To fulfill the Law

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).

Jesus shows his respect for the Old Testament. The Law—that is, the Torah, the five books of Moses—and the Prophets are valid for all of history, not merely for the time before Jesus was born. Not the smallest part of the Bible can be omitted. Jesus does not say that religion grows and evolves, changing as the times change, leaving behind what is no longer practical and improving as people improve. Instead, Jesus says, true religion rests on a timeless standard. People cannot drift away from the eternal standard without letting go much that is good, even much that is essential.

Why, then, did Jesus and the early Church abolish so much of the Law? Why don’t Christians maintain the kosher food rules delivered by Moses? Why is the Sabbath day, for most Christians, the first day of the week rather than the seventh? Why do Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter but neglect Passover and Yom Kippur? Why do Christians refuse to sacrifice lambs and bulls and doves to the Lord?

People have not improved; nor have we outgrown the old ways. The answer to all these questions is that Jesus has fulfilled the writings of Moses and the prophets. The holidays and sacrifices and all the teachings of the Law were pictures of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled them in such a way that practicing them is no longer relevant. Christians still study the Old Testament to learn how Jesus is revealed by these pictures. In some cases—the animal sacrifices, for example, and the seventh day Sabbath—Jesus fulfilled the Law by suffering and dying on the cross, resting in the grave on the Sabbath, and rising to life on the first day of the week. We remember these Old Testament commandments, but we do not obey them. Jesus fulfilled them for us; we are no longer bound to them. Other commandments—not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to bear false witness—Jesus also fulfilled for us, but now we are guided by these commandments as we strive to imitate Jesus and as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus.

Christians do not agree with one another about certain aspects of God’s Law. Some hold to the seventh day Sabbath; others are willing to jettison even God’s view of marriage. In general, though, the apostles chosen by Jesus have given the Church reliable guidelines about which commandments are no longer binding because Jesus fulfilled them and which commandments he fulfilled so that we can obey them and imitate him.

“Not an iota, not a dot” can pass away from God’s Word. The yodh subscript and the wavy line which distinguishes a Tau from a Heth—they all matter. We ignore no part of the Bible. We treasure it all. We study the Bible, learn its message, and teach that message to others. As we look at God’s Word, though, we find more than rules about how to live. We see the ways Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. We have not truly understood any part of the Bible until we have found Jesus in it. The entire Bible was written to bring us to him. Therefore, Jesus speaks against anyone who would ignore part of God’s Word, and he favors those who cling to the entire Word of God. Because it all is about Jesus, it all matters.  J.

3 thoughts on “To fulfill the Law

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