Christ, the Content of the Law


“The law was a schoolmaster unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24) and contained “the shadow of things to come” (Heb. 10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ. (Francis Turretin, Elenctic Theology, Bk. 2, p. 226)

In our endeavor to show how the one redemptive work of Christ was administered or dispensed to the saints of the Old Testament, we have shown that the Law of God, including the Ten Commandments, was no exception.  In our last post, we have shown from the Scriptures that Christ Himself was He Who promulgated the Law from Mt. Sinai.  Here we will show that not only was He the giver of the Law, but also the very content and substance that the Moral Law of God imaged and pictured.

The Law a Delight and an Accuser

To begin with, I think it is enlightening to see the way King David spoke of the Law in Psalm 119:

Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors. (vs. 24)

Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life! (vs. 40)

for I find my delight in your commandments,
which I love. (vs. 47)

When I think of your rules from of old,
I take comfort, O Lord. (vs. 52)

I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life. (vs. 93)

Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart. (vs. 111)

Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them. (vs. 129)

These are just seven of one hundred and seventy-six verses in praise of God’s Law, written by the man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14).  David over and over calls God’s Law his delight, that which he longs for, his love, his comfort, his life, the joy of his heart, and the due object of his wonder. Was this because he merely relished a list of rules and regulations? Did he long for and love the ministry of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7, 9)? Was it a life of slavery under a taskmaster that was the desire and delight of his heart (Gal. 3:24; 4:5; 5:1)? Or did he, as a regenerate believer, see something much more wonderful in these laws, commandments, precepts, and statutes of the Law; viz., He that is called Wonderful Himself (Judg. 13:18; Isa. 9:6)?  As our Lord Jesus Christ said to the unbelieving Jews,

Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. (John 5:45)

In these verses, we are told two important truths about the Law and Christ.  First, we see that Moses wrote of Christ so clearly that if they had believed his words, they would have believed in Jesus.  Second, the unbelieving Jews found only accusation and condemnation in Moses, having placed their hope in him (i.e., the Law itself) rather than He of whom Moses wrote.  Their condemnation was found in emptying the Law of its true content, Christ.

Christ, the Telos of the Law

These all-important truths are fleshed out beautifully in Romans 9:30-10:9. The Apostle Paul concludes his theodicy of chapter 9 with the following questions and answers:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.  Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. (Rom 9:30-32)

The Gentiles, who weren’t even looking for righteousness, ended up receiving it by placing their faith in Christ.  The Jews, on the other hand, who had a righteous law (Rom. 7:12) that would in fact lead to righteousness ran afoul of the very purpose of that law and did not attain the righteousness they were seeking. They thought that it was by their own labor in keeping the Law that they would be righteous, rather than recognizing its true content, Christ. As such, they “did not succeed in reaching that law.” We see this confirmed a couple verses later, when he writes of the Jews:

Being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom 10:3-4)

Again, the Jews, anxious to attain their own righteousness by the Law, missed the righteous aim of the Law. In the context, to say that “Christ is the τέλος (telos) of the Law” is to say that He was the goal of the Law, the end at which it pointed, its intended consummation.  The passage is not saying that Christ simply came and put an end to the Law, but rather that the Law came to its intended conclusion in Christ. Paul then contrasts the righteousness achieved by works with the righteousness that is achieved by faith:

Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:5-9)

The righteousness offered by law keeping says “do all things written in the Law” (Deut. 27:26).  But the righteousness based on faith does not look for anything other than Christ, His death and resurrection.  It is not a matter of willing or running (Rom. 9:16), searching high or low, but believing what has been brought near and graciously offered in Christ.

But how is it that Paul moves from arguing that the Jews, seeking to attain their own righteousness by works, did not reach the Law (9:31)—Christ being its intended end (telos)—to saying that the Law itself only offered righteousness by works as distinct from faith in Christ?  How then can it be said that Christ was the true telos of the Law? How can it be said that they missed the goal of the Law, righteousness in Christ, if the only righteousness that the Law offers is by “doing” while true righteousness is by believing? It seems Paul ends the argument having lost track of where he had started.

