How Jesus Fulfilled the Law
by Mary Cage
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. - Matt. 5:17-20
Several points are made by Jesus in the above passage:
The law (Mosaic law) that He was born under was going to be fulfilled in Him.
He was not speaking only of the Mosaic law, but the entire Old Covenant law and tradition as set
forth in what we call the "Old Testament.". We know this from His words, "Law or the prophets,"
which was how one spoke of the Old Testament in Jesus' day.
He says that the law will never pass away so long as there is a heaven and earth. This has to
mean that His fulfilling of it is greater and different than simply destroying it and replacing it,
that in some yet unexplained manner He was going to work an act of transformation on all that went
before, so that the law and prophets would not merely be replaced, but fulfilled and given a fuller
He is "indicting" the Pharisees by saying that not only must the commandments be taught, but kept. Then He says that righteousness must exceed the Pharisees' and scribes' righteousness, because they were full of much talk about their holiness, but did not perfectly keep the law. If one is going to be made righteous and holy by the law, he must perfectly keep it. Much of Jesus' teaching was meant to show that righteousness cannot come by keeping the law; for no one can perfectly keep it.
The people (religious leaders) who tried the hardest to keep the law could not keep it. Jesus was going to usher in a better way by fulfilling the law in Himself and His Work.
Now, if we can learn what He meant by this, we will be very enlightened. In fact, the very meaning of the law and prophets -- the entire Old Testament -- and also the New, will be opened unto us, if we can just learn how Jesus fulfilled the law!
We need to go back to some passages in the Old Testament before we do anything else.
Keep in mind that the nation of Israel was God's chosen people of the Old Covenant. Unto them He gave the Mosaic law, and it is comprised of two parts: The moral, social and dietary laws (based on the Ten Commandments and other laws God gave) and the Ceremonial Law (the sacrificial system.)
Now, it is not too difficult for many to come to understand how Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law. All of the ceremonial law including the different kinds of offerings and their purpose, the priesthood, the Tabernacle and its furnishings, were a shadow or type of Jesus Christ. Where there is a shadow there has to be a solid object with light shining on it to cast that shadow. Jesus is that solid object, Who is not revealed until later; nevertheless His shadow is seen throughout the Old Testament through peoples, places and things. When He came to earth to be the Perfect Sacrifice, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, He fulfilled all of the meaning of the ceremonial law. And His fulfilling of the ceremonial law is bound up in His fulfilling of the moral law also. His fulfilling of the ceremonial law is what makes possible His fulfilling of the moral law, and His getting it into your and my heart -- spiritually.
In several places in the prophetic works, God speaks of bringing forth a better way than external, religious, ritualistic keeping of the Law. A way that He can really make a person His own! We will site one of these passages, but there are several in the Old Testament:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. - Jeremiah 31:31-31.
Some (ultra-dispensationalists) say that the above passage is only speaking of the nation Israel coming into a new covenant with God, and is not speaking of the church age. How can this be? God does not have different plans of redemption for different people! The above passage in the Old Testament, and others like it, are speaking of Jesus Christ and the transformation He will make possible in human hearts to fulfill the law. The above may seem to be speaking only to Israel and to Jews, however, there are other passages that speak of this same message going out to the Gentiles. We will not speak of those references here, but Isaiah, for example, is full of them, speaking of the One to come as being a Light to the Gentiles, etc. (Is. 9:1,2)
Did Jesus fulfill this prophecy in Jeremiah? Hebrews tells us emphatically that He did! The book of Hebrews is all about Christ, the Perfect Sacrifice and our Eternal High Priest. Gentile Christians may not have ever been under Old Testament law and its priesthood. But we all -- Jew and Gentile -- must have a heavenly High Priest in order to be reconciled to God! If everyone needs the same High Priest to bring him to the Father, then the Old Testament passages concerning the High Priest and rites of the Tabernacle, as shadows and types, refer equally to future Jewish and Gentile believers! Hebrews is all about the New Covenant being better than the old, and that one should not accept the New and attempt to revert back to the Old, as many Judaizing Christians were doing and are doing today. And in Hebrews 8:6-13, the writer quotes the above passage in Jeremiah and adds the fact that when the new is come, the old passes away. Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in every way, and makes possible the writing of God's laws on the heart. To that extent, the external keeping of the ceremonial law and the striving to obey rules and principles has passed way, and the spiritual Lordship of Christ by His Holy Spirit has come!
When God's laws are written on man's heart, it means that He, by His Spirit, has come to live in the heart of man and be Lord over that heart! This includes both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ and are born again spiritually. (John 3:3) Ephesians is written mainly to Gentile believes and we read:
Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision (Jews) in the flesh made by hands, That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us: Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God; and Are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. - Eph. 2:11-22
Jesus came to die and be raised again, fulfilling all of the law and prophets, and making it possible to have the law of God written on the heart. What was the purpose? That we may become a habitation of God through the Spirit. The indwelling Spirit lives in us because we have been cleansed from sin by Jesus' death on the Cross and have been raised to newness of life in the Risen Christ. Jesus Christ thus becomes our Savior and our Lord. We are even ascended with Him and sit in the Heavenlies with Him. And His Holy Spirit makes all that possible in and through us.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved:) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. - Eph. 2:1-7
And now comes the best part:
For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. - Eph. 2:8-10
If you are in Christ by faith, and He is in you by His Spirit, you have been redeemed by His Love and He lives in your heart. Walk in that. In you and for you, Christ has fulfilled it all!
Interesting Related Passages:
Don't Try to Keep the Law:
The entire letter of Paul to the Galatians teaches the Better Way.
Barnhouse's audio study on Galatians
The New Birth or Christ fulfilling the law in and for you:
John, Chapter 3
The Purpose of the Law:
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