Where does the Christian stand in relation to the two covenants? As Christians are we meant to be under both the Old and the New Covenant? The transfiguration scripture provides us with part of the answer to these two questions.
Many years ago while still at school I asked a religious education teacher what the difference was between the Old and the New Covenant. This man was a minister from one of the local congregations and so I thought he should have been able to answer this question. He responded saying that the New Covenant was basically just an extension of the Old Covenant.
This is typical of the line of thinking amongst many churches and Christians still today. They tend to believe that while we recognise Jesus and the New Covenant we are still fully under the laws of the Old Covenant. The one proviso is that we no longer have to offer the sin sacrifices since Jesus has died for our sins. I may not have this completely accurate but many churches teach this or variations of this line of teaching.
When I became an adult and studied this matter I found the minister was wrong. The Bible tells us that the two covenants are quite different. It tells us also that not only should we not be under both covenants at the the same time, but to do so is akin to practising a kind of spiritual adultery.
Time for some scriptures to show these distinctions.
In Hebrews 8:8-9 it is written, “The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord.” (My emphasis) Note the word “not” in this scripture. We are being told that the New Covenant is NOT like the Old Covenant. It is quite different.
The writer in Hebrews 8:13 continues saying, “In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” With the introduction of the New Covenant, the Old Covenant has become obsolete. The Old Covenant is ready to vanish away for the New Covenant vastly surpasses it in both power and effect.
We see also in Hebrews 10:9 that in Jesus, “…He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” The first (Old) covenant has been abolished with the introduction of the New Covenant, which was ratified or brought into existence at the death of Jesus.
Now someone will quote to me Matthew 5:17-18 which says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” And you are correct, the law and prophets have not been abolished, but through Jesus a person can step out of the Old Covenant and into the New Covenant. For those who have not entered the New Covenant through Jesus, who by the way said, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved,” (John 10:9) for those who have not entered the law and prophets are in full force and effect. It is only through Jesus that we can enter the New Covenant and thus be released from the bondage to law, sin and death that exists under the Old Covenant. He further shows this where Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:15 that in Jesus God was, “…abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances.”
Now Paul also wrote in Romans chapters 6 and 7 Paul shows that as a woman is set free from the law of marriage att he death of her husband, we too likewise are set free from the laws of the Old Covenant through the death of Jesus Christ. When we enter into the death of Jesus by baptism, symbolically we die with Christ and are resurrected as new creations, no longer under the power of sin, no longer under the Law of Moses, but recreated as new creations to serve God through Christ Jesus.
So going back to the beginning, what has the transfiguration got to do with all of this? Well when Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James and John, he was transfigured and Moses and Elijah appeared speaking with him. The three disciples were naturally terrified by this and Peter, not knowing what to say, said, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah.” (Mark 9:5)
What Peter was doing was to treat all three of them, that is, Jesus, Moses and Elijah, as equals. He was treating them as if they were the same, a bit like the minister I mentioned earlier who believed that the New Covenant was just an extension of the Old Covenant.
But God the Father stepped in to show Peter his error. God spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7) And as they looked around they saw that only Jesus alone was with them.
Moses represents the law in this event and Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus as the Son of God is the founder and maker of the New Covenant. When the Father spoke to the disciples he did not say “Listen to all three of them,” but he told them to listen to Jesus. In this I believe God is saying that our salvation does not come through a combination of the law, prophets and the New Covenant, but through Jesus only. It is Jesus who gives us life. The law offers only condemantion for it shows sin to be sin, but in Jesus we have freedom from sin.
The transfiguration is a powerful message on getting our priorities right. There is value in studying the law and the prophets for there is great wisdom in those words. After all, they too are the words of God. But we have life only through Jesus Christ. We receive salvation from sin and the hope of eternal life only through Jesus. Thus as God the Father tells us himself, in speaking of Jesus we must, “Listen to him,” and not get entangled in the works of law that will prevent us reaching maturity in Christ. We must serve the Lord under the New Covenant for to try and mix the Old and the New is like mixing oil and water…the do not go together. The Old Covenant brings bondage but the New Covenant offers freedom.
(Picture of the Transfiguration sourced from: http://clipart.ochristian.com/)