THE FIRST DAY OF MARCH IN THE YEAR OF GRACE TWO THOUSAND AND FIFTEEN
A gracEmail subscriber asks how to assist a friend who struggles to understand how Old Testament law was replaced with New Testament grace. He doesn’t see how the Old Testament could just be thrown out.
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If we want to know Jesus’ intentions toward, relationship with, and effect upon the Jewish “Law” and “Prophets” (which, with the “Writings,” comprise the Hebrew Scriptures), we will do well to ask Jesus himself. Jesus’ answer is clear: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matt. 5:17). But what does it mean to fulfil? Sometimes it means doing a thing exactly as predicted in advance, but “fulfil” often means far more than that.
To personify the spirit of a passage would fulfil that text, or to embody an ideal it set forth. Fulfil could mean incarnating in daily life the goals or aspirations of a given passage, or actualizing its full potential, in the same way that an oak tree fulfils an acorn. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament institutions and offices and rituals–the sacrifices and offerings, tabernacle and temple–by being and doing and achieving all that those things represented, or symbolized, or foretold.
Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets when he embodied in his human life every ideal the Law reflected, or when he exemplified in his life each day the very Servant of the LORD and God’s anointed one whom the Prophets portrayed and described. Viewing the larger picture as from a distance, as a man Jesus so conformed to the Father’s will that he manifested in his character all the praiseworthy, admirable, and heroic qualities and traits of all the kings and patriarchs, prophets and priests, and of every other man and woman of valor mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in that sense, fulfilled them all.
Jesus specifically denies that his mission involved abolishing the Law and Prophets. He did not “replace” them or “throw them out.” Instead he fulfilled them all and made them glorious. The whole Bible tells the single story of God’s divine rescue. The Old Testament ends with the story incomplete. Without Jesus the story told by the Law and the Prophets is like an incomplete melody, an unresolved chord, an unfinished portrait. But when Jesus comes, the fulfillment of it all, the entire Law and Prophets burst across the sky with indescribable brilliance, eliminating every shadow and illuminating every place of darkness.