What the Bible says about
Magnification of the Law
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This is a most important scripture for understanding Christ's ministry. A major part of the purpose of His ministry is to magnify the law. The Sermon on the Mount is the focal point of His doing this. In the Sermon on the Mount, we learn that anger and hate are the spirit of murder, magnifying the sixth commandment. We also learn there that lust is the spirit of adultery, magnifying, clarifying, and explaining in sharper detail so that we can understand and see its application.
Jesus deliberately and frequently focused His attention on the Sabbath, but not, however, in the Sermon on the Mount. It is too big a subject to be contained there. We find passage after passage where He magnifies the keeping of the Sabbath and thus teaches the intent of the Sabbath.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)
The Bible identifies Jesus Christ as the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh Elohim. Therefore, when Jesus speaks, He is both the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. Consider this fundamental characteristic of both:
» For I, Jehovah [Yahweh], change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6, American Standard Version)
» Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Considering this unchanging nature, why would many in Christianity paint such different pictures, in many cases literally, of Jesus Christ and the Old Testament God? Knowing that Yahweh Elohim is also Jesus Christ requires rethinking a core issue—the law. Because Yahweh Elohim and Jesus Christ are one and the same, a Being who does not change and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, it is inconceivable to believe that He came to do away with the very laws that He created to be obeyed by His people.
He said as much in Mathew 5:17: “Don't suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning” (Contemporary English Version).
Contrary to Christ's warning, but true to human nature (Romans 8:7), many do suppose He did away with His laws. He proves how wrong that is by the verses that follow. As examples, in verses 21-22, about murder, and verses 27-28, about adultery, He explains that a full understanding covers not just the physical acts but also the thoughts and motivations that lead to those actions.
In each of these instances, rather than abolishing the law, He expands it, making it more sweeping than it ever was in the Old Testament. No longer is physical obedience sufficient. Our Savior adds the higher standard of spiritual compliance.
Because Israel was a physical nation without access to the Holy Spirit, only physical obedience was possible. Since the first Christian Pentecost in Acts 2, we have access to God's Spirit and a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27). With that Spirit, Yahweh Elohim, Jesus Christ, now charges us to accomplish His full intent by walking in His statutes, keeping His judgments, and doing all this from a new spiritual heart.
Because Christ made plain the spiritual intent of the law He created as Yahweh Elohim in the Old Testament, Paul could later write that the law is spiritual (Romans 7:14) and that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).
For those who think and teach otherwise, Christ says to them:
» Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
» Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:22-23)
Contrary to Christ's explicit warning, many do suppose and conjure up various reasons and explanations as to why the law is no longer in force. The unchanging Christ says to them what He said to the Jews of His day: “. . . making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:13).
The God of the Old Testament
In Jesus' inaugural address, He is associating His work of being man's Benefactor through redemption—the freeing of man from bondage to Satan, the world, and our nature—to the beginning of the fulfillment of God's redemptive function for the Sabbath. In Luke 4:16, He was beginning to magnify the Sabbath law. At the very beginning of His mission on earth, the very first law that He begins to make clear is the Sabbath!
This should remind us of something that happened in the Exodus. What was the first law that the God of the Old Testament revealed to the children of Israel? It was the Sabbath! Does that give any indication that He is preparing to do away with it? Not in the least! In one sense, because of its position, it is the law in the Ten Commandments around which all the others revolve. Yet mankind seems to think of it as being "the least" of the Ten Commandments, but anybody who breaks it consistently is going to lose his liberty.
Until the time of Christ, the Sabbath had not really been used for the purpose that He was beginning to reveal. Christ is magnifying and re-establishing God's original intent for the Sabbath, just as He does in Matthew 5-7 for the other commandments. By identifying Himself with the Sabbath, He is actually affirming His Messiahship.
How, then, did Christ view the Sabbath? Did He actually uphold it? There are some who say that His acts on the Sabbath were intentionally provocative, designed to show that it is no longer binding. So, was He genuinely observing the Sabbath, or deliberately breaking it?
Christ did a lot of things on the Sabbath. It is very evident that, as His ministry progressed towards its end, the things that He did on the Sabbath became more and more bold, open, clear. At the beginning, He "low-keyed" what He did on the Sabbath. Being wise far beyond men, He knew that there would be an explosive reaction to Him. Luke 4 is His announcement of how He would use the Sabbath.
And then— right within the chapter on the very same Sabbath day—His announcement is followed by two healings (Luke 4:31-39) that clearly reveal God's intended use for Sabbath time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)
An honest evaluation of what Jesus teaches will show that He gives very few rules, if any, for keeping the Sabbath (or for that matter, for anything). There is a reason for that. For one thing, the rules were already laid down in the Old Testament. Also what He came to do was to magnify the spiritual application of that law, that is, teach and expound the spirit of the law, the intention for the law.
