The most important aspect, I believe, of the account of the expert of the Mosaic Law asking Jesus point blank what one needed for eternal life most Christians miss. I just surveyed five sermons by good Evangelicals and they all missed this important point. Granted, they all gave other points and drew lessons from the parable of The Good Samaritan which were admirable and relevant. The preachers missed the theological big picture which tells about the Old and New Covenants contained in the context before Jesus gives the parable itself. While there are good lessons from the parable, the context reveals the greater bible story of redemption which is not to be missed.
“Do This and You Will Live”
The existential hope of humanity is eternal life; everything else is just window dressing. Paul tells us in Titus 1.2 that God promised humans eternal life before time began (in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot not lie, promised before time eternal). In my conception, this promise had to have subjects that it was promised to, and therefore, the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden is the most likely referent. In mercy, God took away access to fallen Adam and Eve lest they be forever fixed in unrighteousness. In the Book of Revelation, Christians are promised access to the Tree of Life, that is, those who overcome (2.7) and those who have washed their robes (22.14). In one sense, Christians now possess this life (Jn. 3.16 and many other verses), and, it seems, a future formal confirmation is in view when they partake of this tree in heaven.
The Law given through Moses offered a second chance for eternal life: Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord (Lev. 18.5 NET). But what happened when a person would try to keep them (in their own strength)? They would fail miserably, as everyone knows experientially, who have ever tried. Notice Paul’s recounting of his effort: For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting (Rom.7.7b-8a NIV). Also, he says: and the power of sin is the law (1Cor. 15.56b NIV). Therefore, no one will be declared righteous by any type of performance on their part whether it is doing (or not doing something) or being something (or not another thing).
Most of the Jewish Bible (the O.T.) involves the Mosaic Law and the subsequent human failure to achieve it. This is, of course, by design. Paul reveals who the promise of eternal life (by keeping the commandments) referred to in Gal. 3.19a: Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. (NIV) This tells us that God’s promise in Lev. 18.5 (Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. NIV) was for the purpose of living with God forever, salvation. Paul just quoted this verse in Gal. 3.12 and indicated that this formula, if you will, summed up the path to acceptance with God in the Old Covenant. In verse 19, Paul reveals who the promise ultimately was for, Jesus.
The Message to the Insincere
Returning to the context of the Good Samaritan, Jesus answered point blank in Lk. 10. 28: “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (NIV). Jesus has affirmed the Mosaic Lawyer’s answer when the expert quoted Dt.6.5 and Lev.19.18 which summed up the 10 Commandments: Love for God and man (Lk. 10. 27). Jesus couldn’t answer in any other way since it was a malicious test by this Teacher of the Law. If He didn’t answer, it would be considered a dodge. This was a hostile encounter and Jesus refused to engage him except to give the parable of The Good Samaritan, which probably stunned the lawyer.
Notice, also, the account of “The Rich Ruler” in Lk. 18. 18-25. The question to Jesus was: Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (vs. 18 NIV). Jesus referred him to the commandments toward others in the Decalogue. That this rich ruler did not really keep them is the obvious point of that encounter. But the greater point is, that, when asked, Jesus returned to the scripture’s promise given in Lev. 18.5: Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. (NIV)
The Temporal Promise of Long Life in The Land
Yes, there also was a general promise of keeping the Law’s commandments (which included the sacrificial aspects) that promised long life in the Land of Israel. These sacrificial observances portrayed how humans would be redeemed and needed to serve as pictures of Christ’s sacrifice. These pictures of redemption functioned as an illustration of forgiveness through sacrifice which was instituted from the time of Gen. 3.15. In the Mosaic Law the sacrificial system greatly expanded to show the different aspects of Christ’s atoning work. Without citing a specific reference, since there are so many, the Book of Hebrews portrays both Christ’s superior High Priesthood and His multifaceted sacrificial fulfillment. Therefore, if Israel was faithful as God’s priests they would dwell long in the land. The following is how some of that worked itself out.
The many regulations of what Moses received served different purposes. By far, the most regulations concerned the details of the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the Temple worship and everything associated with it including the times of these observances. The Three Yearly Festivals were prophetic for how humans would be redeemed “in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4.4). Passover is when Christ died similar to The Lamb’s blood applied to the wooden doorposts and lintel of the Hebrews rescued from Egypt. A foreshadowing of the cross. The two leavened loafs offered at Shavuot (Pentecost) probably referred to Judah and Israel. Jer. 31. 31: The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah (NIV). How was this fulfilled? Since it was required for every Jewish male “to appear before the Lord” at the Three Yearly Festivals, the Spirit was conveniently given on the Pentecost 50 days after Christ’s crucifixion. At the time of the morning sacrifice the 120 Disciples received a miraculous sign and then preached to Jews at this festival, who consisted of the twelve tribes the Judah and Israel of Jer.31.31. Notice how there were added about 3000 from all the Diaspora who heard their native language being spoken. Many were from areas that Israel were taken when that Kingdom fell in 722 B.C.E. Of course many Israelites were able to return earlier and some Israelites also escaped to Judah or the surrounding territory at the time of the Assyrian deportation.
The Temple, High Priest, and Sacrifice Forecast the Messiah
Most of the Mosaic Law was about how the people could be cleansed of their sin from not keeping the Law. The Temple’s function served as a picture of Christ’s sacrifice for sins. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Heb. 10.4) but they forecast what Christ would do it in a multitude of ways. The Burnt Offering indicated completely being given to God which Christ fulfilled and Christians emulate by being living sacrifices and taking up their cross. The Sin and Guilt Offering involved a person laying their hand upon the animal’s head and confessing their sin in a personal manner. In sum, both the O.T. and the Book of Hebrews picture the sacrifice of Jesus. No wonder Hebrews 10.7 could quote Ps. 40. 7: Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God (NIV).