Thursday, February 23, 2017

1 Peter 1:16-21 Christ's Death is an Eternal Fact

KEY TEXT: 1 Peter 1:18-20 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days. (NLT)

KEY THOT: In the text quoted above, the Apostle Peter makes the point that God chose Christ to be the ransom for sin "long before the world began" (i.e. from eternity past) but this eternal fact was revealed to us as an historical event of Jesus dying on the Cross "in these last days" (v.20). The Apostle Paul also makes the same point in 2 Timothy 1:9-10, "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." In the testimony of two witnesses, this fact is established, that from God's perspective, Jesus' ransom paid at the Cross is not just an historical event that happened during the governorship of Pontius Pilate but an eternal truth that is available to all people since the first day of Creation. 

Before Christ's appearance in history, this eternal fact is communicated through animal sacrifices which were shadows of the eternal reality already present "before the world began" (Peter) and "before the beginning of time" (Paul). In other words, people who lived before Christ's appearance were justified the same way we are, viz., by grace through faith. So, from Adam to Abraham down to John the Baptist, the just has always lived by faith: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith" (Romans 1:17). 

Hebrews 10:1 presents this same truth in terms of OT shadows and NT realities: "the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities." In other words, the OT already revealed the reality of Christ's atoning death, but only as its shadow. Shadow can only be cast by a real object, though one may not yet see the actual object that casts the shadow. So the truth of Christ's atoning death was already present in the OT sacrifices and types. These sacrifices and types are not just pointing to future realities but to present realities, though not yet made visible.

What this means is that grace is not operative only in the NT but also in the OT. But the revealing of the Object and Subject of Grace that cast the shadow in the OT, Jesus Christ, came to light only in the NT. But as far as God's dealing with sinful humanity is concerned, it has always been on the basis of what Christ has done at the Cross (whether historically present or not). So the truth that salvation is "by grace... through faith" is not just a NT principle but also an OT one as well. This is clearly taught in the Psalms of David: "Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered" (Psalms 32:1).

So, it's a misunderstanding of the OT to say that it teaches salvation by works of the law. That is actually the misunderstanding of the scribes and Pharisees. When Jesus came, he restores grace back into the OT: "You have heard it said (by the scribes)... but I tell you (grace)..." (Mt 5:21&22, 27&28, 33&34, 38&39, 43&44). 

What the scribes taught misses the point of the OT because they insisted that we can only be saved by good works, but the OT teaches that our sins are forgiven by God's mercy as expressed in the atoning sacrifices. And this idea of sacrifice before God is present before Abraham's time and also in many different ancient cultures. They are temporal shadows cast by eternal realities.

So, let's not make a false distinction between OT and NT by calling OT "law" and NT "grace" for there is grace in the law just as there is law in grace.

Father, deliver us from false teachings and false dichotomies. Amen.

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