Jesus came to fulfill the Law, which established the New Covenant. So what is our relationship to the Old Testament Law now?
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. (Matthew 5:17-18)
We read in the Bible that Jesus came to fulfill the Law. In the same statement, Jesus tells us His fulfillment of the Law did not abolish it, and that we would account for the Law until the end of time.
So what does this mean? And how does it impact the lives of those who wish to follow Christ?
Quite a bit as it turns out. Without Christ’s fulfillment of the Law, we would have no hope of salvation. At the same time, His fulfillment honors the Law, as we should continue to do.
The question of what Jesus fulfilled and how did Jesus fulfill the Law and the prophets is important to understand. Why? Unfortunately, one of the mistakes some followers of Christ make is that it is necessary to continue to fulfill the Old Testament Law. We do continue to honor the Law, but the New Covenant has changed our relationship with it. Let’s dive in more together.
What is the Law Jesus Came to Fulfill?
When we discuss how Jesus came to fulfill the Law, it will be helpful for us to understand more about the Law itself. Of course, we will say “The Old Testament Law”, or “The Law of Moses”, but do we really understand what that is?
There are 2 aspects to the Law in the Old Testament. These are sometimes referenced as the Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law. They are related but have a relevant distinction.
A colloquial way to think of the Old Testament Law is to think of the Moral Law as the guidebook and the Ceremonial Law as the instruction manual.
When Jesus came to fulfill the law, He came to fulfill both aspects of the Law.
What is the Moral Law in the Old Testament?
The Moral Law is encompassed first and foremost in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), and then is expounded on throughout the remainder of Exodus, as well as Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy.
The Moral Law gives us God’s instruction for what is right and what is wrong. For those who wish to be aligned with God, these are what He says we are to do and not to do.
Much has been said about the reason for the Law being to give us the guide rails for living a life that not only pleases God but allows us to have our best life. When we walk outside the bounds of these instructions, we suffer, and others suffer for our actions – for our sin.
However, because of the sin nature we all inherited from Adam, no matter how hard we try in our own efforts, We have no hope of keeping these moral laws (Psalm 53:1-3).
Even if we want to, at some point we will fail. And there is no “almost”, no 99.99% pure. If we break even one of God’s Laws one time, we are guilty before the entire Law (James 2:10).
So how did Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? When Jesus came to fulfill the Law – the Moral Law – He did so by living a sinless life (1 John 3:5). Jesus came to earth, putting on human flesh, and was therefore subject to all the same temptations that you or I face, but did not sin one time (Hebrews 4:14-15).
By fulfilling the Moral Law, Jesus revealed Himself to be the spotless lamb, without blemish, meaning He was worthy to be sacrificed. This He did, when He went to the cross, specifically to be sacrificed for our sins. Which leads us to the other side of the Law; the Ceremonial Law.
What is the Ceremonial Law in the Old Testament?
The other side of the Law is the Ceremonial Law. If the Moral Law is the guidebook, the Ceremonial Law is the instruction manual. The Ceremonial Law contains all the instructions for worship of God. And there are a lot of them, again explained throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
There are instructions for preparation of worship, for the Levitical (priestly) tribe to conduct themselves, and instruction for preparing and offering sacrifices to God.
There were 5 sacrificial offerings detailed in the ceremonial law, and following that link will provide more in depth on each. Each one covered some aspect of transgression, even unintentional or future ones. The graphic here provides more detail. By name, the 5 offerings are the Burnt Offering, the Grain Offering, the Peace Offering, the Sin Offering, and the Guilt Offering.
The point being, to follow the Ceremonial Law was a lot of work! Think of how many hours in the year an Israelite would have to devote to knowing, preparing, and keeping the ceremonial law? It was a constant reminder that man, without some sort of offering, could not be at peace with God.
Again, how did Jesus fufill the Law and the Prophets? When Jesus came to fulfill the Law – the Ceremonial Law – He did so by shedding His blood on the cross.
By fulfilling the Ceremonial Law, Jesus, the only Son of God, put to an end once and for all the need for the multitude of sacrifices required by it. Jesus became the “once-for-all” sacrifice; there was nothing that could be added to His sacrificial work (Hebrews 4:14-15).
“I Came to Fulfill the Law”
Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. God’s Law still exists. It is still a guidebook and instruction book for us. But when Jesus came to fulfill the law, a “new edition” was put into place.
This “new edition” – the New Covenant – is aligned with the Old Testament Law, but we are no longer bound to the Old Testament Law. It was for Jesus to fulfill the Law, providing an intermediary between God and man.
So what is the “new edition” of the Law? Again, we can look at the Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law for a guide.
The Law of God is Written on our Hearts
Jeremiah prophesied of the day when God would put His instructions deep within His people, writing them on their very hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are accepting in faith that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and His sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for sin that we could not. He is the perfect and spotless lamb who died for the sins of the world.
When we choose to follow Christ in faith, we are making a commitment to walk with Him in holiness, which is obedience to the Moral Law, but now, that law is presented to all of humanity through Christ. In our covenant with Christ, we are now no longer under the requirements of the Law, but under grace. Yet our following Christ in holiness is still expected (Romans 6:14-18).
All the commands of Christ can be aligned to the two greatest commands, which Jesus Christ Himself attests to: To love God with all you have and love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus didn’t originate these commands, however. They are found to be the heart of the Old Testament Law as well. Re-read the 10 commandments. They are either telling us how to be right with God or right with our neighbor. There are also direct passages in these “books of the law” about loving God and loving your neighbor.
We are wise to study and observe the commands of Christ as we find them, but we are also given the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can walk in holiness. This is how the Law of God is written on our hearts. The Holy Spirit indwells us and guides us in all truth, including the Law of God.
Present Your Body as a Living Sacrifice
Now that Jesus came to fulfill the Law, the Ceremonial Law no longer applies to us. Paul implores us instead to make our bodies living sacrifices to Christ (Romans 12:1-2).
So, you see, the idea of sacrifice continues in the New Covenant. And just as the Law is written on our hearts, sacrifice also becomes personalized. Jesus Himself tells us that we must give up all rights to ourselves if we hope to follow Him.
It is a mistake for followers of Christ to fall into the trap of believing that their behavior is meaningless once they have pledged their lives to Christ. After all, Christians are bought with a price – the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The promise of salvation means that Jesus has fulfilled His end of the bargain. Nothing we want or can do can be put on top of the righteousness paid for by Christ’s perfect sacrifice. That is the guarantee of salvation – that if we follow Christ in faith, we are assured of our salvation.
Some in the Christian faith take this to mean that once you have turned toward Christ, you will never be in danger of losing this promise. Despite what some teachers say today, it is possible to surrender your salvation by later rejecting Christ or choosing to walk in your own way.
Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law
Hopefully, by gaining a further understanding of the Moral and Ceremonial Law and Jesus’ mission on earth, we can more fully understand how and why Jesus came to fulfill the Law.
Further, hopefully we can see that we still have a relationship to the Law in the New Covenant. We do not continue in the practice of the Old Covenant, in the same way we are not to, as Jesus said, to put new wine into old wineskins. But we do walk in the Moral Law in the power of the Holy Spirit and by following Christ with abandon. We are “ceremonially” clean by Christ’s sacrifice, leaving us only with the expectation to pursue holiness and feed our spirit, not our flesh through abiding with Christ.
More Bible verses showing that Jesus came to fulfill the Law: