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Heaven-and-Earth Huge! or, Matthew 5:17-19

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Nearly every 119/Hebrew Roots follower has quickly pointed out the Matthew 5:17-19 passage as the proof-positive that the Old Testament Law is absolutely still in effect today for believers.

Let’s test it.

Matt. 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 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.”

First we have a strange problem. Jesus here uses two conditions:
1. Until heaven & earth pass away
2. Until all is accomplished

It’s perplexing because He doesn’t link them with an “and”. He actually keeps them separate, regardless of which translation. So to just assume they are linked isn’t accurate.

Here’s a random example of what the double condition is like: “Until it stops raining, I cannot walk home until I get new shoes.”

This sentence does not say: “Until it stops raining & I get new shoes, I cannot walk home.”

As it is written, it’s perplexing.

Thankfully, this is not the only passage we have to figure out its meaning. God also had Luke record this.

Luke 16:17 says, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.”

So now we see how this is meant to be taken. Not literally. If it were literal, then the Matthew passage and the Luke passage would be in conflict.

Going back to my random example. It could have been also written elsewhere, “It would be easier for it to stop raining than for me to walk home.”

So if I had both statements, I could get a very clear meaning of what the single spoken phrase means.

Likewise, if we take both the Matthew & Luke references we can understand that the heaven & earth passing away is meant in terms of its difficulty, magnitude, and importance. I’ll come back to this point because it’s absolutely BEAUTIFUL and FAR-REACHING.

Taking a look again at Matthew 5:17-19 in its context is where this whole story is really the story of humanity.

Here we have just had Jesus call the multitudes, lots of people, and deliver the beatitudes. Then He expresses that the Law is very much intact and He didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfill it and how important it is to keep every last command and teach it correctly.

So He’s just called attention to the critical importance of keeping the Law. Up to now the people would most likely be in agreement with Him, feeling called to step up their keeping of the Law and do a more diligent job. They were probably also examining their actions to consider whether they might be greatest or least in the kingdom. 

RIGHT AFTER THAT, He makes the claim that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” I’d argue that at this point, many of the people listening have just been struck with fear. The Pharisees were their teachers and example. They knew the Law better than anyone. They at least pretended to follow it. If anyone were to be found righteous according to the Law it would be a Pharisee. But Jesus has just thrown out to them that their righteousness has to SURPASS that of the Pharisees, and on the line here is entrance into the kingdom of heaven, not greatest or least in it; but getting in at all!

 Who in that crowd would have any confidence of achieving this? They were working people, rich, poor, literate, illiterate, schooled in the Law, cursory understanding of the Law, Pharisees, and common Jews…it was a multitude. Nobody could hope to exceed the Pharisees’ righteousness.

And Jesus knew this. He now had not only their attention, but also their fears of just how NOT righteous they were. But then Jesus does something else…He draws out certain familiar laws and tells the people, “You have heard it said…but *I* say…”

And when He does this, He sharpens the points of these Laws so that they are driven like nails into the people’s hearts. These Laws have now been placed at a heart-level, no longer external, no longer measurable. You can measure murder; but who can measure anger at the point it becomes equal before God to murder? You can measure adultery; but who can measure a look containing lust at the point it becomes equal before God to adultery?

So now, the people are facing an insurmountable obstacle: the Law which nobody can keep and which Jesus has just driven home, that unless it is kept better than the Pharisees, there will be NO entering the kingdom of heaven.

And Jesus also knew this.

He concludes Matthew 5 by telling these people, who are very likely scared out of their wits thinking they are doomed, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Oh dear. And now their fate is sealed. Because there is none righteous, no not one. And I dare say these people knew just how unrighteous they were and how unattainable the kingdom of heaven really is.

Now, WHY would Jesus do this to His beloved Israel?

Because ALL throughout history mankind has needed a Savior. And here before this multitude, though they didn’t know it, was that very Savior. They were brought low by the highness of the unkeepable Law and pushed to the point where they knew they personally needed the coming Messiah. Oh if He would only come and save them.

And if they only knew how little time remained before He would!

Now back to the beautiful and far-reaching point of Jesus expressing that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the Law to fall away UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED… The difficulty, the magnitude, the importance of heaven and earth passing away. Think about heaven & earth passing away. An event of all time that is COLOSSAL. Well, on the cross, Jesus accomplished it all: “It is finished.” Finished. Accomplished. Fulfilled. This single event is so HUGE that the only thing easier is for heaven and earth to pass away. Do you see it? The hugeness?

It’s such a miniscule thing to assume Matthew 5:17-19 is Jesus declaring the Law is to be followed for all time. It’s not about the Law at all. It’s about something greater than the Law. It’s about Messiah! He’s here, Immanuel, God-with-us is finally here!

You see, He insisted the Law was still in full force while He lived on this earth, because He had not yet died and He was following it in order to perfectly fulfill it so that when He died He would be a sacrifice without blemish so that He could perfectly fulfill the sentence for those who did not keep it, namely every human being.

As He gave up His life, He announced the Law’s abolishment by saying, “It is finished.” He had pre-announced it when He declared the New Covenant by breaking bread, as His body, and sharing wine, as His blood. And He pre-announced it in John 3:16.

