this “worship” took, and that is probably instructive. We do know that both Cain and Abel approached God by means of a sacrifice and that only Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable (Genesis 4:1-5). Neither are we given any great detail about the worship of men like Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. It is not until we come to the giving of the law in the Book of Exodus that we begin to see some specifics. Indeed, the Law of Moses is very specific with regard to how men may approach God in worship. In this lesson, we only have time to selectively consider a handful of portraits related to Israel’s relationship to God. We will then compare and contrast these with the church in the New Testament.
Let’s begin with Israel at Mount Sinai. What an awesome scene this must have been!
16 On the third day in the morning there was thunder and lightning and a dense cloud on the mountain, and the sound of a very loud horn; all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their place at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a great furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. 19 When the sound of the horn grew louder and louder, Moses was speaking and God was answering him with a voice. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down and solemnly warn the people, lest they force their way through to the Lord to look, and many of them perish. 22 Let the priests also, who approach the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break through against them.” 23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not able to come up to Mount Sinai, because you solemnly warned us, ‘Set boundaries for the mountain and set it apart.’” 24 The Lord said to him, “Go, get down, and come up, and Aaron with you, but do not let the priests and the people force their way through to come up to the Lord, lest he break through against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them (Exodus 19:16-25).
Visible evidences of the presence of God were apparent to all the Israelites. The presence of God – at some distance, but still in view – was awesome, even frightening. God repeatedly instructed Moses to tell the people to stay back and not to put their lives at risk by drawing too near to His presence. Maintaining a proper distance between God and man was not just God’s mandate; it was also Israel’s desire:
22 The Lord said these things to your entire assembly at the mountain from the middle of the fire, the cloud, and the darkness with a loud voice, and that was all he said. Then he inscribed the words on two stone tablets and gave them to me. 23 Then, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness while the mountain was ablaze, all your tribal leaders and elders approached me. 24 You said, “The Lord our God has shown us his great glory and we have heard him speak from the middle of the fire. It is now clear to us that God can speak to human beings and they can keep on living. 25 But now, why should we die, because this intense fire will consume us! If we keep hearing the voice of the Lord our God we will die! 26 Who is there from the entire human race who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the middle of the fire as we have, and has lived? 27 You go near so that you can hear everything the Lord our God is saying and then you can tell us whatever he says to you; then we will pay attention and do it.” 28 When the Lord heard you speaking to me, he said to me, “I have heard what these people have said to you - they have spoken well. 29 If only it would really be their desire to fear me and obey all my commandments in the future, so that it may go well with them and their descendants forever. 30 Go and tell them, ‘Return to your tents!’ 31 But as for you, remain here with me so I can declare to you all the commandments, statutes, and ordinances that you are to teach them, so that they can carry them out in the land I am about to give them.” 32 Be careful, therefore, to do exactly what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn right or left! 33 Walk just as he has commanded you so that you may live, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land you are going to possess” (Deuteronomy 5:22-33, emphasis mine).
This is a very crucial text, so let me point out several very important observations. (1) Not only did God demand that the Israelites keep their distance, the people wanted it this way. (2) The Israelites wanted Moses to serve as their mediator, to represent them to God and to proclaim God’s Word to them. This would enable them to have a certain kind of “fellowship” with God, but from a distance. (3) God’s response to this request was favorable. He told Moses it was a good thing for them to ask. And as we follow Israel’s journeys in the wilderness, we can see why. (4) The giving of the Law was God’s provision, whereby this people could live in close (but not too close) proximity to Him. (5) Man’s root problem is a problem of the heart. The Israelites had rebellious hearts, and thus they would not (and could not) keep this covenant. The permanent solution to this problem must be a change of heart – something that only God could do, and which He would do with the coming of Christ and the inauguration of a New Covenant. We will see more on this later.
For me, one of the strangest texts in the Old Testament is found in Exodus 24. These events take place while the nation Israel was encamped at the base of Mount Sinai:
7 He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, “We are willing to do and obey all that the Lord has spoken.” 8 So Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear like the sky itself. 11 But he did not lay a hand on the leaders of the Israelites, so they saw God, and they ate and they drank (Exodus 24:7-11).