There is hardly a law that He paid more attention to than the Sabbath, magnifying its use. There are at least seven different occasions in the four Gospels in which the Sabbath is the issue, when Jesus magnified its use for us. Every one of them has a theme of redemption in it.
What He teaches us are principles for applying the rules that have already been given in the Old Testament. For some of us, that is kind of disconcerting. We would like to have something like a bus or an airline timetable to take us through life in which every possible avenue is detailed as to exactly how we should go, where we should do something, when we should do it in every possible situation that might arise.
God allowed the Jews to try that. They eventually came up with 1,521 rules concerning the Sabbath, which they felt would cover every situation that one might possibly get into. What God is showing us through Jesus Christ is that this is unnecessary. In short, it does not work, or God would have done it. A person is not free when he is bound to those kinds of regulations.
Living in the twentieth century is not quite the same as living in the first or second centuries. Besides, that approach does negative things to a person's character; it produces an extremely narrow, intolerant, and critical casuist. What Christ did in giving us principles is that He gave us things that will last unalterable to the end of time and allow us to be free. They allow a person not always to do exactly the same thing each time. Every situation has to be judged on its own merit.
What does God want to do with our lives? What is He trying to form? He is creating in us an ability—an expertise—to judge. We are going to be kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). What does a king do? A king judges in civil matters, things that pertain to the community. What does a priest do? A priest also judges, but he judges in things spiritual. God is teaching us how to judge.
How we use the Sabbath is an integral part of His training program, and so He has purposely left out all kinds of details. But what He did through Jesus is magnify things so that we can see the intent. What we are seeing is that the intent for the Sabbath is to free. It is to liberate. It is not to bind people with rules.
There is a risk involved in what God is doing. In one sense, it puts a person at very grave risk.Blundering, foolish, and self-centered as we are, there is a grave danger of taking our liberty and turning it into license to do virtually anything we want. Or, on the other hand, to take our liberty and do as the Jews did, becoming so restrictive that we turn the Sabbath into bondage.
But God has to do that! If we are going to become judges, trained in the purpose that He wants, He has to allow us this liberty to make the judgments. So it is a risk that must be taken if a person is going to grow in judgment and character, so one will be prepared to be a king and a priest, knowing when to act and when not to act. God offers to us His Holy Spirit to give us counsel and to guide. But we must apply the principles in the circumstances of our lives.
In no case did Jesus give any indication of doing away with the Sabbath. Always the examples show Him magnifying the Sabbath's intent by doing an act of freeing someone.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)
What did Jesus Christ establish to be taught in the churches? What He brought - in what we consider to be the New Testament era - is not at all contradictory or fundamentally different from what the Old Testament teaches. His message is complementary, completing the teaching of the Old Testament, rounding out and finishing God's revelation to mankind.
The word "but" in verse 17 has been inserted by the translators. In those Bibles that use the convention, it is in italics, which shows that it is a word added by the translators to clarify what they believe is the sense. Why did they choose "but"? The translators' fundamental belief is that Jesus came to change what was taught by Moses. However, if they had put together what the rest of the New Testament says, Jesus came and added to and completed what Moses and the other prophets preached. There is a better word to insert there: "and." Thus, "For the law was given through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." They are complementary, not contradictory. Perhaps the word "supplementary" would better explain it, though what Jesus brought is both complementary and supplementary.
"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). Consider a candy jar, which is filled only an inch. That represents what Moses taught, the law. But Jesus filled the rest of the candy jar full! Jesus brought the spirit of the law. He filled to the full the revelation of God.
What Moses taught in the law is the law of the Kingdom of God. It cannot be separated from the gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought because the Kingdom of God needs law to function. God's Kingdom is a real entity. It is designed to function, and it will only function through law and, of course, grace, as they work together.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Much of the controversy involved in this letter has to do with Gnostic Judaism, which was not the system that God gave to Moses. Judaism was the national religion of the Jews during Christ's and Paul's time, but it had only a very loose basis on the law of the Old Covenant.
Paul refers to the sacrifice of Christ here as a reminder that He fulfilled the sacrificial law—in living a sinless life and then willingly laying it down, He fulfilled the requirements of every sacrificial ordinance, such that the "blood of bulls and goats" was no longer required in a physical sense. Fulfillment does not equal absolution, however; James 2:8 shows that when we "fulfill" the royal law according to Scripture, we are doing what is right, and there is no way to stretch this into saying that we each individually do away with the law. In Matthew 5:17, Christ shows that fulfilling is the opposite of destroying. Christ's fulfilling of the Law and the Prophets is to be an example for us to follow (Galatians 6:2; Colossians 1:25; II Thessalonians 1:11; James 2:8).
The "world" being referred to here is the Greek aion and means "age"—a time period. The "present evil world" or "present evil age" which we need to be delivered from by God could be a reference to the strong influence the Jews had on the Galatians, as well as the Jews' wish to bind them (the Galatians) to the traditions and ordinances they had added to God's instruction, which He calls "burdens" elsewhere (Matthew 23:4; Acts 15:10).
