John's statement "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29) must have brought a thrill to those disciples who heard it, and Andrew's statement "We have found the Messias" (John 1:41), coupled with Phillip's "We have found him, of whom Moses . . . and the prophets, did write" (verse 45), throws a flood of light on the expectation of those who lived at that time. Luke 3:15 suggests that there was some idea in the minds of the people that some great event was near, and study of the Scriptures, coupled with current events, turned their minds to the prophecies made so long before.
The offerings brought to the Temple would constantly remind them of the great plan of salvation as typified by those sacrifices.
God's messenger writes:
In every page. whether history, or precept, or prophecy, the Old Testament Scriptures arc irradiated with the glory of the Son of God. So far as it was of divine institution, the entire system of Judaism was a compacted prophecy of the gospel. —The Desire of Ages, p. 211.
The gospel of Christ reflects glory upon the Jewish age. It sheds light upon the whole Jewish economy, and gives significance to the ceremonial law. The tabernacle, or temple, of God on earth was a pattern of the original in Heaven. All the ceremonies of the Jewish law were prophetic, typical of the mysteries in the plan of redemption. The rights and ceremonies of the law were given by Christ himself, who, enshrouded in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, was the leader of the hosts of Israel; and this law should be treated with great respect, for it is sacred. Even after it was no longer to be observed, Paul presented it before the Jews in its true position and value, showing its place in the plan of redemption and its relation to the work of Christ; and the great apostle pronounces this law glorious, worthy of its divine Originator.—Ellen G. White in Signs of the Times, July 29, 1886.
Yoke of Bondage or Badge of Freedom
It is the organic unity of the scheme of prophetic revelation—through the medium of the ceremonial law—that provides a sound basis for a correct interpretation of the individual utterances of the prophets.
In the past years it has been thought by many that in view of the fact that the ceremonial law was to pass away it constituted a yoke of bondage.
In Psalm 73 we have a vivid portrayal of the experiences of the wicked, and David, in contemplation of their seeming prosperity (verse 3), expresses his envy of those who prosper in their way. Following down the verses we find, "no bands in their death," "not in trouble," "eyes stand out with fatness," "have more than heart could wish," et cetera. Then he takes a look at his own condition: "1 have cleansed my heart in vain. . . . For all the day long have I been plagued." But notice the change in verse 17: "Until I went into the sanctuary of God, then understood I their end." What made the change? There he saw the brazen altar in the courtyard, upon it the fat being burned, and this we know was a type of the wicked (Ps. 37:20); there he would immediately see the reward of the wicked. See how quickly his thoughts reveal his satisfaction of the realization of the fact that God indeed had been "good to Israel."
Then he suddenly realizes the insecurity of the wicked, their position. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places" (Ps. 73:18), "brought into desolation, as in a moment," "so foolish was I, and ignorant" (verse 22). This whole psalm shows the contrast between the wicked and the righteous, and it was revealed through the ceremonies of the sanctuary service.
Through the prophet Daniel, God had shown that a time limit had been set to the operation of the sacrificial service of the earthly sanctuary, that in the "midst of the week" the sacrifice and oblation (having reference to the typical services of the earthly sanctuary) were to cease. This termination was effected by the offering of the Son of God on the cross. He died "in the midst of the week"; henceforth there was no efficacy in the offering of the "blood of bulls and of goats," which were a "figure for the time then present." The ceremonial law was given "till the seed should come" (Gal. 3:19). God's plan of salvation was seen in those ceremonies, and faith in them as a type of the "Lamb of God" would be accepted by God for the removal of the sins of the penitent; therefore they could hardly have been a "yoke of bondage."
Incidentally, circumcision was not ceremonial in the general sense, for it was "a seal of the righteousness of the faith" (Rom. 4:11). Christ observed the feasts of the typical services but not in the blood offerings, for having no sin of His own, He needed no reconciliation. Not until our sins were laid upon Him was there any an ti typical atonement.
Trouble in the Church
From a study of Acts 15 it is evident that something serious was troubling the infant church. So important was this matter as to call for a special council at Jerusalem, the headquarters of the church. Before we examine this chapter further, let us notice some important relevant facts. In Matthew 23:2 Christ says, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." What was the significance of this? This was the seat of judgment (Ex. 18:13-24). The scribes and Pharisees were the lineal descendants of Moses so far as the government of Israel was concerned, as related to the sanctuary service, and to some extent Christ recognized their authority. On one occasion He said to the healed man, "Go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded." The tribe of Levi was ordained to do the work that had been the work of Moses. Through the centuries God has recognized and worked through this channel. Exercising their authority, the rabbis had added to, and in some ways annulled, the commands of God, and through their tradition had made void the commands of God. Many instances of this are seen during the earthly sojourn of Christ. But this power would soon be theirs no longer. The Melchizedek priesthood would soon supersede the priesthood of Levi, just as the sacrifice of Christ had taken the place of the blood offerings in the sacrificial system before the cross.