This is truly an amazing thing, is it not? A few chapters earlier, the Israelites were warned to keep their distance from the mountain and from God, and they heartily agreed. Now we read that Moses has ratified the covenant and he, Aaron and his two sons (the priests), and the seventy elders of Israel ascend the mountain (part way) to partake of a covenant meal in the presence of God. There is some sense in which Moses can say that they saw God and lived to tell about it.
Notice several things about this meal. (1) This meal appears to be a foretaste of heaven.47 (2) It is obviously not the norm. This is a most unusual thing, and that is the way Moses represents it. (3) The entire nation does not participate in this covenant meal, but only the elders and a few priests as representatives of the people.48 (4) Even though these representatives were allowed to participate in this meal, they were not allowed to accompany Moses to the top of the mountain, where he alone experienced intimacy with God.49
The most significant sequence of events at Mount Sinai is described in Exodus 32-34. While Moses was up on the mountain with God receiving the tablets of stone, the Israelites were down below (still, I would take it, within sight of the manifestations of God’s presence on the mountain), engaged in idol worship. They had grown impatient in Moses’ absence and had persuaded Aaron to fashion a golden calf for them. God was rightly angered by Israel’s sin and threatened to wipe out the entire nation and to start over with Moses:
9 Then the Lord said to Moses: “I have seen this people. Look what a stiff-necked people they are! 10 So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation” (Exodus 32:9-10).
Two major issues arise in this critical moment in Israel’s history:
(1) Will the nation survive for even another day, or will God wipe the entire nation out?
(2) Will God’s presence go with Israel in their journeys if He does allow them to live?
We must begin by noting that (when considered from a human point of view) it was only the intercession of Moses that spared the nation from extinction. Without Moses, the nation Israel would have no hope and no future.50 Moses began by “reminding” God that His reputation (glory) was on the line. He had covenanted to bring this motley crew of Israelites into the Promised Land. If He failed to do so – to finish what He had started – it would dishonor Him.
11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people, whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger, and relent of this evil against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants, to whom you swore by yourself and told them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants, and they will inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:11-13).
Moses knew better than to promise that Israel would try harder. Instead, he rightly appealed to God on the basis of His character, His covenant with Abraham, and His glory.
The second issue was a bit more difficult, and it took more time to resolve (at least as Moses portrays it in this account). Would God’s presence accompany this nation as they made their way into the Promised Land? God had indicated to Moses that He would send an angel with them, but that He would not personally accompany the Israelites into the land:
1 The Lord said to Moses, “Go up from here, you and the people whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:1-3, emphasis mine).
Being in the presence of God was exceedingly dangerous for a sinful people, and God knew that Israel would persist in her stubbornness and rebellion.
Hearing that God would not accompany them, the people began a period of mourning. They removed their jewelry (which they no doubt had gained from the Egyptians and which probably had idolatrous associations.)51 Moses continued to commune with God, while the people looked on:
6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments by Mount Horeb. 7 Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, at a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. Anyone seeking the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp. 8 And when Moses went out to the tent, all the people would get up and stand at the entrance to their tents and watch Moses until he entered the tent. 9 And whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people would see the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people, each one at the entrance of his own tent, would rise and worship. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, the way a person speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his servant, Joshua son of Nun, a young man, did not leave the tent (Exodus 33:6-11, emphasis mine).
I am inclined to understand these words to mean that the people “showed reverence” more than to indicate that the people were actively engaged in worship. They certainly did not worship in the same way that Moses did. Put differently, it was Moses who enjoyed intimate communion with God, while the people were still estranged from Him as a result of their great sin.52
Verses 12-16 of chapter 33 are important to our understanding of what is taking place between Moses, the Israelites, and God:
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have been saying to me, ‘Bring this people up,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. But you said, ‘I know you by name, and also you have found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your way, that I may know you, that I may continue to find favor in your sight. And see that this nation is your people.” 14 And the Lord said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And Moses said to him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not take us up from here. 16 For how will it be known then that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not by your going with us, so that we will be distinguished, I and your people, from all the people who are on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:12-16, emphasis mine)
Israel’s fate rested upon the mercy and grace of God and on Moses’ standing with God.
