Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Old Testament Symbols of New Testament Truths

Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: The Christian Ethic – Part 4: Jesus and the New Covenant – Section 1: Symbolism of the Law: How the Law Establishes Physical Symbols of Ultimate, Spiritual Truths

Having concluded the section on the Law of Moses, I wanted introduce our transition into the New Testament by talking about how the Old Testament, in terms of its stories, laws, and theological teaching, serves to prefigure truths found in the New Testament. The most obvious form this takes is in overt predictive prophecy. Many passages clearly teach things about what the future Messiah would be like, and are fulfilled when Jesus comes and matches to these Scriptures. One step away from this, however, are passages that didn’t appear to be predictive in the Old Testament, or at least not predictive of the Messiah, that the New Testament appeals to as predictive of Jesus. For example, Isaiah 40:3

A voice is calling in the wilderness, “Clear the way of Yahweh!
    Make a highway smooth in the desert for our God!

To one reading this before the time of Christ, the most likely figure for the voice in the wilderness is probably Isaiah himself. The prophets were known to declare God’s judgments and decrees. As for the coming of Yahweh described, this could have been seen as Messianic by some, but isn’t obviously so. The context is the end of the exile and Yahweh bringing Israel back to the land. And it is not unusual for Yahweh to speak of “coming” to either judge or bless. However, this passage is specifically applied to Jesus in the Gospels (Matt. 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23).

While there are many ways in which Old Testament texts serve as symbols of New Testament truths, I want to focus in this article on the commands of the Torah, and the ways in which those commands are interpreted by the New Testament.

In my experience with Torah observers, the commands they latch onto as needing to be obeyed today are often those that don’t have a fulfillment that is as obvious as others. This, I believe, is why we see many in the Hebrew Roots movement who say that the sacrificial system truly is complete, while they still say dietary laws are in effect. Large sections of the book of Hebrews are devoted to speaking of the futility of the sacrificial system under Christ, so the symbol/fulfillment motif is right on the surface. The same cannot be said of dietary laws, grooming laws, and others, so those make better candidates for promotion.

In this article, we will survey how the New Testament talks about specific Old Testament laws, and we will see how we should be approaching them as well.

Sacrifices and Symbolism

The obvious place to start with this is in the sacrificial system. One of the more interesting questions for me in my earlier years as a Christian was figuring out how the sacrifices, especially the sin offering and it’s “atonement” related to the way the New Testament, most clearly in Hebrews, talked about the offerings of that system as mere types and shadows. This was a conundrum for me because, on the one hand, I believed that Hebrews was right, that the sacrifices were types pointing to Christ, but on the other hand, the commands themselves do not seem to carry that meaning. The sin offering just makes atonement. I want to take some time here to discuss the texts and how I answered this question, and in doing so, we will learn some very important things about how we should read the Law today. After doing this, we will then look at some other laws to see similar discussions in the New Testament.

Leviticus 19:6-9

6 “And Aaron shall present the sin offering’s bull, which is for himself, and so he shall make atonement for himself and for his family. 7 And he shall take the two goats, and he shall present them ⌊before⌋ Yahweh at the tent of assembly’s entrance. 8 Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for Yahweh and one for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot for Yahweh fell, and he shall ⌊sacrifice⌋ it as a sin offering.

According to the text, the sacrifices “make atonement”. We see this lived out as well at another time, and this text begins to give us a picture of what is going on regarding atonement.

Numbers 16:44-50

44 and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from the midst of this community, and I will finish them in an instant,” but they fell on their faces. 46 And Moses and Aaron said, “Take the censer, and put fire on it from the altar. Place incense on it, and bring it quickly to the community, and make atonement for them, because wrath went out from the presence of Yahweh, and a plague has begun.” 47 And so Aaron took it just as Moses had spoken, and he ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people; so he gave the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 He stood between the dead and between the living, and the plague was stopped. 49 Those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died on account of Korah. 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of assembly, and the plague was stopped.

What happens here, is that Aaron brings the incense into the midst of the people and “makes atonement” for them. What is the result? The plague, the judgment of God, is checked. People stop dying. So, we see the way in which this atonement is real, not symbolic. It stops God’s wrath in terms of physical judgment. And we now see how it is that these sacrifices are types and shadows of the real thing, as discussed in Hebrews. They never “take away sins” in the ultimate sense. Only the death of Christ does that.

