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Jesus and the Law

By R. J. Rushdoony
September 23, 2013

The antinomian arguments against the law are strange and ugly. Some letter writers to Chalcedon are so hostile to the law that they actually see it as evil. It is amazing that they do not find their own warped interpretations laughable. Consider the text, Matthew 5:17-20:

17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.
18. 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.
19. 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, that same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness or the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

First, our Lord clearly tells us that the purpose of His coming is not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, to put them into force. Any other interpretation does violence to the plain meaning of the words. It is eisegsis, not exegesis. Second, to the end of time, the law of God, in its very detail, shall stand. Its meaning and intent remain forever valid. Third, to teach otherwise makes one either least in the kingdom of heaven (v. 19), or it bars them from it (v. 20). Fourth, to teach the law, together with the Lawgiver, Jesus Christ, makes one great in His Kingdom.

Our Lord's high regard for the law, even in its "ceremonial" details, is notable. In Mark 1:40-44, we have an account of the healing of a leper. In v. 44 we read,

...See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

Clearly, the day of the priests and the temple was nearly over since the new Temple, Jesus Christ, had come. Soon all the rites of the Temple would be transmitted by Christ's atoning death and resurrection. Their premises would remain, but the forms would change. Yet Jesus Christ required obedience to them all the same. Clearly, obedience was very important to have been commanded through Moses. It is now required "for a testimony to them." The word testimony is the Greek marturea, which means to testify, to give evidence, and it does have reference to a court of law, although used in other ways. Going to a priest who was a public health officer implies here a judicial statement. It is hard to see how anyone can see Jesus as other than a very strict keeper of the law! Jesus thus, first, kept the law strictly in this regard, and, second, fulfilled a messianic expectation, since it was held that God alone could cure leprosy.

When Jesus first went to Nain, He raised from the dead the only son of a local widow (Luke 7:11-16). The reaction of the people was to glorify God and to say that either the great prophet was arisen among them, or, "That God hath visited his people" (v. 16).

The idea of the modernist scholars that Jesus only gradually developed a messianic consciousness and that He concealed this, is nonsense. It is plain in all the Gospels that He set forth His calling, and many recognized it. But Jesus was not fulfilling the nationalistic expectations, and they waited to see what He would do.

It is held by some that the law was only "an eternal command standing over against the individual who cannot fulfill it," and that "the Law only results in condemnation," and so on and so on.1 How can this be said in the view of Exodus 20:12, "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." Paul calls this the first commandment with promise (Eph. 6:21). First, protos, means the best among many, the chief. Clearly, Paul sees this as one among many commandments which promises a blessing. It is not stretching Scripture to say that all the law promises blessings for obedience, and Psalm 1 celebrates this fact. The Beatitudes are pronounced on the obedience of faith, and to reduce the law to curses only is to misinterpret it.

Israel rejected the Messiah and was set aside, and the church became the new Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). The law is the expression of God's nature, and it sets fourth His justice. Can we reject God's law without rejecting Him? The church should be trembling with fear at what it has done, but it rivals the ancient Pharisees in its false zeal. St. Peter tells us, in 1 Peter 4:17,

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first began with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

The primary reference here may have been to the Temple in Jerusalem, but its meaning plainly includes the church, all who "obey not the gospel of God." A sleeping church needs to awaken. Some Hindus, and also Islam, accept a Christ abstracted from the Bible and His context. Increasingly the church, modernist and evangelical, has an abstracted and meaningless Christ. But the Christ who shall confront them is the living Christ who cannot be separated from the law and the revelation He gave through Moses and the prophets.

1. Leonhard Gopplet, Typos, The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament the New (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 142.


Topics: Biblical Law

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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