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Laws in Christ's Day


"Laws in Christ's Day"

April 5, 2014


The primary emphasis of the second quarter of this year is the moral law of God. The lessons will be studied in the context of God’s law with interactions by persons, customs and traditions. This week’s lesson is foundational to the following lessons of the quarter. This lesson is about the laws that were in use in Israel during the days of Christ’s ministry on earth. Those laws were God’s moral, ceremonial and civic laws, Jewish Rabbinical and Roman laws all of which had a part in governing the conduct of people.

No government or church exists without law. Laws may be good or they may be bad. Some rulers believed, as some do today, that they were/are the law. These leaders became a law unto themselves. In Latin this is called “Rex Lex” (the king is law). They did things their own way and followed their own ideas about how to live instead of following what others were compelled to do by law. Instead of “Rex Lex” it should have been “Lex Rex” (the law is king). Kings as well their subjects should have been under “the rule of law.” Two illustrations of kings as “the king is law” follow.

King John of England thought he was above all law until the barons made him sign the Magna Carta in A.D. 1215. This was a charter guaranteeing political and civil liberties to the English people and which placed the King under English law along with every other Englishman. This was the beginning of “the rule of law” in England and followed later in the United States of America.

Another king, Louis XV (1710–1774) of France, was an absolute monarch. Because of his uncontrolled financial spending on his lavish desires France was led into bankruptcy. This was one of the contributing factors that led to the French Revolution 15 years later. His counselors saw the impending financial disaster directly ahead and they warned the king, but he selfishly replied, “Try to make things go on as long as I am likely to live; after my death it may be as it will.” “After me, the deluge!” (See GC 280-281). The deluge that came was the other end of the continuum from “the king is law” notion to the anarchists who rebelled against all law, order and authority. An almost identical situation exists today. Notice the following:

“[A]narchy is seeking to sweep away all law, not only divine, but human. The centralizing of wealth and power; the vast combinations for the enriching of the few at the expense of the many; the combinations of the poorer classes for the defense of their interests and claims; the spirit of unrest, of riot and bloodshed; the world-wide dissemination of the same teachings that led to the French Revolution--all are tending to involve the whole world in a struggle similar to that which convulsed France” (Ed 228).

As it is today, so it was in the days of Christ and the apostles. Roman law ruled, but it was corrupted by the Emperors. Paul, a Roman citizen, was protected by Roman law some of the time. But it was Nero who became a law unto himself and executed Paul along with many other Christians.

It was Paul before he died, knowing the corruption of Nero and Roman law, wrote “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom 13:1).

Before Paul, Jesus supported Roman tax law when a trap was set for Him, in the form of a Greek philosophical argument known as the “horns of a dilemma,” where the structure of the argument is supposed to force one into an either or situation. The trap that was set was over paying taxes. This is the argument as recorded in Matt 22:17: “Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

However Jesus was several intellectual steps ahead of those connivers.  

“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.’ So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’” (Matt 22:18–21).

Going back to the time before Jesus was born into the human family, Mary, his mother, along with Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to register for the census that year which was the time when Jesus was to be born in that very place according to the prophecy of Micah 5:2. Joseph and Mary went to be registered in obedience to Roman law (Luke 2:1-7).

Let’s turn our attention, now, to the Jewish Rabbinical laws that were in effect in Israel during Christ’s lifetime on earth. You may read a brief summary of the Rabbinical laws in Wednesday’s lesson which we will not go into here. Jesus acted independently of those traditions, which had not foundation in Scripture. This was usually the great point of contention between Jesus and the scribes who misinterpreted God’s moral and ceremonial laws. The ceremonial laws became mere ritual ceremonies in which there was no value. (See DA page 84).

The Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court of Israel, which had to work under Roman law jurisdiction. This court dealt with both civic and religious issues. It was this court that illegally condemned Jesus. They charged Him with blasphemy. The court was in session during the night which was never supposed to happen. Members of the Sanhedrin attempted to follow the law concerning two witnesses whose testimony was supposed be nearly identical. But no honest witnesses were to be found. Jesus was condemned by His own testimony when He was put under oath and asked if He was “the Christ, the Son of God.” To that He replied, “It is as you said” (Matt 26:64). There were no defense attorneys in those days. It was the high priest’s duty to defend the accused against all witnesses until evidence upon evidence was presented that clearly demonstrated guilt on the part of the accused. But instead of the high priest doing his sacred duty, in the case against Jesus, he is the one who condemned Christ to death.

The procedures for capital cases were to illustrate concern for fairness. Defense for the accused was to be heard first and then the accusations were to follow. This did not happen in the case against Jesus. In capital cases, both trial and verdict were to be held during the day and thus open to more public scrutiny.

“In capital cases, the verdict of guilt (which was immediately followed by execution) had to be postponed one day because its consequences were irreversible. Hence these trials were not to be held on the eve of the Sabbath or a festival day” (San 4:1). See Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.

This did not happen in the trial against Jesus.

“Sentence of death could never be carried out on the day on which it was given; a night must elapse so that the court might sleep on it, so that, perchance, their condemnation might turn to mercy. The whole procedure was designed for mercy; and, even from Luke’s summary account, it is clear that the Sanhedrin, when it tried Jesus, was far from keeping its own rules and regulations.” The Gospel of Luke. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (275–277).

In capital cases, such as in the trial of Jesus, the trial must not precede the time of the morning sacrifice nor follow the time of the evening sacrifice, which time would be between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. This was so the court proceedings would be under the ceremonial system of God to insure justice and mercy as reflected in the daily sacrifices for corporate Israel. Jesus received neither mercy nor justice. Not even simple justice.

All the laws mentioned in this week’s lesson – ceremonial, civic, Rabbinical, Roman and even God’s moral law were transgressed in securing the death of Christ. But it is a most glorious truth that Jesus emerging from that night of malignant questioning, having been mocked and scourged, still had utter confidence that His triumph was sure. His faith defied the facts. The faith of Jesus defied all the evidences, even the evidences of His feelings. The “faith of Jesus” believes not only in the absence of His feelings, but against them. He never for a moment believed that men in the end could defeat the purposes of God. He pledged His life on it.

In the crucifixion of Jesus, although all the laws that were twisted and pitted against Him, it actually magnified Christ’s power of the gospel after He rose from the dead. The moral law was also magnified in fulfillment of Isa 42:21 (KJV) because the plan of redemption was/is greater than all the twisting of justice and mercy by the manipulating carnal mind of man. This everlasting gospel and God’s moral law are inseparably linked in the last message of mercy that will go to the world. This message God initiated in Minneapolis a century and a quarter ago. He began it and He will finish it. He calls you and me to Himself to be a part of the movement that ushers in the “loud cry” again thus preparing people to stand in the day of the Lord’s appearing and in the days before His coming. What a privilege! Will you respond to His call?

-Jerry Finneman