David C. Grabbe
Paul says here that if he or any of the other apostles—or even what would appear to be an angel—were to preach a different gospel to the Galatians than what they had first understood, that teacher was to be accursed. Being "accursed" could run the gamut from God's judgment and wrath falling upon him to being an instruction to part company from that person and not allow him to teach any longer.
The underlying thought here is the same as Jude 3: to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." It is evident that there is a specific gospel which Christ brought, and any variance from that is a falsehood. In the Old Testament, God required the utmost purity in the way He was worshipped. Now, under the New Testament, the purity has to be even greater—Christ came to magnify the law and reveal the spirit and intent, thus doing away with loopholes and technicalities. Just as there were rigid requirements under the Old Covenant, the gospel of the New Covenant is precise and does not allow for variance. There is only one "way" to eternal life—our relationship with God made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). The notion of "many paths, all leading us to the same place" is utterly erroneous. If the gospel is changed, or any of the associated doctrines are changed, the resulting body of understanding will produce a different faith than that which is necessary for salvation. Purity of the gospel and doctrine is extremely important.
David C. Grabbe
Many hold the mistaken belief that the New Covenant transforms living by faith and glorifying God into a far easier task than under the Old Covenant. “Easier” is an erroneous descriptor. Even though a convert is forgiven of past sins and receives wonderful gifts from God, including the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant also requires him or her to become a living sacrifice. Sacrificing one's life in humble submission to God is not easy, as the New Testament attests. Jesus lists some requirements in Luke 14:25-27:
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Almost all who call themselves Christian today hold the opinion that, through the New Covenant, God has made salvation much easier to obtain. The central pillar in their belief seems to be that since Jesus kept the laws perfectly, and since He paid for the forgiveness of our sins through His sacrifice, when one accepts Him as Savior, the convert's obligation to meet the New Covenant's demands is somehow magically reduced or even eliminated. People carelessly say, “Jesus did it all for me.”
In plain language, a high percentage of professing Christians accept as true that God's law is essentially done away. They believe that Jesus kept it for us. While that idea contains truth, it has been twisted into a misleading concept: that we need not be as concerned about keeping it as those who lived under the Old Covenant. Nothing could be further from the truth! Why? Our willing, devoted, and careful participation in keeping His law is absolutely necessary to be created in God's image!
The reality is that the New Covenant establishes what we might call graduate-level requirements of keeping God's law. However, God compensates for our weaknesses by providing the spiritual tools to reach those levels. Jesus did keep the commandments for our benefit, in that God is mercifully willing to accept His righteous life and death to pay our debt to Him for our sins because we do not have sufficient righteousness to pay the cost to have the death penalty removed.
But something is missing in people's misunderstanding of this reality, so their trust in it is also skewed. What is missing is what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story”: the truth that godly character is not imposed but built, created, with the willing and dedicated assistance of the person being transformed. The world's flawed conclusion dismisses the fact that God's creation of each person into His image is only just beginning at the individual's forgiveness and baptism into the church and the Family of God.
Anyone thinking of baptism should consider—if we have little need to be concerned about sin—why Jesus is so solemn and stern in His admonition in Luke 14:25-27 about His disciples following such high standards. Not being discussed at this point is that, despite Christ's wonderful gift in sacrificing Himself to pay our indebtedness to God, the reality is that the wages of sin, death, remain because the existence of the laws continues.
What we find is that God not only forgives us, but in our calling He also gives us the spiritual tools to fight and win the spiritual battles we engage in to keep sin from re-enslaving us. The fight against sin continues. God provides the tools for us to go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1-2) if we will believe in them and use them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)
James highlights the importance of mercy in keeping the spirit of the law. He exhorts us to speak and act as those who are to be judged by "a law of liberty," so that he sets no limit to the range of the law—meaning it covers all aspects of life.
In James 4:11, he warns us against speaking against the law or judging the law, that is, to assume the place of judge instead of "doer of the law." Our efforts should not be in judging someone else and whether or not they are keeping the law. However, we should be looking inwardly to determine whether or not we are doing what is required—not only in the letter of the law but especially in its spirit.
James would not have used such language unless he had a profound conviction of the perfection of the law as a rule of life for the saints redeemed from its condemnation. Thus, we can call it the perfect law of liberty—the royal law. Many Christians do not look at the law of God as being perfect. They pick and choose which parts of the law they will obey, ones they feel most comfortable with, and they ignore the rest. Yet the apostle says in James 2:10 that if we break one, we break them all.
All sin is lawlessness, as I John 3:4 states, and the sum of all lawkeeping is love of God and love of the brethren (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10), so the summary of the old law is echoed and endorsed. And it is continued—because Christ did not come to destroy the law but to magnify it (Matthew 5:17-18; Isaiah 42:21).
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
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