And His resurrection brought about the open door for Jews & Gentiles to enter the family of God as His sons and brothers of Jesus.

So here is the summation, the culmination of it all: In His life, Jesus fulfilled the Law; in His death, He abolished the Law; and in His resurrection, He ushered into effect the New Covenant where the Jew-Gentile church is His body with Him as the head.

I’ve just summarized Ephesians 2:13-22
“13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

Do you see the Law is abolished in His DEATH, not while He lived. Do you see that He brought two groups, Jews & Gentiles, into one NEW man in Himself? Do you see that the foundation is the apostles & prophets, with Jesus as cornerstone…not the LAW and the prophets. In fact, no mention of Law at all other than it’s abolishment.

So the over-arching point (not the only point) of Jesus’ discussion of Law in Matthew 5 is to pierce our hearts with the great need we have for a Messiah. And the point of calling out heaven & earth passing away is to demonstrate just how huge and universe-altering Jesus’ completing it ALL really is.

Do you see it? It just brings me to my knees.

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Other Scriptures on which I based the article:

-The Law brings us to see we need a Savior:

” 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” -Galatians 3:24-25

“4 For Christ is the end [goal] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” -Romans 10:4

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Aside

Why did God allow Ananias & Sapphira to fall dead after lying & keeping back some money from the church?

First of all, the Bible does not tell us what God was thinking, so anything we can come up with is conjecture or at best hypothesis.

But, here’s some possible reasons:

1.  Maybe their greed & deceit would have spread within the new, young church and God wanted to rid his church of that at its infancy until it was better established and could maturely handle those types of actions

2.  To lie to the Holy Spirit indicates a severe misunderstanding about the nature of God, i.e. his omniscience & omnipresence, the fact that he knows all and is present everywhere.  Maybe, Ananias & Sapphira in a quiet corner somewhere stood counting their profits from the sale of their land.  Maybe, they grinned to each other thinking that they could keep part of it and present their gift like it was all they had.  Who would know?  If they truly didn’t understand that God could know, they may have planned to lie to him and try to appear generous before him expecting to be rewarded.  What happens in the soul of someone who believes this?  Maybe they think they are superior to God, able to outsmart him, master of their own fortunes & fates.  Sounds like pride to the nth degree, similar to Satan in his quest to be like God.  And Peter nailed it when he identified that Satan had filled Ananias’ heart.  It’s uglier to look at the scene like this.  So, why did God punish so severely?  Obviously, God thought it necessary and just.

3.  Maybe it was merciful.  Maybe, if A & S had been permitted to live, they would have continued in such blatant sin & dark deeds that they would have totally walked away from God and caused many others to turn away also.  Maybe their spiritual growth was finished and their purpose on this earth had come to a complete halt. So, God, in his mercy, took them away before they could further damage their own souls & before they could harm others.

4.  Maybe A & S had never even been true believers.  And maybe God knew they never would.

5.  Maybe God’s reasons are unknowable in this instance.  Maybe he chose for multiple reasons, ones that we have no ability to reason out.  That is one of the beautiful things about him, fearfully unpredictable.  He is who He is.  I am that I am.   So, what do we do with this?  Do we cower in fear not knowing what he might choose to do with us?  In my experience, no.  We can trust him to be faithful and kind and loving.  So, what of A & S?  Where’s the love?  Maybe the love is further down the road?  Linked to #3 about mercy.  Moses was a faithful servant, even friend, of God for a long, long time.  However, one very small act of hitting a rock instead of speaking to it cost him the entire Promised Land.  There was no pleading with God at this point.  Moses had crossed some line that God had set up.  Killing the Egyptian wasn’t as bad.  Doubting God as he stood on His holy ground wasn’t as bad.  Smashing the tablets God had just written on was not as bad.  None of those things cost Moses the Promised Land.  But hitting a rock instead of speaking to it did.  Maybe it was pride.  Maybe Moses thought however briefly that he could command water and that it was within his realm of power to provide it, and so he chose to hit instead of speak.  Regardless, what a harsh punishment.  The culmination of all Moses had done was taken away from him.  He would never step foot into the Promised Land.  How could he even bear that?  To be able to look across and see it, but never go to the very place he had so faithfully and patiently pushed the Israelites toward.  Was God unloving and harsh in his judgement?  Or was his love just further down the road?  Fast forward to the New Testament.  Jesus is transfigured with two other people, Moses & Elijah.  MOSES!  After his harsh punishment, God did not forget or disregard Moses.  He had to punish him, why so severely, I don’t know.  But, he did not leave Moses behind.  Not really.  He gave Moses a glorified moment with the Son of God in front of the future leaders of his bride.  So, maybe Ananias & Sapphira also had a severe punishment, but further down the road, invisible to us at this time, they were welcomed into the realm of the forgiven & told “well done.”

Maybe.  Or maybe, it’s something even more wonderful and complex than my wildest imagination.

Ananias & Sapphira

Forever

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Lev. 6:16-18 “And the rest of it Aaron and his sons shall eat. It shall be eaten unleavened in a holy place. In the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it. It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of my food offerings. It is a thing most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from the Lord’s food offerings. Whatever touches them shall become holy.”