The mediation of Moses which we see here on behalf of the Israelites began when Moses was still on the mountain with God (Exodus 32:11-14). God tested Moses’ commitment to this nation by offering to destroy the Israelites and to start a whole new nation through his offspring (Exodus 32:10). Moses remained true to his commitment to this people, urging God to remain true to His commitment to them as well. Now, God assures Moses that He will be with him, but makes no such commitment regarding the Israelites. Moses persists in his identification with the Israelites by pleading with God to show him favor by being present with him and with the Israelites.
Here is where it gets interesting. Up through verse 17 of chapter 33, the conversation centers around the question of God’s presence with this people. In verse 17, God assures Moses that His presence will go up with the Israelites. And yet later, in verse 9 of verse 34, the same issue arises once again. This raises a problem, for me at least. Exodus 33:18—34:8 almost seems out of place. This passage is one of the greatest portions of the entire Pentateuch, but it does not seem to fit into the context. Why does Moses suddenly turn aside from the issue of God’s presence with His people and make a personal request for God to reveal His glory to him alone? Can you feel the shift in the conversation?
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do this thing also that you have requested, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 And Moses said, “Show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” 20 But he added, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place by me; you will station yourself on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and will cover you with my hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:17-23).
Why does Moses suddenly appear to abandon the matter of God’s presence with His people, only to take it up again in the next chapter? And why does Moses cease petitioning God on behalf of the Israelites to petition Him for what appears to be a request for a personal favor? Here is the answer that has come to my mind. Moses understands that it is his relationship with God that is the key to his success in his role as a mediator. God cares about Moses more than any or all of these rebellious Israelites (or so it would appear). God has promised to be with Moses, and He will assure Moses that He will also be present with the Israelites because of His relationship with Moses.
Moses’ request to see the glory of God achieves at least two things. First, it highlights the fact that God’s glory is to be seen in His delight to show mercy. If God is glorified by showing mercy to the undeserving, then showing mercy to this undeserving nation will actually be in God’s best interest – it will promote His glory. Second, showing Moses His glory demonstrates to Moses how much God loves him. Based upon God’s favor to him, Moses appeals to God to accompany him and these people to Canaan. It is as though Moses had said, “God, you said that you regard me highly, and thus you have assured me of your presence. You have just demonstrated that I have found favor in your sight by granting my petition to see your glory. So, based upon my standing with you, I ask this additional favor – ‘Go with us to Canaan.’”
I believe this is what these words in verse 9 of chapter 34 are all about:
“If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, let my Lord go among us, for we are a stiff-necked people; pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance” (Exodus 34:9, emphasis mine).
It is at this point that God reaffirms His (Mosaic) covenant with the Israelites.53 If a holy God is to dwell among His people, then they must abide by His standards. They must not do those things (things that the Canaanites did) which offend Him. The Law of Moses is instituted so that God can dwell among this sinful people. Not only did it establish rules, it also established the means by which the Israelites could “call upon the name of the Lord.” It set forth the sacrificial system whereby the Israelites can worship God.
We hasten past the days of Joshua and the Judges, and even past the days of Samuel and King David, to the day when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem.
3 When all Israel’s elders had arrived, the priests lifted the ark. 4 The priests and Levites carried the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy items in the tent. 5 Now King Solomon and all the Israelites who had assembled with him went on ahead of the ark and sacrificed more sheep and cattle than could be counted or numbered. 6 The priests brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its assigned place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, in the most holy place, under the wings of the cherubs. 7 The cherubs’ wings extended over the place where the ark sat; the cherubs overshadowed the ark and its poles. 8 The poles were so long their ends were visible from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from beyond that point. They have remained there to this very day. 9 There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets Moses had placed there in Horeb. It was there that the Lord made an agreement with the Israelites after he brought them out of the land of Egypt. 10 Once the priests left the holy place, a cloud filled the Lord’s temple. 11 The priests could not carry out their duties because of the cloud; the Lord’s glory filled his temple (1 Kings 8:3-11, emphasis mine).
