FULFILLING THE LAW
By Larry White
Early in the ministry of our Lord there was a certain instance of his teaching that has been highly noted in the study of his life; the "sermon on the mount". This was in his Galilean ministry.
There have been some misconceptions in regard to whom this sermon is addressed. A common mistake is to ignore the context of who he is speaking to and what he is talking about, and then assume this whole sermon is addressed to Christians.
The people he is speaking to are Jews under the Law in the Old Testament theocracy. Ideally he is addressing a faithful remnant of these Jews.
You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its taste, with what shall it be salted? it is from then on good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shines unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
The faithful Jew was the salt or preserver of the earth because the true knowledge of God was in him, and the light of that knowledge was given so that he could show it to the world by what he did and how he lived. These Jews had been schooled all their lives under the scribes and Pharisees who were the self-appointed experts on the Law and the keeping of it. Jesus here, steps in front of the scribes and Pharisees and gives the people a more accurate teaching of the Law. If any in this crowd were tender hearted and faithful to God, then they would benefit from what Jesus is going to tell them by perceiving in themselves the full weight of the Law's righteous requirement.
His main subject in this sermon is concerning the problems and misconceptions of the religion of that day. The Scribes and Pharisees were indeed experts in a way. There wasn't anyone who could out-do the Pharisees in the exact performance of exactly what the commandments stated.
But the Scribes and Pharisees were practicing law only skin deep - a surface performance of commandments, and what they could get away with, they would. If there was some "loop hole" in the Law, they would find it and use it for their own carnal advantage.
Then there came to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying, "Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And he answered and said unto them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and your mother: and, He that speaks evil of father or mother, let him die the death.' But you say, 'whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith you might have been profited by me is given to God; he shall not honor his father.' And you have made void the word of God because of your tradition."
Their religion didn't affect their heart. Jesus calls them hypocrites because of this (See Mt. 23 and the many "woes"). Jesus in this sermon brings the Law home to the heart of the people (which their teachers never did) and he lets them feel the full weight of the Law.
He begins by making sure they understand that he is not there to destroy, or nullify the Law or the Prophets.
Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.
A jot was the smallest character of the Hebrew alphabet, the Yod or (Hand). The tittle was the smallest vowel point mark under one of the Hebrew characters. Now, from this verse we want to recognize that the Law must have been fulfilled at some point because we have several references in the scriptures to it passing away, being ended and being taken out of the way.
(Col. 2:14) "nailing it to his cross"
(:16) We are not to let anyone judge us concerning keeping of the
ordinances in the Law.
(Rom. 7:6) We are delivered from the Law
(:7) The law that said, "Thou shalt not covet"
(Heb. 8:13) The writer there says that the old covenant which decays and
grows old is ready to vanish away.
(Heb. 7:12) says that since we have a new priesthood the Law also has to
So, since many jots and tittles have passed from the Law and indeed, the very Law itself has passed away, we can see that it has to have also been fulfilled.
How has it been fulfilled?
1.) Fulfilled in Prophecy
One way Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets was by fulfilling the Old Covenant predictions and prophecies.
For they that dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet asked they of Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all things that were written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead: and he was seen for many days of them that came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses unto the people. And we bring you good tidings of the promise made unto the fathers, that God has fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, 'You are my Son, this day have I begotten you.'
Jesus fulfilled literally hundreds of O.T. prophecies concerning himself, his ministry, his vicarious suffering, his death and his resurrection (Psa.22); the prophecies concerning his kingdom and his rule (Isa.2, Dan.7); plus the coming of the Spirit (Joel 2) and the glory of the new covenant (Isa.65).
2.) Fulfilled in substance
Another way he has fulfilled the Law and the prophets was by adding the substance to the form of the O.T. religion. The Mosaic tabernacle and religious service was like an empty vase which Jesus filled up with substance. Another picture would be of a scaffolding around a high rise building going up. The scaffolding is the O.T. outline of what was coming; the building is the real spiritual structure that God was building, not man. It was the antitype copy of the original type or pattern in the heavenly realm. (Heb. 8:5)
One example of this is the way the church fulfills all the particulars of the O.T. Tabernacle. When Jesus died the veil in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. (Mt. 27:51) That signified that the way into Holy of Holies (heaven itself) was now opened to us. (Heb. 9:8) and:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water...
We have been taught that the church should follow the pattern laid out in the New Testament scriptures. But the intent reader of God's word will realize that we don't follow a pattern, we are the pattern. The church is the heavenly Jerusalem, the pattern that Moses was following. Jesus has brought the pattern to earth and we in the kingdom share this new city's glory. Christ is the body, or substance of the New covenant that was casting the shadow of the Old. (Col. 2:16-17)
And there is something else you may consider in your studies. This type of fulfilling may be to what he refers when he says in Mt. 5:18, "Till heaven and earth pass away". With the coming of a new order in Heaven and a new religious economy among men on Earth, the Old Heaven and the Old Earth were done away. That is why we have a New Age, the Old has ended. That is why God says, "Behold I make all things new." (Rev. 21:5)
The destruction of Jerusalem signaled the end of the Old economy and the word of God being fulfilled.
And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her utterly with fire. For God did put in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth."
The great city is Jerusalem:
And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
You can also tell he is referring to Jerusalem from:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that her desolation is near. Then let them that are in Judaea flee unto the mountains; and let them that are in the middle of her depart out; and let not them that are in the country enter into it. For these are days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
3.) Fulfilled in us
The third way that Jesus fulfills the Law has to do with our lives as Christians.
Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The person with an attitude of iniquity toward God's word like the scribes and Pharisees had, would not amount to much in the kingdom. But the person who did everything God commanded from his heart - in the kingdom would be called great. So there again you have Jesus pointing up the bad example of the scribes and Pharisees.
For I say to you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.
You could not serve God like the scribes and Pharisees did and make it into the kingdom. The Jew's righteousness had to be greater than just an outward performance of the letter of the Law. This is where Jesus gives several examples of what he means.
You have heard that it was said to them of old time, "You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:" but I say to you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, "Raca," shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, "You fool," shall be in danger of the hell of fire.
The Pharisees could say that they didn't murder, yet in their hearts they could be full of anger and hatred. Jesus says to not even be angry.
In verse 27, the scribes and Pharisees could make sure they did not legally commit adultery - but Jesus says you should not even lust in your heart after a woman, which is also the application of the 10th commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbors wife".
In verse 43, the Pharisees could love their neighbors but they would hate their enemies. Jesus says that they should love their enemies, which is again a higher righteousness which the Law required: loving your neighbor as yourself.
So Jesus here gives the full weight of the Law aimed at the heart and what the Law really required. The Pharisees ducked from this weightiness and therefore were not feeling the full effect of the Law. You can see this in:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank you, that I am not as the rest of men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get." But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me the sinner." I say to you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be humbled; but he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
The condemnation of the Law was not reaching the Pharisee's heart and they were not allowing it to reach the heart's of the people either. Jesus here lets the Law have its full penetration into the heart, so that the people might know how undone they are before God, the very effect of the Law that was nullified by the Jewish rabbis, so that they might seek the savior and not rely on the self-righteous example of the scribes and Pharisees.
How could they be more righteous than the Pharisees? Simple. By recognizing the state of their hearts before God in every commandment. By submitting their hearts to God - being broken hearted (like the Publican), by mourning for their sins in their hearts and hungering and thirsting for righteousness and cleansing - looking for and coming to Jesus for this very thing.
It is interesting that Jesus does not give instruction on how to quit being angry or lusting in your heart or on how to produce love for your enemies. This is left for the New Covenant to realize in man.
So how can a man stop lusting; stop getting angry; how can he start loving his enemies?
Paul says in:
But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another. But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will by no means perform the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; so that you may not do the things that you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
If we live in the Spirit, in the Spirit let us also walk. Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another.
Walk in the Spirit, is the idea of "keep in line" with the Spirit, and that line is the law of the Spirit of life. Law here is not law in written form as codified edicts but law as a governing principle. His rule is when we are being led by him and we are following - keeping in line. The rule of the spirit which we follow, we will come to realize is none other than the holy spiritual life of Jesus Christ communicated to us by the Holy Spirit. It is part of the mystery of God, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
So to walk in the spirit is to have a relationship with God whereby he gives you life in his son, and the light of that life governs your behavior.
If Paul says that we are not under law - then how do we govern our behavior?
The common answer is that we have all the O.T. Law restated in the N.T. scriptures (except for the 4th commandment about keeping the Sabbath holy), therefore we should follow this "New Law".
The problem with this teaching is that when we view the New Covenant Scriptures like a legal document, it is not a new law, it is still the Law of Moses - which Paul says that we are not under if we are led of the Spirit. What we have now to govern our behavior is a "NEW law", it is the law, or rule of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.
