Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: What about Moses?

“Moses Striking the Rock” by Pieter de Grebber, circa 1630 (Note that Aaron is dressed like a Catholic bishop.)

Many thanks to all who have hung in there and read everything up to this point. May the Lord bless you for your kindness. I have covered enough ground that I feel almost ready to answer the question, “Do the Old Covenant and the New Covenant have the same substance?” However, it would not do for me to rush things. (Here I permit you to laugh.) I want to deal with some final points that might be raised to suggest that either the Mosaic or the Abrahamic Covenants were saving covenants. I shall continue without delay.

Was the Mosaic Covenant a Saving Covenant?

In my previous articles, I argued that the Mosaic Covenant was one and the same with the Mosaic Law, it did not have Christ as a mediator, the sacrifices were not sufficient to atone for sins, the priests could not really bring people into God’s presence, and practically everything about it was typological. In short, it was a covenant based on human working. It was not part of the Covenant of Grace. Everyone who was justified by faith prior to the coming of Christ actually received that imputed righteousness through the New Covenant.

Two objections have commonly been raised in response to this argument: 1) Although God’s people under the Mosaic Covenant had different and typological sacraments, they nevertheless received Christ through these sacraments. 2) It would not have been possible for the Old Testament saints to have been saved under a covenant that had not yet been inaugurated. Therefore, they must have been saved through the Old Covenant.

These are both fair points, and they must be addressed. The first one—that the people of the Old Testament really received Christ through the various rituals of that period—is built upon an assumption of continuity been the Old and New Covenants in which they both have comparable sacraments. There was a sense, it is argued, in which those people under the Old Covenant really received Christ through their sacraments even as we do in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The chief passage raised in support of this point is in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?

1 Corinthians 10:1-22

This passage has caused much disagreement among biblical scholars over the years. It throws several ideas at us, and they are not easy to synchronize. Nevertheless, it is the Word of God, and it has something important to teach us. The first thing we should ask is, “What is the context of these verses?” The answer is that the church in Corinth was experiencing a controversy over the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. They seem to have been divided, with some saying it was permissible for Christians to eat such things, while others called it a sin. The general issue addressed in this portion of 1 Corinthians is Christian liberty, with the eating of meat sacrificed to idols being an important test case.

Paul explains “there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one” (8:4), meaning those things people call “gods” are not really gods. Even so, he cautions the Corinthians that what may not be idolatry for them may in fact lead their brothers and sisters into idolatry, or at the very least cause them to think that idolatry is permissible.

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

1 Corinthians 8:7-13

Therefore, Paul is not suggesting that Christian liberty has brought an end to the possibility of idolatry, but rather that we must be careful in how we use our liberty, so as not to cause our fellow believers to stumble. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.” (9:19) He then concludes that all of us must discipline ourselves to live the Christian life in a way that is in line with godliness.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

That brings us up to the passage I am considering today. Let’s begin by defining some terms. Paul says, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…” (10:1-2) This is a clear reference to the parting of the Red Sea and Israel’s passage through it. The language is rather odd. What exactly does it mean that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses”? It seems fairly obvious to me that what they experienced in the Red Sea episode is not exactly the same as what a believer experiences in Trinitarian baptism today. However, the analogy is likely as follows.

The passage through the Red Sea was a kind of initiation for the nation of Israel. It was an occasion in which they were forced to place their trust in the faithfulness of God and the leadership of Moses. They were shortly thereafter brought under the Mosaic Covenant, of which Moses was the mediator. Even so, baptism is the initiation rite into the New Covenant, of which Jesus Christ is the mediator. I conclude that the point Paul is making has to do primarily with covenant solidarity: that is, all who entered the covenant at Sinai had gone through that Red Sea experience.

Paul proceeds to say “…and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink…” (v.3-4a) The spiritual food was the manna and quail that God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness. The spiritual drink was the water that came forth from the rock. “…for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them…” (v.4b) Scripture records two instances in which water was provided from a rock, but Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. They would have needed a constant supply of water. Therefore, the Apostle Paul seems to say along with other ancient Jews that this provision was kept up along the way, either in that the rock itself followed them or that a channel of water from the rock followed them.

Paul adds the phrase “…and the rock was Christ”. (v.4c) I do not believe that he means that the rock was an appearance of the pre-Incarnate Christ or something on the order of the burning bush episode. Rather, he points to the source of their provision. God was with the people of Israel in the wilderness, leading them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21-22) He was the one who provided the food for them to eat and the water for them to drink.

