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Chuck McKnight, AiG–U.S., explains what it means that Christ fulfilled the Law.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17)
Today’s big question: what does it mean that Christ fulfilled the Law?
To answer this question, we must first look at what is meant by “the Law” in this instance. Some would posit that Christ is referring to the Ten Commandments. Indeed, this often is the meaning of “the Law;” however, context gives us several reasons why that is not the case here.
The majority of Matthew 5 consists of Jesus referring to statements from the Law and then expounding on them. Yet only two such statements in the chapter are drawn from the Ten Commandments: “You shall not murder” (Matthew 5:21) and “You shall not commit adultery” (Matthew 5:27). The other topics Jesus covered—divorce, oaths, revenge, and hatred—are taken from elsewhere in the Old Testament.
Furthermore, the combination of “the Law” with “the Prophets” would seem to indicate that Christ is referring to the whole Old Testament. “The Law” would then refer to the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible, which were written by Moses. The same would be true in Luke 24:44, when Jesus told His disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”
So we see that Christ fulfilled the whole Old Testament. This manifests itself in several ways. In the most basic sense, it means Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies concerning the first coming of the Messiah. The Gospels are filled with statements like, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet,” “just as it is written of Him,” “that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” and similar phrases (Matthew 13:35; Mark 14:21; Luke 18:31; John 17:12, and many others).
In a more specific sense, the fulfillment of the Law means that Christ completed the sacrificial system that became necessary because of sin. In the Old Testament, men lived under the condemnation of the Law. Sacrifices were needed to continually atone for their sins (Leviticus 4:35, 5:10). However, since Jesus gave Himself as the ultimate sacrifice, we are no longer condemned. “He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2, NET).
This is an awesome truth! God no longer requires continual sacrifices for sin, because Jesus has already atoned for all of our sins. Our lives should now be lived to please God out of thankfulness to Him for what He has already done. We are made free through Christ (Galatians 5:1). In the next devotional, we will explore what this liberty means.
Today’s big idea: because Christ fulfilled the Law, we no longer live under the condemnation of the Law.
What to pray: thank God for the atoning sacrifice of His Son.