Jesus and the Law
How can we ever be good enough to please God?
What is the Law?
Strictly speaking, the Law is the contents of the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah or the Pentateuch, written by Moses. The Law gave God’s requirements for how humanity should live. We cannot obey the Law no matter how hard we try.
The Jewish people gradually had a view that was different to the teachings of Moses.
After the Jewish people went into exile in Babylon, many no longer spoke the Hebrew language. A lot of Jews did not access the Hebrew scriptures directly. The way most people learned about the Law and the Prophets was through teaching from religious leaders. Many of these religious leaders distorted and misquoted the scriptures. The teachings of the elders replaced the teaching of the scripture with the average Jewish person.
Filtering the Bible through the teachings of others has been a pattern repeated throughout history for Christians also. For hundreds of years, the Latin version of the Bible was the book of choice for the church. It meant that the majority of church members could not directly access the Bible for themselves. People were reliant on teaching from their ‘priests’. Much of this teaching, at best, was a distortion of the Bible, and much was the invention of men.
Today we are privileged to have access to the Bible in our language. We have low-cost printing and electronic reproduction of Bibles and the education to read these. Increasingly, many who profess to be Christians seem reluctant to read and study the Bible seriously. There is an increasing reliance upon the teachings of men, which abound in various forms in our technological culture. The same distortions and misrepresentations of traditional Christianity are happening.
The only way we can judge the quality of the teaching we receive is to compare this with the Bible for ourselves. The Bereans were described as nobler than the Thessalonians because they searched the scriptures daily to see if the teaching of Paul was the truth (Acts 17:10-12).
Jesus tackles some erroneous teachings that the Jewish people thought to be directly from the Law and the Prophets. From the average listener, it could well have seemed that Jesus was throwing out the Law and the Prophets in contradicting their teachers. From their perspective, they considered the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees to be an accurate representation of scripture. Before Jesus tackles the wrong teaching issue by issue, He points out that He is not destroying the Law and the Prophets; instead, He is fulfilling these.
17 “Don’t think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the Law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.Matthew 5:17-20
Jesus Fulfils the Law
Thayer defines ‘fulfil’ as to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to the full measure
We see again and again Matthew quoting Old Testament scripture that Jesus fulfils as He lived on earth. Jesus has fulfilled many prophecies, and all will be fulfilled when He returns. The Law has three different categories, ceremonial Law, judicial and moral. In His death and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled all the laws concerning sacrifice and priesthood (Hebrews 10:1-14). In another sense, Jesus fulfilled the Law because He perfectly obeyed and kept all the Law’s requirements (Romans 3:20-22).
The Law of God is perfect, and as such, Jesus did not bring an improved version of this. There is no contradiction between the Father and the Son (Psalm 19:7). God’s standards have not changed. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial Law, and the moral and judicial rulings are still God’s requirements for men. Of course, we cannot live perfectly by God’s requirements which is why the basis for our relationship with God is not our keeping of the Law but faith in Jesus, who has met the Law requirements (Hebrews 10:19-22).
The Scribes and Pharisees worked very hard at seeking to keep their version of the Law. At best, this was only an outward observation of selected bits of what they thought the Law was. Jesus spoke of them making the outside of the cup and plate clean but doing nothing about the filth inside (Luke 11:39). It is necessary to keep all of the Law from the heart to exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. The point of the Law is to expose our inability to do this. It prepares people to come to Jesus and to find righteousness through him (Galatians 3:24).
We can never fulfil the requirements of the Law through our efforts. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Laws demands. His perfection can be accounted unto us by grace which we accessed through faith in Christ.