Law: Ceremonial

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1. Introduction

The whole matter of Law is often misunderstood.  In Scripture, there are two distinct aspects of Law, each given at different times and in different ways. 

This study addresses the Ceremonial Law, also known as the Law of Moses because it was written down by Moses (though given by God).  The Ceremonial Law consisted of the system of sacrifices and ceremonies that constituted the spiritual life of ancient Israel. We need to understand the role of the Ceremonial Law in God’s plan for Mankind. 

The Ceremonial Law is addressed further in the studies contained under the group heading: ‘God’s instruction in salvation’. 

The purpose here is to expound the Ceremonial law, and to briefly draw attention to the distinction between the Ceremonial Law and the Moral Law (the Ten Commandments).

2. The Law of Moses - written down by Moses, given by God (summarized in Exodus chapter 34 and Leviticus chapter 19).

Ex 24:4  And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD… 

Ex 34:27  And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. 

De 31:9  And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi… 

 De 31:24-26  …when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book [Strong’s H5608, a writing, a document]…

25  That Moses commanded the Levites, … saying, 

26  Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee

Because the Ceremonial Law was written by the hand of Moses (though given by God) it is clearly quite distinct from the Ten Commandments, which were written by the hand of God Himself (Ex 31:18; De 9:10) - see study: ‘Law: the Ten Commandments 1’, 2.

3. The purpose of the Ceremonial Law

The Ceremonial Law was God’s means of teaching salvation.  It’s chief purpose was to point to Christ, the Messiah to come, but also to teach the whole sequence of events in the plan of salvation. 

3.1 First purpose: to point to the sacrifice of Christ

The Ceremonial Law required sacrifice for sin: the shedding of the blood of a spotless  innocent lamb to atone for the sin of the guilty. This prefigured Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, who sacrificed Himself (Mt 20:28; Jn 10:15,17) to atone for the sin of the world 

Sacrifices were made daily (the ‘continual’) in the evening and the morning.  This represented Christ’s ‘continual’ ministry for sinners. The daily sacrifices transferred sin to the Sanctuary.

In addition to the daily ‘corporate’ sacrifices, individuals had to make their own sacrifices whenever required, to atone for personal sin.

The accumulated sin was cleansed from the sanctuary once a year on the annual Day of Atonement   (see study: ‘The Day of Atonement’).  This prefigured Christ’s final atonement for sin, which will eradicate the sin of the redeemed for eternity.

Note. Sacrifices are addressed further in study: ‘The Sanctuary on Earth’,3. 

3.2 Second purpose: to teach the sequence of the plan of salvation

The sequence of salvation was taught and demonstrated in the seven feasts of the Hebrew year. 

These ranged from God’s deliverance from the captivity of sin taught in the feast of the Passover, through to the rejoicing after the final eradication of sin taught in the Feast of Tabernacles (see study: ‘The seven feasts of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year’). 

Each feast was accompanied by animal sacrifices to keep the people ever mindful of the true cost of sin: the shedding of the blood of the innocent to make atonement for the guilty.

4. Christ and the Ceremonial Law

Col 2:14  Blotting out the handwriting [Strong’s G5498, a hand written manuscript] of ordinances [Strong’s G1378, civil/ceremonial/ecclesiastical law] that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 

This text is used by many to teach that the Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross (i.e. abolished).  However, the Greek is clear:  it refers to a handwritten manuscript containing ecclesiastical and civil laws and instructions.  

In section 2 we see that the Ceremonial Law was contained in a document that was hand-written by Moses. Thus it is the hand-written Ceremonial Law that was nailed to the Cross.

Ordinances defined:

Col 2:20-22  Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 

21  (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 

22  Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 

It is very clear that the ordinances did not include any of the Ten Commandments - they consisted of the rules and regulations that governed the spiritual life of Israel, and were to perish. 

Almost all agree that such ordinances perished (were abolished) at the Cross.

Ep 2:15  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 

Christ abolished (in His flesh) the Ceremonial Law, which consisted of (hand-written) ordinances.  

The sacrifice of Christ’s flesh was the true event to which the sacrifice of animal flesh pointed.  

