Episode 13: It is commonly taught that Jesus came to cancel the law but Jesus tells his disciples “I did not come to abolish the law.” Episode thirteen will revolutionize the viewer’s understanding of the law by learning that the law was given for Godly instruction. They will discover that not only has the law of God not been done away with but the prophets tell us that it will be observed even in the Messianic Era. It will also be taught that the law has different applications for different people, with some commandments only being applicable to Jewish people.
The Lesson: The Mystery of Jesus and the Torah
In this episode, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby take on one of the major misconceptions of Christian doctrine, that the death of Jesus canceled the Torah and invalidated the Law. Toby calls this “The Mystery of the Torah is not Canceled,” but I prefer the other expression he used: “The Mystery of Jesus and the Torah.”
The core to this episode is a scripture that practically everyone in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements is keenly aware of:
Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.
–Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)
These verses are part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, which is thought of in Christianity as the core of Jesus’s moral teachings.
Toby tells his audience that a closer analysis of Matthew 5:17 will help us get to our first clue in solving today’s mystery.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
–Matthew 5:17 (NASB)
According to Toby, Jesus had been criticized by the Jewish religious authorities, saying that he was not teaching and living by the Torah correctly. Jesus was taking this opportunity to explain his intent as a teacher. The phrase “I have come” has the sense in the Hebrew of purpose and intention. Toby tells us that in this section of his sermon, Jesus isn’t explaining his role as Messiah in relationship to the Torah, but his intention and purpose in teaching the Torah. He wants to clear up any misunderstanding about what he’s teaching, not explain how he is going to impact Torah obedience in Israel as the coming Messiah.
But we have to have a proper understanding of the terms “abolish” and “fulfill” in order to understand Jesus’s words. While Christians have to take at face value the verse saying that Jesus didn’t come to “abolish” the Law, that is, to destroy, discard, overturn, or annul, they often interpret “fulfill” as abolish, since the net effect in Christian thinking is that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross.”
But within a first century Jewish Rabbinic context, how are the words “abolish” and “fulfill” understood?
Rabbi Jonathan would say: Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth; and whoever abolishes the Torah in wealth, will ultimately abolish it in poverty. (emph. mine)
-Pirkei Avot 4:9
Pirkei Avot is also called Ethics of Our Fathers, and is a collection of ancient Rabbinic teachings compiled from 200 years before Jesus’s birth until 200 years after his resurrection.
Here we see how the early Sages defined the use of fulfill and abolish in relation to the Torah (the word “neglect” was in place of the word “abolish” in the quote of Pirkei Avot 4:9 I copied from a Chabad email newsletter). I bolded some of the words in the above quoted phrase so you could better see Toby’s point.
To “abolish” in this context, means to disobey Torah.
To “fulfill” in this context, means to obey Torah.
Jesus is saying that in his teaching and his life, he did not come, that is, it was not his intention and purpose as a teacher, to disobey the Torah, but rather, to obey the Torah. Let’s look at Matthew 5:17 again but in a modified form.
Do not think that I came to disobey the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to disobey but to obey. (emph. mine)
A rather startling change of meaning, don’t you think? Now we have the first clue we need to solve the mystery:
Clue 1: Jesus came to obey and teach the Law.
But exactly what is “the Law” and why does Christianity see it so negatively? To get the answer, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel.
What is the Torah? Most often, we think of it as the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And while the Torah does contain many laws for Jews living in the Land of Israel and diaspora, as well as Jewish ethical and moral conduct, it also contains the story of Creation, the calling of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the astonishing redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Aaron teaches us that Torah means something like “guidance,” “teaching,” or “instruction.” The root word in Hebrew is an archery term implying something that is cast, thrown, or shot with aiming or guidance, like one might shoot an arrow at a target. In this sense the Torah can be any spiritual or Biblical teaching directing someone toward righteousness. To differentiate this broader meaning from the first five books of the Bible, we call those five books the Torah of Moses.
The main point of Aaron’s teaching is rather straightforward. Torah doesn’t mean “law,” it means teaching, instruction, and guidance, in a spiritual or moral sense. It doesn’t have to refer only to the “mechanics” of the legal parts of the Torah of Moses. He also explains what a “jot” and a “tittle” or “thorn” is which illuminates how Jesus used those terms in Matthew 5:18. Jesus was saying that he did not intend to abolish or disobey even the smallest detail of the Torah until heaven and earth passed away.
Returning to Toby, we have our second clue:
Clue 2: Torah is God’s Instruction.
