Jesus, the Mosaic Law, and the Christian

Posted on December 19, 2021

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By David Ettinger

Introduction
The Christian ministry at which I work received a letter from a frustrated believer regarding his church. He wrote of how his once-solid congregational leaders had fallen into legalistic error over matters of the Mosaic Law.

These well-meaning men erred by getting it into their heads that in order to be “accepted” by God, they were required to follow (sans animal sacrifices) the Mosaic Law as prescribed in the first five books of the Bible (referred to as the Pentateuch).

This problem is more widespread than you may think, and perhaps you know someone who is convinced that observing the Mosaic Law is a Christian requirement. Let’s get some clarity on this issue by looking at Jesus’ relationship with the Law.

Jesus the “Fulfillment”
As Jesus was traveling through towns and villages in the Galilee region of Israel, He came to a mountainside, ascended a ways, and sat. It was customary for rabbis to sit elevated from their students, and in so doing, Jesus was following Jewish custom. Perhaps His disciples stood a few feet below him as “bodyguards,” or maybe they took their places among the teeming crowds of Galileans who flocked to hear Jesus’ teaching.

Whatever the scenario, Jesus had the rapt attention of humble Jewish fisherman, silversmiths, farmers, bakers, shopkeepers, brickmakers, carpenters, housewives, and no doubt a generous convergence of Roman soldiers bent on keeping the peace.

sermon mount

Once the crowd settled, Jesus taught. He told the Galileans that those “poor in spirit” were blessed for “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). He addressed those who mourned and assured them of comfort (v. 4); promised the meek they would “inherit the earth” (v. 5); instructed those seeking righteousness they would indeed find it (v. 6); told the merciful they would receive mercy in return (v. 7); and guaranteed those who followed Him and would suffer for it that though the world would hate them, heaven eagerly awaited them (vv. 10-12).

Such comfort! Such wisdom! Such insight into the hearts of men and women! The Galilean multitudes must have wondered, Who is this man, this teacher? Jesus knew their thoughts and replied: “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” (Matthew 5:17).

This may not have explained the entire truth to the people – that this Man was Israel’s Messiah, even God Himself – but at least it did tell them something of the great Teacher’s purpose, to fulfill the Mosaic Law. In stating such, Jesus made clear that He was not abolishing or destroying the Mosaic Law. He was not establishing a rival system to the Law. He was not even attempting to contradict, alter, or change it.

The Heart of the Matter
Specifically, what Jesus did not eradicate was the moral content – the heart – of the Mosaic Law. What was this moral content? Jesus had just stated it in the Beatitudes. The heart of the Mosaic Law – that which the Law was to produce in the hearts of the Israelites – was humility, comfort, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, peace, and love. This was the heart of the Mosaic Law. In Jesus, these moral essentials would see their fruition.

sacrificial system

However, the Mosaic Law was more than morality; it involved a system of works, most notable of them the somber sacrificial system. In short, God required the blood of slaughtered animals to temporarily cover over the sins of the Hebrews. Because people always sinned, the sacrificial system was to continue until a permanent solution was made available. Jesus would be that “permanent solution.”

Humanity no longer had to offer temporary sacrifices for sin. God Himself provided a permanent provision through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Because He lived a flawless, sinless existence (Hebrews 4:15), Jesus met all the necessary criteria to be humanity’s permanent sacrifice for sin. Therefore, to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is to have your sins pardoned and the assurance of eternal life.

Hence, from the time Jesus was resurrected, the sacrificial system was at once rendered useless (Hebrews 10:1-18). Note that God never declared blood sacrifices no longer necessary, they most certainly are! God always – from the Garden of Eden until this moment – requires shed blood to atone for humanity’s sin.

Before Christ, that blood came through slaughtered animals. Following Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, the shed-blood requirement is met when individuals accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9).

What this basically means is that the Mosaic Law cannot save you. The apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through Him [Jesus]
forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone
who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not
be freed through the Law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).

If the Mosaic Law cannot save us, why in the world would we practice it?

A Proper View of the Mosaic Law
So, how should you as a Christian regard the Mosaic Law?

First, you should look favorably upon it for its moral intent. That which the Mosaic Law was designed to accomplish in you – as so beautifully articulated by Jesus – should be taken to heart, cherished, and lived by.

Second – and here is a big HOWEVER – you are not to return to its practices as was required of the ancient Israelites. In other words, what Jesus fulfilled and caused to cease is the practice of the Mosaic Law. The practice of the Mosaic Law involves the sacrificial system, dietary laws, keeping of Jewish holidays, and male circumcision on the eighth day of life.

It is also crucial to note that even the practicing of the Mosaic Law devoid of love for God was inadequate for salvation (Isaiah 1:11-20). The Mosaic Law was to be a “schoolmaster,” or tutor, that led the Jewish people to Christ that they might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).

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In fulfilling the Mosaic Law, Jesus freed humanity from the practices of the Law, though the moral principles continue. Another way to look at it is that everything the sacrifices, dietary laws, holiday observances, and male circumcision on the eighth day were intended to do has been accomplished in the life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ.

Accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and final sacrifice for sin takes the place of practicing the Mosaic Law.

Paul makes this clear when he writes, “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4, emphasis added). In other words, the Mosaic Law was never the means by which you were declared “righteous” in God’s eyes; it is through Christ, and Christ alone, that you are declared righteous (Romans 3:21-26).

Paul further states that at Christ’s death, He set “aside … the law with its commands and regulations” (Ephesians 2:15). Paul minces no words; the practice of the Mosaic Law is abolished for both Jew and Gentile.

There are no Mosaic “commandments” or “ordinances” needed to be observed or fulfilled in order to be declared righteous (“saved”); all has been fulfilled in Christ!

David Ettinger is a writer/editor at Zion’s Hope, Inc., and has written for Zion’s Fire magazine since its inception in 1990.

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