Of course, the inspired author has made no such error; rather, to fully grasp his argument, we must first attend to the verses from the Law that he is quoting in Romans 10:5-9 (or at least those he is clearly alluding to). The first quote found in verse 5, “do not say in your heart,” appears in a separate context from the others, and only one time in the whole Old Testament Canon; Deuteronomy 9:4:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you.

Moses is here relaying to the people of Israel that they are not inheriting the land because they were righteous, but because the Canaanites were evil.  God is telling His people that their salvation was all of grace, none of merit.  Moses goes on to say that their redemption and inheritance of the Land was because of God’s promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for Israel itself was a “stiff necked” people.  He recounts the giving of the Law from Sinai, their immediate rebellion, his intercession on their behalf, and his delivery of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, ending with a call to circumcise their hearts to love the Lord.

Paul couples this phrase from Deuteronomy 9 with following quotation from Chapter 30 of the same Book of the Law:

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

The theme is identical to that of Chapter 9.  God’s Law was given graciously as a great gift to Israel.  It was not something they had to search for—no running or willing necessary to find this word and bring it into their lives.  It was near them, in their mouths, and in their hearts by God’s graciousness. But Paul puts these verses to a special use.  He adds a parenthetical to each phrase, “to bring Christ down” to the ascent and “to bring Christ from the dead” to the descent.  And lastly, he replaces Moses’ “so that you can do it” with confession and belief in Jesus Christ unto salvation.

Paul’s use of these passages is perfectly consistent with his argument. He is not saying in these verses that the Jews missed the point of the Law by looking to works and then contradictorily going on to say that the Law was only about works anyhow.  He is pointing again to the true import of the Law, the telos—the true righteousness found in the Law: Jesus Christ. The easiness of the Law that Moses pointed to, the gracious nearness being their very hearts and mouths (blog plug), is that it was never to be separated from Christ, but rather was the very image of Christ.  The unbelieving Jews did not succeed in reaching that Law and finding the righteousness contained because they sought it without Christ as its true import and telos. They hoped in Moses but only found accusation, because they were supposed to hope in He of Whom Moses wrote in the Law, the Christ, the Son of God.

A couple more considerations can help clarify. We discussed in the last post that Christ was indeed the giver of the Law from Mt. Sinai, and we see the same connection here in Deuteronomy and Romans. What is it that was in the mouth of the Israelites and in their heart?  It was the “word” according to verse 14.  Christ is Himself the very Word of God.  He is the sole revealer of God to mankind (Jn. 1:18), who as the Word of God is likewise the “true light, which gives light to everyone” (Jn. 1:9). Paul had every justification to employ these words of Moses in connection with Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

Further, we know that Christ is the very Wisdom of God (Prov. 8:22-31; 1 Cor. 1:24). Much wisdom literature in Second Temple Judaism had grown up around the theme of Deuteronomy 30:11-14, that is, the notion of the impossibility of ascending or descending to gather wisdom (see, e.g., Bar. 3:9-4:4; Sir. 1:1-10; 4 Ezra 4:8). Within the Canon itself we see allusion to this concept, and more importantly allusion to the Messiah Himself:

The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.

The man declares, I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and worn out.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name?
Surely you know!

Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Prov. 30:1-5)

Who has ascended? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name? YHWY, and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God.

Christ Himself is truly the content of the Law of God.  The Law of God is a picture and image of He upon whom David, the man after God’s own heart, had placed his trust and in Whom He found his wonder and joy. When the faithful Jew looked into the Law of God, He saw the very character of His Savior.  Paul tells us that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12).  But just as in Proverbs 30, knowledge of the Holy One is the knowledge of Christ Himself.  The Disciples declared, “we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).  Christ, the Son of God, is the only Holy.  Christ Jesus is also the Righteous (Jn. 2:1); He is also, as God, the only Good (Lk. 18:18-22). He embodies that which the holy, righteous, and good Law prescribes.

Christ, the Content of the Ten Commandments

We need only look at the core of the Law of God itself, the Ten Commandments (notably called the ten “words” in Hebrew), to see that the character of our Lord Jesus Christ is pictured perfectly.

