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Christ Our Forerunner

C.H. Macintosh said “There are two grand facts which characterize Christianity, and mark it off from all that had gone before; and these are, first, man glorified in heaven; and secondly, God dwelling in man on the earth.”

One result of Christ glorified is the truth of the forerunner, a word found only once in scripture, and attributed to our Lord Jesus after His ascension:

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:19-20).

Ascending to heaven (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9) He entered as our Forerunner. Doing so He prepared our way, awaits to welcome us, and asks that we bear witness to His glory.

The Way of the Glorified Man

The word translated “forerunner” was a military term used to describe a soldier, scout or spy who ran ahead before the regular forces followed. At the same time it was also used to describe a small boat that went ahead with an anchor when the ship could not get past the sand bar at low tide. Rowing past the sand bar, this small vessel would drop the anchor, securing the ship until the tide arose allowing the ship to follow. Christ, our forerunner has carried our anchor – hope – and fastened it behind the veil. He is our certainty that we will someday follow Him.

Considering our Forerunner we see a significant difference between Him and the Old Testament priesthood. The O. T. High Priest could only represent the Israelites. On the Day of Atonement none could follow him behind the veil. Our great High Priest sits in heaven not only representing believers from all nations, but is also our Pioneer having blazed a trail for us. Today we follow by faith (Heb. 4:16), but someday we will follow Him into God’s presence.

The Lord told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” (John 13:36). These words carried a double significance. Peter could not follow the Lord to the cross because the Lord alone must bear the world’s sins. But after the Lord’s ascension Peter would not only take up his cross in service to his Master (Matt. 16:24, Luke 22:31-32) but would also glorify God on a cross, dying a martyr’s death (John 21:18-19). Dying to self, we also have the wonderful privilege of daily taking up our cross and following Him (Luke 9:23, Gal. 2:20).

However the deeper and fuller significance is found in the fact that He has now prepared the way for us to follow Him to heaven (John 14:1-6). When the Lord told His disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:3), it was still future. This preparation began at Calvary and was completed forty days after His resurrection when He ascended to His Father. He has fully prepared the way by His presence before the throne of God. Being the first man to enter heaven, He is our pioneer.

Upon death, the Old Testament saints’ spirits were transported to a place called Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:22) or paradise (Luke 23:43). But when Christ ascended to Heaven in His glorified body He emptied Paradise of these saints (Eph. 4:8) and their spirits followed Him into glory. Since that day, when each believer dies, their body is placed in the ground but their spirit enters the very presence of God (2 Cor. 5:8). Someday all believers, dead and alive, will be resurrected in glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-18, 5:23; 1 John 3:2).

By returning to His Father, Christ said that the Spirit would convict the world of righteousness (John 16:8, 10). God used this event to powerfully demonstrate Christ’s unchanged intrinsic righteousness. The Lord touched a leper without becoming ceremonially unclean (Matt. 8:3) and on the cross our Substitute bore our sins without becoming sinful. He became a holy sin offering yet remained untouched by iniquity. He suffered the law’s curse without defiling Himself. He took away our sin yet there is still no sin in Him (1 John 3:5). From eternity to the cross and back to heaven He is “Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Showing satisfaction in His perfect work the Father raised the Righteous One from the dead, and welcomed Him back into His presence, not only as the eternal Son but now also as the glorified Man.

The Welcome of the Glorified Man

What a day that must have been when heaven received our Lord Jesus (Acts 3:21). We have sometimes sat transfixed or even participated in standing ovations for heroic people who have performed courageous feats. However we cannot even begin to imagine the loving reception Christ received from His Father (Psa. 110:1). This joyful occasion must have also included poignant worship from Heaven’s hosts and would have been thrilling to witness and partake. Now we worship by faith but someday we will see Him and worship with the angels.

Welcomed back to heaven, our forerunner is waiting to welcome us. Shortly before Calvary Christ prayed to His Father, desiring that we be with Him (John 17:24). We find it both touching and comforting that Christ is looking forward to our arrival. A time of great joy awaits us, a time of great joy awaits Him (Jude 24). He expects and anticipates us. We expect and anticipate Him. Let us serve Him wholeheartedly so that day will not be tempered by the sadness of our infidelity and disobedience.

We get a glimpse of this in the life of Stephen. Just before the authorities stoned him, heaven’s curtains opened so he could see Christ standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55) – approving his testimony, sympathizing with his pain, and eagerly awaiting his arrival.

