Jesus' Interpretation of the Law
by Tom Roberts, PhD.
Scholars such as John Bright have noted that the Gospel of
Matthew contains five groups of our Lord's teachings that
correspond to the five books of Moses, (Matthew 5-7,
9:36-11:1;13:1-53; 18:1-19:1; 24-25). New Covenant Theology also
suggests that Christ became our Kinsmen Redeemer so that we might
become the righteousness of God. That is what is meant by being a
fulfillment of the Law, which is a reenactment of God's Law
through Christ in us (Matthew 5:17). Keener states that to
fulfill God's Law was to confirm it by obedience and
demonstrating that one's teaching is in accord with it. With
strong emotion, Jesus reaffirms the eternal nature of God's Law,
which was a popular story from His contemporary Jewish teachers
(See Jeremias). Likewise, the sages declared that when Solomon
threatened to uproot a yodh (a Hebrew letter) from the Law, God
responded by saying He would uproot a thousand Solomons rather
than one word of His Law (Sanh 2:6, Ex Rabb 6:1).
Jesus sides with the tradition of the rabbis who stated that
even the smallest details of God's Law are essential. Therefore,
the New Testament concept of Christ being the righteousness of
God is really declaring that Christ is the Living Torah, and as
the Living Torah, He will give the final true interpretation of
God's Law in the New World. The Matthean synthesis has been
called by Dr.Lapide as the New Torah. The LXX used the equivalent
of the Hebrew word Torah 192 times and its Greek equivalent
"nomas" 229 times. Drs.Quinn and Wacker correctly advance the
idea that nomas was broadened in New Testament literature to
employ the entire revelation of God. During Christ's ministry, He
performed special healing acts during God's appointed times.
These Sabbath miracles were given not only as a sign of God's
vindication of His people, but also early Christianity would
remember these events during their liturgical worship of Christ
from one Sabbath to another.
This also shows that Jesus rejected much of rabbinic aspects
of Sabbath keeping as He sought to free His people from the
enslavement of human tradition (Mark 7:7). Jesus believed the
Sabbath was made on account of man and not man on account of the
Sabbath, showing the Sabbath was made truly for man's benefit and
not for man to serve the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:27-28).
Jesus is Master of the Sabbath. It was because Jesus'
lordship of the Sabbath that gave Him the messianic right to
exercise judgment and mercy to heal (Mark 1-2; Matthew 12:1-14),
to cleanse lepers (Mark 1:44) as well as to eat with the unwashed
hands (am-ha'aretz), pluck the corn, and to show acts of kindness
on God's holy day. Jesus also instructs His followers to have
judgment regarding Sabbath activities. In a newly found agraphon
that is found in place of Luke 6:5 in codex D from the 5th and
6th centuries, Jesus states the following: "Man, if you know what
you do, you are blessed. But if you do not know, you are accursed
and a transgressor of the Law." James H. Charlesworth adds Jesus
was not speaking against the observation of the Sabbath but
against the distortions of its original meaning.
Torah, Christ, and Salvation History
We have established the concept of progressive revelation
that ties together through the unwinding of the eternal thread
found in Genesis 3:15 called the evangelium. This, when revealed,
shows us the eternal concepts that tie the covenants together
through salvation history implying that the Law of Moses with the
priestly functions may be fulfilled with the coming of Christ. As
High Priest, He now officiates a better covenant as its mediator
(Hebrews 8:1-13), and He has fulfilled the national obligations
for Israel. In this context, the Old Covenant is vanishing away
but had not been totally replaced as of the writing of the
Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 8:13) as Jew and Gentile alike
are called into the new priesthood through the New Covenant
leaving fewer citizens under the Old Covenant estranged from the
hidden Messiah, as they were climbing spiritual plateaus to reach
Zion and a better priesthood. It is within this framework which
the book of Hebrews was structured showing a journey from the Old
Covenant to the New Covenant. During this journey, the symbols of
the Old Covenant become emblems of broader definitions of reality
applied in the New Covenant to an eschatological fulfillment at
the end of time.
The Nature of Law and the Eschaton - God's Final Law Suit
The picture of the High Priest dispensing His Law, mercy and
judgment, is symbolized in the heavenly court and temple visions
of the book of Revelation, where the annual festival days are
used in literary imagery to illustrate the events that take place
between the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Trumpets. The
Hallelujah chorus is a Dead Sea Scroll reference to the victory
song on the Sabbath Day and Revelation 21 is an expansion of the
Feast of Tabernacles when God will dwell with His people. When
the Apocalypse of John is speaking of the testimony of Jesus
being built on the framework of the apostles and prophets, there
is only one sacred Law from a sacred story that can be
implemented for God's chosen ones today.
The book of Revelation draws heavily on flood narratives
which become seas of people who are saved at the end of time.
