"The Law" in New Testament Usage (continued)
4. The Sermon on the Mount is an interpretation, in part, of the same Mosaic law with special reference to its original inner meaning. This s clear from our Lord's words in Matthew 5:17-19. In verse 19 He declares that "whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least n the kingdom of heaven." These "commandments" are contained in "the law" referred to in verse 17. It is the Mosaic law, and verse 18 asserts that not "one jot or one tittle" of it can pass away. As Alford points out, "These least commandments" refers to "one jot or tittle above."
In this Sermon on the Mount our Lord is not abolishing the Mosaic law and putting in its place another law of His own, as some have superficially suggested. On the contrary, He is reaffirming in the strongest kind of language the unity and inviolability of the Mosaic law. Sometimes it is argued that Christ made certain changes, for instance, in matters such as divorce (vv. 31-32). But, our Lord, as the divine Giver of that law, only abolished certain concessions which had been made earlier because of the hardness men's hearts (Matthew 19:8), concessions which were not in harmony with the inner meaning of the original divine law. But that law, in the mind of Christ, still stood in its every jot and tittle. And to break one of its least commandments is condemned by Him in unmistakable words.
Furthermore, if we examine the Sermon on the Mount carefully, it becomes clear that all three elements of the Mosaic law are present. That the moral element is present needs no special argument, for the greater part of the sermon is devoted to this element. It is not so generally recognized that the ceremonial element of the Mosaic law is also present. Verses 23 and 24 of Matthew 5 speak of "the altar" and also the "gift" brought by the worshiped to the altar. This is the language of sacrifice, made clearer by the American Standard Version. "If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar" (v. 23). H. A. W. Meyer translates as follows: "If thou, then, art about to present thy sacrifice ...". And Alford declares that "the whole language is Jewish, and can only be understood by Jewish rites."
It is also very clear that the Sermon on the Mount contains references to the civil element of the Mosaic law. In Matthew 5:21 our Lord speaks of certain offenders being "in danger of the judgment." The judgment referred to is "that of the local courts of Deuteronomy 16:18," and the phrase "in danger" means "legally liable to." In the next verse our Lord says that certain other offenders would be "in danger of the council." The "council" here is without question the great court of the Sanhedrin. The local Jewish courts had the power of capital punishment, but the special penalty of stoning was reserved for the Sanhedrin. We are thus in the realm of Jewish civil jurisprudence as outlined in the Mosaic law. See Numbers 11:16 for the probable origin of the Sanhedrin composed of 70 members. Furthermore, we find in Matthew 5:35 a reference to Jerusalem as the "city of the great King," indicating the central seat of civil authority in the theocratic kingdom, which that city was historically, and will be once again in the future reestablishment of the kingdom according to the Old Testament prophets.
Not only are the three elements of the Mosaic law present in the Sermon on the Mount, but the penalties of that law also appear. Under the Mosaic law religious and civil authority were one. There was no separation of church and state. Therefore we should expect to find both temporal and eternal sanctions among the penalties of the law. Thus in Matthew 5:25-26 we read of the prison and the discharge of the offender when the penalty had been paid to the uttermost farthing. But in verses 22, 29 and 30 we hear the Lord warning offenders of the penalty of "hell fire." See Deuteronomy 32:22 for the basis of this dreadful penalty of the divine wrath as set forth in the Mosaic law.
5. This same Mosaic law was the law under which our Lord was born and to which He rendered the required obedience.
a. Christ was born under the law. Thus we read in Galatians 4:4 that "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law." In the Greek construction the phrase "under the law" is exactly the same as in 5:18 where the believer is said to be "not under the law." The child Jesus was circumcised and offered to God formally in the Jewish temple accompanied by the sacrifice ot turtledoves - all done "according to the law of Moses" (Luke 2:21 - 24). And verse 39 declares that "all things according to the law of the Lord" were duly performed. With reference to His earthly ministry to Israel, the Apostle Paul asserts that Jesus Christ "was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" (Romans 15:8).
b. Our Lord obeyed the Mosaic law. He came not to destroy this law but to "fulfill" it (Matthew 5:17). Whatever else may be included in this pregnant statement, it certainly includes obedience. When He went to the Jordan for baptism, He silenced the protests of John the Baptist by saying, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). The "righteousness" here is that which is required by the law. The baptism of John was based on the bath "in water" required by the law for those defiled (Numbers 19:19). Our Lord's submission to the ritual bath signified not His own need of cleansing but rather His identification with His sinful people. As He reminded John, "It becometh us," not Himself alone. After all, His submission to John's baptism is not any more startling than His participation in the Jewish Passover. Both should speak to us of His identification with His people, certainly not to any taint of uncleanness in Him.
Finally, as He approached the hour of His death, He commanded His disciples to "prepare us the Passover" (Luke 22:8) in accordance with the requirements of strict Mosaic law. Every detail of that coming feast had to be fulfilled. If "sin is the transgression of the law," we also are reminded in the same context that "in him is no sin" (1 John 3:4-5).
c. Christ commanded others to obey the Mosaic law. Here the classic reference is Matthew 5:17-19, where He commands obedience to that law down to the "least" of its commandments. This required obedience included, first, submission to the moral element as indicated in our Lord's demand of the rich young ruler to "keep the commandments," referring to the second table of the law (Matthew 19:17-19).
That He also required obedience to the "ceremonial" element is clear from His command to the cleansed leper, "Shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded" (Matthew 8:4). And in Matthew 26 we have not only an example of our Lord's own submission to the civil authorities, but also His command to Peter not to resist them (vv. 47-52). All this was in full harmony with the injunctions of the Mosaic law which demanded respect to be shown to "the ruler of thy people" (Exodus 22:28).
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 5 - "How the Law Could Give Eternal Life")