What is Mosaic Law
As you learn about Israel at the time of Jesus, you will most likely hear about the Mosaic Law. Since Christians don’t practice the Mosaic Law, many of us are unsure of what this law entails and how it works. But the Mosaic Law is important to better understand as we learn about Jesus because it is the tradition that Jesus lived for much of his earthly life and the law that his life and ministry would ultimately fulfill. The Mosaic Law shaped Israel during the time of Christ and much of the scriptures we now have. While most Christians no longer practice this law, Mosaic Law is still an important part of our tradition and in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry.
What Is the Mosaic Law?
The Mosaic Law is also called the Law of Moses, and it is written in the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Torah. Many believe these books to be written by Moses, though scholars say that there could have been several authors. The Law of Moses includes many types of laws as well as feasts, ordinances, and instructions for the Jewish people. These are the main parts of the Mosaic Law:
The Ten Commandments
Moral laws (includes those on adultery, honesty, theft, etc.)
Social laws (includes those on property, marriage, etc.)
Purity laws (includes those on skin disease, mildew, etc.)
Food laws (includes those on what food is clean and how to store it)
Feasts (includes the Day of Atonement, Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, and more)
Sacrifices and offerings (includes burnt offerings, Passover sacrifice, and others)
Instructions for the priesthood (including for the high priest and how tithes would work)
Instructions for the Tabernacle (which are later applied to the Temple in Jerusalem)
At the time of Jesus, the Jews in Israel and Jerusalem were practicing these laws, celebrating these feasts, and following the instructions for the priesthood and Temple. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees believed in and upheld the written Law of Moses in the Torah. Many Jews today also continue to practice many parts of the Law of Moses.
The Origins of the Mosaic Law
The Law of Moses was part of a religious tradition passed down among the Israelites even before Moses. Prior to Moses, the Israelites made covenants with God—like the Abrahamic Covenant. Then when Moses and the Israelites were in the wilderness after escaping Egypt, they needed additional laws, guidance, and instructions as part of their covenants with God. So Moses visited Mount Sinai and returned with the Ten Commandments, a part of the Mosaic Law. God would continue to reveal the Law to Moses, and he taught the Israelites and most likely recorded it all in the scriptures.
The Purpose of the Mosaic Law
Many believe the Mosaic Law was a way for God to establish a stronger relationship and connection with the chosen people. Since this law came from the earlier covenants with God, part of the purpose of the Mosaic Law would be to strengthen that covenant and relationship with God. To strengthen this relationship, the Mosaic Law shows the Israelites the character of God and that He is their God, as shown in Leviticus 19:2 and 20:7–8.
Some also believe that the Law of Moses was a way for the Israelites to symbolically prepare for Jesus Christ, his gospel, and his sacrifice. Many of the sacrifices in the Law can be viewed as symbolism for Jesus Christ, and many Christians consider that symbolism one of the reasons God revealed this law. The Mosaic Law also shows that no one can completely keep every law, and grace is necessary. This idea also helped prepare the Israelites for the coming of Jesus, who would be the source of all grace.
The Mosaic Law was also given to the Israelites to help them have specific ways to receive forgiveness and worship, through feasts and sacrifices and offerings. Some of the aspects of the Law were also to benefit the physical health of the people, as in the food laws, and to strengthen their spiritual health. In addition to understanding God and Jesus, the Law of Moses also set Israel apart. The laws and rituals would make Israel different from the people around them, and that was to help bring others to God. By setting an example of being a separate and dedicated people, the Israelites could set an example for the world in coming closer to God.
How the Mosaic Law Is Practiced
The Jewish people practice the Mosaic Law by adhering to the laws in the Torah and by performing the proper sacrifices, offerings, and days of worship. The laws are written in the Torah and often interpreted by the rabbis. These are some of the ways the Israelites would practice the Law of Moses:
Observing Passover each spring. The Jews would participate in the Passover feast and the specific rituals for each day
Avoiding eating animals with cloven hooves that chew cud. According to the Law of Moses, animals (like pigs) are unclean and shouldn’t be eaten
Performing burnt offerings. Since the time of Adam and Eve, there have been burnt offerings to show devotion to God. The Mosaic Law explains how these sacrifices are performed to show a strong devotion to God
Mosaic Law at the Time of Jesus
At the time of Jesus, the Israelites practiced the Law of Moses. The Pharisees upheld the Law of Moses strictly and accepted the oral rabbinic interpretations. The Sadducees accepted the Torah and the written Mosaic Law, though they didn’t accept the oral tradition. Jesus was a Jew, so he also obeyed the Mosaic Law. But unlike all other people, Jesus upheld and obeyed the Mosaic Law perfectly in a way no other could. He obeyed the laws, practiced all of the rituals, and worshiped God exactly. Because Jesus was the only one who could perfectly obey the law, he was the only one who could perform the ultimate sacrifice that would provide a way back to God for all people.
How Did Jesus Fulfill the Mosaic Law?
Much of the Mosaic Law focuses on sacrifice as a way to come closer to God and to becoming perfected. For example, the Passover sacrifice of offering the firstborn lamb was a ritual outlined in the Law of Moses. This aspect of the Law could point the people to look toward Christ who would come as the firstborn and offer a sinless sacrifice to bring all others to God.
Jesus also explains to the Jews that he came to fulfill the Law of Moses. In his sermon in Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). He explained to the Jews who were listening that he didn’t come to end the Mosaic Law but rather to be the one who perfectly followed it and could then perform a sacrifice for all people. As Jesus perfectly lived the Mosaic Law, he was able to fulfill it and to show the truth in what the prophets had preached in the scriptures, including Moses.
The Mosaic Law and Christianity
As Christians, most of us don’t live the Mosaic Law as it was lived anciently and during Jesus’s life. There are two common schools of thought on the Law of Moses and Christianity. Some Christians and scholars believe that when Jesus performed his sacrifice for all of us, he completely fulfilled the Law, and the Law no longer needs to be lived in any aspect. Instead, they believe we should follow the new laws and guidance that Jesus teaches in the New Testament. Others believe that the moral laws—such as the Ten Commandments—still apply today for all Christians as well as the new laws given by Jesus in the New Testament.
However you view the Mosaic Law today, all Christians can benefit from a deeper understanding of the Law and its symbolism of Christ. Understanding that much of the way people worshiped in the Old Testament was all to symbolically prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ gives us deeper insight into ancient scripture. As we read about the sacrifices and feasts and the Tabernacle, we can see how God prepared the world for the coming of Jesus from the beginning. All things were designed to point us to Christ. When we read about or watch people in The Chosen worship under the Mosaic Law, we are also reminded of Jesus and his role as the Savior.
The Mosaic Law was also a way God showed his love for and connection with the people on this earth. God has always been connecting with people, and the new holier law from Jesus in the New Testament is also a way that God connects with us now. As we follow Jesus, we also become holier and connect with God like people would with the Mosaic Law.
Ultimately, while we may not live the Mosaic Law completely anymore, understanding its origins and symbolism can help us see Christ all through the scriptures. We can also understand a little more about his mission on earth and his role in fulfilling the Law of Moses. All of the words of the ancient prophets and the Law pointed to Jesus’s role as Savior, and as we see the Mosaic Law come to life in The Chosen, we can look for how this Law prepared people for Jesus Christ. Download the iOS app or Android app to The Chosen with your family to see the Mosaic Law come to life. Watch for the symbolism that points to Jesus Christ and the peace we can find in his gospel.