Episode 3 - Fulfilling the Law - Part 1
October 21, 2022
Or listen here:
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus claims that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but rather to fulfill them. If people were not worried about His ministry, that it seemed to subvert or abolish the Law and Prophets, Jesus probably wouldn’t have had to tell them otherwise. It kind of does sound like He is getting rid of it or replacing it. Remember the image Matthew evokes with Jesus going up a mountain and teaching the people who had come to Him from all over the place, people escaping the oppression of a cruel master (disease, pain, demons, and other health problems).
One could say all these afflictions were outward manifestations of our ultimate wound and spiritual sickness at the core of every human, our sinful nature, and just as Israel escaped from Egypt to Sinai and God, these people were escaping from oppression. Only, like Israel before them, they didn’t understand their ultimate need. Jesus is the new Moses in this picture and He starts with 8 Beatitudes that seem to echo the 10 commandments that preceded the rest of the Law.
Is the Law just about our behavior though? Is it to curb our impulse to sin? What does it mean that Jesus fulfills the Law and Prophets and what, if anything, does that have to do with us today? Has the Law and Prophets been fulfilled already or is Jesus still at work fulfilling it? That’s what we want to debate presently. Again, it’s something people don’t see eye to eye on. Some people say the covenant passed down to Israel at Sinai is eternal because God’s word is eternal. Others believe it fulfilled a purpose at a time and place and continues to serve a purpose, although differently now. Still others believe the old covenant is null and void, just as torn asunder as the temple curtain.
Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes,
connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the Sermon on the Mount and
discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
Okay, I'm really excited about the topic for tonight.
It's fulfilling the law.
And you know, I realized something after the last couple of ones we were doing, you asked
a really good question, Tim.
What do you mean by the law?
And we're all like, yeah, that's a good question.
And then we never explained what we actually mean by that.
And it's actually a really good question to start off for this topic, fulfilling the law,
because we should be clear about what we mean.
And I think the confusion is that when you go to the New Testament, the law can mean
like three different things.
So it could mean the first five books of Moses, you know, the Pentateuch or the Torah.
And you have different examples of that in Luke 24, where Jesus kind of lays out the
different, you know, everything had to be fulfilled about me from the law, the prophets,
and the Psalms.
And he's just highlighted the three main sections of the Hebrew Bible, right?
You've got the Torah, the law, you've got the wisdom, or sometimes I've heard it, the
books of David and the books of Moses, right, so you've got the wisdom stuff and Psalms.
And then you've got the prophets.
And so those are the three main sections of the Hebrew Bible.
But sometimes it can also just mean the whole, the law can refer to the whole Hebrew Bible
And so that's also a little confusing, but you can see that in places like in Romans.
Romans has a really funny few chapters between chapter three and six.
You get the, you highlight the difference and the confusion, I think, because in Romans
3.31, Paul writes, Do we then overthrow the law by faith?
By no means.
On the contrary, we uphold the law.
And then just a few chapters later in Romans 6.14, he says, you are no, you are no longer
under law, but under grace.
And so I don't know, what is it, Paul?
And so I think the other thing, the other way it's used as the whole law is kind of
highlighted in that chapter three.
In verse 19, Paul just gets done quoting several Psalms and Isaiah, and then he writes, Now
we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law.
So Psalms, prophets, those are different sections of the Hebrew Bible, but he just says the
And so we've got those two examples.
Now we got a third one, and this is where it gets tricky.
And that's what I think he means by in chapter six, we're no longer under law.
In the Greek New Testament, there's no word for legalism.
And that itself can be a charged religious word too.
You call someone legalistic and it's like, you know, a lightning rod.
But I think what, so we should maybe just define what that is too, but you'll find oftentimes
this word works of the law.
And I think that's what Paul is meaning by legalism.
He's combined that, he's made that phrase, but sometimes, and this is where it gets really
confusing, he just says law, you're no longer under law.
But what he means is this legalistic kind of, now I've turned the Old Testament into a job
description where I'm going to try to merit God's approval instead of I have faith.
And I think that's the distinction.
And I think we can maybe tease out some of that tonight.
That's something I kind of want to come back to.
But just to start off, we should say what we mean by law, that, you know, there's different
ways of looking at it.
So when we get to Matthew 5:17, which is where I want to start here, Jesus, again, we're
in the Sermon of the Mount, right?
