NT, Part 16. Part 9 in our discussion of Galatians.
The children of Israel already had the promises of God’s covenant and the promises of the coming Messiah through Abraham’s lineage. So, why did God give them the Law 430 years later? Paul addresses these questions.
“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it [the law] was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Galatians 3:19-21 ESV). The Law defined transgressions and spelled out the remedies.
“Because of transgressions could possibly mean:
- To provide a sacrificial system to deal temporarily with transgressions.
- To teach people more clearly what God requires and thereby to restrain transgressions.
- To show that transgressions violated an explicit written law
- To reveal people’s sinfulness and need for a Savior (cf. Rom.3:20 ‘through the law comes knowledge of sin'” 1.
“Because God is one, his ultimate revelation comes not through an intermediary but from him alone . . . This lies behind Paul’s protest in ch. 1 about the gospel coming to him not from or through a human being but directly from God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.” 2.
The Biblical Law was given by One, God himself, who set it in place. God gave The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-12. Moses received the Law from the Lord engraved in stone (Deuteronomy 5:6-22). The Law defines sin.
“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me” (Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 5:22 ESV).
“The order of the Law’s transmission was from God, through angels, to Moses, to the people. Therefore, the promise is superior because it was given face-to-face between only two persons, God and Abraham, while the Mosaic covenant involved four parties. The promise required no mediation. It could also refer to God’s unconditional promise to Abraham in Gen. 15:12–21. Only God participated in its ratification.” 3.
“Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham“ (Galatians 3:20 NLT).
The giving of the Law is all about the coming of Messiah Jesus, “the offspring,” singular (Genesis 17:8; 13:15), as discussed last week. The offspring fulfilled the Law, keeping it perfectly by living a sinless life, thereby qualifying him to be the perfect sacrifice for our atonement.
“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:23-26 ESV).
Not only did it define sin, but the Old Testament Law gave the Jewish people the sacrificial system required for forgiveness of sin every year on the Day of Atonement. The shedding of blood was required for the forgiveness of sins, and the Levitical Law played a part. (Hebrews 9:22; Leviticus 1-10). The eternal plan was for God the Son to become the sacrificing Savior, detailed in Isaiah 48-56.
For centuries, God-fearing Jews attempted to keep the Law perfectly. No one could do it. Not Moses. Not Joshua. None of the judges. None of the prophets. None of the kings.
Keeping the Law could not get them into a right relationship with God, for keeping the Law is impossible.
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Galatians 3:21 ESV).
If righteousness could be gained by keeping the Law, if the Law had indeed given life, if it was possible to keep it, then we could be made righteous by the keeping of the Law.
But it didn’t, and we can’t, so it won’t.
The Law gave us a neverending taskmaster, making us aware of our sinfulness, cognizant that we could never get through an entire day of perfect adherence to the multitude of instructions and prohibitions of the Law. The required sacrifices made it clear that sin must be atoned for with the shedding of blood.
But rules don’t touch the conscience, and the keeping of the Law required moral purity, adherence in obedience to God in every thought, word, and action, along with perfect commitment to the dietary restrictions.
Only the offspring promised in Abraham’s lineage, Jesus Messiah, could keep the Law without any flaw or imperfection. No one else on the earth ever could and never will. For mere humans, any attempt at keeping the Law was a daily grind of impossibility with failures every single day.
It’s easy to forget the promises of God while focused on the Law. The promises, however, are far more important than the Law, for these foretold salvation for the world and eternal covenant with God.
This caused an awareness that we need the offspring, Messiah Jesus, who shed his blood for our sins.
And yet, the Pharisees and the Judaizers thought they could keep the Law. On The Chosen, which I highly recommend, we see the know-it-all Pharisees around every corner, condemning this action or that, angry at Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath and then telling that man to pick up his mat and walk. The Pharisees lectured people they didn’t even know, intruding their judgmental interpretations into every life they intersected. Artfully, Jesus handled their hypocrisy.
This passage gets across the point that keeping the Law is impossible: “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24 ESV).
Therefore, Paul is astonished that now that Jesus has freed us from the letter of the Law by shedding his own blood, yet still the legalists in Galatia want to attempt to keep the Law in all its points, an impossible task.
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10 ESV).
Paul warns the legalistic Judaizers: “Now it is evident that no one is justified [counted righteous] before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ [the one who by faith is righteous will live]. But the Law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Galatians 3:11-12 ESV). 4.
Did the rulekeepers want power? Did they want the control and the prideful position of censoring everyone who didn’t keep the Law? It seems likely, for the Pharisees were of this ilk. With their position came power. Spiritual leaders who wanted to rule in order to oppress others were common then, and they are now.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,’ — so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might received the promised Spirit through faith“ (Galatians 3:13-14 ESV).
Jesus’ substituted himself for the punishment we deserve as sinners, so that we didn’t have to pay for the weight of our own sins. This sacrifice wasn’t only for Jewish believers, but for Gentile believers as well.
Belief in Christ and faith in his substitutionary act on our behalf brings the blessing of being sons and daughters of Abraham, included in Messiah’s family, both Jews and Gentiles. Isaiah 56 and other passages in Isaiah and the other prophets foretold this.Jesus' substituted himself for the punishment we deserve as sinners, taking it upon himself, so that we didn't have to pay for the weight of our own sins. #Salvation #Faith Click To Tweet Belief in what Christ and faith in his substitutionary act on our behalf brings the blessing of being sons and daughters of Abraham, included in Messiah's family, both Jews and Gentiles. #Faith #Salvation Click To Tweet
Therefore, the Judaizers who attempted to impose the rigidity of the Law upon Gentile and Jewish believers alike held an obsolete position. It was prophesied, and then it is written here clearly and simply by Paul, the former Pharisee who had met Jesus on the road to Damascus and who now saw God’s plan of salvation with crystal clarity.
The coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the new believers, both Jew and Gentiles, was affirmation that this was God’s plan. “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: 4 And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. 5 One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel” (Isaiah 44:3-5 ESV).
“The imagery of v. 4 is explained as one enthusiastic conversion to the Lord after another. The Lord’s decisive grace (43:25) bears fruit in many new believers’ decisive faith (cf. Psalm 87). The Lord’s . . . Israel, identification with the Lord entails identification with his people.” 5.
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25 ESV).“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25 ESV). #Faith #Salvation #Jesus Click To Tweet
As believers, Jew and Gentile, we are not only forgiven our sins, but we now have the living presence of God within us, present through the Person of the Holy Spirit. Our names are written in the Book of Life, children of Abraham, partakers of the promise. This fact is solid and secure. We are members of the family of Israel, for all believers are members of Messiah Jesus’ tribe.Believers, our names are written in the Book of Life, children of Abraham, partakers of the promise. We are members of the family of Israel, for all believers are members of Messiah Jesus' tribe. #Faith #Salvation Click To Tweet
- The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008. Part of the note for Galatians 3:19.
- The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008. part of the study note for Galatians 3:20.
- Utley, R. J. (1997). Paul’s First Letters: Galatians and I & II Thessalonians (Vol. Volume 11, p. 37). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, Galatians 3:20.
- The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008, translation of Galatians 3:11-12 from Koine Greek. The ESV Study Bible contains the phrases in parentheses as alternative translations of the Greek text.
- The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008, the entire Study Bible note on Isaiah 44:5.