There is another sense in which Christ was with the people of Israel at that time, and I will get to that shortly. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention the next sentence, which seems to be the real point of this paragraph. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:5) Despite all the blessings that the Israelites received and the fact that God Himself was with them in that desert, many of them did not have faith, and they perished as a result.

Now that I have provided some initial definitions of these terms, we must examine the original accounts of Israel’s time in the wilderness, for this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he was writing his letter. Exodus chapters 13-15 tell the story of the Israelites’ initial departure from Egypt and their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. However, they soon faced a water problem of another kind: they had nothing to drink.

In the wilderness of Shur, the Israelites found water, but it was bitter. Therefore, the Lord instructed Moses, who threw a tree into the water, making it potable. (Exodus 15:22-25) The people then passed into Elim, where they found springs of water ready to drink. (v. 27) However, the wilderness of Sin was another matter, and it forced the people to depend on God in a new way.

The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, “At evening you will know that the Lord has brought you out of the land of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, for He hears your grumblings against the Lord; and what are we, that you grumble against us?” Moses said, “This will happen when the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the Lord hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for He has heard your grumblings.’” It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’” The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat. Moses said to them, “Let no man leave any of it until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.

Exodus 16:2-21

There are two themes in this passage: the Lord’s faithfulness and the Israelites’ faithlessness. The former is demonstrated in the provision of quail and manna for the people to eat. The latter is demonstrated by the peoples’ initial complaint that they would have been better off dying in Egypt, their grumblings against Moses and Aaron (but really against the Lord), and their disregard for God’s command (which led to some of the manna going bad).

The Israelites continued on from there and camped at Rephidim. This time there was no water of any kind, and the complaints returned.

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”

Exodus 17:1-7

Keep in mind that by this point, the people of Israel had already seen their God bring the greatest empire in the world to its knees. They had seen His supernatural provision for them on many occasions. Yet, many of them still did not have faith. When there was nothing to drink, they did not ask politely, “What would the Lord like us to do about getting water?” They quarreled and grumbled against the leadership of Moses, once again saying they would have been better off staying in Egypt. There is a kind of irony in the Lord’s command to Moses to “take in your hand your staff in which you struck the Nile”. God had already performed so many miracles in the sight of Israel! Nevertheless, rather than punishing them immediately for their unbelief, the Lord instructed Moses to strike a rock, and water flowed out. Thus, the twin themes of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s faithlessness continued.

Many years later, the Israelites were still grumbling. In Numbers chapter 11, we see that the people complained that they were tired of the manna and wanted a greater variety of foods. The real problem, we are told, is that they were greedy. Thus, the Lord killed some of them with fire and a plague. (vs. 1, 33) They were still not content to depend upon the Lord. That discontentment soon spread to the issue of water.

Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there. There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why then have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them; and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He proved Himself holy among them.

Numbers 20:1-13

Evidently, the miraculous provision of water had not continued up to this point, so the Lord graciously provided more for them to drink. However, Moses and Aaron disobeyed the command of the Lord. He had told them to simply speak to the rock, subtracting the miracle-working rod from the equation. Instead, Moses again struck the rock with his rod. Therefore, the people received water, but their two great leaders were forbidden from entering the Promised Land. Thus, the unbelief of Israel was not limited to the common man, but brought down even the greatest among them. Only Joshua and Caleb, the two righteous spies, were left from that generation to enter the land of Canaan. (Numbers 14:26-35)

It is easy in all of these stories to get caught up in the physical. The water, manna, and quail certainly provided for the physical needs of Israel, but they also pointed to something else. Moses later told the people that their wilderness experience was meant to teach them to trust in the Lord and depend on Him for their spiritual needs as well as the physical ones.

All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.

Deuteronomy 8:1-6

This passage is important for two reasons. First, it stresses the essentially conditional nature of the Old Covenant. The people were told to keep the commandments “that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give your forefathers”. Yes, God swore to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land, but no such guarantee was given to any of the individual Israelites, which was why nearly all of that initial generation failed to enter the Promised Land. The time in the wilderness was essentially a period of testing for the Lord to see if they would keep His commands or not.

Of course, the Lord in His foreknowledge was quite aware of whether or not the people had faith, even as He was able to promise Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land. This leads to the second point, which is that the wilderness experience was not truly a learning experience for God, but rather for the Israelites. “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” The manna was actually a type. It pointed to something else. The point was not that Israel needed bread to live, but that they needed the Bread of Life. That bread was the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ.