And this kind of pivotal moment, he says, do not think I have come to abolish the law
or the prophets.
I've not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.
And that's what we want to, what do you mean, Jesus?
What do you mean by fulfill them?
And first, I want to highlight, I think, something that maybe should be said from the get-go
is that maybe Jesus, him saying, do not think I've come to abolish the law or prophets.
Maybe he said that because people might have been thinking he was trying to do exactly
And I think that there are a few examples that we could probably think of where, you
know, on several occasions, and I think the Sabbath is probably the easiest one to think
of, it seems like he is putting aside one of the chief, you know, one of the Decalogue,
one of the Ten Commandments.
And I think maybe that's where we should start here.
What do you think, you know, this would be one of the chief accusations against Jesus
that he violated the Sabbath?
He was himself a lawbreaker.
How are we to view what he was doing with the Sabbath before we can get even to, you
know, fulfilling the law?
You know, how do we handle that accusation against him?
So I think the key here is probably in the fact that, so it says in Matthew 5, that Jesus
came to fulfill the law.
There's a passage in Romans chapter 10 in verse 4 that says that Christ is the culmination
of the law.
And this set me sort of on a tangent in my thoughts.
And forgive me if I get a little science fiction-y on this one, but it's how my mind works.
Jesus is sort of outside of time in ways.
So when Jesus says, I am the fulfillment of the law, that means that it's complete.
He's, it's everything's done from Jesus' perspective.
But also there are themes and passages in the way that Jesus has spoken out about as
the one who was and is and is to come.
And he's all of those things simultaneously.
And so he's outside of time.
So it's fulfilled from his perspective.
But we who are inside of time are still sort of somewhere along that path of fulfillment.
And I think that we're somewhere along that path as all of humanity and that each of us
individually are sort of somewhere along that path.
And so I think that, you know, Jesus saying that I have come to fulfill the law means
all of that all at once.
And it becomes a very, so it means you can take it personally, you can take it corporately
as a church, you can take it as all of humanity that Jesus is, that Jesus is the fulfillment,
but it's still being fulfilled.
And so I think of it in that way.
I hope I haven't obfuscated the issue a little bit.
This is a really interesting diversion.
So the temporal nature of our existence and the working of, I mean, you're right, God
is outside of time, but interacts in time.
And Jesus, you know, that is something that is, you know, really hard for my primitive
three-dimensional brain to comprehend how God could see all of existence and all of
time all at once, but then interact in time.
And then even for our prayers to matter in time for him who's outside of time to then
interact in time after our prayers.
But what does after even mean?
I don't know.
That's like, whoo!
That's like a whole, whole nother like can of worms.
But there is a little snippet from C.S. Lewis where he talks about our prayers are part
of the infinite number of coordinates with which God orders the universe.
I find that that's my really quick, pithy answer.
I was thinking of miracles.
Yeah, I like that book.
But there's, I think, going back to this idea of fulfilling, I actually have a challenge
directly answering it, the question on the Sabbath.
And I'm hoping that in this conversation that we can kind of hash that out.
But one of the things I want to couch it in is when we see the word fulfill like in Matthew,
first of all, that happens like a bunch in Matthew.
Like there's, I think I'm looking at my notes from a little while ago, it's like 17 different
times in Matthew.
We get that, the Greek word that there is translated fulfill.
And it's used like 90 different times in the New Testament as a whole.
And so coming a little bit like down from the parallel universe world, like I just found
it useful, okay, what are the different ways in which this word is used?
And some of it's just like literally fill like a net, right?
They talk about filling Peter's nets and pulling it up on the beach.
That's like one very straightforward use.
Then there's like the idea of completing or finishing.
So that same word that's translated fulfill, it says when we had completed all his teaching
in the hearing of the people, he went to Capernaum.
But then it's also used in James 2, 23, where it says the scripture was fulfilled, which
said that Abraham believed God and it was like imputed unto him as righteousness.
And that's referring back, I think this is that basically the climax or culmination that
you were talking about Van, because it's referring to how Abraham had faith to offer Isaac on
the altar and that action and the faith that made that action possible fulfilled Abraham
before believing that God would give him offspring.
That would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore..
So it wasn't that Abraham didn't believe God before.
