We keep on looking for the right church. We believe that we can find a church that has gotten all the rules in the New Testament right. Theoretically, those who have honest hearts will all come to the same rules for the work, worship, and organization. But our original premise is wrong. A specific pattern for the work, worship, and organization of a local body is not the goal of the Holy Spirit in giving us the New Testament. Furthermore, the New Testament is not a separate capsule in itself. The New Testament is not a replacement for the Old Testament, at least not as far as our Restorationist theories are concerned. Rather, Jesus, himself, is our covenant, our law, and our Saviour.
The purpose of this article is to show how useless it is to search the New Testament pages for articles of incorporation, by-laws, qualifications for officers, hierarchy and power positions and policies, technicalities concerning the collection and disbursement of monies, music, where to eat and so forth.
Everything mentioned in the New Testament is important. However, we, as Restorationists, have been reading the New Testament with the wrong question in mind. Our incorrect question is: What are the rules? Our question should be: Who is Jesus? How can I serve and imitate him? All other principles are subservient to these principles. We should be diligently searching the scriptures to answer these questions and obey Christ.
The principles of right and wrong can never change, for they are simply the reflection of God's holy nature. The history of the Old Testament is the history of God's progressive revelation, as He prepares mankind to understand more of His character and will. After the flood, murder was forbidden (Gen. 9:5-6). Was it not wrong before? With the ten commandments we have the first complete and full expression of God's eternal will or law. This law is delivered in a national and historical context, and takes its place in the Law of Moses.
The ten commandments, or ten words as they are called, encompass all of our duty toward God and toward our neighbor. The mere fact that the ten commandments were delivered to a particular nation in a particular cultural setting does not disprove their timeless and universal nature. God's revelations have always been delivered in a social and historical context. Thus, even the New Testament letters addressed to particular individuals or churches are understood to be applicable (at least in principle) to all Christians today.
The ten commandments are the terms of the covenant formed at Sinai (Ex. 34:27; Deut. 4:13). The other moral laws and judgments in the Law of Moses are subsidiary to the covenant. They add nothing to the completeness of the law revealed from Mt. Sinai. They are concerned for the most part with the practical application of justice and are given to protect and ensure the covenant. Israel was to be a light to the world (Matt. 5:14). If love failed to motivate obedience to the covenant, then the judicial system had the God-given task of restraining evil and correcting wrongdoing. Even so, the moral laws and the judgments did not cover every possible sin. Judges still had to rule on individual cases. The ceremonial ordinances were designed to protect the covenant by keeping the nation of Israel separate from the pagan nations around them. At the same time, these ordinances symbolically taught the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the unavoidable penalty for sin. They foreshadowed the sacrificial life of Jesus and the salvation we have in Him.
In Hebrews we read that the tabernacle was a pattern of the good things to come. It does not surprise us then, to find the ten commandments occupying a special place in the tabernacle designed by God. The ark of the covenant, with its mercy seat, symbolized the presence of God in the midst of His people. It was called the "ark of the covenant" simply because it contained the covenant, the ten commandments, written on two stone tablets. It was the only piece of tabernacle furniture in the Most Holy Place, and the focal point of all the worship. No other laws were contained within the ark.
Most scholars agree that the ark of the covenant represents and foreshadows the person and work of Jesus Christ (as does all the tabernacle furniture). The Most Holy Place represents heaven itself. Intimately connected with the presence of God, and safely enshrined in Jesus, are the ten commandments.
The ark of the covenant is referred to in Rev. 11:19: "And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple." We must understand this spiritually, for John also tells us that in the New Jerusalem (heaven) there is no temple, "for the Lord God, the almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple" (Rev. 21:22).
