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Concrete to Spiritual: How Jesus Changes the Old Testament to the New

Week 4: Spiritual Replaces Concrete

One of the great takeaway lessons we learn from John 3–Nicodemus–and John 4–the Woman at the Well–is that Jesus introduces a Great Shift–the Great Change–away from concrete interactions with his people (physical symbols and types) to spiritual.

This is one of the biggest differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus himself introduced this change, and we see it in both the account of Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well.

The reason the Great Shift occurs with the advent of Christ at the beginning of the New Testament is that the Spirit of God in the later pages of the Old Testament had left the temple and never returned. John the Baptist predicts the return of the Spirit at the time of Jesus’s baptism, saying that Jesus would be the one to baptize people with the Holy Spirit.

Further, in the Old Testament, the Spirit dwelled first in the column of fire by night and cloud by day, which hovered over the Israelites in exile. It next dwelt within the Tent of Meeting, and finally, in the temple. All these are EXTERNAL to the human being. Humans did not have the Spirit of God living within them, and ever since Adam sinned, humankind had lost intimate contact with God and lived separate from him. This is why God needed to talk to his people with concrete, physical symbols–pictures formed by real, historic events. Humankind had become SPIRITUALLY DEAD.

In the New Testament, the promised Holy Spirit arrives, not to live outside humans in the spaces of inanimate objects, but to live within humans in the spiritual spaces of human hearts. This is an enormous change from the Old Testament to the New. It’s a change best described as new wine which no longer fits the old wineskins. (Luke 5:36-38) It is the change from CONCRETE to SPIRITUAL.

In John 3 and John 4, the main protagonists understand Jesus’s words in concrete terms only, that would be to say, in literal terms, using the word “literal” in its modern meaning of something physical, something which can be seen and touched.

  1. Nicodemus interprets Jesus’s words, “You must be born again,” as climbing back into the mother’s womb. (John 3:3-4)
  2. The Woman at the Well interprets Jesus’s words, “living water” as physical water that she could physically drink and therefore physically never thirst again. (John 4:10-15)

In both cases Jesus patiently explains the new spiritual meaning. He pours his new wine into their old wineskins. And as the text shows, he had more success with the woman at the well than with Nicodemus. The woman at the well understood, believed, and went running off to confess her new belief and her discovery of Jesus the Messiah to her fellow townsfolk. Nicodemus, on the other hand, needed more time.

And so we see that God is Spirit and truth, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

……………………………….

For more information on how the Gospel of Christ changes the concrete into the spiritual, read Does Paul Spiritualize the Concrete?: The Great Shift Exemplified in Colossians 2:8-3:4

Does Paul Spiritualize the Concrete?: The Great Shift Exemplified in Colossians 2:8-3:4

 

Click for Text Here: Colossians 2:8-3:4

Gospel Precedents and Biblical Background of Spiritual Elements in Colossians 2

 

I. One of the great markers of the New Testament Gospels is the translation of concrete and historical Old Testament realities into spiritual and historical realities:

A. Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb.

1. OT: Abraham begins to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14)

NT: John the Baptist of Jesus–“Behold, the Lamb of God.” (John 1:29, 36)

2. OT: Passover blood of the sacrificial lamb on the lintel (Exodus 12:7)

NT: Jesus sacrificed during Passover (Luke 22:7-8)

B. Jesus becomes the temple.

1. OT: (2 Chronicles 7:11-12)

NT: (John 2:19-22)

C. Concrete worship becomes spiritual.

1. OT: God commanded a certain location where he was to be worshiped (Deuteronomy 12:2-7)

NT: Jesus changed a specific, physical (concrete) location of worship into a spiritual locus of worship with no physical correspondence (John 4: 20-24)

2. OT: God gave the Israelites manna to keep them alive in the wilderness (Exodus 16)

NT: Jesus gives his followers spiritual blood and spiritual bread (spiritual representations of his own physical–i.e., concrete–body) to keep them spiritually alive (John 6:30-35, 49-58)

