What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the law? Did Jesus abolish the law? That’s what we were taught. The law (Torah in Hebrew) was old and bad for us, so Jesus came to do away with it and start a brand new religion called Christianity. But is that what the Bible says?
Many accept the caricature of Jesus as a sort of Jewish hippie who came only to teach peace and love. But He does not fit the two-dimensional box the church has put Him in.
Here’s what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19
Here’s some questions we have after reading Matthew 5:
- Has heaven and earth passed away?
- Did Jesus accomplish everything at His first coming, or is there more to be fulfilled at His second coming?
- Why is there a second coming if there’s nothing left to fulfill/accomplish?
- If ‘fulfill’ means to do away with, what does ‘abolish’ mean? (e.g. ‘Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to do away with them but to do away with them.’ Huh??)
- Why would those who keep the Law and teach others to do so be called “great in the kingdom of heaven” if the Law is bad and has been done away with?
- What does Jesus mean when he says that our righteousness has to surpass that of the religious leaders of his day in order for us to enter the kingdom of heaven?
Is there a different “heaven and earth” now then there was when He was on the earth the first time? Has everything in the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nevi’im ) been fulfilled? Isn’t He coming again to fulfill those things that remain unfulfilled? His story (history) is not over yet is it? Doesn’t He come back to make His enemies His footstool and deliver the Kingdom of Earth back over to His Father in heaven? Doesn’t He usher in the Messianic Kingdom on earth and the resurrection of the saints and peace on earth?
Does Jesus say anything else about keeping the Law (Torah)? What about those closest to Him who spent so much time with Him?
Jesus: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15
Jesus: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:21
“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23
Jesus: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” John 15:10
John speaking of Jesus: “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:3-6
John: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:21-22
John: “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” 1 John 3:24
John: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” 1 John 5:3
John: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 1:6
The Bible defines itself if we let it.
The Biblical definition of loving God is to keep His commandments.
Our emotions and how we feel about God are not how He defines loving Him, regardless of how many times the church says it is or how many songs say it is. Re-read the verses, they could not be clearer. And they are all from the new testament!
So in order to have Jesus doing away with the Law, you have to have Him being against His Father, you have to have the commandments of Jesus being something different and separate from those of the Father. You have to have two laws, not one. And yet the above verses clearly equate the commandments of Jesus and God. And the so-called old testament says exactly the same thing:
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves. There shall be for you no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a divine image with any form that is in the heavens above or that is in the earth below or that is in the water below the earth. You will not bow down to them, and you will not serve them, because I am Yahweh your God, a jealous God, punishing the guilt of the parents on the children on the third and on the fourth generations of those hating me, and showing loyal love to thousands of generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, because Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the day of the Sabbath, to consecrate it. Six days you will work, and you will do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath for Yahweh your God; you will not do any work…” Exodus (Shemot) 20:1-10
This is the beginning of the 10 Commandments and clearly it is Yahweh who is giving the instructions to His people. Who are those who hate God? Those who break His commandments. Who are those who love God? Those who keep His commandments.
Did Jesus come to teach that the people of God should no longer follow God’s holy commandments? Did Jesus teach that His Father’s commandments were only for the Jewish people but now He was teaching a new set of commandments for the Gentiles? Is it ok for Gentile believers to worship other gods and make idols and blaspheme the name of God and break the Sabbath?
The church responds by saying that of course we must keep the 10 Commandments, although nearly all denominations fail to keep the Sabbath. No, Sunday is not the Biblical Sabbath day—the seventh day is Saturday on our modern calendars, not Sunday. Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh.
But regardless of which day the Sabbath day is, where in the Bible does it ever say that Jesus did away with all of the Law except the 10 Commandments?
If your answer is that Paul said so, then please read Was Paul against the Law? Here’s a brief summary: Even if he was against the Law (and we believe he wasn’t), what authority does Paul have to overrule what Jesus and the Father have commanded? None.
But back to Jesus. Were His teachings different from the Father? Did he ‘go rogue’? Is the God of the old testament different than the Jesus of the new testament? Were Jesus and the Father divided against themselves?
