A verse that has always, at least to some degree, puzzled me is Jn. 1.17: For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ.(NET) What does this mean: Was the Law of Moses untruthful? No, since Rom. 7.12 states: So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good. (NET)
The solution for me came about by continuous and systematic reading the bible which I suggest solves many seeming quandaries which occur when only reading one section without taking the whole into consideration.
The image of a concept that is projected in our modern mind is often fallacious if we fail to read the bible closely and carefully think what the text is saying. One such concept is “law”. When many Christians read “law” they think of regulations governing behavior primarily between individuals. The 10 Commandments is an example of such regulations and deal with relationships to God, towards oneself (keeping the Sabbath holy was designed for rest as well as reflection and reinforcing both societal and family bonds), and others. The Mosaic Law however covered more than regulations of relationships, they carefully set “the laws of the sacrifices”. This is what John, the gospel writer, speaks about when saying: Grace and truth came about by Jesus Christ.
So, as I noted: The commandment is holy, righteous, and good, but the problem was us since we couldn’t perform the regulations perfectly. Furthermore, and importantly, we incurred guilt. It is one thing to strive to overcome a specific sin and many folks are able to discipline themselves to not do certain things which are sinful. But this is not enough since one breaking of the commandment results in guilt (this is not about ‘feeling guilty’ rather ‘judicial guilt’). It is important to note that the Mosaic Law has “guilt offerings” as well as “sin offerings”.
Heb.7.18-19 brings out this concept of human need and the Mosaic Law: On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (NET) So it is easy to see how the regulation is perfect but unable to perfect erring people. The text of Hebrews goes on to explain how a better High Priest was needed who Himself could conquer death and graciously offer life (both abundant temporal and eternal) to humans.
Returning to John 1.17: For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. So how do grace and truth of Christ differ from the Mosaic Law? Firstly, when someone broke a command given through Moses, they would bring an offering to the Aaronic Priest and the supplicant would place their hands on the sacrificial victim’s (animal) head symbolically transferring punishment (death) for the sin to the victim. But Christ was different! He gave Himself for our behalf: a gracious sacrifice we did not provide! Absolute, pure grace!
Additionally, Christ was the truth. The book of Hebrews again helps to make this idea very clear: For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (Heb. 10.4 literally translated from Greek). Animal sacrifices were never intended to remedy human sin, instead, they pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ for the sin of humanity. The Mosaic sacrifices (and those before Moses) were ‘types’ that supplicants offered in faith toward God. Jesus was the Truth, the antitype to which all the former sacrifices pointed. Therefore, so while Moses gave the Law of commandments and sacrifices, Christ was the true object the sacrifices pictured. Further, Christ kept all the commands blamelessly so to be an unblemished (perfect) offering to God.
By viewing the Mosaic Law correctly as containing both commandments and ‘laws of the sacrifices’ one can see how Christ was both gracious (He alone pleased God and now offers the New Covenant to all people on the basis of His sacrifice) and that He was the Truth to which the sacrificial types pointed.