Through their traditions they had laden the people with burdens hard to bear (Matt. 23:4). In Luke 11:46 Christ charges the lawyers with the same offense.
Returning to Acts 15, we find that the trouble came from a certain class, the Pharisees. They were perfectly willing to accept the new faith so long as it did not interfere with the old faith. They desired to bring with them their old traditions; there was nothing, even in the ceremonial law as given by God, that could in any way be classed as a "yoke of bondage." David did not think so, as has been shown earlier; neither did any of the fathers. There was never a hint that these ceremonies were burdensome to any of them.
Notice that unless the individual realized that the forgiveness of sin was only accomplished by faith in the atoning blood of Christ, of which the offerings were a type, he could not be clear before God. See Isaiah 1:10-20 in this connection.
It is not my purpose to go deeply into the matter of the removal of sin under the old dispensation. This has been fully dealt with by other writers. The purpose of this article is to remove some misunderstanding recently thrown into sharp relief by approaches to some of the vital matters that concern us as a people.
Christ Clarifies the Issue
Christ enumerated a number of things introduced by the religious leaders of the day that were contrary to God's teaching, and which interfered with the liberty of the people at every step, such as the washing of pots and brazen vessels and cups (Mark 7: 1, 13; Matt. 23). These were not part of the ceremonial law itself, but had been added to it by the scribes and Pharisees. In Geike's Life and Words of Christ, he notes the following:
Religiousness was thus measured by the more or less complete observance of ten thousand Rabbinical rules of ceremonial purity, and fanatical observance of them was secured, not less by religious pride than by their appeal to a spurious patriotism, and to self-interest. This severe and inflexible discipline, which regulated every act of life, foresaw every contingency, and interfered with common liberty, at every step, from the cradle to the grave, had been slowly elaborated by the Rabbis, to isolate the Jew from all other nations. His very words and thoughts were prescribed; he was less a man than a mechanical instrument. Any deviation . . . from Rabbinical law was regarded as impious.—Chapter I, p. 252.
However, Jesus recognized the righteousness of circumcision. . . . Jesus recognized the lawfulness of the observing of the feasts, for He Himself took part in them all. The question might then arise, "Were these to be perpetuated after Christ's crucifixion?"—No, indeed; for the simple reason that . . . when the Object came, the means of illustrations were no longer needed. But they in themselves were no yoke.—F. C. GILBERT, Practical Lessons From the Experience of Israel, p. 314.
Some scriptures that seem to give a different viewpoint need some investigation. In Ephesians 2:14 and 15, Paul speaks about an enmity that was abolished. What was the enmity? What has been previously said in the chapter shows that it was not the ceremonial law. We are told that "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). It was the carnal mind that brought into being the "law of commandments contained in ordinances." This can be easily understood as the laws and ceremonies instituted by the rabbis. Out of the carnal fleshly mind have grown the laws and ordinances that man has made from time immemorial. He hoped to save himself by such ordinances; this was impossible. By no stretch of the imagination can this scripture be applied to the ceremonial law as God gave it. Paul speaks about a "handwriting of ordinances that was against us" (Col. 2:14). This too has been applied to the ceremonial law, but if this law was God's illustration in type of the plan of salvation to man, it could not be "against" them, for it was the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ before the cross. In fact, there was no other way before the cross. Notice the connection in which Paul uses this scripture. He first points out that the Colossians—and indeed all men—were dead in sins, but he also points out that we have been "quickened," or made alive, by having our trespasses forgiven and blotted out. Those sins have been nailed to the cross in the person of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The principalities and powers that Christ "spoiled" were those who nailed Him to the cross. When they thought that they had triumphed over Him by accomplishing His death, in reality He triumphed over them. Their Heaven-given power was gone, and in a few short years their period of probation, when they were finally rejected by God as a nation, came to an end.
Weymouth's translation has this to say in Colossians 2:14. "The bond, with its requirements, which was in force against us . . . , He cancelled, and cleared it out of the way, nailing it to His Cross. And the hostile princes and rulers He stripped off from Himself, and boldly displayed them as His conquests, when by the Cross He triumphed over them."
The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other . . . clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. From the first intimation of hope in the sentence pronounced in Eden to that last glorious promise of the Revelation, "they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads" ... , the burden of every . . . passage of the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous theme,—man's uplifting,—the power of God "which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." . . . He who grasps this thought has before him an infinite field for study. He has the key that will unlock to him the whole treasure house of God's word.—Education, pp. 125, 126.