It's that this is, I think the culmination is like a really good word.
And this is the culmination of that belief that even in the face of seemingly contradictory
evidence, Abraham continued to believe.
And so he fulfilled his belief.
And so I think there's a strong argument that that's like we have to talk about what Jesus
meant by it, but I think that the scope of this word meaning that feels very grounded
in how the scriptures use that word.
I'm so excited by what you just drew out there because I had a lot of thoughts about, I kept
coming back to faith too.
And the righteous will live by faith.
And I think there's so much in there.
But and I'm tempted to go back to the like the time thing because I love that kind of
But I do, and I do think there is this, what I heard in there, Van was that there's this
process that happens to with us and that we're taken at one point and then we're brought
forward in Jesus, the Holy Spirit taking the word and writing in our hearts and us being
transformed daily and more and more into Christ as we, you know.
And so I think there's that dimension to it as well.
But can we get back to, I want to focus a little bit on this, the law again, the actual
and and get to, because I think this is an interesting thing when we talk about Jesus
and his ministry, what was he doing?
He was pushing things.
I think he was polemic.
You know, when I look at Matthew 15, now I'm going to say some things here that I don't
know if all of our listeners, how they feel about Pharisees, but I actually appreciate
some of the things they were doing, which, you know, in Matthew 15, he though he takes
them to task.
That's the one, of course, where, hey, your disciples aren't washing their hands.
And the backstory behind that, I am sure if Jesus's disciples weren't washing their hands,
it was because they were following their master who wasn't washing his hands.
Now the backdrop behind that and why I think he used it as a kind of perfect setup for
the Pharisees was that the Pharisees had done something really creative, I think, in a sense.
I think there was a reaction.
I'm going to try to keep this brief because I could, but there was a reaction to the Sadducees
and the people who were in the temple who, you know, we had two groups that reacted to
what they considered a corrupt system, you know.
We had the Essenes who said, okay, I'm going to go off into the wilderness and we're going
to be holy and bring about the Messiah and he'll cleanse the temple, just like it says
in the Malachi, which sounds crazy, but actually happened.
So I don't know.
And then you had the Pharisees who said, okay, and they're responsible for a lot of the worship
that the church ended up adopting in the way that they built up the synagogues and took
the law and prophets and taught it in the synagogues and took it into life.
But what they did, which I think that Jesus highlighted here, is they took some scriptures
that were reserved for temple activities like the priest had to wash before he did a sacrifice,
And the sacrifice was this meat offered on an altar, burnt up, and they take that and
they say, okay, the table at your home now is the altar with the food on it and you must
wash your hands before you eat this thing because we are now all the priests, the royal
priesthood or whatever, they were taking this down.
And so Jesus just played with that.
To he used that example of what I'd call building a hedge around the Torah, not exactly, but
like taking that that's another separate thing, but they would come up with rules that would,
you know, be designed to even get you close to breaking the law, right?
And so Jesus kind of cut through some of those.
He used these things as avenues to say, look, you've missed the larger point and why do you
forsake the commands to your own traditions, right?
And I think in that we kind of have an avenue into the way that God is thinking about things
that maybe we should, like in the case of the Sabbath, or in the case of this thing,
we can't pit different rules against each other and God kind of expects us to prioritize
You know, when he says that man was not made for the Sabbath, Sabbath was made for man,
it's not an excuse for failing to do good.
And with the hand washing and stuff, it's like, okay, you've done something now, great,
but it's it doesn't, it means nothing when you're not taking care of your honoring your
father and mother.
He goes back to that.
I think it's, it's interesting that you mentioned the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Essenes.
And I think it would be for people who don't understand those three different groups, that
would be a good study, because I think there are a lot of parallels to today.
You think of the Sadducees for us, the equivalent might be what some people call organized religion.
And the ways that organized religion has become corrupt, powerless, and resembling more of
the world than what's in the scriptures.
And the Essenes are the people who just retreated.
They're like the, they're like monks.
They just go away and they say, we're going to have our own tiny little community.
We're going to be religious.
We're going to figure this out.
And God is going to bring about change.
And the Pharisees were there in the middle.
They were sort of, we need to have religion, but we need to have practical on the ground.
You're applying the scriptures to your own life kind of religion.
And you know, I think that what Jesus is saying, the other thing that we have to keep in mind
is that there's a lot of messianic fervor at this time.
