Fulfillment - Law and Prophet

In Jesus, ALL the promises of God are Yea and Amen, and the Law and Prophets find their fulfillment - (Matthew 5:17-21). 

Scroll Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash
Fulfillment
 and Kingdom are prominent themes in Matthew’s gospel. With the arrival of the Messiah, the era of fulfillment has begun. All the things anticipated in the “Law and Prophets” are coming to fruition. But with the advent of Jesus, what are the implications for the Mosaic Law? Fortunately, he himself provides us with a clear answer - [Scroll Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash].

Jesus did not come to adjudicate the interpretive disputes between competing Jewish sects over the details of the Law. His focus is not on how to keep it perfectly or whether it must be restored to a pristine state free of later traditions.

Instead, Jesus sums up his mission as one of fulfillment:

  • (Matthew 5:17-20) - “Do not think that I came to pull down the law or the prophets, I came not to pull down, but to fulfill. For verily I say to you until the heaven and the earth shall pass away, not one least letter or one point will pass away from the law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore, shall relax one of these commandments, even the least one, and teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens, but whosoever shall do and teach, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, in nowise may you enter the kingdom of the heavens.”

SCRIBES AND PHARISEES


The Pharisees keep the law scrupulously, having hedged it about with a myriad of oral traditions. As for the Sadducees, they reject that same “oral law,” insisting instead on adhering to what is written in the Torah itself without additions. But Jesus intends something beyond the arguments raging between these two sects.

His most consistent opponents are the Pharisees, not because he keeps the law more scrupulously than they, but because of his looseness to some requirements of the Law as interpreted by the “traditions of the elder.”

Moreover, if he came simply to reaffirm the Torah as originally written, why do the Sadducees find it necessary to conspire and plot his death?

Certainly, Jesus did not come to dismantle the “law or the prophets.” And when he states this, he is referring to the entire body of the inspired writings that constitute the Hebrew Bible, and not just to its first five books or the Torah itself.

In the New Testament, “law and the prophets” is a summary statement for all that God has revealed in the scriptures - (Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, Acts 13:15, Romans 3:21).

And Jesus demonstrates that he is no rigorist when it comes to the minutiae of the legal code, especially in his attitude toward Sabbath-keeping and dietary restrictions. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, a perspective that the strict legalist could never endorse.

JOT OR TITTLE


His claim that neither “one jot nor one tittle” of the Law will pass away is a colorful way of describing the unchangeable nature of the expressed will of God, for the written word represents both His will and nature.

However, that does not mean God’s past revelations reveal everything about Him, or that it is His final word on every matter. And if it is His final and absolute word, why does He now send His Son to bring new teachings that go even further than the statutes and regulations that were given to Israel by Moses?

Similarly, the author of Hebrews begins his letter by stressing the supreme “word” of the Son, one that surpasses all previous “words” given in the prophets. In the past, God spoke “in many ways” and in “many parts,” but His decisive “word” has been “spoken in His Son.”

The very fact that the Levitical system of priests and sacrifices proved incapable of “achieving the purification of sins” or cleansing anyone’s “conscience from dead works to serve the living God” proves that the old legislation was provisional and incomplete.

And this change was anticipated by the prophets themselves when they predicted the coming “new covenant,” a covenant of a different order than the Mosaic legislation – (Jeremiah 31:31, Hebrews 8:6-13).

FILL TO THE BRIM


In the passage in Matthew, “fulfill” translates the Greek verb that has the sense “fill to the full, to make full, to fill up completely” (pléroō). And this is precisely the point and exactly what Jesus does – fulfill the Law AND the Prophets. Moreover, Matthew presents Jesus as nothing less than the fulfillment of what has been promised in the “law and the prophets.”

This understanding is borne out by the several antitheses that follow his declaration about the “law and prophets.” In each case, Jesus introduces a legal principle, then reinterprets it ON HIS OWN AUTHORITY, and each time, he begins with the emphatic Greek pronoun egō, or “I, myself…” - (Matthew 5:21, 5:27, 5:31, 5:33, 5:38, 5:43).

In doing so, Jesus goes to the heart of each matter. For example, it is not enough simply not to kill. A disciple must abstain from hatred and anger, emotions that slip easily into violence and murder.

And the six antitheses provide real-life examples of what it means to have “righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,” and to see the “law and prophets” fulfilled in one’s life.

This is especially demonstrated in his explanation of how one “loves his neighbor as himself.” With their rigorist approach to the Law, the “Scribes and Pharisees” interpret this commandment as meaning they owe love only to their immediate “neighbor,” But not to their enemy. Jesus expounds the true meaning by pointing to the nature of God Himself.

If He sends rain upon the just and the unjust, who are we to withhold love and mercy to our “enemies”? Above all else, by doing acts of kindness to our sworn “enemy” we emulate God and become “perfect as He is.”

Doing good to one’s “enemy” is the highest expression of the love commandment, and the ultimate expression of that divine statute is the sacrificial death of the Son of God who gave himself to reconcile men to God when they were yet his “enemies.”

NEW ERA


Sunrise Scotland - Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash
[Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash]

In the messianic era, it is not conformance to the rigorous requirement of the Torah that determines entrance into the kingdom, but whether one obeys Christ’s words, including his interpretations of the Law, words that Jesus invests with ultimate authority:

  • Not every person that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven… whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. And every person that hears these sayings of mine and does them not shall be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:22-27).

Even if the disciple rigorously avoids committing acts of murder and adultery, as stipulated in the Law, if he harbors hatred or lust, he fails to keep the words of Jesus and may very well find himself rejected on the day when it matters the most. The standard of righteousness demanded by him goes far beyond anything found in the Torah.

This theme of fulfillment is threaded throughout the gospel of Matthew. Most often, a citation formula is used to introduce a scriptural passage that has been fulfilled in Jesus, usually employing the Greek verb meaning “fulfill” (pléroō), and this understanding originates with Jesus himself:

  • (Matthew 3:15 - “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Compare Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 4:14, 8:17, 12:16-21. Also, Luke 24:44 - “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled”).

Fulfillment does not mean the new revelation is unconnected with the old covenant, or that the Hebrew scriptures have been discarded. Jesus has come, not “to pull down the law or the prophets, but to fulfill.”

Thus, what was germinal under the old covenant has come to fruition in the new one inaugurated by Jesus. In him, “all the promises of God are Yea, wherefore also through him, Amen.” He is “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” And he himself is the ultimate fulfillment of every “jot and tittle” found in the “law and prophets.”



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