An important fact of Bible teaching is that the authority of the Law of Moses ceased to exist in the first century. Not meaning physical copies of it, but rather the authority of it. There is still very important information and teaching contained in the Old Testament and we would not understand the New without the Old. Prophesies of what would happen in the first century are to be found there. For example, over 500 details of the person, work and accomplishments of the Messiah are found there and provides facts for our faith. And, there is much more. A question, with resulting controversies, has been when did the Old Law’s authority end and the New Testament’s authority begin? Usually it has been contended that the Old Law ended at “the Cross,” that is, when Jesus died. However, the New Covenant did not begin until the first Pentecost that followed, fifty days later.
This begets the question of what law were “they” under between the crucifixion and Pentecost? The answer to that may seem inconsequential to some people, so why bother? Well, it is important because Bible teaching is involved. It involves what Jesus did for us. Understanding it is essential to understanding the gospel of Christ. The central passage most used to claim that the Old Law ended at the crucifixion is Colossians 2:13-16—
“And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses; having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross; having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s.”
Obviously, these verses refer to the end of the authority of the Law of Moses. But, it should be obvious that the word “cross” is not literal but figurative. Jesus did not literally take a hammer and nails and fasten a copy of the Old Testament to the wooden beams. The word, cross, stands for everything Jesus did that comprises the gospel. Louw & Nida Lexicon, 6.27, says—
“If at all possible one should employ a term or phrase which may be used in an extended sense, since in so many contexts the term ‘cross’ refers not only to the instrument of Christ’s death, but to the event of execution. It also becomes a symbol of the message of forgiveness and of reconciliation. Because of these extended meanings, it is important to choose a form which can, if at all possible, support these additional meanings.”
In Galatians 3:22-27, the word “faith” is a synonym for the gospel of Christ. Paul argues that very point. Look at it—
“But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.”
The faith, like Jude 3, was something that appeared at a particular time, was taught, heard. It was certainly to be accepted by people but the word as it is used here means what produces faith on our part. Note that the faith is the thing to be believed; we are to believe the faith. It is by this faith that we are sons of God, by which we put on Christ. But, baptism is essential for this to happen. That is a part of the faith as well. Notice that they were under the authority of the “school bus driver,” the tutor, until faith came, something that arrived. After that point, they were under the faith. But, faith came on Pentecost, therefore, the Law continued until Pentecost. The one ended at the point the other began.
The reason for this is the nature of the gospel. I Corinthians 15:16-18 tells us that just the death of Jesus on the wooden beams accomplished absolutely nothing without the events that followed it—
“For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
Just the fact of a resurrection from the dead was not significant. Jesus had raised Lazarus, and we are told that many were raised in Jerusalem following His death. What made the difference with Jesus was who He was, why He went through this and what happened afterward. He was raised up for important reasons. So, after forty days with His disciples and ten days before Pentecost, Jesus ascended into heaven; another important step in our redemption. Hebrews chapters 4:14 through 10:39 tell us what happened with Jesus following His ascension. Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament to be the High Priest in the new order of things. He was a priest after the order of Melchizedek but the major likeness relative to our salvation was to the day of Atonement prescribed by the Law of Moses.
Hebrews 9:1 begins with laying out God’s plans based on the sacrifice on the day of Atonement, which was a “figure for the time present,” verse9. The animal of sacrifice on the day of Atonement was killed and its blood taken by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies to offer before God as atonement for the sins of the people. This was a shadow,a figure, pointing to what Jesus did. On the day of Atonement, nothing would have been accomplished if the animal was slain but the High Priest stopped there; the blood was not offered in the Holy of Holies. It took both acts to make atonement for sin. On the cross Jesus shed His blood. As High Priest, He entered into the heavenly Holy of Holies to offer His own blood before God. He was thus both sacrifice and High Priest combined in one. Just His death alone would have accomplished nothing, as we saw in I Corinthians 15.
