Who is Jesus? Some will answer this by claiming he was a myth. Others that he was a good, but misunderstood, ethical teacher. And others will claim that he is both God and man, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, a perfect sacrifice to save us from our sin. And I will wholeheartedly agree with this last answer. But I believe there is more to him than what we traditionally ascribe.
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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.Matthew 5:17-18 NIV
Jesus is indeed fully God and fully man, the second person of the Trinity, and the atoning sacrifice for our sin. But this passage also says that he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. As I have heard this passage discussed over the years it seems most commonly to be in regards to the applicability of the Old Testament Law today. But I have come to believe that it is much more than that. That the Law and the Prophets are pointing to Jesus and find their ultimate fulfillment in him. This article will be the first of what is likely to be several posts looking at Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.
Fulfilling the Law and Prophets
In addition to the passage above, there are a number of passages in the New Testament that look to Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. The gospel of Matthew, in particular, goes to great lengths to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of specific Old Testament prophecies. But did he just fulfill some of the prophetic passages in the Old Testament? Or is he the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament prophets were looking forward to? I have come to believe that he is THE fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. Not just in part, but in whole.
The Servant Songs of Isaiah
The book of Isaiah includes a number of Servant Songs. The most famous of these is called The Suffering Servant and comes from Isaiah 52:13-53:12. It is very easy to look at this song and see that much of it was accomplished in Jesus’ life and death on the cross. It seems to refer to his suffering on the cross for our sakes. And the early church clearly understood it that way as well. When Phillip encountered the Ethiopian official on the road, he was reading from Isaiah 53. And Phillip, starting from that passage, explained to him the good news of Jesus.
Another of these Servant Songs comes from Isaiah 42:1-9. This song describes the servant as God’s chosen one; one who bears the Spirit of God. He is described as being gentle as well as a covenant for Israel and a light to the Gentiles. And Jesus, while teaching at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), read this passage and claimed that it was fulfilled in himself. Jesus’ claim was that he was the one pointed to in this Servant Song, and by extension, in all of the Servant Songs.
Jesus Post-resurrection Teaching
Luke records two post resurrection appearances of Jesus to his followers. The first was to two who were on their way home after Jesus’ death. Along the way Jesus appeared and walked with them without their knowing who he was. They explained to Jesus what had just happened, after which Jesus began to teach them. Luke sums up that teaching by saying “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27).“
Later that evening Jesus appeared to his disciples, demonstrating that he was indeed alive, and then explaining to them what had happened. “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’ (Luke 24:44).“
In both of these appearances the focus was on Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus saw that at least some of these writings were fulfilled in himself. He was what they pointed to. And, I believe, this helps to explain the opening passage in this article where Jesus identified himself as coming to fulfill the Law and Prophets.
Transitioning from the Law and Prophets To the Gospel
The most obvious division in the Bible is between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament the focus seems to be on Israel and God’s dealing with that nation. In the New Testament the story is about Jesus and the spread of the gospel out into the world. And I believe this distinction is encapsulated in Jesus’ words in Luke 16:16.
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.Luke 16:16 NIV
John the Baptist serves as the line of demarcation. Before John was the time for proclaiming the Law and Prophets. But since John the proclamation, for John, Jesus, and the apostles, was the kingdom of God. And this makes sense if Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. Why continue to focus on them if they have been fulfilled.
Instead, it is the kingdom of God that is preached. The kingdom that Jesus came to establish. And the kingdom where he sits as king. The Old Testament is looking forward to what happens in the New Testament. So, it would seem, the Old Testament is best understood in light of the New Testament.
The Testimony of Philip
Jesus called Philip to follow him. And Philip in turn went to his friend Nathanael and invited him to join in following Jesus. And in his invitation he expressed what would have been a common thought in Jewish circles at the time.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”John 1:45 NIV
Moses and the Prophets were writing about someone. Of course not every word was pointing to that person. But the thought must have been that there was a person coming who the Law and Prophets both were ultimately pointing to. And Philip had become convinced that this person was Jesus. To Philip, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
What Does It All Mean?
What does it mean when we say that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets? I believe it is more than just seeing that he fulfilled some Old Testament prophecy. I understand it to mean that all of the Law and Prophets were pointing to Jesus. And only when we see Jesus can we fully understand the goal of the Law and Prophets. There is much to be gained by a study of the Old Testament Law and Prophets. But apart from seeing them through the lens of Jesus, you will never see what they ultimately point to.
When the Old Testament points to righteousness, to a king and kingdom, to a temple and priests, and to dominion, it is pointing toward Jesus. It may be that there is some future shadow fulfillment of these things. But it seems to me that there is no need for that if Jesus has already fully fulfilled them.
I believe there is much to explore concerning Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law and Prophets and I expect to do so in additional posts in the next weeks and months.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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