It is not a written code stated or even restated, but an inward guide of discerning God's will and doing what is pleasing in his sight by bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
-- This is the law written on our hearts (Heb. 8:8-12)
-- This is our "law of liberty" (Jam. 2:12). Paul says that where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty (2Cor. 3).
-- What is the "law of Christ? It is to "bear one another's burdens" (love each other) (Gal. 6:2)
-- What is the Royal Law? The King's Law? It is to love your neighbor as yourself. (Jam. 2:8)
-- "Love does no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Rom. 13)
-- But love is a fruit of the Spirit... (Gal. 5:22)
So when we believe the truth of God and believe what God says about our lives in the spirit, we can understand the world as God understands it. We can see our lives in the perspective in which God sees them. And we can pity others with compassion and love as God loves, and we can discern the true nature of the flesh and have a self-control we did not imagine was possible. Paul says that if we walk in the spirit we will not by any means accomplish the lusts of the flesh. When we are led of the Spirit we are not under law. We don't need to be. "Under law" means that you rely on the Law for obedience; i.e. to an external command to govern your behavior.
Then what good is the N.T. scriptures to me if I'm led of the Spirit?
Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.
Instruction in righteousness? Well, I thought my behavior was governed by the Holy Spirit!
It is, when we walk in the spirit. But that does not mean that you know it all. Being led by the Spirit of God is not inspiration. We have to learn and believe the truth.
The things that you have by the Spirit cannot be instructed.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
I've heard many sermons on the fruit of the Spirit, and they usually define the words and then exhort the saints to have these qualities, without a word about how. You cannot instruct someone and therefore love will be in their heart. You can define love and describe love - but love is a response from a compassionate heart with a new perspective - God's perspective. Love is something that must be done - must be experienced to know how to love. Love is the fruit of the Spirit.
I tried describing the color Green to my son who is Red-Green color blind. It did not matter how eloquently or vividly I described it to him, I could not make him see Green or have the cool and soothing experience of seeing Green.
You cannot instruct someone on the art of being joyful and thereby cause them joy. Joy is something that comes from inside you - it is a response of satisfaction from obtaining your hearts desire. It is a fruit of the Spirit.
It is the same with Peace. Paul can exhort you to let the peace of God rule in your heart - but if that peace is not already there, it is not going to do much good. Peace is an experience - the fruit of the Spirit.
How do you instruct someone on how to be longsuffering or gentle or good? How would you instruct someone how to have self-control? These things are the fruit of the Spirit. They are produced in the life of the child of God who has given his life to God and is walking by faith in the New spiritual life he has obtained through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I think this is the third way that Jesus fulfills the Law; by fulfilling it in us.
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
What the Law of God required of man is not obtained or realized by keeping the Law, but by walking in the Spirit. Jesus fulfilled the Law by realizing in his human life the holiness that the Law required. Now he recreates that life of holiness by living in and through us, as we walk in the spirit by faith.
When Paul says that we are not under law - like Jesus he is not trying to destroy the Law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. I think this is what Paul meant in:
For I through law, died to law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.
So, how do I walk in the Spirit?
The quick answer is, "by faith." But I will give you 5 suggestions.
1.) Believe - in the reality of the Spirit.
Walk in the truth of who you are in Christ Jesus. Your new hidden identity. You are a New creature in Christ and not anymore just a mere human being. Believe what God says about your life in Him, not what you think about yourself. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself about who you are.
2.) Give - your life to God.
We cannot have God's best without a submissive resignation of the control of our own lives into his hands. Jesus gave his life for you - now give your life to him, holding nothing back, forsake it all and follow him.
3.) Aspire - Set your affections on things above.
This world is not my home - and my life is hidden with Christ in God. It is invisible. Living unto God - being devoted to him as his New creature is to walk in the Spirit.
4.) Trust - in the active compassionate presence of the living God in your life.
Do not trust in your own think-so's or your own wisdom and ability, but in God who makes you live and who loves you and provides everything you need to do his will.
5.) Crucify - work with the Spirit in putting to death the deeds of the flesh.
You are not just a man or woman anymore - the deeds of the body and the desires of the flesh are not who you really are. You do not owe them anything. They are only temporary. When we walk in the Spirit we will more and more set our minds on our spiritual life and let the deeds of the body die. Walk as those who are alive from the dead.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, OR. February 3, 1985)