The preaching of the gospel that was done, from Pentecost on, involved the fulfillment of prophecy, that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected from the dead, ascended to be at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. Consequently, the people had to believe, repent and be baptized in order to connect with what Jesus did, Romans 6:1-6. Peter did not preach the OT day of Atonement, the shadow, but rather the substance of what that meant. There would be no atonement, no removal of sin, no forgiveness without the completion of the sacrifice for sin that occurred in Heaven.
After offering His blood before God as High Priest, Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father and was given all authority. Only after this was there a change in law. Note—
“And what we say is yet more abundantly evident, if after the likeness of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest, who hath been made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life: for it is witnessed of him, Thou art a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek. For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness (for the law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God. And inasmuch as it is not without the taking of an oath (for they indeed have been made priests without an oath; but he with an oath by him that saith of him, The Lord sware and will not repent himself, Thou art a priest for ever); by so much also hath Jesus become the surety of a better covenant. And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing: but he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable. Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:15-25.
“...then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins: but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also beareth witness to us; for after he hath said, This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws on their heart, And upon their mind also will I write them; then saith he, And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” Hebrews 10:9-18.
“...”...which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Ephesians 1:2-23.
There are numerous other verses that say the same things. They show that when He established the second, He took away the first. When Faith came, they were no longer under the schoolmaster. What this adds up to is that the authority of the Old Law ended at the time the New Law began on Pentecost, Acts 2.
Some have contended that Jesus received authority over heaven and earth before He ascended to Heaven. For instance, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus said that “all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” He says in John 17:2,
“...even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life.”
These speak as though the universal authority of Jesus in heaven and on earth was accomplished long before His death. But, this way of speaking is common in scriptures. Prophecies are sometimes stated as present or past but are yet future to the time of speaking in their fulfillment.
This emphasizes the fact that God formed contingency plans for important events. It was determined before the foundation of this world just what woould be done in the event that man sinned. When man did sin, then the plans for redemption were set into motion. It was certain as to what God would do to bring that about while at the same time leaving man with free will. Therefore, consider—
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure . . I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have proposed it, I will also do it.” Isaiah 46:9-11.
Numerous Old Testament passages tell of the coming universal authority of the Messiah, such as Psalm 2. Or, these—
“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fell-ows.”Psalm 45:6-7
“...knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake.” I Peter 1:18-20.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved:in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; Ephesians 1:3-11.
Notice that the shedding of His blood, the offering for sin, His universal authority, were all prophesied. They were so certain that they could be spoken of even as present at the time of speaking and yet they would not specifically be fulfilled until a time in the future when all would come to pass. This is a characteristic of Bible language and prophecy.
I can only conclude that there is no legal gap between the crucifixion and Pentecost. “Cross” in Colossians 2:14ff, and other places, is a symbol of everything Jesus did for our salvation: death, burial, resurrection and offering of His blood in the heavenly Holy of Holies. This required a change in the law. “Cross” is a term that represents the entire gospel in some verses.
One other important thing occurred as a result of His Priesthood. In cleansing us of sin, He also cleansed our conscience, something that was not possible under the Mosaic sacrifices—
“..which is a figure for the time present; according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshippers perfect...” Hebrews 9:9.
“...how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14.
“For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect them that draw nigh. Else would they not have ceased to be offered? Because the wor-shippers, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a emembrance made of sins year by year.” Hebrews 10:1-3.
The sacrifice on the Day of Atonement had to be repeated every year. Animal sacrifices could not take away sin. As a result, every year on that day, the people had that fact impressed upon them. Such sacrifices could give them ceremonial cleanness, keep them socially and religiously acceptable but could not remove sins. They knew that the next year they would have to do it all over again. The “remembrance” in Hebrews 10:3 is on the part of the people, not God.
But, with one offering of His blood for sin as High Priest in the heavenly Holy of Holies, Jesus provided a way they could be forgiven and as a result cleanse their conscience to serve God; guilt was gone.
Just consider how much was changed by what Jesus did. We can readily see why just His death on the cross would accomplish nothing by itself. Nor just His resurrection, for that matter. It took all of what He did, from His death to sitting down on His throne at the right hand of the Father. After that, the gospel began to be preached as planned and prophesied in both Old and New Testaments.