There may have been times when you have not felt very welcome, sadly maybe even ostracized by other believers. Beloved, let us show impartiality (Jam. 2:1-9), forbearance (Eph. 4:2), and forgiveness (Eph. 4:32) toward one another. For after all Christ does. Let us esteem our brothers and sisters highly (Php. 2:3-5), for after all Christ does. Rest assured that the day you pass into glory Christ will welcome you with the most heartfelt, genuine, and loving reception you have ever received.

In His prayer to the Father Christ asked that we see His glory (John 17:24). Someday we will (1 John 3:2) but now by faith we have the privilege to testify to it.

The Witness to the Glorified Man

The underlying theme of Stephen’s sermon after his arrest was God’s glory. The Jewish people still revered the temple (Acts 6:13-14) but God’s glory had left it long ago (Eze. 10:4, 18-19, 11:23; Acts 7:48). He described individuals such as Abraham and Moses who witnessed God’s glory. The Israelites witnessed the Shekinah (dwelling place) glory hovering over the ark and later filling the temple. Stephen explained that God does not dwell in things made with hands but in both his word and character he showed that God now dwells in individual believers (Acts 7:48-49; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). Initially rejecting their saviours (Joseph, Moses), always persecuting the prophets, this privileged nation (Rom. 9:4-5) had ultimately rejected and crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 7:52; 1 Cor. 2:8).

As he was speaking his face shone (Acts 6:15) and learned witnesses such as Saul must have recalled reading how Moses’ face shone after being in God’s presence (Ex. 34:29-35; 2 Cor. 3:12-18). For the Christian, the Spirit’s ministry increasingly radiates out from within, manifesting the reality that we have spent time in Christ’s presence. As we commune with Him in His word and in prayer, we are gradually changed into His image. This transformation is greater than Moses’ temporary, reflecting glory (2 Cor. 3:6-11) and is a powerful witness to Christ.

Seeing Christ in us provides an unveiling ministry to a lost world that the god of this age has blinded – it helps take away the veil that hides the good news about Christ’s glory (2 Cor. 4:3-4, 6).

The gospel primarily concerns Christ’s glory. In eternity He shared the Godhead’s glory with the Father but stepping into time He veiled it: clothing Himself in human flesh, serving His God, dying for the sins of the world. Anticipating victory the Son asked the Father to fully return Him to His previous state of manifested glory (John 17:5), now also in a glorified Man. We confidently preach salvation in Christ, His presence in glory affirming both that God has accepted His work and answered His prayer.

Our testimony for Christ is not only about a Saviour who died for our sins, but also about a Lord who is risen for our justification (Rom. 4:25), glorified in Heaven with all things put under Him (Eph. 1:20-22). The gospel glorifies Christ who opened the way, awaits our arrival, and whom we unveil to a lost world.

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The Christian and the Mosaic Law

Dating back to the early church believers have questioned their relationship to the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1-31, Gal. 2:1-21). While Bible believing Christians would agree that the Law cannot save them, some still believe that we must follow the Ten Commandments as our rule of life for sanctification.

To fully grasp our relationship to the Law we must first understand the Law’s characteristics, origin, and purpose.

The Law’s Origin and Scope

Scripture refers to the Jewish people “as those who are of the law” (Rom. 4:16). In showing that all are sinners, the Bible includes Gentiles who have sinned without the law and Jews who have sinned in the law (Rom. 2:12-16). Speaking of Christ the Holy One, it states that He was born a Son of Abraham, born under the law (Matt. 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38, Gal. 4:4).

This tells us that the Law was given to one nation and did not exist in the time period between Adam and Moses, though sin and death certainly did (Rom. 5:13-14). But shortly after their redemption from Egypt God gave it exclusively to Israel on Mount Sinai, its stipulations encompassing every aspect of their lives.

First, revealing God’s holiness and distance from them its terms provided a way for a sinful people to approach Him both as individuals and as a nation. The offerings and feasts provided a temporary covering for sin, opportunities to worship, and a time to remember His goodness to them.

Second it instituted their judicial law, transitioning them from slaves to a nation about to inherit its own land. It instructed them how to govern themselves, on their relationships with each other, its precepts also providing remedies for any wrongs committed.

Third, the Law was one of Israel’s many privileges (Rom. 9:4-5), that uniquely set them apart as a special nation. A separate people, they were to distinguish themselves as the nation that worshipped one God and obeyed His law (Deut. 4:8). Being God’s revelation, the Law set a higher standard for them then the Gentile nations who governed themselves by their own consciences and laws.

The Law, a Greater Revelation

In Scripture we find that with each revelation God builds on what was known before. This progressive revelation culminates in God’s complete and final revelation, the coming of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the express image of God (Heb. 1:1-3).