Does the Bible teach that the old testament is law and legalism and death, but the new testament is grace and love and life? After all, much of the world believes that the God of the so-called old testament is an angry, vengeful Grandfather hurling lightning bolts at unsuspecting people, but the Jesus of the new testament is love and mercy and forgiveness. Jesus always turns the other cheek, right? He’s the baby-faced Jesus of Hollywood, right?
Well that’s not at all what the Bible says if you read it.
Jesus actually sets the bar higher for keeping the Law, not lower. He teaches against the religious leaders of His day not by saying that they should give up the law or abandon it in favor of easy grace, but that they are not keeping it correctly—from the heart—as it was always intended. And that they had added to and taken away from the Law in violation of Scripture. They were following man-made doctrines and traditions over the word of God.
Jesus and the Law: Did He actually set the bar higher?
Remember that we said that Jesus actually sets the bar higher for keeping the Law; He doesn’t lower it. Let’s see if that’s true. Here is the continuation of His Sermon on the Mount, the very next verses:
You have heard that it was said to the people of old, ‘Do not commit murder,’ and ‘whoever commits murder will be subject to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Stupid fool!’ will be subject to the council, and whoever says, ‘Obstinate fool!’ will be subject to fiery hell. Matthew 5:21-22
Uh oh. The old testament law simply says that you can’t commit murder, and we’re ok with that. But Jesus comes along and says that if you’re angry with your brother (fellow citizen, neighbor, and/or believer) that you are subject to judgment and if you call him or her a name that you are subject to fiery hell!
Is this what it looks like to do away with the Law? If so, you might want to stick with the old testament law rather than following Jesus if you’re looking for an easier religion.
Let’s continue with what Jesus teaches about the Law:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it from you! For it is better for you that one of your members be destroyed than your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you! For it is better for you that one of your limbs be destroyed than your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30
Wow! Twice Jesus teaches about the Law and He sets the standard higher and talks about hell!
If Jesus came to do away with the Law, why didn’t He just say that? Instead, He quotes from the old testament and then says we should do it even better than how the Jewish people of His time understood it. Why would He do that if it was all coming to an end anyway? Did He need Paul to figure it out for Him? Of course not!
He continues with several more examples from the old testament and eventually talks about false prophets in Matthew 5:15-20. Then He says this:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many miracles in your name?’ And then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21–23
This is important, re-read the passage if need be: If Jesus came to do away with the law, why does He say to these people who consider themselves to be His followers, “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!?” And He contrasts the lawless with the one “who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
These folks call Him ‘Lord,’ they prophesy in His name, and they are even able to perform miracles in His name. These aren’t atheists or deists. They consider themselves to be Christians, saved believers in Jesus.
Jesus does not respond like Hollywood portrays Him. He seems to have a very serious problem with lawlessness. We don’t know about you, but if this is His response to those who are lawless, we don’t want to be in that camp!
Given what Jesus said, it might be important for us to know what lawlessness is as defined by the Bible. An important God principle is that the Bible defines itself if you let it. Here’s what the apostle John said:
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4
Sin is lawlessness. There we have it. So those who practice sin are lawless. Please note that stumbling and falling down occasionally is, unfortunately, human. It is not practicing sin or lawlessness.
Practicing sin and therefore being lawless is to intentionally ignore God’s commandments after being taught otherwise.
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and ‘the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.’
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The LORD (Yahweh in Hebrew) will judge His people.’
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26–31
Sinning willfully is lawlessness.
But what is sin? How do we know what it is so we can avoid it? Let’s let the Bible define itself:
But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of Yahweh God of Israel with all his heart; he did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam by which he caused Israel to sin. 2 Kings 10:31
You warned them so that they would return to your law (Torah in Hebrew). Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to your commandments but sinned against your judgments that a person must do so that they may live. They turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not listen. Nehemiah 9:29
And all Israel transgressed your law and turned aside so as not to listen to your voice, and so the curse and the oath which was written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, has been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. Daniel 9:11
What then shall we say? Is the law sin? May it never be! But I would not have known sin except through the law, for I would not have known covetousness if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” Romans 7:7
So sin is breaking the commandments of Yahweh the God of Israel as written in the Torah.