You see, Christ was with the people of Israel in the wilderness—not in the same physical sense that He was on the earth for thirty some years in the first century A.D., but as the pre-Incarnate Word not yet made flesh. The Word of God that was given to the ancient Israelites was just as much His Word as the very words of Christ on earth. It is the same as the Word of God that nourishes us today. This is why, when he had to point to the advantage of being a Jew, the Apostle Paul said, “First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2b)

When Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, Moses prophesied that the people would fail to keep God’s commands, thus reaping the covenant curses. However, he also prophesied that a time would come when the people would be restored and truly follow the Law, for it would be in their very hearts. “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6) He then added the following.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

The Apostle Paul appeals to this teaching when he says that the Israelites pursued the righteousness of the Law rather than the righteousness that is by faith. What Moses was telling them was that they could not be justified by works righteousness, for they did not have it in themselves to follow the Law. Rather, they needed the Lord Himself to circumcise their hearts so that they could follow His commands. Therefore, the command was “not too difficult” for those who were able to fulfill it by faith, having the righteousness of God imputed to them. In order to follow the Word of God, they needed the Word of God—that is, Jesus Christ.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:1-13

The Law of Moses was based on human working, yet the people also had access to something else. God had made clear that they must gain the righteousness that is by faith. They had the story of their forefather Abraham, who “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness”. (Genesis 15:6) They had the first proclamation of gospel in Genesis 3:15. “And I will put enmity / Between you and the woman, / And between your seed and her seed; / He shall bruise you on the head, / And you shall bruise him on the heel.” They had the witness of the patriarchs who lived by faith, recounted for us in Hebrews chapter 11. Were these things as obvious to them as they are to us now? No, they were wrapped up in shadow. Nevertheless, the New Testament tells us that the saints of the Old Testament had enough of God’s Word to know that they needed to be justified by faith and not the Law. They could only fulfill the commands of the Mosaic Covenant if they had salvation from another source.

Therefore, the manna, the water, and the rock were all types of things to come. Does this mean that they contained the substance of what was to come? Can we make a direct correlation between the crossing of the Red Sea and baptism? Between the provision of food and water and the Lord’s Supper? Some would argue that this is exactly what 1 Corinthians 10 teaches. The Israelites under the Old Covenant “ate the same spiritual food” and “drank the same spiritual drink” as we now enjoy. When he says “the rock was Christ”, they argue that Paul means the Israelites really received Christ in those ancient sacraments. Is this a correct interpretation of the passage?

I think Paul is actually making two contrasts and/or comparisons in this passage. The first occurs in that opening section of the chapter. Look at how he uses the words “all” and “most”.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Paul is not equating the spiritual food and drink of the ancient Israelites with that of the Church under the New Covenant. Rather, he is making a comparison within the nation of Israel. They were all part of the same covenant, experienced many of the same blessings, heard the same revelation, etc. However, God was not pleased with most of them. As we read earlier, only Joshua and Caleb persevered in faith and did not grumble. Therefore, Paul’s first contrast is between the believing and unbelieving people within Israel. Yes, there were members of that community other than Joshua and Caleb who clearly had saving faith, such as Moses. However, they all at one point or another failed to trust in God’s promises—all but Joshua and Caleb. Those two great men did not keep the Law perfectly, but they were faithful when others were faithless.

This further underscores Paul’s point. Remember how he ended the paragraph immediately prior to this one. “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (9:26-27) We know based on Paul’s other writings that he was not suggesting that people could lose their salvation or be un-justified, but I believe he was teaching that it is possible for people to start well and finish poorly…like Moses and Aaron. Those who are justified by faith can nevertheless have moments of faithless sin, as was the case when Abraham repeatedly failed to trust in God’s promises. That is why Paul tells the Corinthians, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” (10:11-12)

The second contrast Paul makes comes later in chapter 10, and it brings things full circle with his earlier discussion about meat sacrificed to idols.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Here Paul makes a comparison between three occurrences of union. Believers are joined together as they share in Christ’s body and blood, the people of ancient Israel become sharers in the altar when they made sacrifices there, and those who participate in sacrifices to demons become sharers in those demons. Notice, Paul is not saying that the Lord’s Supper and the ancient Israelite sacrifices had the same substance any more than he is saying that either of those things share a substance with idol sacrifices. He is simply arguing that you are joined to that which you worship and the things in which you participate. That is why believers, who are joined to Christ, ought not give their worship to idols.

