Jesus epitomized the spirit of transformational revolution. He sought to revolutionize the religious system of his day which cared more about wearing the right clothes and eating the right foods than caring for the sick into system that valued the outcasts and that listened to the hurting. He replaced the ethic of persnickety self-righteousness with the ethic of love, asking us to do “whatever you wish that other would do to you (Matt 7:12).”
What Was Jesus Up To?
Though scholars, ethicists, and the average church goer all applaud Jesus for reinfusing kindness into religion, they still debate the nature and goal of his reformation. One popular idea that floats through the halls of academia and occasionally relaxes in the lounge of pop culture states that Jesus came to create a new religion. In stark contrast to the angry God of the Old Testament who huffed and puffed away whole civilizations, Jesus forgave the prostitutes and ate dinner with the tax collectors. In other words, Jesus came to unbox religion from the constraints of a tradition waylaid with sacred texts that had obscured the guiding star of divine love.
Other thinkers claim, Jesus that came to show humanity that religion was in a constant state of evolution. Jesus discovered that faith was not found in static texts but in the cultivation of one’s hidden eternal spark found. As souls developed their kernel of divinity, both humans and God would develop better and truer ideas of tolerance, kindness, justice, mercy, and love. In other words, Jesus came to help men and women evolve into Godhood. People like the apostles who tried to place both Jesus and faith within the Scriptures profoundly misunderstood the revolutionary ethic of Jesus.
When we confront the above ideas in literature, the classroom, and YouTube, we must return to the Scriptures and see what Jesus says about Jesus’s revolution Spirit.
Did Jesus Toss the Bible?
In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus defines the radical nature of his ministry and teaching. He does not agree with the world’s assessment of him. He tells his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus does not see himself at war with the God of the Old Testament. He does not find the stories of Adam and Eve, Jonah in the Wale, or Sodom and Gomorrah embarrassing or intolerant. He did not think the the Scriptures needed to evolve. In verse 18, Jesus says that until heaven and earth pass away, his word will stand. The expression “heaven and earth” was a colloquial phrase used to convey something similar to our phrase “when pigs fly.” Jesus’s point is rhetorical and clear. The Old Testament will never be outdated.
At this juncture, many theologians and friends will nominally shake their head in agreement before tossing out a, “but.” They assert that the Word of God is eternal but that not all doctrines our needed. For example when the waters of popular opinion become to shallow to sustain God’s view of sexuality or of race, many in the church will encourage us to toss those doctrines overboard so that we can reach the lost and dying with the love and mercy of Christ. Though perhaps well-intended, the impulse to jettison the less palatable parts of the Bible runs counter to Jesus’s understanding of his message. He declares that “not an iota or dot, will pass from the law (Matt 5:17).”
When Jesus tackles the teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes, he does not take issue with their text but with their misinterpretation of their text. He repeatedly says, “You have heard…but I say to you.” Jesus will not tolerate those who pull out sharpies and start crossing out lines for the purpose of restricting or loosening the laws of God.
When men and women do begin to edit God’s law, they invariably restrict its application and expand its exceptions, tolerating all kinds of evil. According to the pharisees and scribes, a righteous person could be consumed with anger and bitterness if they did not murder. He could sexually harass her neighbors if he did not sleep with them. Moreover, he could still sleep with her secretary if he went through the divorce courts first. The pure in heart could also lie if the lie was inconsequential. Lastly, the holy people could take out vengeance on her neighbor if she did so with moderation. Pharisees and scribes achieved righteousness but denying righteousness. Those who read through Matthew 5:21-48 can easily grasp why Jesus said in verse 20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.
The Fulfillment of the Law
Jesus fulfilled the law when he perfectly obeyed the law. Now, he stands between us and the law not to protect us from the law but to empower us to obey it. When Christians believe, Jesus writes his heart upon their hearts and gifts them the Holy Spirit, enabling to follow the law. Because he fulfilled the moral law, his people can be moral.
But fulfillment consists not simply of obedience. When Jesus speaks of fulfillment, he is also declaring himself to be the zenith of the Old Testament. He is the savior that was promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. He is the prophet that Moses was never able to be. He is the shepherd king that David aspired to be. He is the perfect high priest. He is the culmination of the Old Testament. All the stories about exile and redemption were pointing to him. For example, the Passover was pointing to the day when he would be the perfect sacrifice on the cross. Jesus came to fulfill the law. He loves even the odd rules about fabrics and eating shrimp for it points to the saving work of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all that came before. He abolished nothing.
Jesus did not take issues with the Jewish Scriptures. He founded his ministry upon them. Rather, he took issue with how the Pharisees and the scribes interpreted the Scriptures. He was revolutionary because he rightly interpreted the Word of God through the Christological lens. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. May we too be found faithful in our pursuit of holiness!