Jesus’ last words, “It is finished”, weren’t referring to His physical life coming to an end. They were a declaration that His work here was completed, done, fulfilled. But what work was that?
The gospel letters, along with the New Testament accounts about Him, are a record of His encounters with the Jews. They were the chosen people who were supposed to be anticipating His arrival. In essence His stinging words to their religious leaders were “You have been waiting your whole lives for your Messiah and now that I’m here you’re denying the Father’s own testimony of who I am.”
That testimony largely consisted of the Law of Moses. It was intended to be a script for a play being performed on a stage for all to watch. It specified rules for daily life, celebrating the annual feasts, making sacrificial offerings, building and caring for the tabernacle, worshiping –and governing by the priesthood that oversaw it all. That entire community was His kingdom of priests to the world and they vividly portrayed Jesus’ future accomplishments –the gospel.
That’s what we read about so far. Their Law –and Prophets and Psalms– predicted His life, crucifixion and resurrection. He was the ultimate High Priest, the final Atonement Sacrifice and God’s Passover Lamb. It’s His biography –and of course it also proves that no one else is, was or will be Him. He came. He did it all. He won’t repeat what He’s already done. Essentially, that’s the text from the last chapter of His life with us here on earth. And it’s finished.
We non-Jewish believers tend to remember the reports about others like us –the Canaanite woman who said “even dogs gets the scraps . . .” and the Samaritan woman at the well and the Roman Centurion. But their main role was to gall the Jews –to inspire the humble and to shame the self-righteous. He meant what He said in Matthew 15:24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Notice that He didn’t say that He was sent to save only the lost sheep of Israel.)
Certainly there’s more to come later. He will be the Judge –He will reign for a thousand years –and He will start the creation over with a new heaven and new earth. (We will be there with Him too.)
We know His story –it took place two thousand years ago. Sure, as we grow in faith as believers we’re learning more about its magnificent implications for us. However, one of those implications is that the stage play predicting what He would accomplish here on earth (specified by the Law) doesn’t need to predict anything, anymore. He’s already been here and done that.
Even so, we cling to their Ten Commandments. We use “God’s Law” as leverage to keep our children on course –and it’s a perfect basis for moral conduct. Logically it makes sense to have them on public display. They let everyone know God’s (and our) standards for goodness.
But we’re ignoring the crucial nature of those laws. They aren’t to congratulate us for being good followers of God –so others will use our lives as examples for themselves. Instead, without exception, they testify that all of us are naturally separated from Him and in need of eternal life. It’s plainly shown by their penalties –seven of the Ten were death by stoning at the city gate!
When we God-loving believers say that we want that set of laws to be the standard, we’re implying that we want every violator to receive his due penalty. Foolishly, we prove ourselves to be hypocrites because we haven’t voluntarily gone to the edge of town after inviting our neighbors to bring a bucket of large rocks and take part in our punishment –as directed by His Law. Deep within, we all know that we’re violators –just like everyone else.
Trying to be obedient by following the Ten Commandments doesn’t make us good (or even better). It can only show our need for eternal life.
Refusing the obvious, we redefine the violations to be something we don’t do. (Going to church on Sunday –Resurrection Day– is better than keeping the Sabbath holy. We don’t covet, we just strongly want –and obsess about– things we don’t have. And we assure ourselves that those things aren’t our idols. We don’t murder anyone, we just wish they’d die or get what they deserve.) We even reinterpret the penalties. (We ask for forgiveness, or try to do better, or put those ugly thoughts out of our minds, or find some penance to pay.)
God never redefined the violations or lessened their penalties. Rather, Jesus did just the opposite. He said that the thought which comes before the action is worse than the action itself. And He said that the penalty for such thoughts is deserving of hell –not merely physical death (Matthew 5:21-48).
How can we possibly justify changing them? Those Commandments were to drive us to God’s mercy so that we can follow our Savior into His kingdom. Now that we have eternal life with Him, why would we want to pretend that we’re following, keeping, obeying the very thing intended to prove that we were separated from Him?
Both Paul (in his letters to the Romans and Galatians) and the author of Hebrews clearly and repeatedly explained that the Law of Moses had a single objective. It was the Jews’ ministry to lead people to Jesus so that they would live by faith in Him for what He has done . . . and leave that Law behind. (Paul also noted in the first chapters of Romans that the law imbedded in everyone’s heart has the same objective.)
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:4)
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)
For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. (Romans 4:14-15)
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Romans 6:14-15)
For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:5-6)
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:1-2)
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)
For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. (Galatians 2:19)
However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” (Galatians 3:12)
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18)
For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19)
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Hebrews 8:13)
Being guided by the Law voids our faith –it inhibits our bearing fruit to God –it arouses sin to be our master. Obedience to the Law is contrary to living by faith. (These are noted in the passages above.)
With such a bold assertion, Paul’s adversaries virtually said “Well, if the law doesn’t apply to us anymore, then we have a license to sin –right?” Their question and his response are recorded in. (Hmm . . . Have you ever needed a license for bad behavior –or like the rest of us, have you done quite well without one?)
Almost every one of his letters reveals the continual battle that plagued him wherever he ministered. He taught about the mercy and grace of God –and following right behind him came teachers of the Law of Moses.
He talked about the freedom we have by living in a trust-faith-love relationship with God –we are holy and righteous because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
They –the teachers of the Law– stipulated that after being saved by grace through faith, a person can only remain holy and righteous by following that Law –at least by doing as good as he can.
There’s nearly always another discussion following the one about having a license to sin. It goes something like this: “If the Law came to an end for believers –and it doesn’t apply to us anymore– why did Jesus say that He did not come to abolish the Law? And why did He also say that the Law would never disappear?”
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)
Abolish does mean to “cancel, annul, put an end to, or do away with.” In the case of the Law, it’s about stopping the the practice of the sacrificial system which was governed by the Levitical Priesthood. And undoubtedly, it has ended.
Abolish does not mean “to destroy, remove or annihilate.” The written record of what God had the Jews perform for generations has to stay in existence. As His kingdom of priests to the world, they maintained the detailed account of everything that Jesus would –and later did– accomplish when He came.
The Law was abolished according to this passage from Ephesians chapter two . . .
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:14-16)
Did you notice in the Matthew passage that He said that the Law (and the Prophets) would remain intact and in effect “until everything is accomplished”? Then in the Ephesians passage –it was abolished so that “the Jews and Gentiles could become one new man”?
What changed in the period of time between when those two statements were made? That Ephesians passage answers exactly what had to be accomplished.
He had to fulfill all that the Law of Moses –and the Prophets– predicted about Him. The Jews’ ministry to the world was prescribed by their covenant’s Law. (They refer to it as “the Teachings of Moses.”) Essentially, in His last days on the earth He would be the Atonement Sacrifice for all of our fleshly ways; He would be the great High Priest who would redeem us all from death with His own blood; and He –being the Lamb of God– would protect His followers from death. And it was all predicted by God’s sacrifice that covered that first couple in the Garden of Eden.
Did Jesus –or did He not– accomplish everything that the Law described in great detail?
That leaves the question of “Why must the record of who He is and what He has done remain until the end?” The answer is straight forward. It’s so that everyone who has been born since then can know about our Savior. It’s a complete description of the foundation of our faith in the Son of God –the Son of Man.