Paul says that idolatry was one of the primary sins of those under the Mosaic Covenant. “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were…Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” (10:7a, 8-10) The main point of this passage has to do with the avoidance of sin. Therefore, Paul’s message to Christians based on the experience of Israel is as follows: Do not lose faith as Israel did. Do not disobey God as Israel did. Do not fall into idolatry as Israel did. Do not think yourself better or less prone to sin than Israel.

Ah, but Paul also has good news for us! “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (v. 13)

Note again that Paul never suggested that the sacrifices made the ancient Israelites sharers in Christ as we are through the Lord’s Supper. This is because neither the manna nor the Passover (with which the Lord’s Supper is more commonly associated) were actually sacraments like what we have today. They were types. A type points forward to something that will happen in the future. The sacraments point backward to what has already been accomplished. The types under the Mosaic Covenant were attached to the Law. The sacraments under the New Covenant are all of grace. Not convinced? Perhaps it is worth considering a passage in the Gospel of John. Shortly after He had fed the five thousand, Jesus had the following conversation in the synagogue of Capernaum.

Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day…I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

John 6:26-40, 48-58

There is a lot going on in this passage. First, we see yet again a group of Jews attempting to be justified by works righteousness instead of the righteousness that is by faith. (No offense to Jews—Gentiles do exactly the same thing!) They ask Jesus, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent,” pointing them back to the righteousness that is by faith. The crowd asks Jesus if He will perform a miracle and rain down bread from heaven as took place in the days of Moses. They were completely focused on the physical, just like their ancestors. They did not understand that the manna was a type that pointed to the Word of God, who was standing before them and had the power to grant eternal life.

Jesus makes a contrast between the bread that Moses gave them from heaven and the true bread that comes from the Father. Now, God was obviously responsible for both, but what Christ is saying is that this true bread is infinitely better than the manna. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Jesus did not imply that the manna was really Him in disguise, or that the people received the true Bread of Life by eating the manna. No, He makes a clear distinction between the two, associating one with Moses and the other with Himself.

Jesus then makes an extremely bold claim that sent His disciples into fits of grumbling. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” This is a reference to our spiritual union with Christ, which is more real than any physical bond. From it flow all the benefits of Christ: His imputed righteousness, the forgiveness of sins, justification, regeneration to life in the Spirit, sanctification, perseverance, glorification, and eternal life. Faith is the instrument that makes this union possible.

As we see elsewhere in scripture, the lesser things of the Old Covenant are contrasted with the better things of the New Covenant. This is not because the Old Covenant contained a hidden center of Christ wrapped up in layers of types and shadows. No, the entirety of the Old Covenant was typological. It did not provide union with Christ. Rather, it pointed to the need for union with Christ. True, those Old Testament saints did not know the name Jesus Christ. They did not foresee exactly how God would bring about deliverance. What they knew is that they could not be justified by works righteousness. They needed something apart from the Law to allow them to fulfill the Law. They needed the righteousness that is by faith, even as their father Abraham had it imputed to him.

We may speak of the sacraments as divinely ordained means of grace by which we increase in sanctification. However, know most assuredly that those who are not already united to Christ receive neither grace nor sanctification from the sacraments. The benefits of justification and sanctification flow out of union with Christ. It is precisely because we become one with His very body and blood that we then receive eternal life. Grace is not given to those who do not have Christ as their mediator. (See the previous article on mediation for more on this point.) When they are accused before the Father, they have no one to speak for them. Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant. (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24) Those who are in that covenant are the elect who were chosen before Creation to be united to Christ: the Bride for whom He gave His life.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

You do not receive grace in the sacraments unless you are already united to Christ. Some would argue that the one who partakes of the sacraments but is not united to Christ does not receive anything because they are only in the administration of the New Covenant and do not have the substance. I say that such a person is not in the New Covenant at all, for if they were, then they would have Christ as their mediator, and by that union with Christ they would be truly justified and sanctified. Moreover, a covenant of which Christ is not the mediator cannot sanctify anyone through its rituals, for He is not the substance.

Perhaps at this point you are wondering, “But if you can only be united with Christ in the New Covenant, and you have to be united with Christ in order to receive His imputed righteousness, then how did all those Old Testament saints receive that righteousness? They lived before the New Covenant was inaugurated.” True enough, the New Covenant was inaugurated as a result of Christ’s atoning death. However, the Covenant of Grace (which is one and the same with the New Covenant) was proclaimed beforehand and gradually revealed throughout the Old Testament until it was finally inaugurated in the New Testament.