Toby takes the lesson one step further and describes the future role and function of the Torah in the Messianic Era. To understand how this works, we must turn to Jeremiah 31:31-34
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Here, Toby interprets this scripture about the New Covenant in the same way I’ve been doing on this blog for quite some time. On the surface, the prophet is saying that there will be a new covenant and that it will be different from the old covenant, but what exactly will be different. Grace instead of Law? That’s not what scripture says. Let’s drill down into verse 33:
I will put My Torah within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (emph. mine)
I substituted the word “Torah” for “Law” since that’s how it’s rendered in the Hebrew. Remember, the New Covenant is made with Judah and Israel, not with the church or the nations. God still expects the Jewish people to obey the Torah, His guidance and instruction, but it will be written internally and will be part of the fiber of their being, rather than being written externally. My understanding is that it will be second nature for the Jewish people to live a lifestyle in obedience to God, rather than struggling between the good and evil inclinations.
We saw in the FFOZ TV show None Greater Than John that verse 34 refers to the state of the people of God during the Messianic Era. We will all know God, from the greatest to the least of us, as prophets, with an overabundance of the Spirit of God upon us.
This is the Messianic Era, when the Jewish exiles are returned to their Land, the Land of Israel, all of Israel’s enemies are finally defeated forever, and King Messiah establishes world peace. In those days, all Jews will obey Torah and even the Gentiles of the nations will go up to Jerusalem to learn:
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
–Isaiah 2:3 (NASB)
Here we have the third and final clue:
Clue 3: The Torah will be obeyed in the Messianic Era
But this brings up the subject about the relationship of the Torah to the non-Jewish people. I thought that the topic would be ignored as in past episodes, but Toby briefly touches on it by saying that the Torah has different applications to Jewish and non-Jewish people. Most (non-Messianic) Jews would probably say the Torah has little to no application to the goyim at all, but Messianic Judaism sometimes has a unique perspective regarding non-Jews and particularly Christians.
At the end of the episode, FFOZ Founder and President Boaz Michael comes on camera and refers to the Torah as “God’s loving instruction.” He says that both Jews and Gentiles need to study the Torah and discover how it applies to our lives, also implying that there are different applications of the Torah to Jewish and non-Jewish people.
What Did I Learn?
I gained a greater appreciation of the Rabbinic use of the terms “fulfill” and “abolish,” although I’d heard something similar in the past. I was also reminded of a discussion I had with my Pastor last week on this very topic: will there be distinctions between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Era and will there be any such thing as “Torah” in those days? He says “no” and I say “yes.” I don’t think the Torah ceases as we understand it today until “all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). The question is, when is everything that must be accomplished actually accomplished? If not even the smallest detail of the Torah pass away until heaven and earth pass away, then the only possible answer is that the Torah passes away only when there is a new heaven and earth.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…
–Revelation 21:1-3 (NASB)
When the Messianic Age is established, the Torah will still be in effect upon Israel, that is the Jewish people. There will be some applications for non-Jewish believers, but Toby was deliberately vague in this area. Only after everything has been accomplished, evil has finally been defeated, and a new heaven and earth have been established, that the Torah, as we understand it, will pass away.
But as I was watching this episode and reflecting on my conversation with Pastor last week, I was reminded of a question he asked me. There are several Jewish people who attend my church. None of them are “Messianic,” and would be better called “Hebrew Christians,” people of Jewish ethnic and family lineage but those who practice a traditional Christianity. In other words, they likely believe the law is abolished in the sense of being permanently destroyed.
Pastor asked me if I thought they are obligated to the Torah. My principles say “yes,” but I was suddenly confronted with the reality of my words. Could I go up to any of these individuals unbidden, and tell them to their face that they should be performing the mitzvot, not as a matter of salvation or justification, but out of covenant obedience? Probably not (not unless they asked, of course…). It would be like going up to a Jewish person driving to shul on Shabbos and telling them they shouldn’t drive but walk instead. Who am I, the religious police? On the other hand, if the Torah is incumbent upon all the Jewish people now and will be even into the Messianic Age…what are the consequences to a Jew for abandoning the Torah, even at the behest of the Christian church?
Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
–Matthew 5:19 (NASB)
I believe that Jewish people are currently obligated to perform the mitzvot, but that doesn’t mean I must forcibly impose my beliefs upon them. Every person negotiates their own relationship with God. Every Jew must discover who they are as a Jew in relation to Hashem. I can only pray that all Jewish people everywhere return to the Torah and thus bring the Messiah that much closer to bringing his rule and reign fully into our world. For when he returns, as Toby and Aaron teach, the Torah will be established in Israel and will go forth into the nations from Zion.
When G‑d made the world He gave each creature, each nation and each individual a role and a meaning.
When each plays its part there is harmony.
When the lines become too blurred, there is acrimony.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I will review another episode next week.