Thus after the Cross the sacrifice of animal flesh was no longer necessary; indeed it was utterly pointless (because it was superseded by Christ’s crucified flesh).

Da 9:25,27  … Messiah the Prince … 27 … shall confirm the covenant with many … he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease…

NB. Only the aspect of the Law which contained sacrifices pointing specifically to the sacrifice of the Cross ceased at the Cross. 

There are no sacrifices or oblations in the Ten Commandments, which therefore did not point specifically to the Cross.  

Thus it was the Law of sacrifices (the Ceremonial Law) that ceased (was abolished) at the Cross.

Ro 10:4  For Christ is the end [Strong's G5056, goal, the point aimed at] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. 

Mt 5:17  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 

The Greek word translated ‘fulfil’ (Strong’s G4137) is in the Aorist tense; i.e. without consideration of past, present or future.  Thus Christ fulfilled the Law for all eternity.

Some use Romans 10:4  to prove that the Moral Law (the Ten Commandments) was abolished by Christ - rather, it means that Christ is the aim, the culmination, the whole point of the Law, which is confirmed by Mt 5:17.

We see in study: ‘Law, the Ten Commandments 2’,4, that the purpose of the Law (in the context of the Ten Commandments) is to bring us to Christ.  Here we see that the Ceremonial Law pointed specifically to Christ and his sacrifice for sin upon the Cross. 

Thus we can say now that all Law brings us to a knowledge of Christ, both of His Atonement for sin (the Ceremonial law), and of our need of His Grace (the Moral law which makes us aware of our true condition).  

The culmination of the Law did not/could not abolish the part of the Law that brings us to Christ: the Ten Commandments. 

If the Ten Commandments were abolished we would have nothing now to bring us to Christ.

5. Ceremonial Law a shadow of heavenly things

He 8:5  Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. 

Col 2:16,17  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 

17  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. 

Many use Col 2:16,17 to teach that the seventh day Sabbath of the Lord has been abolished.  

However, the context is meat, drink, new moon celebrations and holy days - these do not appear in the Ten Commandments, but they do appear in the Ceremonial Law. 

Furthermore, in Scripture only the Ceremonial Law is referred to as a shadow.  Thus the sabbath days here are ceremonial sabbaths, which are the only sabbaths that are associated with the shadow.

He 10:1,4  For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 

4  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 

Paul confirms here that the shadow is the Ceremonial law, which alone commanded the blood of bulls and goats.  

The shadow, by its animal sacrifices, could not save a single soul. Thus the shadow had to be abolished at the Cross to make way for the Sacrifice that is able to save all mankind: the one true sacrifice of the Lamb of God (Christ), in whom the purpose of the shadow was fulfilled.

6. The Ceremonial Law versus the Moral Law

The Ceremonial Law was God’s means to teach Mankind about salvation and how it works - it was an object lesson in atonement for sin.  It pointed to the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, upon the Cross.  

After the Cross God’s plan of salvation was manifested in the crucified Christ.  Thus the  Ceremonial Law, with its animal sacrifices, was no longer needed - as religious practise it was abolished at the Cross.

The Moral Law (the Ten Commandments), on the other hand, contained no requirement for animal sacrifices, and therefore did not point specifically to the Cross.  Its purpose was to make known to mankind their need of salvation.  

Mankind's need is the same today.  Therefore the Moral Law is still required to continue the work of making sin known, and thus making mankind aware of their need (of salvation).  Thus the Moral Law could not have been abolished at the Cross.

7. Summary

The Ceremonial Law with its animal sacrifices could not save a single soul, it was the ‘shadow’ that pointed to the ‘substance’ - the true sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross.  After the cross the ‘shadow’ was no longer needed, and it was therefore abolished.  However, as divine teaching it is retained in God’s Word. 

The Moral law (the Ten Commandments) contained no sacrifices - it was therefore not part of the ‘shadow’.   As such the Moral law is extant today, continuing its work of making sin known, and thus making mankind aware of their need (of salvation).

The Ceremonial Law must not be practised now, but because it teaches the whole plan of salvation it is an important study for all today.  Such teaching will be needed until Christ returns and sin reigns no more.

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