The Law in the New Testament – The Gospels
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. NASB
New Testament Texts and Contexts – The Gospels
As we survey the texts of the New Testament, we see the Old Covenant Mosaic Law used many times and in many ways. Primary among these is the very way in which the Law is spoken of as being temporary and preparatory, having reached a point of fulfillment and thus now serving only as a basis and foundation for the Age of Messianic Salvation that has now come in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This new age is frequently referred to in the New Testament as the “Kingdom of God.” This temporary and preparatory nature of the Law is seen in clear statements by the Lord Jesus.
Matthew 11:13 – 13 "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. NASB
Luke 16:16-17 – 16 "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one is forcing his way into it.17 "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. NASB
Jesus contrasted the Law with the “gospel of the Kingdom of God,” the new age that had now arrived, which was first preached by John, the forerunner of the Christ. Even though these two are held in contrast, Jesus still maintained that the Law could “not fail,” but rather explained that He came to fulfill it. He maintains therefore that what the Law has established is sound and true, and will remain until the consummation of the ages, but has now reached a time of fulfillment and ushered in a new age, an age He refers to as the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven. These two terms are synonymous in the Gospels.
Matthew 5:17-19 – 17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. 19 "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. NASB
Therefore as Jesus would speak about the Law, He continually held forth this idea that the what the moral aspects of the Law had established, was true and righteous and a standard by which we appraise what is good and evil, just and unjust. Nevertheless He would maintain that it had reached a time of fulfillment and that the religious leaders of His day had badly misunderstood it. At times, He had scathing words for them and would correct them and point them to the true meaning of the Law.
Matthew 23:23-24 – 23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! NASB
He would hold Himself out as a judge and interpreter of the very Law itself. As He did this, He would frequently show Himself to be the sum total of the Law and the very fulfillment of it Himself, and claim to be greater than the most revered objects in the Law such as the Temple.
Matthew 12:1-8 – 12 At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grainfields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." 3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? 6 "But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here. 7 "But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." NASB
Even though the Law may condemn a woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8, Jesus could stand as a mediator between her and the condemnation of the Law and offer her forgiveness. And this He would do silencing the religious hypocrites who show themselves to be equally as sinful as the very woman whom they would condemn.
John 8:2-11 – 2 And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. 3 And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 "Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" 6 And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst. 10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" 11 And she said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more."] NASB
We see in this a powerful picture of the transition that has come in redemptive history in the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ stands as a mediator between sinners and a holy God, the terror of the His Law and the wrath of God which it brings to all men because of sin, and offers forgiveness to the sinner. In Jesus Christ, who Himself is the living Word of God, grace and truth have arrived and been realized and this good news of forgiveness and eternal life is preached to all the nations. This is the testimony of the Gospel accounts. Jesus Himself is the very fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He was the Word of God now come in the very flesh.
John 1:14-18 – 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’" 16 For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. NASB
The Gospels paint the picture that Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of all that the Law and Prophets spoke of, and that now in Him a new age of Messianic Salvation had arrived. They testify to the fact that a massive transition in redemptive history has taken place in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who Himself is the fulfillment of the Law.
Luke 24:44-49 – 44 Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 "You are witnesses of these things. 49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." NASB
Now even though Jesus portrayed Himself as the very fulfillment of the Law itself, He surely did not suggest that the Law was insufficient as a guide and mirror for us to learn of God and His ways and means. In fact He upheld the Law as our guide, teaching us to see in the Law and the Prophets both the nature of God and wise instruction for life which has come from God Himself. He would summarize the Law in brief statements that were profound and powerful, and then explain how this was in fact wisdom from God on how we should live, obey God and fulfill our purpose in life.
Matthew 7:12 – 12 "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. NASB
Matthew 22:36-40 – 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And He said to him, "‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 "The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘ 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." NASB
It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus fully intended us in the Kingdom Age to see the Law and Prophets as a means of instruction and rule for life, informing us of God’s will and our duty towards Him and our neighbor.
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