To answer this question we need to look at the purpose of the law. Why the Ten Commandments were given in the first place. There were altogether 613 laws which were summarized in Ten Commandments. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. The last six commandments deal with our relationships with one another.
What is law?
The system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties. (The Oxford Dictionary)
A Commandment is a law. It is a divine rule to be observed.
Maybe first thing we need to define is “keeping or observing” the law or commandments. To observe is to adhere to or abide by; to comply with: like observe the terms of a contract.
God Commanded the Israelites to obey His laws
But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess.’ “So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. “You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.
Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.
“You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen.
Clearly we see that God commanded the children of Israel and Judah to observe the Law in the land the Lord had given them. When they failed, there were serious consequences. The punishment included losing the land to foreigners and losing their blessings (Deut 8:1-10). These commandments were given to the Jews as a source of blessings and curses. Whenever they obeyed, they enjoyed the blessings of God. Whenever they disobeyed, they received punishment. “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law”, (1 John 3:4)
There is no nation in the world that experienced two extreme ends of the blessing-curse spectrum like the Jews. God sticks to His word. Whenever they moved away from His law, He punished them. They strayed from God more than they observed the commandments. The Jewish nation was a disaster! This made it clear they could not keep the laws of God, never!
Those who kept the law were justified by the law. Those failed to keep the law were condemned by the law. The law was a judge by itself; it determined those to be blessed and those to be condemned.
What was the purpose of the Law then?
Rom 7:7-11 (GWT).
“What should we say, then? Are Moses’ laws sinful? That’s unthinkable! In fact, I wouldn’t have recognized sin if those laws hadn’t shown it to me. For example, I wouldn’t have known that some desires are sinful if Moses’ Teachings hadn’t said, “Never have wrong desires.”
But sin took the opportunity provided by this commandment and made me have all kinds of wrong desires. Clearly, without laws sin is dead. At one time I was alive without any laws (before the law was introduced there was no punished brought by sin). But when this commandment came, sin became alive and I died. I found that the commandment which was intended to bring me life actually brought me death. Sin, taking the opportunity provided by this commandment, deceived me and then killed me”
Romans 3:20 (NLT)
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Romans 4:15 (NLT)
For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)
1 Timothy 1:8-9 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
“But we know that The Written Law is good if a man will be led by it, according to The Written Law. While he knows that The Written Law was not appointed for the righteous, but for the evil, the rebellious, the wicked, for sinners, for the vicious, for those who are impure, for those who strike their fathers, those who strike their mothers, for murderers”.
If there is a country where people live in love, helping each other always putting others first, in that country there would be no crime. Subsequently there would be no courts and therefore no law. Those who live by the Holy Spirit of God don’t need the law! “…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things”, Galatians 5:22-23, (NLT).
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship”. Hebrews 10:1
Was the Law abolished by Jesus?
Do not think that I have come to revoke The Written Law or The Prophets; I am not come to revoke but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you that until Heaven and earth will pass away, one Yodh or one Taag and will not pass away from The Written Law until everything will happen. Everyone therefore who violates one of these small commandments and will teach thus to the children of men will be called small in the Kingdom of Heaven, but everyone who will do and will teach the same will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I say to you, that unless your goodness will exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
When Jesus was teaching He made the above statement. A dear sister asked me to explain these scriptures. Jesus was teaching this to Jews who knew the law. These were the recipients of the Law of Moses. Jesus taught this before He died. In other words, the new covenant hadn’t arrived yet. From verse 17 to the end of the chapter He is teaching about the Laws of Moses. From verse 21 He went into some specific laws. He even made some modifications to some laws to reflect the heart of God. Referring to Exodus 20:13 Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire”. Matthew 5:21-22 He introduced a concept of Hell that was not included in the commandments.
In Luke 16:16 Jesus mentioned another statement that is thought provoking. He said, “”Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets were [in force] until the time of John. Since that time, people have been telling (preaching) the Good News about the kingdom of God and everyone is trying to force their way into it, (GWT).
I will leave this scripture out for you perceive what it means! Now let’s look at Matthew 5:17-19.
“Don’t you 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. (NLT)
Jesus came to accomplish the purpose of the law! What is fulfilling or accomplishing the law?