How glorious this day must have been. The glory of the Lord descended upon the temple and filled it. Sacrifice and celebration accompanied this joyous occasion. The temple was to be a place of prayer, and for those who were far away, a place toward which they must face when they prayed (see 1 Kings 8:46-50). The temple was also a place of great beauty, something of which the Israelites could be proud.
But the temple had its limitations. It most certainly could not contain the Creator of the universe:
“God does not really live on the earth! Look, if the sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)
The temple still served to keep God’s people at a safe distance (lest they die!). There was the mediation of the priesthood. There was the inner sanctuary, the holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden from sight, and where the high priest entered once a year. God’s glory would eventually depart from the temple. Indeed, the people of Jerusalem would be taken into captivity in Babylon, the sacred objects hauled off as spoil, and the temple completely destroyed. At various times, the temple would be profaned.
Surely there must be something better than this, and so there would be. They were promised a better king (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 9:7; Micah 5:2), a better shepherd (Isaiah 40:10-11; Jeremiah 23:2-4), and a better temple (Jeremiah 3:16; Haggai 2:9). As good as it was during Israel’s finest days, something vastly better was coming. And all of this was possible because of the New Covenant God would make with His people:
31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
24 “‘I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations (Ezekiel 36:27-27).
One cannot overestimate the significance of the coming of Christ as it relates to the church (not to mention everything else). The death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord inaugurated the New Covenant, a better covenant with a better priest:
1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We have such a high priest, one who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. So this one too had to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.” 6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord. 10 “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. 11 “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.” 13 When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear” (Hebrews 8:1-13, emphasis mine).54
Jesus is the “better temple”:
19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken (John 2:19-22, emphasis mine).
And because the church is His body, we are God’s temple:
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, emphasis mine).
And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16, emphasis mine).
19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Jesus is the “better shepherd,” better than David, in fulfillment of the promises found in the Old Testament:
70 He chose David, his servant,
and took him from the sheepfolds.
71 He took him away from following the mother sheep,
and made him the shepherd of Jacob,
his people, and of Israel, his chosen nation.
72 David cared for them with pure motives;
he led them with skill. A psalm of Asaph (Psalm 78:70-72).
9 Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion! Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem! Shout, don’t be afraid! Say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 Look, the sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior; his military power establishes his rule. Look, his reward is with him; his prize goes before him. 11 Like a shepherd he tends his flock; he gathers up the lambs with his arm; he carries them close to his heart; he leads the ewes along (Isaiah 40:9-11).
2 For the household gods have spoken wickedness, the soothsayers have seen a lie, and as for the dreamers, they have disclosed emptiness and give comfort in vain. Therefore the people set out like sheep and become scattered because they have no shepherd (Zechariah 10:2).
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. 13 Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away. 14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me - 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves me - because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. 18 No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father” (John 10:11-18, emphasis mine).
This is only a small sampling of the ways in which our Lord fulfilled Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah. In each and every instance, our Lord is vastly superior to what Israel experienced under the Old Covenant. As the writer to the Hebrews emphasized, the New was “better” than the Old. Our concern here is to determine what impact the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, had on the church. While there are a number of New Testament texts to which we could point, we will briefly consider the implications of three passages.
4 So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God’s sight, 5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it says in scripture, “Look, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and priceless cornerstone, and whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” 7 So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, 8 and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:4-10, emphasis mine).
The first thing we should note is the similarity of Peter’s words to those God had spoken to the nation Israel. This text in Exodus 19 is one example:
3 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, 6 and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis mine).
Much has rightfully been said about this great text in 1 Peter 2 and its relationship to Old Testament texts. For the moment, suffice it to say that Peter intends for us to see the relationship between God’s words for Israel in Exodus 19 and Peter’s words (God’s words also) for Gentiles in 1 Peter 2. The church has somehow inherited blessings that were first promised to the Israelites.
