How does Jesus “fulfill” the Law in Matt 5: A glance back at the Theonomy debate

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Revisiting David Chilton’s Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators is throwing me into some seriously far back time travel.

So I’m thinking about Greg Bahnsen’s thesis tonight.

Bahnsen argued that taking “fulfill” in a way that exclusively referred to Jesus’ own behavior or work in what he did for the Law and the Prophets. As a result, he felt another meaning should be assigned: Jesus was saying he came to confirm the Law.

Not many people find this convincing, despite the context which, to my mind, does indeed focus on the behavioral expectations for Jesus’ disciples, rather than Jesus himself.

(For the record, even though it is something of a diversion from the point of this post, “Theonomy” is not at stake here for me personally. I’m convinced that when Jesus referred to the passing of heaven and earth he was referring to the significance of his own crucifixion and/or the destruction of Jerusalem. So the reference, as far as I’m concerned, is about how people were to behave in Israel during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Here’s how I described my thinking back in 1992.)

I think that we can understand how Jesus “fulfilled” the Law and the Prophets in a way that seems more natural to the word and yet involves the behavior of the disciples in a way that leads to a convergence with Bahnsen’s thesis (allowing my parenthetical caveat above).

The Law and the Prophets, were not addressed only or exclusively to individuals, but to a covenant nation. The point of the law was to produce a community that reflected God’s glory. As we read in Exodus 19:

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

So the Law is fulfilled when it is fulfilled in a nation or kingdom of priests. And what has Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount right before talking about the iotas of the Law and the Prophets?

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

You are a new Jerusalem with the covenant of salt of the true priesthood. Jesus will fulfill the Law and the Prophets by bringing about the nation that God desires. His community of disciples within Israel is the true embodiment of the Law.

Thus, Jesus’ own fulfilling of the Law entails a challenge to his hearers who would be his disciples to obey the Law and not disregard one iota of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *