Eschatology – Part 20

Eschatology – Part 20

January 1997

Dear Co-laborer,

A very happy new year from our house to yours. May 1997 be the best year ever in your life, and may it be the year of His return!

Lord willing, 1997 will bring to a close this series on eschatology. Four parts remain, which means the last issue will be in September.

Eschatology, Part 20


What role, if any, does the Old Testament Law play in the life of the New Testament believer? This question baffles many of Christ’s followers. People are confused when it comes to deciding how to relate to the Old Testament Law.

As we have already seen, this is an eschatological question; if the church is the New Israel, then the church is under the Mosaic Law. This is what the theologian calls the continuity of the Mosaic Covenant. If the church and Israel are separate metaphysical entities, then the Mosaic Law is for Israel, not the church. In this issue, I want to explore more fully the implications of these conflicting views.


Hebrews 11 is commonly referred to as God’s “Hall of Fame;” in it are the heroines and heroes of the Faith. All of them were great because of a future or eschatological hope. They “looked for a city, whose builder and maker is God.”[1]

The author of Hebrews 11 includes Moses, Joshua, and Rahab, but gives “honorable mention” to those who live after the land is conquered and the nation established. The Abrahamic Covenant, and the hope of those who embraced it, was eschatological. The Mosaic Covenant dealt with a temporal rather than an eternal hope. As far as I know, all the laws encompassed in the Mosaic Covenant are temporal.

It is for this reason that the church throughout history has been jealous of the Jews and their Mosaic Covenant; it provided a temporal hope. It is difficult and uncomfortable to live in a temporal environment with only an eternal hope. All of us want God to commit Himself to our temporal well-being. Thus the establishment of a temporal institution created and blessed by God meets the longing of the human heart. The Mosaic Covenant gives the rationale for such a system.[2]


The Patristics were historic premillennialists; they believed that the church is the New Israel, and that she will participate in a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth. In this they interpreted Revelation 20 literally and the Old Testament figuratively.

The Patristics are the same as amillennialists and postmillennialists in the sense that they believe that the church is obligated to keep all Old Testament Law unless it is repealed in the New Testament. This view of the role of the Law in the life of the New Testament believer was not questioned until a group of 19th century laymen argued that Israel and the church were different metaphysical entities.

These laymen, in seeking to read the New Testament objectively, concluded that when Paul says we are no longer under the Law, he means that the believer is not obligated to obey any of the Old Testament Law unless it is repeated in the New Testament. Part of their concern was how the Christian life is to be lived. But it also influenced their understanding of the nature of the church.

For example, if the believer is not obligated to obey the Law of Moses, then what about the Ten Commandments? All of the ten commandments are repeated in the New Testament with the exception of one: the fourth dealing with the Sabbath. The closest command in the New Testament to keep the Sabbath is Heb 10:25, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is….” This verse says nothing regarding the day of week, frequency, etc. You can see how this alters traditional ecclesiology.


Twice in Romans 11[3] Paul argues that the setting aside of Israel advantaged the Gentiles. The Law defined Israel as a nation and gave her a culture. “Israel was what it was by reason of God’s Law, a Law sacred and divine in itself, the true interpretation of which has been handed down from generation to generation…”[4] When you think of a Jew, or try to portray some aspect of Judaism, almost always you use the Law. This is illustrated again and again in novels and movies, where for example, the family is gathered around the table in celebrating a religious feast like the Passover.

The Gospel is trans-cultural. Paul’s argument in Romans 11 is, God set aside Israel with her Law so that the Gentiles could enter the family of God without having to change cultures. For example, you can imagine the impediment it would be if a man had to agree to being circumcised in order to become a Christian, in the same sense that he must agree to be baptized.

Old Testament Israel was a Theocracy in its conception. A nation needs law, and the Mosaic Law was the instrument by which Israel was to be governed. The Mosaic Law was good as an instrument for maintaining civil order in the nation, but had no ability to address issues of the heart.


Under the Old Testament system, did God intend the Law as the means of justification, and/or sanctification? I am not asking how the people in the Old Testament understood how they were saved, but rather the intent of God. Bible-believing people are universally agreed that it never was God’s intent that Israel look to the Law as the means by which it was justified. Rather, the Law was given to teach them their need for justification, and as the means whereby they were sanctified.[5],[6]

The same question may be asked regarding the New Testament. All will agree that it is not God’s intent that the seeker look to the Law as the means of justification. No one has ever been a able to satisfy the Law’s demands, Christ excepted. This being the case, in what sense is the New Testament believer no longer under the Law? Under the Law for what? If we reason, not under the Law for justification, then there is no difference between how people in the Old and New Testaments relate to the Law.

This means that the plethora of verses in Paul’s epistles to the effect that we are not under the Law is the same message preached to the Old Testament believing community; the saints in both Testaments look to the Law as the means of sanctification. As Rousas Rushdoony, a Reformed pastor wrote, “Salvation is by the grace of God through faith; sanctification is by the law of God.”[7] Quoting Geerhardus Vos, a Reformed theologian, on Matt 11:29-30, Rushdoony says, “‘…to take up the yoke of the kingdom of heaven,’ mean(s) ‘to vow obedience to the law.’”[8]

For amillennialists, Paul’s contrast between law and grace in not a contrast between how people in the Old Testament live vis a vis those in the New Testament, but between those in Christ and out of Christ, irrespective of whether it is New or Old Testament. If this is true, then in this respect the Apostle Paul’s message was no different from that of the Old Testament prophets. The only difference between the saints in the two dispensations is, the New Testament saint is not obligated to obey those laws specifically repealed in the New Testament, such as sacrificing animals.


We don’t have room in this issue to exegete all that the New Testament says about the place of Law in the life of the Christian. Romans 6-8 discusses it in depth. Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, all deal with it. Here, however, I want to look briefly at I Corinthians 9.

In I Cor 9:1 Paul asks a rhetorical question, “Am I not free?” Free from what? If any are in doubt, Paul answers in vv. 19-23. In v. 20 he says, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew…” Paul “became” as a Jew. Although a Jew by birth and religion, when he met Christ he ceased being a Jew; he was now a citizen of heaven. As the Gospel is trans-cultural, so Paul endeavored to make himself the same way. As he said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (v. 22b).”

In verse 21 Paul says, “To them that are without law, as without law…” If the Law were obligatory, then how could Paul act as though he were free from the Law? For example, in my desire to reach the lost, I cannot break the commandments of Christ. “All things to all men” is within the parameters of biblical standards, and this includes the Mosaic Law if we are still under its authority. As he said, in v. 21, “we are under the law of Christ.” Paul can be “without law” because the Mosaic Law was no longer binding on his life.


The conviction that the church is Israel carries with it the continuity of the Mosaic Covenant. The church is to emulate Old Testament Israel in all respects excepting those Old Testament commands rescinded in the New Testament. The Law, for both Israel and the church (since they are one and the same), is the means of sanctification.

I wrote Rousas Rushdoony for clarification regarding the implications of this. In a publication of Rushdoony he wrote regarding Montanus, “His physical lack of wholeness, according to Leviticus 21:17-23, should have disqualified him from leadership.”[9] In my letter I asked, “Do you feel that the Old Testament qualifications for the Levitical priesthood are in effect today for those who wish to assume leadership in the church? Do you make a distinction between the office of elder and pastor, and if so, would this Levitical qualification be applicable for both?”

Rushdoony wrote the following answer: “The simple fact is the Lev. 21:17-23 was the law for the church for many centuries. In 318 AD, a church council at Bythinia ruled that the only exceptions were mutilations by barbarians, or necessary surgery on an existing pastor or elder. The Synod in Trullo a little later RE-AFFIRMED the biblical ban by exempting those who had been castrated, blinded, or otherwise mutilated by the pagans during the persecutions. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus shortly thereafter ruled, and it was generally accepted, ‘nor shall those women who have been ravished by them (barbarians, and/or persecutors) be treated as guilty of fornication, unless they were before of lewd lives.’ In my youth, the barring of all but the whole from the ministry was still practiced by most churches in terms of Scripture. Since World War II, things have changed. There are more people living now than ever died before in all of history, and most of them have been born since World War II. They know little of the real (not liberal media’s version) past, and the church is suffering from this fact.”[10]

I have always admired Rushdoony, and I especially admire his consistency. As many of you know, he is a Theonomist, advocating the creation of a theocratic nation in the US. Many, if not most, amillennialists are uncomfortable with the position he has taken. I remember, several years ago I asked the president of Westminster Theological Seminary about Rushdoony. The president told me that he did not like Rushdoony’s conclusions, but admitted that he was more consistent with the amillennial system than most in the Reformed faith.

If the Old Testament Law is binding in the life of the New Testament believer, then much must be changed, even among the strongest advocates of amillennialism. For example, Deut 23:2 says, “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” Who do you know that teaches that an illegitimate child cannot attend church, nor his offspring for the next ten generations? I have been in the ministry for over forty years, and I have never heard it preached.

The Christian is no longer bound by the Law. As we saw in I Cor 9:21, he is bound by the “law of Christ,” but not by the law of Moses. The program for this age includes redeeming people and making them fit for heaven; it does not include establishing the Old Testament theocratic kingdom. The Law has been replaced by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. As Paul says in II Cor 3:7f., “The administration of death has been replaced by the administration of the Spirit.”

Resting in His grace,

[1] Hebrews 11:10 refers to Abraham, but the context, as evidenced by vv. 16, 39-40 includes all in the “Hall of Fame.”

[2] Bill Garrison, layman, Fort Worth, Tx, December, 1996

[3] cf. Rom 11:12 and 15.

[4] op.cit., Burkitt, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses, pages 14-15.

[5] This is not to argue that these were the only two purposes of the Law; as previously noted, the Law was also the instrument used to govern the state. There were other purposes as well.

[6] As you know, Justification is a legal act whereby the sinner is declared forgiven before a righteous God because of the propitious death of Christ. Sanctification is the process whereby the sinner, having been justified, is conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

[7] Rushdoon, Rousas John, The Institutes of Biblical Law, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973, Vol 1, page 714.

[8] ibid, page 717.

[9] Rushdoony, Chalcedon Position Papers, number 52.

[10] personal correcpondence, September 21, 1984.