When Jesus said His last words, “It is finished!” He wasn’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 four gospels, 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.”
We have looked at only a small portion of that testimony: a synopsis of the Law of Moses. Principally, it was the script for a play that was performed on a stage for all to watch—with rules for living each day; celebrating the annual feasts; making sacrificial offerings; building, caring for and worshiping in the tabernacle; 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’ then-future accomplishments.
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 is the text from the last chapter of His life with us here on earth. Now it’s finished.
We non-Jewish believers tend to remember the reports about others like us: the Canaanite woman who said “even dogs get 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 did not say that He was sent to save only the lost sheep of Israel.)
Certainly there is more to come later. He will be the Judge, He will reign on earth 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 are 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 doesn’t need to predict anything, anymore. He has already been here and done that (from Hebrews 9:23-27).
Even so, we cling to their Ten Commandments. We use God’s Law as leverage to keep our children on course, and as a perfect basis for moral conduct. To us, it’s logical to have them on public display. They let everyone know His (and our) standard for goodness (righteousness).
But we are ignoring the crucial nature of that Law. It isn’t to congratulate us for being good followers of God so that others will use our lives as examples. Instead, without exception, it testifies 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 those Commandments to be the standard, we are advocating that every violator ought 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. That is what His Law directs. Deep within, we all know that we are violators, just like everyone else.
Trying to be obedient by following the Ten Commandments doesn’t make us good (or even better). The most it can do is show a person’s need for eternal life.
Refusing the obvious, we redefine the laws and rationalize the changes to avoid being guilty. (Going to church on Sunday, Resurrection Day, is better than keeping the Sabbath holy. We don’t covet, we just want and obsess about things we don’t have—all the while assuring ourselves that those things aren’t our idols. And we don’t murder, we just wish those terrible people would get the death 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 laws or lessened their penalties. We saw earlier that 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 a thought is deserving of hell, not merely physical death (from 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 and then live in His grace.
Now that we have eternal life with Him, why would we want to pretend that we are following, keeping, obeying the very thing intended to prove that we were separated from Him? And how can we justify judging others by what we couldn’t keep either?
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 two chapters of Romans that the law embedded in everyone’s heart has the same objective.)
Listed below are some of the most provocative passages that refute the demands for us to be guided by the Law. Please take the time to read through them carefully, they are indeed freeing:
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)
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)
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 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 Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)
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.
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 Romans 6:14-15 (listed above). 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 God’s mercy and grace—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. He persistently said that we are holy and righteous because we are joined with Jesus.
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 is 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)
Since the Law of Moses specified who Jesus was and identified what He would do by His death, it couldn’t have been abolished before He fulfilled it—otherwise someone else could have claimed to by the Messiah. There would have been nothing to differentiate Him from one of the Pharisees or an aspiring military leader.
Furthermore, it would have insinuated that God needlessly made them follow Moses out of Egypt and through the desert; fight the many battles; give up the best of their livestock; release their slaves and refrain from planting crops every seventh year; provide for the priesthood and do everything else that it said.
But the Law was still in effect when Jesus died. This passage from Ephesians chapter two, written about thirty years after the cross, describes the results of that fulfillment:
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)
Before His death, the two peoples were at odds with one another: the Jews were proudly acting on the stage—and we non-Jews were angrily watching from the audience. Only when it was abolished could “the Jews and Gentiles become one new man” with a new message.
Did Jesus—or did He not—accomplish everything that the Law described in great detail?
That leaves the question of “Why must the Law, the record of who He is and what He has done, remain until heaven and earth pass away?”
The answer should be self-evident. It’s so that everyone 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.