Jesus was a Jew born under the Old Covenant, under the law. If He was to fulfill the law, He had to keep it perfectly, which He did. But when He died, the law was fulfilled. The Old Covenant and its law then ended. We fulfill a contract by completing what we are obliged to do under the contract. Once we do this, we have fulfilled the contract, and it is ended.
Suppose I am an artist, and I am engaged to paint a mural in the city hall. A contract is drawn up detailing the obligations of all parties involved. Once I have completed the painting and fulfilled my obligations to the city, and they have fulfilled their obligations to me, the contract is fulfilled and ended. It no longer has a legal hold over me or the city. It is fulfilled. But suppose, before I fulfill my obligation in the contract, the state government steps in, reviews the contract, and says there is something about it that is contrary to state law. They then use their authority, or the authority of the court, to end the contract, to declare it void, to abolish or destroy the contract before it is fulfilled.
Jesus was saying in Matthew 5:17-18 that He had not come with the authority of God to destroy the law before it was fulfilled, but that He was going to fulfill the law right down to every jot and tittle. Once He did that, the law would end because all obligations in the contract would have been fulfilled. The law changed when the Old Covenant law was fulfilled by Christ and replaced by New Covenant law, the law of Christ. This is what William Gadsby called, “the gospel of His grace, which is the law from Zion, called the law of faith, the law of liberty, and the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”
With the Old Covenant law now fulfilled, for anyone to come along and say that we must still keep it is Judaizing or legalism. Whatever reason he may give for saying this does not matter because there is now no valid reason for teaching that we must keep the Old Testament law. Judaizing is often condemned in the Bible, and in Galatians it is called “another gospel: which is not another” (Galatians 1:6-7; see also Galatians 2:16-21; 3:1-14; 5:1-4; and Acts 15:1-5, 24). It is not really another gospel because “gospel” is not a proper word to describe it. “Gospel” means “good news,” but this other message that legalists promote is bad news. This other message says that we are still under the law, and, therefore, Jesus did not fulfill it as He said He would. It implies that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He lied. It says, therefore, that Jesus did not do in the flesh everything that He was supposed to do. Thus, those who promote it fall into the category of antichrists and deceivers according to 1 John 4:2-3 and 2 John 1:7. Paul said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
Fulfilled in Two Ways
Make no mistake about it. Jesus did not come to destroy the law before He had fulfilled it. But He did fulfill and end it. He fulfilled the law in two ways. First, He lived under the law perfectly. He obeyed every bit of the law. And His perfect righteousness is imputed to us. Secondly, He paid our legal, penal obligations by dying in our stead. Because of our transgressions, because we have all sinned, our obligation was to die and spend eternity in hell. Jesus fulfilled that obligation for us by what He went through on the Cross. Jesus did not destroy the law, but by fulfilling the law, He removed us from being under legal obligations.
And what commandments did Jesus mean when He said, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”? (Matthew 5:19). Most assume that he meant the Ten Commandments. But He never says this. To properly understand, we must look to the context. And the context shows us that Jesus must be referring to the commandments He is about to give, the commandments of the New Covenant—commandments that, by the way, are continued through the rest of the New Covenant and are summed in one word, love. And love is something that only God works in us.
It is often said that in Matthew 5, Jesus amplified many Old Covenant laws and thus magnified or “filled to the full” the Old Covenant law. But the Old Covenant had no provision for such change. Although Jesus may have used what the people knew of the Old Covenant law as a springboard in His teaching, when He said, “But I say unto you,” Jesus was giving His New Covenant law that entirely replaced the Old Covenant.
And how can our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20)? There is only one way. Jesus Christ was perfect. He embodied perfect righteousness. This is the way that He “magnified the law” (Isaiah 42:21). Not by amplifying the outdated and completed Old Covenant law, but by being righteousness personified. And His perfect righteousness is imputed to us if we believe on Him alone as our Savior. That is the only way to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. We know that in this life we do not perfectly keep Jesus’ commandments because our carnality does not allow us to perfectly and consistently love. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness, and, that being so, it is impossible for us to be condemned. As John says, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, as Romans 8:1 says. We always remain perfectly righteous when we are robed with the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law perfectly for us.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2. Gadsby’s Catechism, Q. 73. Return
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