The Time Jesus Made It All About Himself
In Jesus’ longest discourse, Jesus cast the vision of a new kind of believer through what we call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-16)—a stark contrast to the self-righteous Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) who’d gutted the meaning of true righteousness, reducing it to the hollow shell of personal piety. [Biblically, true righteousness included both piety and justice (character and action).]
And it’s in this night-day comparison that Jesus turns the spotlight on Himself:
Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”
Jesus came to fulfil (to complete) the Law and the Prophets—a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures; more specifically, “the Law” referred to God’s covenant with Israel and “the Prophets” referred to those who called disloyal Israel back to that covenant.
In other words, Jesus was the faithful covenant partner who would keep the covenant where Israel (and humanity before them) had failed.
Thus, the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to Jesus, and they are fulfilled in Him. They promised a Messiah, and He answered. They defined the problem, and He was the solution.
Jesus lived and modelled the divine ideals underlying the Law and the Prophets and in His Victory—His death, resurrection and ascension—He inaugurated the New Covenant, a partnership sealed and animated by the Spirit of love.
The Great Commandments
Not only was Jesus the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, but His Victory enables us to live in the New Covenant through His new love-defined morality.
In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus taught that the “whole” Law and the Prophets “hang” on the Great Commandments: loving God and loving our neighbour.
The word “whole” means “all” or “complete” and the word “hang” means to “completely depend”. Jesus was making an emphatic statement.
The Law and the Prophets are beautifully fulfilled in Jesus and our moral code, so to speak, is now captured by His self-giving love.
Even the Big 10, the Ten Commandments, are fulfilled in the Great Commandments, the first five are fulfilled in loving God and the final five in loving others.
If there was any doubt, Paul was emphatic about this.
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
(Romans 13:8-10, italics added)
Notice first that Paul said, “for he who loves another HAS fulfilled the Law”.
Notice too how Paul mentioned the last five commands of the Big 10 and stressed, “if there any other commandment”, it is summed up in loving our neighbours. That’s an emphatic, blanket statement that covers all of Israel’s moral code. In other words, there is no Old Testament law that is directly, in itself, applicable in the New Covenant.
And be sure to underline Paul’s last statement so that it’s forever rivetted in your memory: “LOVE is the fulfillment of the law”.
In the New Covenant sealed by Jesus’ Victory, the Old Testament law is fulfilled in self-giving love.
The Law and the Prophets
But didn’t Jesus say that He didn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets and that the smallest letter or stroke of a letter would not pass from the Law until all was accomplished? (Matthew 5:17, 18).
Absolutely. Jesus didn’t abolish the Old Testament Scriptures; He fulfilled them … and we can continue to cherish them without living under the obligation of the law. We learn much of God’s character and purpose through the Old Testament and we learn of humanity’s struggles to fulfil God’s calling. Yet through our study of the Old Testament, we’re constantly pointed to the all-sufficiency of God’s love and grace available in Jesus. Thus, in Paul’s words, we now live in “the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6 c. 2 Corinthians 3:6).
And yes, every letter and stroke of the Law was critical in conveying our need for a Messiah … a debt that WAS paid in FULL in Jesus’ death on the cross (John 19:30). It was ALL accomplished in His complete and perfect sacrifice (1 John 2:2).
But what of the 10 Commandments? For example, don’t we need a law condemning murder?
The Big 10 unpack the baseline of human morality; they aren’t some highwater mark of morality. They’re a mere baseline, they separate us from our beastly natures, protecting society from descending into anarchy and chaos. So, yes, they have value in that sense. However, they alone won’t inspire a proactive, front-footed morality of love; even Jesus’ reframing of the Golden Rule serves as a better front-footed moral impetus (Matthew 7:12). And most importantly, the Big 10 are NOT the moral code WE live under in the New Covenant.
In contrast, the Great Commandments are the highwater mark. They govern how we relate to God, others and the world around us. God’s self-giving love inspires the better angels of our nature and it’s this love-defined morality that ought to guide and govern how we moralise in the public sphere.
When we drag Old Testament laws into the New Covenant, we make the same error the Judaizers made in hounding Paul. To the believers confused by those deceivers, Paul likened it to witchcraft:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you … did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law or by hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”
And worse, when we create new laws or impose old ones based on personal interpretation or conviction, we make the same mistake the Pharisees made.
And we know exactly how Jesus felt about those who claim or craft rules where He Himself does not (Matthew 23:1-36).
Revealing God’s nature was central to the Message of Jesus. He restored humanity to God’s loving fatherhood, restoring our identity as children of God and our destiny as custodians of all creation.
Restoring humanity to the Father, the Message of Jesus heals our broken identity, restoring us as children of God. Loved by the Father, we are both secure and significant.
Restored to the Father as His children, the Message of Jesus restores humanity’s destiny as custodians of creation. We’re commissioned to partner with Jesus in His restoration plan for the earth.