The law functions in the absence of LOVE. There is no law that works in the absence of sin. Where there are problems in marriage, the law is required to put things together. Earlier this week I was discussing with my son’s friend who works in a payroll department of a government institution. He explained the punitive nature of the law of maintenance in the UK. A big chunk of one’s salary is taken by the LAW giving it to the wife from her husband or former husband where the husband is not living in a LOVE relationship with his family. The law comes in to replace the functions of love.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The law does not function in love but through a rewarding system, through bondage, fear and punishment.
Jesus came to fulfil the law; to accomplish its purpose. “For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. Romans 10:4. This means Jesus came to deal with sin once and for all.
In the Old Testament God ruled His people though the Law of Moses not through love! On the other hand the people had the sin nature in them that they could never ever respond to God’s love positively. “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” Romans 5:12 (NLT). We became slaves to sin. The law however commanded people to love God with all their hearts but they couldn’t. How could people with the nature of the devil love God with pure hearts? Instead people, like their forefather Adam, became scared of God. There was nothing in us that connected with God. It was like making a child to love a father who was never theirs. It was not possible, so the law was doomed to fail. The weakness was inherently confined to our nature. We had the evilness of the devil in our spirits! We needed the righteousness of God.
“The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins”. (Romans 8:3, NLT) Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, He (Jesus) too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, (Hebrews 2:14 BSB)
Jesus was the demonstration of God’s love. He came to accomplish the law by introducing the ultimate law of love! Love for God and Love for man.
The Law of Moses was introduced to manage two relationships
- The relationship between God and Man
- The relationship between Man and Man
Both were a disaster! Countless number of times Israel left God and worshiped idols even after witnessing God’s Miracles. One day God spoke through Prophet Isaiah and said, “Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows it’s master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”… Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness– only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil. Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. Isaiah 1:2-7
To change this situation the first step was to recreate the man and give him the righteousness of God. Not man’s righteousness!
So “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”, 2 Corinthians 5:21. “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time (after Jesus made them new creatures), says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Hebrews 10:16.
Jesus did not come to ban the law. The law served its purpose in the absence of love. The LAW had a purpose! Jesus accomplished the purpose of the law, bringing God and man to live together happily ever after! It’s a marriage and it’s managed in Christ. We are the bride and Jesus is the groom. We are therefore one in Christ. We are now the temple of God. His dwelling place! We don’t visit Him on Mount Sinai! No! He lives in us! John said, “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “God lives with humans! God will make his home with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and be their God”. Revelation 21:3 (GWT)
We now there is a higher law, LOVE. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son…And Jesus said “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. John 13:34. Now
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
We were governed by law as people of God. BUT when we became sons, we have a higher law – Love. God’s ultimate goal was adoption into sons. That’s who we are today! As He is so are we in this world! We are born of God. We have His nature of righteousness. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins
If we are still under the Law of Moses, how do we receive the good things? If we are still justified by our own works, why did Jesus die? Many of us are descendants of gentiles. Our fathers were never under the Law of Moses. Jews themselves are upgrading to Christ, leaving the old covenant behind. Why should we bind ourselves with chains Jesus redeemed us from?
“”The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”” Hebrews 10:14-18
Matthew 5:18 (amp)
To understand verse 18 we need to look at the preceding scripture so we can have a bigger picture.
17 “Do not think that I came to do away with or undo the [a] Law [of Moses] or the [writings of the] Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to complete and fulfil them (achieve their purpose).
18 For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished.
19 So whoever breaks one of the least [important] of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Clearly verses 18 and 19 are connected to verse 17. From verse 20 onward Jesus goes into specific laws that were given to Moses. Some of them He is changing them or modifying them, adding meaning so that they reflect the bigger purpose of God.
We discussed verse 17 earlier. Jesus is saying He came to achieve the purpose of the law. To complete the mission why the law was given in the first place to people who could not live it. I am more interested in the second part of verse 18.
What is Jesus saying here when he says“… not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished. The word “until” shows us a time frame. There is a time frame for the law to be achieved. But how can a law be “accomplished or fulfilled”? How can a commandment “Do not commit adultery” have a time frame of achievement? Prophecy is an event that must be fulfilled as seen by the prophets of God at a future date. A commandment is not an event. It’s observed but it does not happen. It applies to the community to whom it was given.
