By Shereen Ghobrial
Part Two: He Came 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.” —Matthew 5:17-18 ESV
Why Did We Have The Law?
Many people ask, “Why did God choose the nation of Israel, and why did they have such a special relationship with Jehovah in the Old Testament in spite of their being stiff-necked (Ex. 32:9)?* Why were they given the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law?
The story of the nation of Israel started in Genesis 11-12 when God appeared to Abram in Ur, which is modern day Iraq. Abram, later named Abraham, was living in idolatry (Josh. 24:2). God “called” him to leave Ur and follow Him. The Bible teaches us that God’s calling is according to His grace (1 Cor. 1:26-29), and it is not because anyone deserves it.
What was the purpose of the calling of Abraham and the special relationship Jehovah had with the nation of Israel? We can find this answer in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary” (3:19). The apostle continued, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (v.24). God gave the law to prove to men and women their failure and show to them their need for a Savior.
An analogy we may understand is the way quality control is done in food processing or medicine factories. It is through “sampling”: taking a small sample from each production batch and testing it. The sample is a representation of the whole batch. In a similar way God took a sample – Israel – from the human race and provided all the factors for the success of the divine test:
- Ancestors who were great heroes of faith: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob;
- God revealed Himself to Israel and spoke to them through Moses;
- The God-given perfect law to guide in high moral living and the building a godly society; and
- God directed them to build a tabernacle for Himself to dwell among the nation.
The apostle Paul listed more blessings and privileges for the nation of Israel in Romans 11.
What was the result of testing this sample of human kind? It was total failure that ended by crucifying the Son of God. The conclusion of this test was: Men and women are sinners, and they need the Savior.
Was The Problem In The Law?
One may argue it is impossible to live at the level of moral standard demanded by the law, or that the law has a flaw or is inadequate. But David said, “The law of the Lord is perfect” (Ps. 19:7). Paul confirmed that thought, saying, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). If we continue with the analogy of sample testing we can see that Jesus came as another sample and passed the test completely: He fulfilled the law. This proves the law is holy and perfect because there was a man, Jesus Christ, who was able to fulfill all the law.
Jesus And The Temple
Through the ages, a common thought of man has been that God is far away and does not want to have any relationship with humankind. The wise men of Babylon said, “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh”(Dan. 2:11). However, the Bible teaches that God desires to live among His people and to establish a direct connection with them. This was first manifested in the garden of Eden, and then repeated in many other incidents, including the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem.
The main thought of the temple is God’s presence through the ark of the covenant. The tabernacle was holy because it was sanctified by Jehovah’s presence. The temple was holy, too, because of Jehovah’s presence. The walls, furniture and gold – even the sacrifices – were valued because of God’s presence. This is the lesson the Lord Jesus was seeking to teach the Jews when He said: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?” (Mt. 23:16-17).
When Solomon built a temple for Jehovah, the ark of the covenant was carried there and placed inside. The temple then, in a sense, became the new dwelling of Jehovah. The colorful gate and linen walls of the tabernacle lost their value because their true value had been found in the presence of God. Likewise, when Immanuel (“God with us,” Mt. 1:23), the Lord Jesus, was present, He overshadowed the temple that was built by human hands. Jesus Christ is the true temple because “in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
The Jews did not understand because they focused on the material things – the stones, marble and gold (1 Chr. 29:2) – and missed the main purpose of the temple as God’s dwelling. Therefore when God came in the flesh they did not care about Him, for He took the form of a lowly person. Without understanding, they accused Him of talking offensively about the temple when He said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19; see Mt. 26:61, 27:40; Mk. 14:58, 15:29).
Jesus And The Sabbath
One of the rules in the law is to rest on the Sabbath. This was strongly followed by Jews. The Old Testament was very clear about not carrying any belongings on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:9-11; Jer. 17:21-22,27). However, Jesus did miracles on the Sabbath a number of times. For example, when Jesus healed the paralyzed man by the pool in Bethesda, He said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (Jn. 5:8). The Jews accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath because they considered His miracle to be work. Jesus answered, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (v.17).
The Lord Jesus was not breaking the law; rather, He was fulfilling the essence of it, which is love. He clearly summarized the law when He was asked about the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-39).
By following the law without love we could make a religion as the Pharisees had done. If we would follow love without any law we would create anarchy. When by faith we follow the law in showing our love to God and fellow humans, then we live like Jesus.
Jesus Was A Revolutionist
At the time when Jesus walked on earth, there was a strong religious system in Israel. They had:
- A magnificent temple which was built by Herod,
- Many religious sects including the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes,
- Plenty of priests organized into scheduled divisions such as Zacharias in Luke 1:5.
On the other hand, Israel had experienced 400 years of silence, during which God did not give any new revelations or miracles. Other than a few individuals, the nation did not repent and they did not accept the Son of God when He came spreading the good news of the kingdom.
How can there be such a contradiction: a strong religious system without any power or influence on the hearts? People forgot their main focus should be their relationship with Jehovah as their God. Instead, they focused on practices and rituals. The Bible, however, leads us to a relationship. In it we see several: Adam and God, Israel and Jehovah, and believers and Christ.
The Lord Jesus respected and fulfilled the law, but He attacked false religion. He was a revolutionary because He challenged and condemned the religious leaders of His time. He encouraged His disciples to listen to the teaching of those leaders because they taught the Law, but He discouraged following in their footsteps because they did not live what they taught (Mt 23:1-3).
Christian Or Religious?
Are you a Christian or simply a religious person? You cannot be both! If you superficially follow rules, even the divine rules of Scripture, you can consider yourself a religious person. This would make you follow a group of people, a set of teachings or theological principles, and might even lead to practices and rituals that are not biblical.
On the other hand, the true Christian follows a person: Christ. The Christian reads the Bible because he wants to know more about Christ. The believer meets with other Christians because they are the body of Christ on earth. He or she serves and spreads the good news of the gospel because of a deep desire for others to enjoy this great person, the Lord Jesus Christ, too.
Let us be careful, for our fallen human nature tends to admire any rituals that satisfy our conscience. If allowed to work in our lives, this could divert us away from the person of Christ. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
* The Lord used the expression stiff-necked about the children of Israel to describe their stubbornness and disobedience (Ex. 32:9, 33:3,5, 34:9; Dt. 9:6,13, 10:16; 2 Chr. 30:8; Acts 7:51).