  1. “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” Christ Himself is the only true God (Jn 1:1; Rom. 9:5).
  2. “Thou shalt not make unto the any graven image, or any likeness,” etc. Christ Himself is the very image of God, the exact imprint of His nature (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3).
  3. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy Go in vain.” The very name of Christ is YHWY Himself, to whom every knee will bow in heaven and on earth (Phil. 2:10; Rev. 5:13, cf. Isa. 45:23-24) and the only name under heaven whereby a man can be saved (Acts 4:12).
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Christ is Himself our Sabbath rest (Heb. 3:11; 4:9-11).
  5. “Honor thy father and thy mother,” etc. Christ not only honored His earthly parents (Lk. 2:39-52), but He also perfectly honored His Father in Heaven (Jn. 8:49).
  6. “Thou shalt not kill.” Not only did Christ not kill, He is the giver of life to all (Jn. 1:1-4; 10:10). He has even given His own life to preserve life.
  7. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Again, not only did He not commit adultery, but He has taken the most adulterous, bloody, and undeserving Wife, and shed His blood to cleanse Her, giving Her eternal joy and blessedness with Him (Hosea [all]; Eph. 5:25-32).
  8. “Thou shalt not steal.” Christ has taken from no one and needs nothing. On the contrary, He gives freely to all (Isa. 55:1-2; Rev. 21:6).
  9. “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Simple; Christ is the Truth Himself (Jn. 14:6). Not only that, He judges without partiality and in perfect truth (Jn. 5:30).
  10. “Thou shalt not covet.” Jesus, being offered all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory refuses, because He loves the Lord His God and will worship Him alone (Matt. 4:8-10).

Not only did our Lord not violate any of these commandments in His earthly life, He perfectly embodies them. When the saints of the Old Testament looked into this perfect Law, a description of perfect love and service to YHWY, they had an image of He alone who would fit this description, the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only did the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Law point to this Messiah, but the very moral requirements of the Law itself presented Him as well.  The true believer in YHWY saw Him as the content of the Law—beautiful, wonderful, awe inspiring, majestic, and soul converting (Ps. 19:7).  Those who had not set their hope on Moses and the letter of the Law, but rather set their hope on He of whom Moses wrote, had every reason to joy in that Law, for Christ was the content.


The Old Covenant itself was the means by which the one redemptive work of Christ was administered or dispensed to the saints of the Old Testament.  This includes not only the promise of the Seed and the Land, the Covenant Sign of Circumcision, and the Sacrifices of the Law, but the very Moral Law itself. We must never think of the Old Testament People of God as a carnal people, hoping in temporal promises, and only reaching Christ in spite of the Old Covenant. We must instead put ourselves in the shoes of the faithful saints of old by attending to the actual words of Scripture. Held out before them was the promised Seed, who is Christ, their hope. Though their feet indeed landed in carnal Canaan, they were received by God into eternal reward since they all looked for the heavenly country, seeing the temporal as simply a deposit of the eternal.  And when they received the Law from Mt. Sinai, they saw the righteousness, holiness, goodness, and perfection of the one man who would embody all of this, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Daily, the saints of old were to be studying the Law, memorizing it, writing it upon their gates and door posts, wearing it as frontless between their eyes and on their hands.  They were to speak of these laws from morning until evening with their children, family, coworkers, and friends. As such, they were in constant contact with the visage of the one perfect and holy man, the Messiah who would come.  By this, the faithful loved the Law and were filled with joy by it.

Further, as they saw their own deeds in such miserable conflict with the character described in this Law, they were goaded by it to flee daily, annually, and semi-annually to the God ordained sacrifices of expiation, bloodying their hands in expectation of He who would offer the perfect sacrifice—the true spotless Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ.  And then, with their sins expiated through the God ordained means of the Old Covenant, they were freed once again to flee back to His glorious visage, the Messiah imbued precepts. Christ had hedged them in on the left and the right, through His Law and His Sacrifices, drawing them forward by His covenant promises (cloaked though they were in pictures), applying to them throughout His one eternal work of redemption, by faith alone.

With these truths firmly in place, we will turn next to Christ as the very purpose of the Law.

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