As noted before, to Jesus the Jewish Messiah and Paul, his Jewish apostle to the non-Jewish world—the Torah is divine guidance, direction, and instruction. Torah is teaching. (See part two in this study.)
Another misconception arising from being disconnected from our roots is that Torah (law) and grace are somehow opposed; they are opposite ends of a dichotomy. Torah is one thing and grace is something entirely different. There is law and then there is grace. I am sure you are very familiar with this kind of thinking.
Do you understand better now that the Torah is an expression of God’s grace to the children of Israel? His grace was made manifest by bringing them out of Egypt. He then brought them to Sinai and gave them the supreme expression of his grace, his instruction, guidance, and wisdom—indeed his very presence!
Grace and Torah are not in opposition; they are intrinsically connected.
Contrary to our misguided Christian mindset, God’s Word (Torah) was the greatest expression of His grace to his people, Israel. Just as his Living Word, Jesus (Yeshua), is the embodiment of that grace to the whole world, both Jew and Gentile (non-Jews).
Now, having said that, we are ready to turn to Matthew and look at Jesus’ view of the Torah. Certainly, that should matter to us. Don’t you agree? Matthew 5:17, this so-called sermon on the mount is the archetypal counterpart of the sermon delivered by Moses at Mt. Sinai. It was there that Moses received and gave God's Torah. On the Mount of Beatitudes, Jesus now gives Torah. It is very important to see this as a continuing biblical tradition.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah (Law) or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:17-18)
Now, what exactly is he saying? What did he mean to the Jewish people of the first century gathered around him in the promised land listening to his teaching? The jot is the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It looks like an apostrophe. And the tittle is the little decoration on it.
In essence, Jesus says his view of the Torah is that not the smallest letter in the entire Bible, not even the decoration on the letter, is going to pass away until all is accomplished according to God’s direction, instruction, and guidance. Contrary to popular opinion, "I am not undermining it.”
Abolish and fulfill (establish) were Hebraic concepts; teachers (rabbis) were said to abolish or fulfill based on their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). "I am not misinterpreting Torah," says Jesus in Matthew 5, "rather, I am correctly interpreting it." His teaching is establishing God's intent correctly.
So what he is saying is, “my Torah is not undoing the Torah of Moses. My Torah is building on and properly interpreting the Torah of Moses. I am establishing it. And I’m telling you, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished.”
Question. Has everything been completed? Has it all been fulfilled?
No, it has not. Therefore, the Torah has ongoing value and import to those of us partaking in the New Covenant. Why? Because it still reflects God’s instruction, guidance, and wisdom. He goes on to say,
“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
As an aside, would you like to know what the least of the commandments was according to the Sages of Israel? They identified that there is both light (least) and heavy (great) commandments. The lightest commandment, they say, is found in Deuteronomy 22: 6-7. It has to do with taking the eggs out of a bird’s nest, you only do it when the mother is not present and can see you what you are doing because it would bring her distress.
Jesus calls the one teaching others to relax the guidance and direction of his Father as the least in his movement. And conversely, whoever lives according to and teaches obedience to God's Word is the greatest. Now please do not get ahead of me and jump to conclusions. This requires patient, prayerful, attentive listening.
I am sharing with you my view of sacred Scripture. I, like you, desire to fulfill not abolish God's Word—the way Jesus had in mind. Matthew 11:13 records the Messiah saying the Torah and the Prophets prophesied until John. The word dispensation used in Bible teaching has many negative connotations that I do not agree with. But for lack of a better term, I will use it in a limited way for the sake of this discussion.
Jesus saw a dispensation of the Torah that comes up to a kind of fulfillment in John the Baptist. After all, did not Jesus identify him as the last of the prophets? The prophets foretold of one coming that would prepare the way for the Messiah. Who was the one who came? John. Jesus is saying this dispensation, in some respects, came up to John, but now in other respects, he is establishing a New Covenant dispensation.
But, and this is crucial, it is not new in the sense that it opposes the old.
This new builds upon—fulfills and is the fruition of—that which went before. This new dispensation is the kingdom of God (Heaven). This is the terminology he employs for his movement. “I am the Messiah. John was my forerunner. And I am now establishing a movement called the Kingdom.”
You and I are in this kingdom. But it is extremely important that we understand that our King would not abrogate or abolish the Torah. How could he? He was an observant Jew (for more on this, see my video course, Behold the Man!). Had He gone around breaking the Torah he would not have been an unblemished lamb. Breaking God’s commandments is a sin. Jesus was without sin.
So yes, he perfectly kept the Torah down to every jot and tittle. So perfectly, as a matter of fact, that he is its fulfillment. Jesus is the end, the aim, the goal of the Torah. In this sense he filled-it-full. When you look at the Jewish Jesus, you see God's Torah embodied. He did not abolish, heaven forbid, he fulfilled and built upon it.
Within this contextual Torah fulfillment paradigm, we better understand what the writer of Hebrews grasped, from Jeremiah, a new covenant inaugurated by the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Hebrews 8:6 is often translated as a new and better covenant but I do not like the concept of better here because it can lead to wrong conclusions.
It is not a matter of one being good and the other bad. To use terrible but memorable grammar, it is that the former one was good and the new one is gooder. Why? Because it is a covenant in Messiah's blood.
Here is a helpful point, the Hebrew word for new carries connations of being renewed. Our High Priest established a renewed covenant built on better promises (Heb 8:6). He has renewed his Torah: rescued all who repent and believe, reconciled them to God, and filled them with the same Spirit by which he was faithful to the Father! And all this by grace.
I pray you are enabled to grasp that this is a renewal, not a rejection. Because only then are you ready for the next part of our discussion. We must ask, in light of these things, what is our relationship now—this side of Jesus and the cross—as his kingdom people? What is our relationship to the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant?
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.