Jesus was born: “born under the law.” (Galatians 4:4). Therefore, he was subject to the Law of Moses. He reassured his Jewish audience: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17).
Accordingly, he obeyed the law to the letter. As he said to John the Baptist: “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15).
However, although he was faithful to Moses and the dictates of the Old Testament, his calling was to mediate the coming of the New Testament: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17).
It is often not recognized that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are actually books of the Old Testament, even though they are found under the New Testament in the Christian bible. The New Testament did not begin until after the death and resurrection of Jesus:
“For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.” (Hebrews 9:15).
Thus, while Jesus acknowledged the righteousness of the Old Testament, he was more interested in calling people to the righteousness of the New Testament. The righteousness of the Law of Moses requires a blood sacrifice as an atonement of sins. But the righteousness of Christ requires repentance as atonement from sins. Therefore, Jesus told the self-righteous Pharisees: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:32).
Magnification of the law
Isaiah had foretold this new departure of the Messiah: “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.” (Isaiah 42:21). That is precisely what Jesus did. He magnified the law and perfected it.
Jesus calls us to the perfection of God. He says: “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). But rather than seek the perfection of men, the law of Moses accepts and accommodates the imperfection of men.
For this reason, the writer of Hebrews says: “The former regulation (the Law of Moses) is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18-19).
Thus, while Moses’ law proscribed adultery, Jesus went further to maintain that: “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28). While Moses prescribed “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus says: “I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38),
Jesus even magnified the second commandment which says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:19). He changed this, saying: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).
Jesus points out that the strictures of the law of Moses were introduced simply because of the hardness of the heart of the Israelites. Therefore, Moses’ law permitted divorce because he knew that the Israelites did not have the heart to obey God’s injunction that no man should divorce his wife:
Jesus told the Israelites: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.’” (Matthew 19:8-9).
Jesus noted, furthermore, that the very hard-heartedness of the Jews ensured that they could not even obey Moses. So, instead of obeying him, they created their own laws, designed to circumvent the Law of Moses in the name of obeying it.
“It is often not recognized that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are actually books of the Old Testament.”
Therefore, Jesus berated them: “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:6-9).
The Law of Moses was given to the Israelites who were natural men. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
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In order to obey God, the natural man has to become spiritual for: “the law is spiritual.” (Romans 7:14). In order to obey God, the natural man must be born of God because: “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:8).
In effect, as opposed to the Law of Moses, the Law of Christ requires a fundamental change in the heart of men. In order to worship God in spirit and in truth, we have first to undergo heart surgery conducted by God himself according to his promise; only then can we obey God’s commandments.
That is the promise of the New Testament in Christ Jesus. God says: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-28).
“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
Righteousness of faith
Those who are born again have not yet attained the righteousness of God. However, because of the work of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit, they are on the way to the righteousness of God. They are like little children learning to walk. Meanwhile, their righteousness inheres in their faith in God to make them righteous: “For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Thus, Paul ascribed righteousness to himself saying: “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:6). However, after he met Jesus, he had a change of heart, now insisting: “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10).
He then longed to be found in Christ: “Not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9).