There is often a deep divide between those who practice Messianic Judaism and those in traditional Christianity. This saddens me because after I took the plunge into a Messianic faith, about 90% of the true believers in my life were and still are in traditional Christianity. This causes a certain amount of difficulty. My family and friends believe I've lost my mind, my faith, or both. Yet, what I have experienced in coming to a Messianic faith rivals my initial born-again experience. And as I have studied, I have found that having a Messianic faith answers many of the questions that I have had over the years. So, I would like to begin a study of some of the Scripture verses that divide Messianics and other Christians in the hope of finding some understanding between us. At the same time I want to remind my traditional Christian audience that most of what Messianics believe is exactly what the traditionals believe. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Also, I want to recognize that the Messianic movement is not 100% unified in its beliefs. This seems to be the way of all Christianity. Therefore, I will be teaching what I have come to believe, but my views may not represent what all Messianics believe.
Has the Law been done away with?
We are going to begin by looking at the passage in Scripture that gives us Yeshua's/Jesus' understanding of The Law in His own words.
Matthew 5:17-19 (KJV)
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
In the Gospels we find that Yeshua came into conflict with the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others. We see in verse 17 that they believed that Yeshua had come to destroy The Law. However, Yeshua had to have observed and kept The Law perfectly in order for His death to qualify as our payment for our sin, so we know that Yeshua could not have actually broken The Law. The conflict must then be over a mistaken view that the religious leaders had over Yeshua's behavior, or over other things besides the written Law of God. In any case, the religious leaders accused Yeshua of violating The Law and by doing so "destroying" The Law.
Yeshua's answer is that He came not to destroy The Law, but to fulfill The Law. This is where Messianic believers and traditional Christians part company. Traditional Christianity says that by fulfilling The Law we no longer need to keep it. (Some would add that we still need to keep the "moral" law. Others say that we still need to keep those commandments that are restated in the New Testament.) But Messianics believe that fulfilling The Law doesn't mean that we don't need to continue to keep it.
The Greek word translated "fulfill" is the word "plerosai", which literally means "to fill". In other words Yeshua came not to destroy The Law, but to fill up, or complete The Law. He came to give it its full understanding. This meaning of the word "fulfill" should resonate with anyone reading the rest of Chapter 5 of Matthew from verses 20 - 48 where Yeshua actually stiffens the understanding of The Law. For example, the definition of adultery is broadened to include lusting after someone. Yeshua "fills up" or "makes complete" the understanding of adultery. And if The Law has been fulfilled in the sense that we don't have to keep it any more, why is there a distinction made for commandments like those against adultery? If that has been fulfilled, why can't we now commit adultery? Yet, no one seems to advocate this practice.
Verses 18 and 19 finish out Yeshua's thought. He plainly says that until earth and heaven are gone, not one small part of The Law will go away. It is not until the end of time that all will be completed or fulfilled. And verse 19 states that anyone breaking the least commandment or teaching others to break the least commandment will be called the least in the kingdom of God. Then the opposite is stated, that anyone keeping the least commandment or teaching others to keep the least commandment will be called great in the kingdom of God. Exactly what is the least commandment? Is is keeping the Saturday Sabbath, or fasting on Yom Kippur? It doesn't really matter. Yeshua is saying that we must obey The Law and we mustn't teach others to disobey. Clearly, Yeshua is saying that The Law is still in force.
Traditional Christians at this point, no doubt, have many other verses in mind that refute the Messianic position. Most of these verses come from Paul. I will deal with these in future posts. But, in order to show that Paul was also not for abolishing The Law, we find the following:
Romans 3:31 (KJV)
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
By insisting that fulfilling means "we don't have to keep The Law any more" we have "destroyed" The Law whether we think so or not. And since this is what Yeshua taught against, we should realize that our traditional understanding cannot possibly be correct. And let us not be religious Pharisees, convicting Yeshua of destroying The Law.