Our lead verse for this chapter clearly sets forth the purpose of the law.
Galatians 3:24 - Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
The word “to” denotes purpose. The first part of the verse describes the role the law plays in the hearts of men, in other words its function. It has a particular function in order to achieve a singular purpose. That purpose is “to” bring us to Christ.
This singular purpose reveals a number of things about men. They are not naturally in Christ. They need to be brought to Christ. It is in coming to Christ, according to the end of the verse, that we can be justified by faith. The word justified is a forensic term. It has specific reference to one’s standing before the law. Because we are not, based upon our own behavior, right with the law we must be brought to Christ. For in being brought to him we are afforded the opportunity to be justified by faith.
The law was never intended to be a means of salvation. It was intended to bring us before the one whose sacrifice provides a way of salvation.
Romans 8:3 - For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
There are certain things the law cannot do. One of the things the law could not do is excuse us. To excuse us would be to compromise its holy standard. To compromise its holy standard would have been to compromise the very nature of God himself. Because we had broken the law it could not excuse us it could only condemn us. It was weak to justify us. Not because there was something wrong with the standard but because there is something wrong with man. The verse tells us that it was weak through the flesh. The law requires things that the flesh cannot produce. It was weak in that it could not impart righteousness to the sinner.
Not being able to impart righteousness to the sinner it set its attention to bring us to the one who could impart righteousness. It did this through its statutes. The statutes were the aspects of the law that taught men there was a way of approach. While the Old Testament system of sacrifice could never make the comer thereunto perfect it could cause them to hope for and anticipate a redeemer. Thus the Old Testament system provided a way for the sins of the people to be pushed forward until he would come who would take away the sins of the world. The Old Testament saints were caused to look forward for a redeemer much like we are caused to look back on a redeemer. In both cases it is the law that brings us to Christ. Without the law we would never be brought to Christ.
Romans 10:4 - For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
Once one has been brought to Christ and they believe, the law ceases to be relevant for righteousness. There is no longer any compulsion to keep the law. We now can rest in the reality that Christ kept it on our behalf. The law ends where faith in Christ begins, and what a glorious exchange that is.
It is the law that pushes us toward Christ, toward the sacrifice and the priest. The book of Hebrews is super-charged with references to Christ both fulfilling the office of priest and the system of sacrifice, so that there can be no doubt that the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The purpose of the law is to direct our attention away from ourselves and toward Christ. Let us consider some of the more prominent passages in Hebrews that bears out the purpose of the law in this regard.
In speaking of the insufficiency of the Old Testament priesthood the writer of Hebrews explains,
Hebrews 7:3 - And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
The priest of the Old Testament were subject to the wages of sin just like any other man because they were sinners like any other man. Nevertheless the office of priest in the Old Testament gave people an understanding of intercession and the role of a priest in reconciling sinful men to a holy God. Hebrews continues on in verse four explaining how Christ is superior to the Old Testament priesthood.
Hebrews 7:24,25 - But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
Christ was a superior priest because he was not subject to death. Because he lives his priesthood is not passed to another but he continues to fill the office of priest and intercessor. Then in the following verses we learn why he continueth ever, why he was not subject to death in the same way the Old Testament priest were.
Hebrews 7:26 - For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
He was holy and undefiled. He had kept the law. In him was no sin. He was made higher than the heavens. As such he had power over death and death had no power over him. Verses twenty-seven and twenty eight proceed to inform us of the consequences of these truths.
Hebrews 7:27,28 - Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
He did not need to offer up sacrifice for his own sins as the Old Testament priest was required to do for he had no sin. He made one sacrifice for sin and that was himself. So that we see that Christ is both priest and sacrifice. The priest in fact offered himself up as the only sufficient sacrifice. The Old Testament made men priest who had infirmity but Christ is consecrated forever more. So both the office of priest and the system of sacrifice found its fulfillment in Christ and in that respect the law brings us to Christ. Christ the one who ever liveth to make intercession for us and whose one sacrifice was sufficient for time and eternity.
Hebrews chapter nine also goes to great lengths to draw the connection between the Old Testament law contained in ordinances and the fulfillment of those ordinances in Christ. Having been fulfilled they are deprived of their relevance. Verses one through seven of chapter nine of Hebrews we are given a brief overview of the tabernacle and the sanctuary and the ministry of the sanctuary. Verse eight through ten sets forth the purpose of all these Old Testament rituals.
Hebrews 9:8-10 - The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
The first five words of the above passage clearly state the purpose of these carnal ordinances. The Holy Ghost was signifying something. The word “signifying” means to make plain, declare, and show. So the Holy Ghost was seeking to make something plain, He was seeking to declare or show something. In other words there was more to it than met the eye. What was it the Holy Ghost was seeking to make plain. That the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest. It was the “way” that was not manifested. God had yet to unveil his ultimate sacrifice whereby sinful man could have unfettered access to God. The Old Testament system was not the way it simply signified the way. In fact the passage explains that the Old Testament sacrifice and all it’s attendant ministry was “a figure for the time then present.” The system was faulty in that it could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. The Old Testament system could not purify the conscience but what it signified could. The fact that the Old Testament system is said to “stand “only” in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances,” indicates the inability of the system. It was only what it was and nothing more. It could not save; it could not purify the conscience. The way it signified could, because the way it signified was Christ. You may protest that Christ is not a way he is a person. But I would remind you that according to his own testimony in John 14:6 he claimed to be “the way.” It was that way that the Old Testament tabernacle, priesthood, and system of sacrifice signified in a figure. In fact the passage closes with the admonition that this whole system was only intended to be in place unto the “time of reformation.” So what was the purpose of these carnal ordinances? It was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.
Lest you think that I am surmising a good deal here one only need reference the rest of the context in Hebrews nine.
Hebrews 9:11-14 - But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
It is right here in these verses where we find Christ being presented as “the way” of which the Old Testament system signified. The words “but Christ” are not insignificant. A contrast is forth coming. The Old Testament signified and was a figure, but Christ was the fulfillment. Christ did not use the blood of goats and calves. The blood of the sacrificial animals only signified the atoning blood that was to be offered by Christ himself. Christ took of his own blood. With his own blood he entered into the Holy place. So we see that Christ also fulfilled the office of priest. All of this was signified in a figure in the Old Testament. In offering his own blood he obtained eternal redemption for us. In this passage also we see the superiority of the blood of Christ over that of goats, calves, and heifers. His sacrifice is able to purge the conscience. As we have already seen the Old Testament system could never purify the conscience.
Hebrews chapter ten brings the whole thing together for us.
Hebrews 10:1-4,9-12 - For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. . . . . Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; . . . .
The law is a shadow. The law is not the very image. Christ is the image that cast the shadow even back over the pages of the Old Testament. The shadow could not make the comers thereunto perfect. If they could have they would have ceased to be offered. Having their conscience purged there would have been no continuing need to observe the sacrifice. The system could not affect such an outcome in the hearts of those who participated to the contrary there was a remembrance of sins made at every sacrifice. Why was this true? The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. While these sacrifices could not take away sin they could certainly serve as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ by whose offering of himself sin could be taken away. The offering of Christ once for all sanctifies us. There is no compelling reason to continue to offer sacrifice. His sacrifice was sufficient and it was the “very image” of that which the Old Testament simply bore a shadow. The shadow was designed to point us to the ultimate sacrifice.