Monday, 23 October 2017

Will There Be Law In Heaven?

This is the question I recently posed in two of our New Covenant Theology groups on Facebook, inviting thoughts and discussion. I will reveal my reason for asking that, along with my own thoughts. Interestingly, the response from both ‘sides’ of the ever-ongoing ‘law for believers’ debate is in agreement – a resounding ‘No’! In support of that, the consensus seems to argue that as law is to do with the control of sinful behaviour, and there will be no sin in heaven, there will thus be no need for God’s law. Indeed, Paul says to Timothy:

“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Timothy 1 vs 9 – 11)

It is not difficult to see where this conclusion comes from, and I agree with the argument. But, strangely, I do not agree with the conclusion. I think there will be law in heaven. Follows my explanation.

Priesthood and Law

Hebrews is key when we are considering the old covenant. There is an important statement in chapter 7 which, I believe, helps us to answer my question. Verse 12 says:
“For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.”
The writer’s argument is contained in the preceding verse:
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?”
So he is establishing that there is an inseparable union between ‘the law given to the people’ and the priesthood. Why? Because it is the law that ‘establishes’ the priesthood. We can actually state this two ways:

  1. The law determines the priesthood, and,
  2. The priesthood enacts and administers their law

The one is completely interwoven with and interdependent on the other – you cannot pull them apart.

The purpose of a particular priesthood, its‘raison d’etre’, is to put into effect its particular law.

We see this very clearly with the Levitical priesthood. Intricate instruction is given to Moses concerning the appointment of the Aaronic priesthood. There are no exceptions. And of course, this requirement was adhered to throughout Jewish history, even following the Exile. Strict lineage had to be proven beyond doubt for all who would function a God’s priest.

Secondly, the functioning of the priesthood exegetes and applies the Mosaic Law to the community of Israel – they 'publish' and they ‘police’ it.

So, Hebrews argues, if the priesthood is replaced by another (the meaning of the word ‘change’ means ‘replaced’ not just ’altered’), there must also be a replacing of the law. If, and only if, the old law was still in place, and continued to function, would the old priesthood order continue.

A New and Better Priesthood

Hebrews goes on to demonstrate that in the covenant of Christ, we have such a change occurring. Jesus is a High Priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (vs 11, 17). Thus the Levitical priesthood is dispensed with – made obsolete – by its replacement. And gloriously, we see that He is the ‘substance’ of which the old covenant priesthood and law was just a ‘shadow’:
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (vs 18,19)
So along with the obsolescence of the old priesthood, the Law of Moses is no more. It is replaced by whatever it was the ‘shadow’ of, whatever acts in the place of ‘law’ in the administration of Christ - the 'better hope' of which the writer speaks. And about this, Hebrews, of course, has much more to say, all of which exalts and proclaims the unique, singular, wholely effective functioning of Christ as our High Priest. He is now, for each and every believer; for the church through all the ages, the only Priest we will ever need. He is the eternal High Priest, who ministers in the very presence of the living God on our behalf. He is the eternal High Priest  …
‘on the basis of the power of an indestructible life’ (vs16), 
the Son, who has been made perfect forever.’ (vs 28). 
Praise be to His Name!

Thus, we are presented with the eternal credentials of the ever-living Son of God.

High Priest – Forever

Now here is the intriguing thing. If the priestly ministry of the Son is eternal, then so must be whatever acts for ‘law’ (the 'better hope') in His ministration. We see that ‘covenant’ is the ‘wrapper’ which defines all of these components, explaining clearly how God is relating to its members. The covenant is God’s established, regulative outline of how He acts within it. Whilst the covenant endures, so does the component priesthood-and-law combination within it. The New Testament – the revelation of God’s Son, and the subsequent ‘unpacking’ of that ‘super-nova’ of God’s truth – makes it clear that the institution of the new covenant (with all of its components) has made the old redundant – all of it. And that this is God’s final word. There will be no further covenant. There will be no new priesthood. And there will be no ‘new law’.

In other words, what functions in the community of the glorified saints of Christ then will be no different to what functions in the community of the justified-but-not-yet-glorified saints now. What WILL differ is our state of being. But Jesus – the risen, glorified, ascended Lord – will be just as much our great High Priest then as He ever was. Douglas Moo argues that it is not that we are in some kind of interim state in anticipation of the resurrection glory to come. But rather, that in and through Christ, and the Spirit He has sent to the church, God has already begun His kingdom work in us – the Gospel inaugurates it. That will be revealed – not begun – when Christ returns. And this means that heaven will not be the start of a new ‘order’ or dispensation. Rather, it will be the consummation of the current one.

So what does this mean for our question?

Eternal ‘Law’

I would suggest that whatever you take to be ‘the Law of Christ’ as Paul refers to in Galatians 6 vs 2, is actually ‘eternal law’. It is functional from its institution, and it will not end, neither will it be replaced, because the Priesthood of Christ will never be replaced. There will be no further ‘change’ in the priesthood, therefore it follows that there will be no further ‘change’ in the ‘law’ which

a) Institutes the priesthood, and
b) Is regulated by it.

And this has some interesting ramifications. It means that whatever commands of the New Testament, as the word of God for us, relate to our pre-glorified condition only, cannot be a part of the ‘eternal law’. Because they will pass away at the end of this present age. Two observations:

  1. Commands relating to how we live, in Christ, which deal with sinfulness, cannot be included in ’the Law of Christ’.
  2. Commands relating to evangelising in the fallen world, also, cannot be included in’ the Law of Christ’.

… simply because these two circumstances will not exist in heaven, all New Testament imperatives which concern themselves with these two considerations will not be required – they are temporal and temporary, not eternal.

Conversely, it can be argued that any aspects of what we are commanded within our covenant which will carry over into glory are at least ‘candidates’ for what could be called ‘the law of Christ’, because they will also be true and active under the ongoing Priesthood of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is concerned with differentiating what will ‘remain’ from what will ‘pass away’ He says:
“ Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (vs 13)
So Paul actually identifies a third category of commands which cannot be a part of this ‘law of Christ’ – that which relates to the gifting of the church for her functioning within this word; these gifts are not required in heaven; they will be unnecessary.

It follows, then, that the new commandment of Jesus, that His disciples love one another as He has loved them IS the hub of this ‘eternal law’, because it endures beyond our mortal lives, and beyond the dissolution of this heavens and earth, and the new creation of the heavenly ones. We WILL carry on both loving God and loving one another throughout eternity. Perfectly so!

I leave this with my brothers and sisters to think and pray through. I have my own views on what Paul intends by his singular use of the phrase ‘law of Christ’ in Galatians 6. What I have attempted to do here is to demonstrate that whatever view is taken, it must be coherent with the ongoing priesthood of Christ – it cannot be for this life only. I believe that such an examination will lead us on to understand it more, in the light of the Biblical hermeneutic, whatever our starting point.

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