The Active Obedience of Christ in Matthew 5:17 and 10:34

Excursus: Israel as a type

As mentioned in the prologue to this paper, a guiding presupposition is from the perspective of the covenant theology expressed in the 1689 LBCF. Understandably not all who read this essay would know some of the intricacies of that position much less hold to it. Therefore, it is essential to discuss some aspects that will be incorporated into all the exegetical, contextual, and thematic work done before tackling in earnest a proper interpretation of the meaning conveyed by the positive and negative verbs in 5:17 and 10:34 as well as the proper referent for the Law and the Prophets.

The confession understands that the New Covenant (NC) is the Covenant of Grace (CoG) made in history; it also understands that the CoG is a necessary complement to the Covenant of Redemption (CoR), also known as the Pactum Salutis, made between the Father and the Son with the Spirit. Without the CoG, the CoR fails. The CoR promises three things to Christ: a Kingship, a Kingdom and a People, in return for perfect perpetual obedience. Thus, the CoG becomes a necessary means to redeem a people who would be members of that Kingdom. The LBCF in 7.3 articulates that the CoG was promised originally in Genesis 3:15 to Adam and that through the course of history, from the selection of Abraham and Israel’s covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic), the Pactum Salutis and the CoG are progressively revealed by ‘farther steps.’

The promise is that from the mass of sinful humanity God would set division between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, by the sending of the Son to crush the head of the serpent effectively doing what Adam did not do. It is as the cross when Christ makes the New Covenant in his blood that CoG definitively enters history even though throughout the ages people were participants by faith.1)This follows the threefold understanding of union with Christ: In all of Eternity, at his death and resurrection, and presently for those who believe.   This overarching covenantal narrative from Adam to Christ into the Eschaton, dealing with all of humanity, is then replicated in the story of Israel. From that original promise, God worked in the midst of history detailing the particular story of Israel to be a typological representation of the greater meta-narrative, just as a shadow bears the resemblance of the one who made it. As history progresses there is more and more clarity given to the reflection by farther and farther steps.2)It should be noted that the relationship between Israel’s history and the meta-narrative is not linear. Meaning that throughout the history of Israel different points in time connect typologically with different parts of the meta-narrative such that Peter can exhort us as sojourners and exiles, understanding that life as a sojourner with Abraham and as an exile is a retrospective reflection upon the state of believers who are patiently waiting to enter the greater land at the consummation.

It would be beneficial briefly to rehearse that history as detailed in Deuteronomy 4-11 and look at the typological contact points. This section of Deuteronomy recounts for the Israelites the recorded history in Exodus concerning four major events. First God puts his covenant stipulations on the tablets for Israel. Second, Israel sins with the golden calf and Moses breaks the tablets of stone. Third, Moses intercedes on behalf of the stubborn stiff-necked people. Fourth, the covenant is renewed with the remaking of the two tablets.

David VanDrunen, defending the doctrine of recapitulation demonstrates that Deut 4-9:11, at multiple points harkens back to the way Adam was originally brought forth from waters, chosen not because of anything within himself to be in covenant relationship with God.3)David VanDrunen, “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation under the Law of Moses,” Westminster Theological Journal 73, no. 2 (September 1, 2011): 304–306. The first giving of the law brings the Israelites into covenant a relationship with God and it should be understood as a reenactment of the creation events. Just as Israel was given stipulations with the promise of ‘do this and inherit the land’, so also Adam was set in the garden with stipulations leading to blessing or curses. Chapter 9:13-24 recounts then how Israel sinned by making a golden calf and thus the Lord desired to blot them out. Moses symbolically shatters the stone tablets of the covenant because the covenant was broken. This disobedient act in Israel’s early history is a typological shadow of Adam’s fall.

