What We Can Learn From The Cities of Refuge

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there.  They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood.  He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city.  Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them.  And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unknowingly, and did not hate him in the past.’”

Joshua 20:1-5

Old Testament Israel did not have a criminal justice system comparable to ours.  If someone killed your loved one and you naturally desired justice, you would put together a posse and look to kill this person in return.  All you would care about is that your loved one was dead and you want immediate judgment.  God was concerned with ensuring the safety of the one who had committed accidental homicide, which is why He designed these cities of refuge into the Old Testament system.

Christians are told in the New Testament that what is written in the Old Testament is there to instruct them, give them hope and encouragement, be an example to them, and admonish them (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11).  The writer of Hebrews also said that what is in the Old Testament Law of Moses serves as “shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Hebrew 10:1), meaning that many of the people, laws, things, and events one reads about in the Old Testament foreshadow spiritual truths in the New Testament.

Keeping this in mind, the writer of Hebrews also tells Christians that they “have fled for refuge” (Hebrew 6:18).  Refuge from what?  The slavery of sin and its eternal consequence of death in the fires of hell (Romans 6:16-18, 23; Revelation 21:8).  Where is the only place anyone can find refuge from being enslaved to sin and thus condemned to hell?

The Bible teaches that if one is “in Christ,” they have access to “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3), such as redemption and forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14), no condemnation (Romans 8:1) and salvation (2 Timothy 2:10).  In other words, Christ is our city of refuge!  Just as the one who had committed accidental homicide could be safe from vengeance inside a city of refuge in Israel so long ago, today we can find refuge from bondage to sin and being condemned to the lake of fire if we are in Christ Jesus!

The author of the majority of the New Testament, the apostle Paul, used the phrase “in Christ” at least 164 times in all his writings.  That tells me being in Christ is important, and it is.  Salvation does not exist outside of Christ; one finds it only in Him, which means in His body, the church, which fills Him up (Ephesians 1:22-23).  The reason I say salvation is found only in His body is because Scripture teaches that Jesus is the Savior of His body, His church (Ephesians 5:23).  No wonder Paul stated that his goal was to be found in Christ (Philippians 3:9)!

How do we get into Christ?  Look at what Paul wrote:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  What is that body?  Christ’s church (Ephesians 1:22-23), of which there is only one (Ephesians 4:4).

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).

If you want to be in Christ and find refuge from hell, you must be baptized into Him, into His church.  Would you like to learn more?  Let me know in the comments.

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