Wineskins

Unexpected Challenge

In Matthew Chapter 9, Jesus Christ is confronted with a curious criticism. The disciples of John were bothered by the fact that Jesus’ own disciples were not engaging in fasting (Mat. 9:14-17). This confrontation teaches many things concerning the purpose of Jesus’ ministry, His attitude toward the traditions of the Pharisees, and His knowledge of His coming death and resurrection. Each of these topics is important, but we will instead focus upon the curious illustration Jesus uses to answer this challenge. Jesus uses the example of wineskins to describe the great change that was coming upon the world at the fulfillment of His ministry on earth and beyond.

A First Century Example

Jesus uses the mundane example of wineskins to teach a seminal point. Newly made wine in the first century was not yet fully fermented, but instead continued to ferment over time. This caused a wineskin to harden and become less pliable. Placing newly made wine into an old, hardened wineskin was risky because the skin could only stretch so far, typically the result being a burst skin. So what point is Jesus making with this example?

Coming Change

The wineskins describe the nearing change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant in the first century. The Pharisees epitomized in many ways the thinking of the “old”, although their perversion of the Old Covenant had twisted the Law of Moses well beyond its original intention. This Law was being fulfilled by Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection to the Heavenly Tabernacle (Gal. 4:4, 5; Eph. 2:15; Heb. 7:19; et al.). When the Old Covenant was removed, that meant the removal of all of the Old Covenant, replaced with the New Covenant in its entirety. The two covenants were never intended to be mixed (Gal. 5:1ff). The full ramification of Jesus’ words was not realized for years after His death, when certain Jewish Christians attempted bind Old Covenant practice (such as circumcision) upon New Covenant Christianity. This mixture of covenants was never intended, and risked destroying the body of Christ.

Old vs. New

Today, this controversy is not as strong as it was in the first century. There are few in the body of Christ seeking to bind the practices of the Old Covenant upon the New Covenant (save possibly instrumental music). However, the general principle still applies. These Jewish Christians were attempting to carry traditions and practices of their former lives into their new lives as Christians. Are Christians ever guilty of this practice today? In order to have a truly new life, we must take great care to not allow the practices of our old life to become mixed. Otherwise the results will be just as disastrous.

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