Deuteronomy 9:25-11:32 marks a gracious turn for Israelites, so much so that some of the language used should be read as prophetic material along the lines of Calvin’s Complexus.4)Cf. E. A. De Boer, John Calvin on the Visions of Ezekiel: Historical and Hermeneutical Studies in John Calvin’s “Sermons Inâedits”, Especially on Ezek. 36-48 (BRILL, 2004), 251–251; Richard A. Muller, “The Hermeneutic of Promise and Fulfillment in Calvin’s Exegesis of the Old Testament Prophecies of the Kingdom,” in Bible in the Sixteenth Century (Durham, NC: Duke Univ Pr, 1990), 68–82. Calvin’s complexus understands that prophetical texts can have multiple future referent points when situated and unfolded from their grammatical historical context. In 9:25-29 Moses lays prostrate and intercedes on behalf of the sinful stubborn people, imploring God to let them enter into the land. Moses’ intercession leads to God graciously renewing the covenant and rewriting the two tablets of stone. Just as the previous two points were typological of the metanarrative of Adam’s creation and fall, this point of intercession must be seen as a shadow of Christ who would intercede before the Father on behalf of the sinful people given into his hand. The renewal of the Mosaic covenant after these things then also must be seen as a type of the establishment of the New Covenant that Christ brings. The New Covenant that Christ establishes between the Godhead and a sinful people is a renewal of the original covenant of works, which was made with and broken by Adam. It becomes a CoG because believers are not on the hook for obedience; rather, resting in the perfect perpetual obedience of Christ they are being conformed to his image. The CoG is the Covenant of Works kept for us. This gracious aspect is seen in Deuteronomy 10:16 and 11:8. As the typological covenant is renewed, the people are commanded to circumcise their hearts and then in chapter 11, because they have circumcised hearts, they will keep the commandments and inherit the land.

This theme of heart circumcision is picked up again in Deuteronomy 30 where God is described as the one who performs the surgery. Bryan Estelle shows how the syntax of Deuteronomy prophetically ties it to the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. The implied verbs of Deut. 30:11-14 should be understood as future relating back to 30:6 with the meaning that in the day God circumcises your heart he will write his law upon your heart and the law will be in your mouth.5)Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen, eds., The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 2009). See. Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development: Entitlement to heaven Foreclosed and Proffered, 109-146. The New Testament notices this theme and explains the heart circumcision as union with Christ in calling and regeneration. Thus, because a believer has been called they will be compelled by the love of Christ to bless and inherit the greater blessing, which is eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The purpose of this excursus at this junction was to understand how Israel functions as a type of the meta-narrative of history at one particular point in their history. As shown above, the four major events in Israel’s history correspond to the history of humanity. In addition, Christ, in bringing a New Covenant, is actually renewing and keeping the one broken with Adam. Understanding this typological framework will be beneficial to the interpretive question concerning the meaning of Christ fulfilling the Law and the Prophets and bringing about division.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.This follows the threefold understanding of union with Christ: In all of Eternity, at his death and resurrection, and presently for those who believe.
2.It should be noted that the relationship between Israel’s history and the meta-narrative is not linear. Meaning that throughout the history of Israel different points in time connect typologically with different parts of the meta-narrative such that Peter can exhort us as sojourners and exiles, understanding that life as a sojourner with Abraham and as an exile is a retrospective reflection upon the state of believers who are patiently waiting to enter the greater land at the consummation.
3.David VanDrunen, “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation under the Law of Moses,” Westminster Theological Journal 73, no. 2 (September 1, 2011): 304–306.
4.Cf. E. A. De Boer, John Calvin on the Visions of Ezekiel: Historical and Hermeneutical Studies in John Calvin’s “Sermons Inâedits”, Especially on Ezek. 36-48 (BRILL, 2004), 251–251; Richard A. Muller, “The Hermeneutic of Promise and Fulfillment in Calvin’s Exegesis of the Old Testament Prophecies of the Kingdom,” in Bible in the Sixteenth Century (Durham, NC: Duke Univ Pr, 1990), 68–82. Calvin’s complexus understands that prophetical texts can have multiple future referent points when situated and unfolded from their grammatical historical context.
5.Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen, eds., The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 2009). See. Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development: Entitlement to heaven Foreclosed and Proffered, 109-146.

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