Now consider the message that Peter wishes his readers to grasp. First and foremost, this text is about Jesus. Jesus is the central and dominant focus of this passage. Jesus is “the precious stone,” precious in God’s sight, but rejected by many. Jesus is the dividing line between condemnation and salvation. Those who reject Jesus as the precious stone find Him to be a stumbling stone, and they fall to their own condemnation. Those who receive Him as the precious stone experience God’s blessings. They become a special people to God, much like the nation Israel was. They (we who believe in Jesus) have a special calling, just as Israel had. We are not merely to be the recipients of divine blessings; we are to be the means by which these blessings are proclaimed to others, for their blessing as well (see verse 9). This is our calling as saints, for we are built up as a temple; we become a royal priesthood, we become God’s chosen people.
Having seen how the church is like Israel, let us be careful to note the contrasts between Israel and the church. In Exodus 19, God’s promise to Israel is conditional; the Israelites will be a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” if they keep the Old Covenant. But this covenant, which God declares in the next chapters of Exodus, is about to be broken in a very dramatic way in Exodus 32 (and this but the first of many times56). No wonder the Israelites never really experience these blessings. These blessings were conditional, and the Israelites were unable to meet these conditions. They were unable to keep the law. The law did not lead Israel to God’s blessings, but it was meant to lead Israel to Jesus, to the “Rock” of God’s salvation.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed - 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:19-26).
The Old Covenant could not save, but it could surely expose our sin and our need for salvation by some other means than human works. That salvation came in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He was the sinless, perfect, God-man who came from heaven to declare to us the way of salvation. He showed us God’s righteousness in Himself and our sin. He declared that He had come to provide God’s only way of salvation. He took our sin and our punishment upon Himself when He died on the cross of Calvary. He not only died and was buried, He rose from the dead, and then ascended to the Father’s right hand. By acknowledging our sin and by trusting in Jesus death and resurrection on our behalf, we can be saved, our sins forgiven, and be assured of living for all eternity in His presence. The fellowship with God that Adam and Eve (and thus all mankind) lost because of sin can be restored through faith in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:19-25).
Nobody deals with the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old better than the writer to the Hebrews. These verses (above) in Hebrews 10 drive home the application to what this writer has been saying up to this point, namely that the New is vastly superior to (“better than”) the Old. Old Testament priests (like Aaron!) were sinners, who had to first offer a sacrifice for their own sins, and only then could they offer sacrifices for others. Jesus had no sin, and so is a vastly better high priest:
26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:26-28).
Under the Old Covenant, sacrifices had to be made over and over, year by year, because the blood of animals is not a permanent remedy for sins. The shed blood of Jesus, who was without sin, provided a sacrifice for sin once for all:
11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God (Hebrews 9:11-14).
1 For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. 2 For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. 4 For the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. 5 So when he came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. 6 “Whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you took no delight in. 7 “Then I said, ‘Here I am: I have come - it is written of me in the scroll of the book - to do your will, O God.’” 8 When he says above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you did not desire nor did you take delight in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second. 10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again - sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy (Hebrews 10:1-14).
Because Jesus is a better high priest, who has offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all, believers need not keep their distance from our Holy God. They may, in fact, draw near boldly, and not draw back. They may approach with confidence, because God the Father is pleased with the sacrifice of the Son. We should hold fast to that which has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus on our behalf. And we should not cease to gather together so that we can not only worship, but encourage one other with regard to love and good deeds. Our zeal to do so should increase as we see the day of our Lord’s return drawing near. These are not things which could be said on the basis of the Old Covenant, but they surely can be said because of the superiority of the New.
33 Then they said to him, “John’s disciples frequently fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours continue to eat and drink.” 34 So Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35 But those days are coming, and when the bridegroom is taken from them, at that time they will fast.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old garment. If he does, he will have torn the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 Instead new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough’” (Luke 5:33-39).
This text in Luke is especially pertinent to the church, as compared to Israel’s relationship with God in the Old Testament. Like some folks today, the scribes and Pharisees were most inclined to say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Thus, they were perplexed and disturbed when Jesus did not conform to their ways, ways that they believed were entirely consistent with the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant. They wondered why Jesus’ disciples did not fast and pray as did John’s disciples57 and the Pharisees.