So what did Jesus say about the Law?
Did Jesus do away with the Law, and is that the same as saying that Jesus fulfilled the Law? So far we haven’t seen Jesus teaching that the Law has been done away with. In fact, we’ve seen Him raise the bar by teaching that your intention–your heart—was always supposed to be an important part of your actions. Yahweh has always wanted a people after His own heart, a people willingly and joyfully obedient to His holy and righteous laws.
Let’s continue by looking at what Jesus taught about the Law to the people of His day, and especially the religious leaders. Remember, He said to His followers that their righteousness needed to surpass that of the religious leaders in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
We’re still in the book of Matthew:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem, saying, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.” So he answered and said to them, “Why do you also break the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘The one who speaks evil of father or mother must certainly die.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or his mother, “Whatever benefit you would have received from me is a gift to God,” need not honor his father,’ and you make void the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah correctly prophesied about you saying,
‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far, far away from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
What does this mean? The Pharisees, one of the main religious groups of the time, were upset because the disciples of Jesus were eating without first ritually washing their hands. This is where the church’s lack of knowledge of the old testament law comes back to bite us. If we knew the Torah we would know that there is no verse in the law that says you must ritually wash your hands before eating a common meal!
This is one of many examples of what are known as fence rules being added to the Torah with the good intention of keeping us from sinning by breaking the commandments of God. However, as is all too often the case, what starts off with a good intention ends up with a man-made doctrine or religion.
The sect of the Pharisees (of which Paul was one) developed over time into modern rabbinic Judaism. While modern Judaism’s practices cannot all be seen in new testament times, it does give us some insight into the types of issues that were debated within the Judaism of the first century—of which Jesus was a part.
The Jewish historian, Josephus, said this about the Pharisees:
The Pharisees had passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses, for which reason they are rejected by the Sadducaean group, who hold that only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down [in Scripture], and that those which had been handed down by former generations need not be observed. And concerning these matters the two parties came to have controversies and serious differences, the Sadducees having the confidence of the wealthy alone but no following among the populace, while the Pharisees have the support of the masses. Antiquities 13.297–98
The Pharisees expected Jesus and His followers to follow the traditions that had developed over the many centuries from the time that the law was given through Moses. Jesus responds with pointing out an example of how the Pharisees actually violate the Torah through one of their traditions.
Note that He equates the commandment of God with the word of God. Remember that at the time of this conversation, the new testament had not yet been written. When Jesus and the new testament writers refer to the word of God, they are referring to the old testament. Which is what He then quotes, from Isaiah 29:13.
Again we ask, if Jesus came to do away with the Law, why is He quoting from it and calling it the commandment of God and the word of God? And again we see that rather than doing away with or lessening the law, Jesus is actually teaching His fellow Jews and religious leaders of the day to follow the commandments of God, and only the commandments of God.
While many more examples can be given, we will take a look at two more and conclude:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees—hypocrites!—because you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean! In the same way, on the outside you also appear righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:27–28
In the first verse, Jesus says that the Pharisees were neglecting the weightier matters of the Torah which they should have been doing along with the more mundane matters of the law. Again, He says that they should have been doing more of the law—all of the law—not less, and certainly not not keeping it at all!
In the second, He again points out His disdain for lawlessness and links it to hypocrisy since these religious leaders should know and teach the law. And to the reader who knew the old testament as was expected, we see Jesus make reference to the law that says coming into contact with a corpse make you unclean, which requires the person to follow the Torah’s instructions to become clean again.
Jesus fully expects His followers to understand the Scriptural references and definitions He is repeatedly using. He was a Jew (a member of the tribe of Judah) who was raised His entire life studying and keeping the Torah. He read and spoke His native Hebrew language, in addition to other languages. He was obedient to the Father in every way, willingly choosing to submit His desires to those of the Father.
We are told to follow in His footsteps.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus fulfilled the Law, and so should we!