There's messiahs popping up all over the place.
And there's a lot of unrest.
There's political unrest, the social situation of the area where Jesus was there in Palestine
was very volatile.
And there was a lot of, there were a lot of messiahs popping up and mostly being squashed,
killed by the Romans, but there's all this messianic activity.
And so Jesus has to somehow differentiate himself from those three aspects of religion,
but he also has to differentiate himself from all these other messiahs that are popping
And when you, when you, when you read the passage about the Sabbath, and so Jesus is
doing something different, something else is going on here.
And he ends that passage by saying that, or in the, in the Mark chapter two version of
it, that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
And he's saying that it's a culmination.
And I think it gets back to what you were saying, Tim, about all those definitions of
fulfill when you think of, and you talked about the example of a fishnet, a full fishnet
is a full fishnet the same thing as an empty fishnet?
Well, yes and no, they don't look the same.
They don't, they don't operate the same.
And if you don't look closely, you might not even notice that they're the same thing.
They might look like two completely different things.
And the fishnet is that's just there.
And if it's lying in a pile on the floor, you can't even tell what it is.
But once it has fulfilled its purpose, then you understand it more.
It's a completely different thing.
And I think it in the process of all of this, something starts a certain way and this is
I'm sort of trying to redeem my, my temporal, temporal Star Trek sort of out in the space
kind of thing.
I just moved into a new house and right behind me in the lot right behind our house, they
built another new house almost exactly like mine, the same, the same plan.
And it was fascinating to watch because when I first moved into my house, it was a, an
unlevel patch of land and then they dug a big hole.
And so it was just a patch of land and then it was just a big hole and then it was a hole
with some concrete poured in it in a frame and then slowly it started to look like a
And what was it before it was a house?
Was it there?
It wasn't always a house, but the house was sort of the fulfillment of all of that effort
of all of that that was being poured in.
And I think that one of the things that Jesus is saying here is that he, he is building the
He is filling the fishnet.
He's revealing to us what it really is and that he, and that he, and God had that happen
in his timing when it was time for it to happen.
And so yeah, I think that when Jesus, and you know, you, you read the passage in Mark
chapter, Matthew chapter 12 of the disciples walking through and rubbing the grains, pulling,
picking the grains and eating it.
And technically, yeah, it's a violation of the Sabbath.
They're working quote unquote.
But I think Jesus is saying, this is a, this is a new thing.
This is something different.
This is, I'm revealing to you what the Sabbath was really meant for.
And I think that's the way that he's going there.
As you were saying that Van, it made me think about Matthew 13 where Jesus is basically
giving a bunch of parables.
And at the end of those parables, he asks, have you understood all these things?
As the disciples say yes.
And he says, therefore, every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom
of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his new, out of his storeroom
new treasures as well as old.
And this is interesting because Jesus is acknowledging the old treasures of the law, which the scribe
or the teacher of the law is an expert in.
But he's also saying, but I'm bringing you new things.
And so you listen to my teaching, listen to my parables, they're going to give you something
And I think also he, I mean, I don't know why he's talking about those scribes and teachers
of the law unless he really must want them to get it right.
Like, and he thinks that there's a lot that they know that is incredibly valuable that
has been revealed to them through the old covenant.
That's a really good point.
He wants people to understand.
Because I've heard it.
I've heard people talk about the old covenant like, oh, that's different.
It's different than the new covenant, which is better, right?
And it's based on better promises and by faith.
And even the Abrahamic covenant, they think, oh, that's better too.
Because look at this deal.
This is a great deal, right?
Except I don't look at, I think we're missing something if we don't see it as something
that was just as important and just as like God is the same yesterday and today and forever.
And so why would he do something completely different?
That doesn't make any sense, right?
But I like that verse that you mentioned from Matthew 13, because I often think about it
like, oh man, Peter, 1 Peter talks about, 1Peter talks about how he's going to keep
reminding people of these things, right?
It's important to be reminded of things, but it's also important to dig new things out
So, and specifically, it's certainly on the map, we are getting new things, right?
We're getting down to the heart of the law, right?
But I think if we compare and contrast these two, I think we might find more in common
about what their foundations are.
Unfortunately though, we're going to have to pick this thread up again next time when
we return for part two of fulfilling the law.