D. God called Israel his son Text Arrow God calls Jesus his Son

OT: (Hosea 11:1)

NT: (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22)

E. The Old Covenant becomes the New Covenant

1. OT: The many OT covenants had physical (concrete) markers

a. the Noahic Covenant, marked by a rainbow, in which God promised not to physically destroy all living flesh by water (Genesis 9:12-17)

b. covenant with Abraham marked by the sacrifice of a physical ram (Genesis 22:9-18)

c. covenant with Israel through Moses (Exodus 24:3-8) marked by sacrificial blood (“This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.” Exodus 24:8) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:8, 12; 25:16; 34:28)

d. covenant with David and his house (Psalm 89:3-4; 2 Samuel 7:13) marked by the establishment of his kingdom

2. NT: Jesus gives a New Covenant marked by the concrete (physical) sacrifice of his own body on a cross and the symbolic remembrance of that sacrificed blood in communion (“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

II. The New Testament epistles continue to replace concrete (physical) realities with spiritual realities sometimes marked by concrete symbols:

A. Continuation of Jesus’ blood as a symbolic marker of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25)

B. Continuation of the spiritual temple motif (Hebrews 10:19-20)

C. Continuation of spiritual worship (John 4:23-24; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 21:22)

D. Scripture continues to refer to Jesus as God’s son (Acts 8:37; Romans 1:1-4; 2Peter 1:17) and to his followers as sons (includes daughters) of God (Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26; Hebrews 12:7)

E. The epistles continue to refer to the New Covenant as having replaced the Old (in prophecy Jeremiah 31:31-34; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8-13; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24)

Paul’s Movement from Concrete (Physical) to Spiritual in Colossians

 

I. In matters of food, drink, festivals, new moon, a sabbath

Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

A. Paul’s list includes all concrete substances (food and drink) or practices (celebrating a festival, a new moon, or a Sabbath).

B. He calls these a “shadow,” but Christ is the “substance,” or the reality that casts the shadow. Not being physically present on Earth at this time, Christ is Spirit, present by means of the Holy Spirit, who lives in believers and among them.

C. Paul calls these concrete religious practices “elemental spirits” or “elementary principles” as in the NAU. (Gr: στοιχεῖον) (Colossians 2:20)

D. They fall within the category of what Paul labels “flesh” or “fleshly,” (Colossians 2:18; 3:22) what this post refers to as “concrete” or “physical.”

E. These practices concern concrete (physical) items, such as food and drink, which perish as they are used–i.e., they have no eternal value–and they are not useful in helping one to achieve the spiritual practices God desires (Colossians 3:23). The spiritual practices which God desires Paul begins to present in 3:5.

II. Paul moves circumcision from concrete to spiritual

Colossians 2:11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

III. Baptism, itself a concrete action, signifies a spiritual correspondence to and spiritual identification with Christ’s death and resurrection

Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

IV. In a spiritual way, the record of debts owed under the Old (First) Covenant was nailed to the cross with Christ and thereby cancelled, forgiven (2:13)

Colossians 2:14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

V. Paul’s point is that the Colossians, as believers in Christ, have moved from the old, concrete form of worshipping God to the new, spiritual form of worship.

Colossians 2:20a If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,

They are therefore free of the old ways, having died with Christ to them, and having been raised with him into newness of life under the New Covenant of Spirit

and no longer need to follow these old, concrete (physical, fleshly) ways of worship and thinking and living

Colossians 2:20b why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–

VI. Paul’s Alternative to the Old Ways Concrete_Spiritual

A. His rationale

Colossians 3:1a Since, then, you have been raised with Christ

Colossians 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

B. His conclusion

Colossians 3:1b set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

C. How should the Colossians’ thinking change?

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

D. What will the end result be?

Colossians 3:4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

VII. Paul begins to answer the question, How then shall we live?

NIV  Colossians 3:5a Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (your concrete, fleshly body)

[not in text: and begin to live to the spiritual in the following ways, which he begins to state in 3:5b]

 

Link: Concrete to Spiritual: How Jesus Changes the Old Testament to the New

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