All or Nothing?

Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.—Matt 5:17-18

There are some very interesting statements Jesus makes, in these two verses alone, that have long been the source of much confusion for me. I began getting the gist of these verses a couple years ago, but there were still some blind spots. For the past couple of days, God has been prompting me to more deeply consider these verses in the overall context of the sentiment Jesus seemed to be expressing. Yet again, he has shown me a whole new layer of understanding in my personal journey.

Is Everything Fulfilled?
We may readily acknowledge that Jesus was speaking of the old laws given to Israel, but he was also speaking of the prophets—stating he didn’t come to destroy, but fulfill. Even further, heaven and earth would have to pass away first and all things would have to be accomplished before even a letter or pen stroke would pass away from the law! This seems to be quite a pointed expression.

In this sense, it would seem we only have one of two scenarios: Jesus has accomplished everything…..or he hasn’t.

If the first scenario is valid, we are completely free from the Old Testament law as an obligation, though there is still much we can learn from it. If the second scenario is valid—that is, if Jesus hasn’t fulfilled all the law AND the prophets—then we are still under the Old Testament law, and we look forward to a future event in which heaven and earth will pass away and Jesus will finish the unfulfilled portions of prophecy. It’s important to note that much of the prophecy of those such as Daniel and Malachi were the same prophecies reiterated in Revelation. In other words, either Jesus has fulfilled all the law and all the prophecies, or he hasn’t. We can do theological gymnastics to justify our positions, divide up the law and prophecies, or otherwise ignore these scriptures, but the more I study such passages, the more the message is clear—Jesus has already accomplished everything.

If he hasn’t, then everything Paul and the other N.T. authors taught about, such as no longer being under law, is invalid—we’re still responsible for every iota of every character of the law if we are claiming to follow God.

When did heaven and earth pass away?
In passages such as Isaiah 1:2, we see who God is referencing with this terminology. This is a Biblical way of speaking of Israel, God’s chosen people meant to be the salt and light of the world, that all nations would be blessed through them. How well did they keep their calling?

Here, we see some of the pieces of the overall puzzle starting to fit together: The old kingdom would have to completely pass away for the new Kingdom to fully come into being. This is where Jesus returns to fulfill the curses of the law to those whom the law was given to (Israel). Those who refused to turn to the New Covenant, instead, binding themselves to the Old, were in turn delivered those very curses (Deut 28:15-68). When this was completed, the old kingdom was delivered up to the Father (1 Cor 15:24). This was the end of the age (aion), not “the world” as is commonly thought. Compare a few verses from the link (emphasis mine):

Matthew 12:32
NAS: in this age or
KJV: in this world, neither in
INT: this the age nor in

Matthew 13:22
NAS: and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness
KJV: of this world, and
INT: care the age and the

Matthew 13:39
NAS: is the end of the age; and the reapers
KJV: the end of the world; and
INT: [the] harvest [the] completion of the age is

Here, we see the often misrepresented concept between age (a period of time) and world (the earth as we know it). This one word has served to throw much of prophecy and the Bible off of its axis.

It short, Jesus seems to state that all the words of the law, as well as the prophets, would have to be fulfilled before the old law, every character and mark, would be fulfilled and pass away. We readily acknowledge, for the most part, that we live under a New Covenant. However, we often disregard the completeness of Jesus’ fulfillment. It would seem that the only way we can honestly view this passage is that Jesus has already fulfilled all the law and prophets. Otherwise, we are still bound to every single mandate of the Old Covenant.

This indeed goes much deeper and there are many other passages that correspond to these conclusions. For the sake of brevity I will stop here. I encourage any reading this to research these things individually as relevant to your personal walk with Jesus.

Is any part of the Old Testament law still in effect?