We can say either this verse is a continuation of verse17. In that case Jesus fulfilled the requirement of the law. Or He achieved the purpose of the law. Or else Jesus is talking of prophecies which were yet to be fulfilled. Or still He refers to the “Law” being the “Word of God” in general. In that case He is not necessarily referring the Ten Commandments (See Luke 16:16-17).
Verse 18 starts with “For..” meaning it’s a continuation of verse 17. The Aramaic bible puts it this way “Amen, I say to you that until Heaven and earth will pass away, one Yodh or one Taag and will not pass away from The Written Law until everything will happen”. Here the term “Written Law” may simply mean the Word of God, including prophecies. The word “happen” means it’s an occasion. It happens. It has a timeframe and a day of fulfilment. Jesus is saying there is no way the earth and heaven will end before this event takes place or these things happen.
If we look at verse 17 again it all makes sense. Verse 17 says “Do not think that I came to do away with or undo the [a] Law [of Moses] or the [writings of the] Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to complete and fulfil them (achieve their purpose). In Romans Paul is pointing backwards saying Jesus has already fulfilled this. See below.
“For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. Romans 10:4
If verse 18 is talking of all outstanding prophecies that they would be fulfilled without fail, that’s great but certainly there is a day all this is accomplished. In my opinion He is talking about the purpose and prophetic nature of the Law of Moses and, that its purpose would be fulfilled through Christ. This agrees also with Romans 8:4, “(He did this so) that the righteousness of The Written Law would be fulfilled in us, that we would not walk in the flesh but in The Spirit”. That is to say His death fulfilled the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was pointing to grace. “For The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Yeshua The Messiah”. John 1:17. “And sin has no authority over you, for you are not under The Written Law, but under grace. Romans 6:14. There is a specific day we moved from being “Under Law” to being “Under Grace”. Grace and law don’t work together. You are either under grace or you are under the law not both. This does not destroy the law but one can move from the canopy of one to another. “If someone obeys all of God’s laws except one, that person is guilty of breaking all of them” James 2:10. If any person decides to keep the Law then they must keep all the laws including sacrificing of goats and bulls.
Paul said, “Again, I insist that everyone who allows himself to be circumcised (keeping the law of circumcision) must realize that he obligates himself to do everything Moses’ Teachings demand.
Choosing to live by the Law is deliberately saying Christ’s blood is not good enough.
Matthew 5:19 (amp)
“So whoever breaks one of the least [important] of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven”.
Is Jesus opposing what His apostles are teaching us? Certainly not! If you look closely you will realise this verse is a continuation from verse 17. There is no new idea that starts with the word “So”. This therefore means Jesus is talking about the same subject from verse 17.
What exactly is breaking the law? John says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness”. 1 John 3:4. If living in sin is breaking the law, Jesus did not die so that we can sin. Paul made this very clear in Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? ….What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means”! Romans 6:1-2,15
Is it sinful not to keep the Jewish Feasts and Sabbath?
The first thing I can say is Jewish Feasts are Jewish Feasts. They were given to Jews to observe as a shadow of Christ. All these festivals find their meaning in Christ. There is nothing wrong understanding the Jewish Feasts. Observing them however has no spiritual relevance to us gentile Christians. For example the Passover Feast was for the Jews to remember how God redeemed their ancestors from the Egyptians. This pointed them to the Lamb of God who would eventually die for the sins of humanity. Our redemption in Christ is spiritual. It came through the cross. In this new covenant Jesus said we should take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him. That’s what we are supposed to do.
There is no better way to deal with this matter than what Paul said to the Colossians when some sections of the church demanded that festivals be observed. Here is what Paul said;
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body [that casts the shadow] belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17
Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful. One person decides that one day is holier than another. Another person decides that all days are the same. Every person must make his own decision. When people observe a special day, they observe it to honour the Lord. When people eat all kinds of foods, they honour the Lord as they eat, since they give thanks to God. Vegetarians also honour the Lord when they eat, and they, too, give thanks to God. It’s clear that we don’t live to honour ourselves, and we don’t die to honour ourselves If we live, we honour the Lord, and if we die, we honour the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:4-8