This will be part 2 of our Bible study series on Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In the first part, we took a look at the Beatitudes and what they meant for the believer. We are going to continue on in this series, by looking at another passage of scripture (Matt. 5:17-20) from the sermon on the mount. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says (Matt. 5:17), “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
There are many people who still preach the Law and to live solely by the Law. It is suggested by some that we see so much trouble in the world and in our society today because we have gotten away from God’s Law. Many of these people believe that if we were to simply get back to the Law and live by the Law, then all of the world’s problems would go away. So, this leaves us with the question: Should the Christians of today, the genuine believers, live by the Law? Should we solely live by the Law? Let’s study and answer these questions and thoughts today
Before we can get into studying what Jesus said about the Law, we must first clear up some confusion about the Mosaic Law. The intent of the Law was for the children Israel to know how to live righteously before the Lord. Through Israel, the rest of the world would be taught the Law and how to live righteously before the Lord.
This did not happen because the Israelites were unable to fully keep the Law. They chased after other gods and did not faithfully serve Him. They had gotten so bad that the Lord had commanded them to stop with their offering of sacrifice at a point (Is. 1:11-13). The very idea of them teaching others how to live righteously would have been ironic, I suppose – definitely hypocritical.
Typically, the Law is thought to be this very simple it’s actually very complex. People only think of the Ten Commandments when they think of the Law yet it the Ten Commandments and several statutes. The Law also included the sacred feasts (Ex 23:14-17) and other observances like Yom Kippur.
To give you a better idea of how complex the Law is, it is composed of 5 books in our Bibles (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) Jews will recognize these books for what makes up the Pentateuch (or Torah). If anyone ever tells you that they live by the Law, ask them to show you the Law – they better not only show you the Ten Commandments.
No man could keep the Law
The idea of living solely by the Law should be something we would consider to be preposterous. Reason one: the Israelites, were commanded to do it but could not fully. If one tried to keep the Law to the best of their abilities, but failed at one small part of the Law, they failed to keep the entire thing (James 2:10).
The Law was given to show mankind what was considered to be disobedience to the Lord. At the very same time, it became very clear that man could not uphold every single facet of the Law. Reason two as to why solely living by the Law should be considered preposterous: mankind in its nature can’t stop sinning.
Is the Law imperfect?
This might lead some to wonder, why would the Lord give man a Law that he could not follow? This could lead some to believe the Law is not perfect. However, the Law is as righteous as its creator – God. There is nothing wrong with the Law! It is us, mankind, that is flawed.
You see, if we try to live solely by the Law, we will never find our way out from sin. The goal is for us to become righteous, yet we’re unable to do this because we can’t uphold the Law. The Law shows us that we need serious help if we want to become righteous spiritually.
This is where Jesus enters into the picture. For some, Jesus is a stumbling block and their faith in God stops at Christ (the Messiah). It’s your prerogative on whether you will believe in Christ or not, but scripture tells us that God loved mankind and gave us His only begotten Son (John 3:16). You can choose to believe scripture or not – I choose to believe.
Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law
During His sermon on the mount, Jesus tells His disciples (Matt. 5:17) that He did not come to destroy the Law, but came to fulfill the Law. The writer of Hebrews explained this thought in so great a detail that we must reference that passage of scripture (Heb. 9:1-12) to understand why Jesus is the end part (the conclusion) of the Law.
The writer of the book of Hebrews opens this chapter by talking about what came through the Law:
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. 2 For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; 3 and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of AllHebrews 9:1-3 NKJV
In the first verse of this passage, the writer mentions the “earthly sanctuary” – this is very significant. In Exodus 25:8, the Lord commands that the Israelites build a sanctuary for Him. In Exodus 36:8-38, you can read of the building of the first tabernacle (if you wish).
The tabernacle was a large mobile tent that was made for the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. It was made up of a sanctuary, where the priests served, and then there was a second part to the tabernacle called The Holiest of All. This part sat behind the sanctuary and was only entered one time a year by the High Priest.
Man was not perfect, so he could not fulfill the Law
The writer then follows up with this key statement:
6 Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.Hebrews 9:6-8 NKJV
I mentioned the Holiest of All and how the High Priest entered into it once a year (Ex. 30:10). This one day of the year, we know as Yom Kippur (or Atonement Day). On Atonement Day, the Israelites would offer up a sacrifice to atone for the sins of everybody in the land, along with a scapegoat ceremony that I did a bible study on in the past.
Now, pay close attention to what the writer says about the Holiest of All in this passage of scripture. The writer tells us that the Holy Spirit indicated that, “the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest (revealed) while the first tabernacle was still standing.” So, what could this mean?
Surely the High Priest knew how to go into the Holiest of All in the tabernacle. That area of the tabernacle was only separated by a curtain, so it wasn’t rocket science! What we should understand is that the writer was no longer talking about the Holiest of All of the “earthly sanctuary”. Our writer is now specifically speaking of the “heavenly sanctuary”!
Now, this is fascinating because those who believe in living solely by the Law are being told that the Law did not manifest (reveal) the way to Heaven! Let’s back this thought up with sound doctrine and reasoning. The Isrealites had the Law, yet even those who managed to be faithful did not go to heaven when they died! We know this to be true from the parable that Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). When Old Testament saints passed away, they went to Hades and dwelt in Abraham’s bosom!