It also depicts the Exodus wanderings as Christ fulfills the
Passover symbols (1 Corinthians 5:7-9) in His people as the Lamb
of God as well as the atonement narratives (Hebrews 8:1-13),
which picture the High Priestly work of the Messiah with new
imagery picturing the new temple with the new lamp stand and new
holy things (Revelation 8 & 11). Christ also is seen during the
church age (the New Pentecost - the re-giving of the Law through
the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) and the new harvest of Revelation
14:14-20) through the anointed times of God's Holy Day patterns
which are revealed through the opening of the seals and through
the blowing of the trumpets until the seventh trumpet, the final
shofar, sounds and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms
of our Lord (Revelation 11:5). At that time, creation shall break
forth with a new song, an antitype of the Song of Moses
(Revelation 15:3), the Hallelujah Chorus. This is drawn from the
Qumran caves of the Dead Sea found in the Sabbath Scroll, 4Q 400,
the sixth and last manuscript, 4Q 405, which corresponds to
Revelation 19:1-2 picturing the new creation. The Lord will
tabernacle with His people (Revelation 21:1-4) ultimately
fulfilling the symbolism of the Feast of Tabernacles. Thus, the
new Adam cancels the covenantal curse in Eden in addition to the
old world history and writes a new history saga in the hearts of
His people (1 Corinthians 15:45) with a new Eden, a new flood, a
new exodus from the new spiritual Babylon (Isaiah 47; Revelation
18:4-8), a new covenant, a new priesthood, a new judgment hall
speech followed by a new song and a new Zion. This new history is
summed up with the statement "Behold, all things become new!"
Jewish Christians would have understood Hebrews and
Revelation as well as the Gospel of John where He uses symbols of
bread, water, and light to convey the structure of Holy Days
which Jesus personifies, to declare a new law and a final age. It
was not a code but the person of Jesus Christ Himself. As Jesus
brought the law to pass during the acts of His ministry like the
unveiling of a scroll from Sabbaths and the other appointed
times, Jesus chose to reveal His mission on the appointed times
using imagery such as bread (John 6:32-33) (in Feast of
Unleavened Bread Leviticus 23:5-7; Deuteronomy 16:1-8) and water,
vine, (John 15:1-17) light, and redemption. Such examples are the
Feast of Tabernacles during the water drawing ceremony (John
7:37-39) taken from Leviticus. 27:34; Jeremiah 2:13 and Isaiah
12:3, where Jesus proclaimed He was the hudorzon, meaning living
water and living Torah (John 4:6, 7-9, 13-14), illustrating the
need of the soul to be filled with Torah and the Messiah.
According to Rabbi Bar Kahana ca. AD 130, the place of
drawing was to be where they drew the Holy Spirit. During the
Feast of Dedication while He taught in the outer court, Jesus
stated "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12; 10:10) while
standing in front of four menorahs.
His mediatorial office also enables Him to fulfill the
priestly benedictions found in the Holiness Codes of Leviticus
1-16 later broadened by Isaiah's holiness codes, not just to the
Levitical priesthood but to the Nation of Israel as a whole. This
concept is amplified by Peter and John when they state "Thou hast
ordained us priests of God" (Revelation 5:10) who are members of
the royal priesthood of all believers. This has resulted from a
change of priesthood (Hebrews 7:11-28) that has removed the
administration of death which Christ exercised during His
ministry of forgiveness of lawbreakers (Romans 8:1), yet without
removing the Law from which these covenants were created. It is
interesting to note that the Ten Commandments contained in the
Decalogue were kept in the Holy of Holies in the Ark of the
Covenant and were not to be seen as only Levitical in their
The New Testament writers of Hebrews and Revelation expand
upon the concept of the Law being under the mercy seat from which
the High Priest, through God's mercy, will dispense divine
justice and atonement. New Covenant Theology endeavors to trace
the timeless concepts of God's teaching to His people and to
merge the Law/Gospel relationship into a walk of obedience while
being fashioned into the righteousness of God by His grace.
Tom Roberts Is the Ministry Coordinator for the Churches
of God, 7th Day.
Bright, John, "The Kingdom of God." p. 203.
Keener, Craig S., "A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew," p.
Quinn, Jerome D., Wacker, William C., "The First and Second
Letters to Timothy," p.84.
Charlesworth, James H., "Jesus Within Judaism - New Light from
Exciting Archaeological Discoveries," p.65.
Cline-McCrary, J., "Climbing the Mountain - Bible Study for Those
Who Will Hear," pp.216-230.
Scott, J. Julius, Jr., "Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament,"
Van Orden, Bruce A, Top, Brent L, eds, "The Lord of the Gospels,"
Taken from "Acts" magazine, April-May 2008, a publication of the
General Council Churches of God, Meridian, ID, USA.
Entered on this Website August 2008