Hebrews 9:6-14

6 Now these things having been prepared in this way, the priests enter into the first tent ⌊continually⌋ as they accomplish their service, 7 but only the high priest enters into the second tent once a year, not without blood, which he offers on behalf of himself and the sins of the people committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit was making this clear, that the way into the holy place was not yet revealed, while the first tent was still in existence, 9 which was a symbol for the present time, in which both the gifts and sacrifices which were offered were not able to perfect the worshiper with respect to the conscience, 10 concerning instead only food and drink and different washings, regulations of outward things imposed until the time of setting things right. 11 But Christ has arrived as a high priest of the good things to come. Through the greater and more perfect tent not made by hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered once for all into the most holy place, obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled sanctify them for the ritual purity of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?

So, when we look at the offerings of the Old Testament, we see that they offered a real atonement, but only a temporal, earthly one. The real atonement, taking away God’s wrath permanently, was accomplished by Christ, and the Old Testament sacrifices pointed symbolically to this one.

This also gives us a way of understanding the relationship of Old and New Testament. The Old Testament commands are concerned with earthly things directly, but point to heavenly things. The heavenly things are the reality. The earthly things are the symbol to prepare people beforehand to accept the reality. Animal sacrifices do not happen lawfully now because they were swallowed up in the fulfillment of Christ.

Now, people in the Hebrew Roots movement are divided on animal sacrifice, with some saying they are really fulfilled and will no longer be commanded because of Christ, while others say they would still happen if the temple were to be rebuilt. This second view ignores what we see clearly in Hebrews, and as we will see, the New Testament tells us over and over how the commands given to Moses are to be understood differently now in light of Christ.

The Temple

Related to Sacrifices are the commands regarding the tabernacle and temple. Now, the two temples built in Jerusalem were fashioned after the tabernacle/tent that was designed by God. The purpose of the Temple was to be a place where God would dwell.

Exodus 25:8-9

And make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell in the midst of them, according to all that I show you—the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its equipment—and so you will do.

And this is what God did when it was built.

Exodus 40:33-35

33 And he set up the courtyard all around the tabernacle and the altar, and he put up the screen of the gate of the courtyard, and Moses completed the work. 34 And the cloud covered the tent of assembly, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was unable to go into the tent of assembly because the cloud settled on it and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle.

Space doesn’t permit an examination of the imagery contained in the tabernacle and it’s connection to Eden and the images of the throne room of God. I want to point out that the New Testament continues to speak of the tabernacle and temple and we see the heavenly, spiritual truth that the physical symbol of the tabernacle represented.

Hebrews 8:1-5

 Now this is the main point in what has been said: we have a high priest such as this, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices; therefore it was necessary for this one also to have something that he offers. Now if he were on earth, he would not even be a priest, because there are those who offer the gifts according to the law, who serve a sketch and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle, for he says, “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown to you on the mountain.”

The priests served a sanctuary, a temple, that was a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus went into the heavenly sanctuary to offer the true sacrifice, and since then, the sanctuary, where God dwells, is on earth, in His people.

1 Corinthians 6:19

19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

Notice the parallel language to Exodus. The Holy Spirit now dwells in us, just as He did in the original tabernacle, and we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. There is no need anymore for a temple made with hands, for now there is a temple not made with hands, the people of God themselves.

The Dietary Laws

I could continue to write about other things related to the temple, like the priesthood, but the point is made there. What about other laws, though, like the dietary laws? What did they represent and what does fulfillment look like there?

As I have pointed out previously, the dietary laws were focused on differentiating Israel from its neighbors. Avoiding unclean foods was a way to avoid being associated with the other nations.

Leviticus 11:43-45

You must not defile yourselves with any swarmer that swarms, and you must not make yourselves unclean by them and so be made unclean by them, 44 because I am Yahweh your God, and you must keep yourselves sanctified, so that you shall be holy, because I am holy. And you must not make yourselves unclean with any swarmer that moves along on the land, 45 because I am Yahweh, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be for you as God. Thus you shall be holy, because I am holy.

Even many Hebrew Roots promoters see that the point of these laws is to separate Israel from the other nations, the gentiles. And of course, we see this same symbolism in the New Testament when Peter is commanded to go to the gentiles to bring them the Gospel.

Acts 10:9-23

And the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray at about the sixth hour. 10 And he became hungry and wanted to eat. But while they were preparing the food, a trance came over him. 11 And he saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet coming down, being let down to the earth by its four corners, 12 in which were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and birds of the sky. 13 And a voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, slaughter and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common and unclean!” 15 And the voice came again to him for the second time: “The things which God has made clean, you must not consider unclean!” 16 And this happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven.