Why didn’t Jesus do it the old, proven way? Why did Jesus have to set aside Jewish customs and traditions and do it some new and novel way? Jesus tells them why; because He has come to inaugurate the New Covenant, not to perpetuate the Old.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place” (Matthew 5:17-18).
We need to understand what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying that we are to continue to live under the Old Covenant (the Law). What He is saying is that the Old Covenant will not be set aside until it is fulfilled. No wonder the New Testament writers so often speak of the Old Testament Scriptures being fulfilled. Having fulfilled the Law, Jesus institutes the New Covenant, and we now live under it, rather than under the Old Covenant. That is what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4.
Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant and to institute the New. The scribes and Pharisees were mistaken when they supposed that Jesus should support and perpetuate their traditions and practices. In Jesus’ words, “You don’t put new wine (the New Covenant, including the church) into old wineskins (the traditions and practices of the past). Thus, we should expect that the church will function differently from Judaism. This was not an easy adjustment for the Lord’s disciples or for the early church. This is why there is as much written about the church as there is. And yet, Jesus said, there would be those who insisted that the old was good enough. Well, it was not. And thus as we continue to study the doctrine and practices of the church, we must be prepared for change from what we find in the Old Testament.
Since the Garden of Eden, no one has ever had it so good. Paradise had not yet been restored (Revelation 21-22), but under the New Covenant, we have it vastly better than the Old Testament saints.58 Before the fall of man, Adam and Eve had the privilege of intimate communion with God, without sin, and without fear or hesitation. But ever since the fall, man has been separated from God. Man’s sin makes it dangerous to draw near to God. Under the Old Covenant, man could approach God, but only at a distance, only from time to time, and only in accordance with many rules and regulations.
The Israelites of Moses’ day depended upon his intercession, and he was not perfect. Even he did not enter into the Promised Land. New Testament Christians have a “better covenant,” a better mediator, a better sacrifice, a better high priest. We have the assurance that our sins have been forgiven, once for all, and that we can now draw near to God with great boldness, because of the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary.
Who could possibly be correct to think of Old Testament times as “the good old days”? Who would ever wish to go back? Who would think their worship to be superior to ours? Who would think the church to be inferior to Israel’s relationship with God? Actually, some do. They would encourage us to “do it the way the Old Testament saints did,” as though that were better, or more spiritual. Paul makes it clear that Jewish saints are free to celebrate Jewish feasts and holidays, but they are not to seek to impose this on the Gentiles. And neither are Jewish believers free to think of themselves as exempt from full participation in the church, with Gentile saints, as “one new man.”
This lesson is vitally important to our study of the church because it underscores the link between the church and the New Covenant. It makes it clear that God never intended to pour the “new wine” of the New Covenant and the church into Old Testament Jewish wineskins. We should expect the church to be as different from Israel’s relationship to God as the New Covenant is from the Old. That does not mean there are not similarities, and that all continuity is lost. But it does mean that we must look to the New Testament to learn how we are to “serve church.” And because the church is so important to God, we should expect that God will not leave us to ourselves and to our own devices, serving church “cafeteria style,” rather than according to the divine plan.
43 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the series, Can We Serve Church Cafeteria Style?, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on February 3, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
44 Community Bible Chapel, located in Richardson, Texas. I have been associated with CBC for over 30 years.
45 The relationship of the church to Israel is a substantial topic, and there is a great deal of discussion and debate here. The relationship of the church to Israel has profound implications to one’s view of prophecy, but that is not our focus here. We are selectively considering Israel’s relationship with God and how it relates to the church. At this moment, I will say only this regarding the church and Israel. (1) There is a relationship between Israel and the church – there is some correspondence, some continuity. (2) There is a future for physical Israel (Romans 11). (3) There are clear distinctions between Israel and the church. The church does not completely replace Israel.
46 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
48 In days gone by, did not the Roman Catholic priests partake of the communion elements in the place of the worshipper?
49 Joshua accompanied Moses to the top of the mountain, but it does not appear that he enjoyed the intimacy with God that Moses did.
50 In this way, Moses is a prototype of Jesus, the ultimate Mediator, through whom helpless sinners are spared from the wrath of God and enabled to stand, guiltless, in His presence.