At Sinai the Law revealed God’s holiness and righteousness in written form (Psa. 12:6, Rom. 7:12), a greater revelation than what was known up to that time. It gave Israel a clearer picture of right and wrong, a knowledge that the nations being guided only by their conscience did not have (Rom. 2:12-14, 3:20). Though all have sinned by missing the mark, falling short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), Israel’s sin took on the nature of transgression because they stepped over recognized boundaries, breaking known precepts and commands. Every year they faced a continual reminder of sins (Heb. 10:3) because the Law revealed sin as a transgression (Rom. 4:15; Gal. 3:19).

The Law’s Conditional Terms

Visibly demonstrating His distance, God gave the Law through the agency of angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2) with Moses mediating upon behalf of the people. A conditional agreement between two parties – God and Israel – it required a mediator (Gal. 3:19-20, Deut. 5:5).

God promised Israel that if they would follow Him with all their heart He would bless their nation with many earthly blessings. If they failed to do so, many curses would fall upon them (Deut. 28). The Law could never bring personal salvation to the Israelite. Even in the Old Testament personal salvation was always by grace through faith (Gal. 2:16, 3:1-9), both to the Jew and to individual Gentiles such as Rahab and Ruth.

Contrast this with how God appeared and spoke directly to Abraham, the Abrahamic Covenant requiring no mediator, being an unconditional promise (Gal. 3:20).

It was common in Abraham’s day to ratify a contract by having both parties walk hand in hand between divided offerings, each party promising to fulfill their end of the agreement. But in the Promise a smoking oven and burning torch went through the offering signifying God alone was responsible to fulfill it (Gen. 15:5-6, 17; Gal. 3:6-9).

The Law’s Timing

Though added 430 years after the Promise (Gal. 3:17) the Law did not retract God’s earlier guarantees to Abraham (Gal. 3:17-18, 21). Neither did it add to or enhance the Promise but instead was supplementary, a separate covenant, a parenthesis within the eternal Promise.

A clause within the Abrahamic covenant promised that through Abraham’s Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3, 22:18; Gal. 3:16, 17, 19). Here God swore that it was through Christ, Abraham’s Seed, the whole world could be saved. The Bible says that the Law functioned only until Christ came, using the phrase “till the Seed should come,” (Gal. 3:19), affirming a new standard for the Jew when faith in Christ was revealed (Gal. 3:23, 25; John 1:17).

Paul, a Jew includes himself by using the pronoun “we” when he says “we (Israel) were kept under guard by the law,” (Gal. 3:23) and then again in verse 24 “Therefore the law was our (Israel) tutor to Christ, that we (Israel) might be justified by faith.”

Staying true to both the passage and the letter’s context Paul is expressing the thought that the Law was Israel’s custodian or guardian until Christ came (Gal. 3:19, 23-25, 4:4). Later when he’s referring to both Gentile and Jewish believers and their oneness in Christ he uses the pronoun “you” (Gal. 3:26, 28-29).

The Law’s Purpose

In Paul’s day a tutor (custodian, guardian, child-conductor), normally a slave, looked after a child’s moral and physical well-being, providing a restraining influence on the minor. He helped train the children both in their behaviour and in their studies. He did so until the child came of age becoming an adult son (Gal. 4:2). Until then the child was expected to obey his guardian, having no more rights than a servant (Gal. 4:1).

Similarly the Law functioned as a guardian of the Jewish nation. When obeyed, it had a preserving influence on them, protecting them from the immoral practices, idolatry and unrestrained behaviour of the nations around them. It helped them in their studies – their knowledge of God’s righteousness and their own sin. Preserving them was necessary because it was through them the Old Testament was revealed and kept, and it was through them the Messiah would come (Gal. 3:23). Therefore even though Israel was apostate throughout most of their history God always preserved a remnant. The coming of Christ, elsewhere referred to as the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) is Israel’s coming of age.

Since Christ has come, the Jew is no longer under their “law guardian.” Instead upon trusting Christ they become adult sons, fully entering into the rights and privileges of sonship that God has bestowed on all believers. They have died to the Law (Rom. 7:1-6), their past relationship to the law having ended. Though they were never under the Law, Gentiles also faced the same condemnation for their sins, but upon believing Christ they too become adult sons. Both Gentile and Jewish believers are one in Christ.

Christ, The Law’s Theme

Yet the Law and Israel’s experiences still have spiritual value today. For it is God’s Word and all scripture is God breathed and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16).

The Holy Spirit can use any portion of scripture to lead a lost soul to salvation because Christ is the theme of God’s Word. Responding to the Jews the Lord confronted His accusers by telling them that the scriptures testified of Him (John 5:39). After His resurrection, while travelling on the Emmaus road, He expounded from the Old Testament beginning with Moses, the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).