17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed within himself as to what the vision that he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having found the house of Simon by asking around, stood at the gate. 18 And they called out and asked if Simon who was also called Peter was staying there as a guest. 19 And while Peter was reflecting about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go down, and go with them—not hesitating at all, because I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am he whom you are looking for! What is the reason for which you have come?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man—and well spoken of by the whole nation of the Jews—was directed by a holy angel to summon you to his house and to hear words from you.” 23 So he invited them in and entertained them as guests, and on the next day he got up and went away with them. And some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

So here we see the consistency of this symbolism. Eating only clean meats is symbolic of Israel keeping itself pure of the uncleanness and sin of the other nations, and so the change that God makes in the New Covenant, bringing the Gospel to the nations, is symbolized by Peter being commanded to eat those animals that were forbidden under the law of Moses. Just as we saw that a physical temple and physical animal sacrifice symbolized a greater, spiritual reality, the prohibition against eating certain animals was symbolic of people keeping clean of the sins of the nations, but now the barriers of the physical nations are no longer a barrier to God’s kingdom, so the symbols are removed.

This was also taught by Jesus, in a famous passage.

Mark 7:15-19

15 There is nothing outside of a person that is able to defile him by going into him. But the things that go out of a person are the things that defile a person.” 17 And when he entered into the house away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “So are you also without understanding? Do you not understand that everything that is outside that goes into a person is not able to defile him? 19 For it does not enter into his heart but into his stomach, and goes out into the latrine”—thus declaring all foods clean. 

Not only does Mark tell us that Jesus’ statements declare all foods clean, but we see that this is true from Jesus’ statement in verse 15, that nothing outside of a person can defile him by going into him. Again, we see that the commands about food are symbolic of staying clean, and not the real thing. Jesus here is teaching us once again that His kingdom is not of this world. Israel was an earthly nation and the law was concerned with earthly things, but pointed to heavenly things. Dietary laws were meant to point to Israel being unique among the earthly nations. Now that the kingdom is meant to make disciples of all the nations, such earthly laws are no longer needed.

However, there is, as always, a spiritual truth that the law points to. As we see here in Jesus’ words, the law pointed to the fact that God commands us to stay away from what defiles us, but what truly defiles us is not what we eat, but what comes out of our own hearts.

Mark 7:20-23

20 And he said, “What comes out of a person, that defiles a person. 21 For from within, from the heart of people, come evil plans, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, acts ofgreed, malicious deeds, deceit, licentiousness, envy, abusive speech, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Just as the sacrifices cleansed the people from earthly uncleanness and saved them from earthly punishments, the sacrifice of Christ takes away our sin, to save us from true defilement, and true eternal punishment.

Now, I can’t talk about Mark 7 without addressing the way in which Hebrew Roots promoters handle this text. I have yet to see an exception to the rule when it comes to this counter-argument.

What they argue is that, when you read Mark 7:19 in the King James, it doesn’t read quite the same, “thus he declared all foods clean”. The King James renders the phrase in the Greek “purging all meats”. Now, many Hebrew Roots folks latch onto the fact that “thus” is in italics in many translations to try to argue that the entire phrase is a later scribal addition. This is really just sloppy research. The phrase is in all of the Greek texts, going back to the earliest ones. There is no evidence that it is added later. The italics seen in some translations do not extend to the whole phrase, but just the word “thus” or “thus he”. The part about declaring all foods clean has always been there.

I say this is sloppy, because you see in the King James that the phrase isn’t missing. It is just rendered differently. However, the reason modern translations don’t follow the King James is that katharizo doesn’t mean “purge” in modern English. It means to purify, cleanse, or make clean. The phrase, rendered literally, would say something like “purifying all foods”. The reason it is rendered the way it is in modern translations is rather obvious. Eating food and expelling it, as Jesus describes, does not “purify all foods”, so these words are not Jesus describing what happens to food when we eat it. Rather, these words are a narrative comment about the words Jesus is saying. The statements of Jesus here are “purifying all foods”.

There really is no way around it. Jesus points us to the underlying spiritual truth beneath the dietary laws, and in doing so, declares a change, so that the previously “unclean” foods have now been made clean by the words of Jesus. This is why, when Peter has his vision in Acts 10, God tells him, “that which God has made clean, you must not consider unclean.”

The Sabbath

To wrap up this section, let’s look at one more of the favorite commands that Torah observers like to promote: the Sabbath. There really isn’t space to handle the many errors promoted regarding the Sabbath, but thankfully, that isn’t what I’m doing here. For now, what we are doing is looking at the command itself, and how that command is fulfilled under the New Covenant of Jesus, and what the result is. First, let’s look at the command.

Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the day of the Sabbath, to consecrate it. Six days you will work, and you will do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath for Yahweh your God; you will not do any work—you or your son or your daughter, your male slave or your female slave, or your animal, or your alien who is in your gates— 11 because in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day he rested. Therefore Yahweh blessed the seventh day and consecrated it

So, on a specific day of the week, the seventh, the Israelites are commanded to rest, and do no work. Notice that there is nothing else God commanded here. There is no command to observe by going to religious services or anything like that. It is a rest from work. Now, this rest is very strictly enforced as we see when someone violates the Sabbath.

Numbers 15:32-36

32 When the Israelites were in the desert, they found a man who was gathering wood on the day of the Sabbath. 33 The ones who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to all the community. 34 And they put him under watch because it was not made clear what should be done to him. 35 And Yahweh said to Moses, “Surely the man must be put to death by stoning him; all the community must stone himwith stones from outside the camp.” 36 So the entire community brought him out to a place outside the camp, and they stoned him to death just as Yahweh commanded Moses.

So, the penalty is serious for violating the Sabbath rest command. A man is gathering wood in violation, and he is executed. Once again we are seeing the physical and earthly penalty for violation of the law, but the importance of this text will come into view as we look to the New Testament.

How does the New Testament handle the Sabbath? Torah observers will argue that no Scripture says the Sabbath is changes or abolished, but of course, we aren’t looking for commands to be abolished. We’ve seen the pattern. The commands in the law of Moses point to something that fulfills them. That fulfillment changes them. But what fulfills the Sabbath? Remember the command? It was to rest.

Matthew 11:28

28 Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Who labors? The one who works. Where does the laborer find rest? In Jesus. Jesus gives rest, and it isn’t just physical rest. It is true and final spiritual rest. This is why we have the book of Hebrews discussing the Sabbath as a rest for God’s people.

Hebrews 4:3-5

 For we who have believed enter into rest, just as he has said,

“As I swore in my anger,
They will never enter into my rest.’”

And yet these works have been accomplished from the foundation of the world. For he has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works,” and in this passage again, ‘They will never enter into my rest.’”

Notice that this judgment is characterized as not entering into God’s rest, but right at the beginning, we have the statement, “we who have believed enter into rest”. It is on this basis that we rest. We come to Jesus. We trust in Him and he gives us rest. Hebrews 4 continues:

Hebrews 4:8-10

For if Joshua had caused them to rest, he would not have spoken about another day after these thingsConsequently a sabbath rest remains for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered into his rest has also himself rested from his works, just as God did from his own works.

Like so much of Hebrews, the facts about the ancient Israel are contrasted with the facts concerning Christ. Joshua couldn’t cause rest. Only God can, and notice it is rest from works. Why would verse 9 say that a sabbath rest remains for the people of God if the assumption among Christians was that they just keep observing the Sabbath day? The reason is simple. The Sabbath day doesn’t bring true rest. Like everything else we’ve looked at, it is a shadow. The author of Hebrews says there is a rest for the people of God because God’s people believe. They have rested from their works.

This is where we truly see the ultimate importance of the punishment in Numbers 15. If Jesus is the true Sabbath, giving true rest, and if believing in Him is how we enter into that rest, what does it mean when we attempt, then, to secure anything from God by means of works? The result is the same as what happened to that man. We cannot seek this rest by means of works. The Sabbath rest is a symbol of salvation by faith alone. As Paul says to the Galatians:

Galations 3:10

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed iseveryone who does not abide by all the things that are written in the book of the law to do them.”

To depend on works is to work where we ought to be resting. It is the truth to which the Sabbath command points. To work for salvation, when we ought to rest in Christ, is the true tragedy to which the tragedy of the man gathering wood on the Sabbath points. So much more could be said on it, but this is the issue we are dealing with.

Conclusions and What To Expect Going Forward

This one topic could fill a book, but we’ll stop here. We see, over and over, that the law gave Israel a physical, visible signpost that pointed to a deeper, underlying truth. Jesus makes this clear in the sermon on the mount, when he says, “you have heard…but I tell you”, discussing the underlying truths behind many of the laws the Jews of His day lived by. We have seen that the Law is important to rightly understanding the truths of the New Testament, but that they are the symbols. The truths are spiritual, moral, and eternal. They paint a picture and direct a drama that point us to the ultimate fulfillment of all of them: Jesus Christ. It is to the New Testament treatment of the fulfilled Law that we now turn.

Series Navigation<< Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Religious, or Israel-Only Laws, Part 2