We have already seen how there were hints of it in the types of the Old Covenant and various proclamations that demonstrated the necessity of faith. The Covenant of Grace was first promised in the Garden of Eden, when the Lord declared that a seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. (Genesis 3:15) It was promised to Abraham when the Lord declared “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3) and walked alone between the pieces of sacrificed animals, signifying His willingness to take upon Himself the penalty for covenant breaking. (Genesis 15:17) It was symbolized when Abraham went to sacrifice his son but received a lamb in Isaac’s place. (Genesis 22:9-14) It was further symbolized by the bronze serpent constructed by Moses. (Numbers 21:8-9) It was promised when the Lord said He would circumcise the hearts of His people. (Deuteronomy 30:6) It was also promised by the Prophet Isaiah, who spoke of a coming Messiah who would suffer and die for the sins of the people. (Isaiah 53:4-12)

When the risen Christ met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are told that “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures”. (Luke 24:27) These were the prophecies that spoke of the Covenant of Grace, which is the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. The Old Testament patriarchs received the promise of these things even though the covenant had not been inaugurated. They put their faith in that promise, and it was enough for them to be accounted righteous. However, they did not see the fulfillment with their own eyes.

The author of Hebrews, speaking of Abraham and the rest of the Old Testament giants of faith, writes, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13) Now, if the Old Covenant contained the same substance as the New, had sacraments that were equally sanctifying, and provided an equal union with Christ, then what were those people waiting for that they did not receive? Why was it a promise and not the very essence of things?

“Yes,” you say, “but if it was only a promise, then how were they justified? How was the righteousness of Christ imputed to them by a covenant not yet inaugurated?” The scripture tells us exactly how these things could be so.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:21-26

This passage contrasts the works righteousness of the Mosaic Law with the righteousness that is by faith and can only be received through union with Jesus Christ. Importantly, Paul tells us that “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed”—that is, all sins that were committed before the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Why did God do this? “…for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”. Therefore, God’s justice was still satisfied when He passed over the sins of those Old Testament saints, for they had placed their faith in the coming salvation of God, which is through Jesus Christ. They were really united with Christ, for that is the only way they could have been justified. They were therefore in the New Covenant even though it was not formally inaugurated, based upon their faith in the promises of God. This same point is discussed by the author of Hebrews.

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives… For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.

Hebrews 9:8-17, 24-28

Note that the author contrasts the things of the Old Covenant, which were a “symbol for the present time” and “imposed until a time of reformation” with “the good things to come”. He makes a clear differentiation between the Old and New Covenants. When Christ did come and die a sacrificial death, it was “once for all”. The author assures us that “where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it”. Some scholars suggest that the actual wording here references the way that the covenants of old were made over the bodies of dead animals, but I believe the meaning is the same either way: the New Covenant was inaugurated with Christ’s death. That covenant is the New Covenant in His blood.

However, the key sentence comes just before that. “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” Christ’s atoning death most assuredly redeemed all the sins of the elect in the Old Testament. The same passage states this and argues that Christ is only the mediator of the New Covenant. Therefore, the author of Hebrews agrees with Paul that the Lord in His forbearance passed over the sins of the Old Testament saints, “but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”. Why did God’s saving plan work this way? I don’t know, but that is what scripture teaches. God is not bound by time as we are.

Moreover, classifying the Old Covenant as a saving covenant does not solve the problem of timing. Once again, we are faced with the fact that Christ’s atoning death had not yet occurred. The argument would be that it was offered through a covenant that was already inaugurated, but when the author of Hebrews talks about the inauguration of the saving covenant, He speaks of Christ’s death, contrasting it with the covenant made at Sinai. (Hebrews 9:15-22) If the Old Covenant was the saving covenant, it would have needed to be inaugurated in Christ’s blood, but instead Moses “took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.’” (vs. 19b-20) We know that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”. (10:4) That is why Jesus said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20b) The Old Covenant was not made in His blood. He was not its mediator—Moses was. It did not provide union with Christ. It was not a saving covenant.

If you are still prone to disagree, then I encourage you to go back and read what is said about the Law and the Old Covenant in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. See how it is connected with human works. See how the priesthood, the sacrifices, the Tabernacle and all the rest are described as inferior and earthly. See how a New Covenant was necessary because of the weakness of the Old. Then ask yourself why you would still insist that the Old Covenant had the power to save.

“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” (Hebrews 8:6-7)

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

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