A golden pot of manna was also placed within the ark, as was Aaron's rod that budded, proving his tribe's claim to the priesthood. Significantly, the Bible explicitly states that only the stone tablets were in the ark when it took its place in the newly built temple (1 Kings 8:9). In one sense, Christians are already enjoying all the blessings of being the temple of the Lord (2 Cor. 6:16). In another sense, we are still looking to that time when we will live with the Lord in heaven. The tabernacle accompanied all of Israel's wanderings, but the temple was constructed only after they had attained their inheritance. As a shadow-picture, the temple represents the glorified Christ and his church in heaven. John tells us that in heaven we will be privileged to eat of the hidden manna. The manna, that is, that was once hidden within the ark. The rod that budded will no longer be necessary, for only true believers, God's royal priesthood, will be in heaven. Only the ten commandments, representing the eternal will and law of God, will remain within the ark, enshrined in the person and work of Jesus.
The ten commandments were delivered only to Israel as a covenant. Nevertheless, they have a significance and permanence which must not be dismissed lightly. Even the form and manner in which God delivered the ten words speaks loudly of their timeless and universal nature.
(1) The ten words hold a special and unique place in the Law of Moses. They are the terms of the covenant formed at Mt. Sinai. As Moses reminded the people: "He declared to you his covenant, the ten commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets" (Deut. 4:13). The other commandments in the Law of Moses are subsidiary to the covenant.
(2) God himself spoke the ten commandments, accompanied by such an awesome display of power that all the people trembled in fear (Ex. 20:18, 22). In contrast, the other laws were delivered privately to Moses, who later made them known to the people.
(3) The covenant was delivered as ten words, the number ten being symbolic of perfection or completeness. The symbolic use of the number ten has been traced back to the most ancient of nations. The Bible makes good use of this then commonly understood symbol. For example, the ten plagues brought upon Egypt showed the completeness of God's judgment on the nation. In the wilderness, Israel was allowed to disobey and test the Lord "ten times," until in the fullness of their sins God brought his judgment upon them (Num. 14:22-33). Perhaps the most obvious example is the tithe, in which the whole flock or harvest was represented by the number ten. One portion of this was set aside for the Lord, in recognition that all we have comes from the Lord and belongs to Him. It is not by accident that God chose to deliver the covenant as ten words. The ten words encompass all of our duty toward God and toward our neighbor.
(4) The ten commandments were not only spoken by God, they were also engraved by "the finger of God" on two tablets of stone (Deut. 9:9-10). They were written on both sides, as if to say no additions were possible, or needed. The ten words were written on durable tablets of stone. In contrast, the other laws were recorded on more perishable materials, such as parchment. Despite the abundance of writing materials available, God commanded Moses to chisel two new stones after he had broken the first in anger. Again, God engraved the ten words on the stones (Deut. 10:4).
In Exodus 24, we read of the Book of the Covenant in which was recorded not only the ten commandments, but all that the Lord had communicated through Moses in Chapters 21-23. The covenant is confirmed, and the people pledge, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." Yet a distinction is still made between the ten commandments and the other laws (v. 3). The former are called "the words of the Lord" while the latter are referred to as "judgments."
There were some additional ordinances in these chapters concerning the Sabbaths, and the Feast Days. These are all types (symbolic institutions) that find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The Feast Days are clearly not an addition to the revelation of law from Sinai. Their purpose is to teach of God's faithfulness, and of Jesus' sacrificial work (already intimated in the Sabbath Law), while providing an avenue of worship for God's people. The teaching is clear; we must approach God on His terms (through Jesus) if we are to worship God at all.
The evidence - provided by God himself - is overwhelming. We cannot understand the all encompassing nature of the ten commandments until we have seen them fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We cannot understand the new covenant until we have seen Jesus fulfill the old.
Part II will discuss each of the ten commandments, demonstrating their eternal purpose and fulfillment in Jesus Christ's love, obedience, commands, and forgiveness. It is sad to think that we have summed up the Old Testament into a set of rules that have no relevance to us today. This rule-mentality has made us look for non-existent rules in the New Testament. My prayer is that we will discover the true intent of both the Old and New Testaments, which are one: God loves us through Jesus Christ.