There seems to be two major views of this.
1. Part of the Old Covenant is still in effect such as the Ten Commandments.
2. None of the Old Covenant is still in effect as it has been replaced with the New, better Covenant.
So which is it? What does the Bible say?
One of the most popular scriptures to both prove and refute the Old Covenant being still in effect is Matt 5:17. There are many interesting things going on in this and surrounding passages. Many only state part of this scripture as evidence that the Old Covenant, at least in part, is still in effect. “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law…” This misses the point however. We have to take all of the passage into consideration to understand what Jesus was saying.
At the end of that verse, Jesus states that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. Further, he goes on to state that nothing will pass from the law until all things are accomplished and that heaven and earth would pass away first (Matt 5:18). Even stranger, he goes on to say that the listeners there had to exceed the Pharisees’ righteousness (who were the strictest observers) and that even the least command was still in effect (Matt 5:19-20). From the rest of this scripture, it seems like both of the original assertions are incorrect!
So, we have to look at the timing of this. Just as the Old Covenant was established by blood (Heb 9:18), so was the New by Jesus’ (Matt 26:28). In Matt 5, Jesus was still referring to the Old Covenant because it was still in effect. It seems he was stating that no matter how strictly the old law was observed, it could never make us perfect based on our inability to fulfill it. Only Jesus could.
This fulfillment was three-fold:
1. He lived (fulfilled) the Old Covenant perfectly (Matt 5:17 as above).
2. He accepted the curse on himself for all people who weren’t able to live the Old Covenant (Gal 3:13Deut 28:15-68).
3. He gave us the blessings that he earned by living the Old Covenant perfectly (Gal 3:14Deut 28:1-15).
Once Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant, he set it aside (Col 2:14Heb 7:18).
To these points, most might agree. However, we still have a whole lot of mixing of the Old and New when the Old has been permanently set aside. Even the very architecture of the Old was removed in 70AD (as alluded to all throughout the New Testament in passages such as Matt 24 and Heb 8:13). The law was but a shadow (Heb 10:1). The New Covenant is so much better and doesn’t need those shadows anymore!
This is also when “heaven and earth” passed away. In the Old Testament, this was a reference to Israel (such as Isaiah 1:2 ). The end of the Jewish world, or age, was often referred to (examples: Matt 12:32, Matt 28:20, Heb 9:26). Likewise, I believe this complete removal of the Old Covenant system in 70AD to be what Jesus was referencing here by the passing away of heaven and earth. This could go much deeper when delving into the meaning of the new heavens and earth, but that strays outside the scope here and deserves at least a post on its’ own.
But isn’t it okay to uphold things such as the Ten Commandments? The law was good, yes, but we as humans were unable to uphold it. If we attempt to enforce any of the old law onto ourselves or others, we place ourselves under the curse of the law thereby insulting what Jesus has already done for us. This would insinuate that Jesus didn’t do enough, that he didn’t fulfill the law in our place, and there is something that we have to do to pick up his slack. This, in effect, denies the New Covenant and is an insult to the Spirit of Grace (Heb 10:29)!
But can’t we enforce the Ten Commandments on other “ungodly” people? I would say no. First, because the new law is written on their hearts and in their minds (Heb 10:16). We all know God (Heb 8:11). Secondly, we can’t mix the old and the new (Matt 9:16-17) for reasons already stated. If we insist that God’s law isn’t written on everyone’s hearts and minds, we violate scripture. If we concede that it is, then we can certainly show people Jesus’ love through our lives, but we must trust him to work in theirs. After all, we tend to readily admit that we have no understanding of his ways and plans. Therefore, we have no understanding of how he may be working in the lives and through the situations of people we only condemn by the external circumstances we can see. This is where we pray for them and for us to just be able to love them through it.
So, if everyone already knows God and doesn’t need to be taught about him, as he states through Jeremiah, what about the Great Commission? This is simply spreading the good news of the New Covenant so others can live by the Holy Spirit and not an external set of rules or human leadership. We are free from the curse of the old law!
The covenants, old and new, can be though of as contracts. But, when did we except them, and when did Israel? Israel confirmed their acceptance of the contract three times (Exodus 19:824:3, 7), but when did we accept the New Covenant? If I may continue with the contract analogy, Israel consigned themselves to be responsible for “purchasing” their salvation by obeying the terms of the contract. However, Jesus paid the old and new contracts in full. The old contract was paid off, thereby being set aside though we get all the benefits. The new contract, with even better promises (Heb 8:6), was given to us with all the requirements already paid in full (Heb 7:22). All we have to do is accept it. It would be like if someone bought us a new car and hauled the old clunker away. All we have to do is accept and it’s ours. (Even the insurance, taxes, and tags are paid, with free gas for life!) No other requirements are necessary because the Holy Spirit directs us from there (Romans 2:14-15). Would we continue to insist that we keep our old clunker deathtrap that requires constant maintenance and threatens to kill us? Or would we just accept the new car with all the additional features and none of the hassle? The old clunker was good while it lasted, but it’s time to be placed in the compactor!
Forcing old laws onto others tends to drive them away, and rightly so, as that covenant has been removed!
This is the beauty of the New Covenant. Why would we try to implement the curses of the Old Covenant on ourselves and others especially knowing that no one has the ability to uphold it?