Knowing this we can meditate upon Christ in the Pentateuch, seeing Him foreshadowed in the feasts, offerings and different personalities of the Law. The examples of Israel’s failures in the wilderness were written for our admonition and instruction. Appealing to our conscience, mind, and will they exhort us to learn from their example (1 Cor. 10:11). The entire Old Testament can instill patience, comforting us with hope, fortifying us with an unshakeable trust in a faithful God (Rom. 15:4).

Christ, God’s Definitive Revelation

After Calvary some significant changes occurred demonstrating that we are not under law but grace (Rom. 6:14).

First the church, a separate entity from Israel, was born at Pentecost. The Mosaic Law was given to an earthly people, a national identity whom God promised earthly blessings upon their obedience to the law. Christians are a heavenly people comprised of Jews and Gentiles, citizens of heaven, spiritually blessed by God because of our union with Christ Who both fulfilled the law and bore its curse (Eph. 1:3, 19-23).

Second there was a change in the law of priesthood. The Old Testament priesthood functioned according to the order of Aaron while Christ is now Priest according to the greater order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek (King of Righteousness) is an Old Testament type of the eternal Christ in that his genealogy is unknown. He was the Priest King of Salem (peace) who met Abraham upon his return from rescuing his nephew Lot. The fact that he blessed Abraham and received a tithe from him gave evidence that his priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood that would begin with Abraham’s great-grandson, Levi (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-17).

In the Mosaic Law one became a priest by genealogy because the priesthood was restricted to the tribe of Levi. In the church all believers are priests with the opportunity to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Pet. 2:5).

In addition to being from the tribe of Levi, the Old Testament High Priest also had to descend from Aaron. On the other hand God appointed Christ, born of the tribe of Judah, to be our great High Priest.

The Aaronic priesthood had a continual succession of priests because eventually each one died. Christ has an eternal priesthood, living forever to make intercession for us. The Law prohibited combining the offices of priest and king. But Christ is the Priest who is now appointed to someday rule the entire earth.

Third, Christ is God’s consummate and final revelation. In the past God spoke at numerous times and in many diverse ways through prophets like Moses, bringing greater understanding to Israel. Giving the Law God visibly demonstrated His transcendence over all creation, including His distance from separated sinners. But the law not only demonstrated God’s distance but also pictured the good things to come (Heb. 10:1).

With the coming of the eternal Son God Himself came to earth and spoke (Heb. 1:1-3). Equal to the Father Christ is the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. God’s grace has brought us near to Him through Christ (John 1:17-18, 14:21-23) without diminishing His unchanging transcendence. Seeing Christ exalted above all, brings greater clarity and understanding of the High and lofty One who invites us to come boldly to His throne of grace.

While one may separate the Mosaic Law into three parts: civil, ceremonial, and moral, and because nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, some may be tempted to believe that while the ceremonial and civil have passed the Ten Commandments are now the believer’s standard. But we must remember that when it comes to its adherence the law is an integrated seamless whole that must be fully followed (Gal. 3:10, Jam. 2:10).

Instead Christ must be our rule of life. He brings greater light for guidance, superior strength for service, and abundant power for practical holiness. We must foster our relationship with Him, abiding in Him, seeking His direction, wisdom, and power.

Measuring our spiritual health by the Law may lead some to legalism, self-reliance, and a sense of self-righteousness that hinders the Spirit’s work in their lives.

In others it may lead to despair as the Law awakens their sinful flesh, accusing and condemning them. This was Paul’s experience. He had a sense of self-righteousness before he met Christ (Php. 3:4-6). Yet trying to fulfill the Law after his conversion he experienced something new – its condemnation. Now the law accused him, awakening in him evil desires which conflicted with his new life in Christ (Rom. 7:7-25). In this he recognized his utter helplessness to please God in his own strength. God subsequently revealed to him the liberating truth that there is no condemnation for the believer and that by living a spirit-filled life, God’s righteous moral law could be fulfilled not by him but in him (Rom. 8:1-4).

The Bible states unequivocally that one does not achieve spiritual growth by following the Law (Gal. 3:1-3). Instead it exhorts the believer to live by a new law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:2). This law exhorts us to live by the Spirit, walking with our eyes solely fixed on Christ (Gal. 5:16; Heb. 12:1-2).

The Lord promised His disciples that after His ascension the Holy Spirit would remind them of truths He taught them, introducing also new doctrine specifically for the church (1 Cor. 11:23, 1 Thess. 4:15), bringing greater clarity to the Old Testament. Christ has removed the old and brought in the new (Heb. 10:9). With Him all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

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