“Why did they not go to heaven?“, somebody may ask. The answer is simply that the Law did not reveal the way to get to heaven. Again, someone may believe this to be a flaw of the Law but the Law is not flawed! Nothing that is of God is flawed.
We will see that our writer even tells us that this was all simply symbolic:
9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscienceHebrews 9:9 NKJV
It was all symbolic for man. The Law could make man perfect but in no way was a man capable of performing the Law to its fullest! Yes, man was able to perform the service of offering up sacrifice and praise to God, yet the inner man was still not perfect after the fact. This is why man would have to offer up the sacrifice of atonement year after year, because after the day of atonement, man would go back out and sin again.
Christ came and fulfilled
Our writer then makes this key point about Christ:
11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.Hebrews 9:11-12 NKJV
Now these two verses are key to understanding what it means that Christ fulfilled the Law. Our writer tells us that Christ came as the High Priest. Remember: the High Priest was the only one who could enter into the Holiest of All one time a year.
The writer, however, specifies to us that Christ did not enter into the earthly tabernacle! Our writer says to us that Jesus came with the “good things to come, with a ‘greater and more perfect tabernacle’ not made with hands…not of this creation.” Again, this tabernacle is not of earth, but of heaven.
The Law did not reveal the way to heaven. Christ (because He is God) knows the way to heaven. Jesus would later say to His disciples (John 14:6), “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.”
We are then told that Christ entered into the “Most Holy Place” with His blood. The High Priest would enter into the earthly tabernacle and go into the Holiest of All with the blood of goats and calves. They would sprinkle the blood around and offer up the atonement offering on that One day. Jesus, as High Priest, entered into the Most Holy Place – heaven – carrying His blood to offer it to God as the atonement sacrifice for all of mankind!
No other man could do this because no other man was/is perfect. We could not enter into the earthly tabernacle to offer up such a sacrifice to fulfill the Law because we’d just sin again! Man could not enter into heaven to offer up such a sacrifice because of his sin but also because he doesn’t know the way there! In His death, Jesus’ blood is an atoning blood for both you and I! It atones for our sins and therefore makes us righteous – the original intent for the Law!
As Jesus said, He came to fulfill the Law which He can do because He is perfect – He’s not going to sin after offering up Himself as the propitiation for our sins! The Law is now fulfilled through Christ!
What does the Law mean to the Christian?
To repeat this and make it completely clear: Christ offered Himself as the final offering of atonement to the Lord. God received and accepted mankind’s offering of that sacrifice of Christ. (Mankind put Christ on the cross through the Jews and the Romans.) This leaves us with one important question: does this mean that the Law is now meaningless for us who live today?
Preachers of the gospel of Christ, myself included, have preached about how we now live under grace and not the Law. I am very thankful to now live under grace and I will explain why shortly, but I will also say we have to be cautious in how we say this. The reason why I say that is because those of the congregation may take this to mean that the Law has no meaning – that’s just not the case.
Jesus even says (Matt. 5:18), “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Earth and heaven have yet to pass away, and so no part of the Law has passed. Even if Christ has fulfilled the Law, the Law is something that still exists. The difference between us living today and those of Old Testament times is that we have Christ.
Jesus was given to us out of grace and because He fulfilled the Law, giving us atonement, we now have a right to the way into the Most Holy Place (heaven). In order for us to enter into that place, we still have to be made righteous. Old Testament saints tried to do this by the Law only, but we have Christ and so we strive to be like the One that did fulfill the Law. So, if we strive to be like Christ, then we too will can fulfill the Law as well.
We do not live under the Mosaic Law but…
There are many people who live in our world that live under the impression that there is nothing wrong with them continuing to sin because they now live under grace and not the Law. This is a terrible mistake in thinking if you believe that to be the case. While we do not live under the Mosaic Law, the Law still stands as the standard in how the Lord expects for people to carry themselves.
Yes, there’s a part of the Law that is very ceremonial and intended for the Israelites, but many of the commandments were commandments that Jesus taught us to live by as well. For example: Jesus taught us to love others (our neighbors, strangers, and even enemies). These same values are certainly values that are expressed within the Mosaic Law.
Our study in summary
The Law is still the same as it was when the Lord originally gave it to the Israelites. It is the standard to how the Lord expects the righteous to live in the world. However, there is a problem with us that prevents us from being able to uphold the Law by ourselves. Yes, living by the Law could actually be a really great benefit for mankind but the mere idea of that ever happening is a fantasy.
Those that choose to solely live by the Law will sadly find that the Law, by itself, does not lead to heaven – because of mankind’s flaws. Mankind needs Christ to assistance us in being able to fulfill the Law. So, in essence, the Law actually pushes us to Christ, if you choose to allow it. Again, there are certainly many people who solely abide by the Law and are still looking for the Messiah to come. He’s already been in the world and fulfilled the Law.
The goal is still for mankind to be righteous, and though we cannot do that ourselves, we can turn to the One that did fulfill the Law. This does not make the Law meaningless as we are still striving to follow after it should we choose to follow after Christ. IF we can live according to the way Christ lived, then we know for a certainty that we are striving for the perfection of the Law.