So which of Aaron’s descendants are currently eating the offerings as it was “decreed forever throughout your generations?” Did God mean for it to stop after Jesus, the perfect Sacrifice?  If He did, then why would He write the word “forever” in there?  And if He didn’t mean forever like WE understand forever, maybe we should find out more about the word forever.

Lev.10:8 The LORD then spoke to Aaron, saying,

9 “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—
10 and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean,
11 and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.”

“Perpetual statute”

We are now priests of God…why does this not apply to us since it is a perpetual statute?

Lev. 16:34 “Now you shall have this as a permanent statute, to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.” And just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so he did.”

Believers say Jesus is the atonement…I do too, because I realize that due to the NEW covenant, this PERPETUAL statute is no longer PERPETUAL.

Did God lie and say perpetual when He didn’t really mean it? NO!

Lev. 23:10 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.
11 ‘He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.
12 ‘Now on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to the LORD.
13 ‘Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the LORD for a soothing aroma, with its drink offering, a fourth of a [fn]hin of wine.
14 ‘Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.”

Do we wave the sheaf & offer the male lamb…it is a perpetual statute in ALL your dwelling places.

Lev.23:29 “If there is any [fn]person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people.
30 “As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.
31 “You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.”

Are we cutting off people who are working on the Sabbath? NO!

Num. 19:20 ‘But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean.
21 ‘So it shall be a perpetual statute for them. And he who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening.”

Again, are we cutting off people? It’s a perpetual statute.

Here’s the great description of the Word “forever” (olam): http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/27_eternity.html

GOD gets to define & redefine & make new. FAITH is how we please Him. Which takes more faith, not having a list of laws to keep and having to trust that the Person of God is good whether we understand His ways or not OR having a list of laws that we can check off.

In theory, we don’t even need a relationship with God to keep His laws. We have the list.

But, there is no substitute for a relationship.

Further, an infant never had a list of sins they broke, they haven’t broken even 1. Yet they are guilty before God. It’s not the list and which sin or how many, it’s our sinful disposition.

That is unfixable by laws, but entirely fixed by relationship.

Another problem with the Law being established “forever”…

Matt. 5:18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not [fn]the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished….

Once heaven & earth pass away & all has been accomplished….then the Law can be done away with. Except, now we’re back at the same problem of that pesky word “forever.”

God said His word stands forever, his word is his law, and once all has been fulfilled & heaven & earth pass away (which we KNOW will happen Scripturally), now jots & tittles can fall away?

The truth is that our American or Western understanding of the word forever is “permanent irregardless of time & space, or eternal.” But a Hebrew writer using the word forever (olam) would be meaning this: beyond the knowable or foreseeable future, not implying eternal at all.

Again, God gets to define eternal; not us. So maybe we should examine what’s in Scripture as it really is and not as we would hope it to be. Test everything…

The Word

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When the Word of The Lord came to a prophet, is it then for every believer?

Isaiah 13 says the message given is about the destruction of Babylon. Do we have a hard time accepting that this prophecy, given by God, contained within the Scriptures of God, isn’t prophetically declaring our destruction? Why then do we have such a hard time accepting that the Law given to Moses for the Israelites, was FOR the Israelites?

Because we have been grafted into Israel? Actually, the point at which are grafted in is Abraham (not Moses) and it is regarding a promise, not the Law (read Romans 11 and Galatians 3 carefully).

For those wanting all believers to follow Law & Torah, I often see Scripture quoted and everywhere the word “Word” is, the word “Law” has been put instead. And often the word “Torah” also.

Are you really sure that Rev. 22:
7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book.” (The book of Revelation is neither Law nor Torah) is not also the “Word” of God included in the following verses?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Heb. 4:12

But the word of the Lord remains forever. And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.
1 Pet. 1:25

God can mean whatever He wants when He says “Word”.

Sometimes it’s Law, other times Torah, other times prophecy, other times the Good News as in 1 Pet. 1:25, and sometimes anything that passes from the heart or mouth of God. And even other times it is a Person.

To focus on the Law & Torah is to intellectualize a Person…God is entirely bigger than our best guess of Him and that is why the great buildup of the initial coming of Jesus is so exceptional and huge. Trying to cram God and our response to Him into the Law & Torah is like trying to cram all His glory into a suitcase…you’ll only fit a tiny bit into it and miss the whole beautiful, unending, inscrutable Person of Him.

My instructions for living come from the living Spirit of Jesus within me who mediates my relationship with my Father and guides me through the Scriptures which He enlivens. The whole of the Old Testament contains many instructions for living, many of which are written on my heart by the living Spirit who teaches and personalized them to whatever wickedness is embedded in my personal heart and trains me toward righteousness.

Maybe others feel comfortable making assumptions about “Word”. I do not. “Word” means what God wants it to mean, not what I or anyone prefers. I won’t claim to have the wisdom or intellect to sort it out, but I do boast in the power and intellect of the Holy Spirit to teach me the mind of Christ as I live through Him.

1 Corinthians 2
Paul’s Message of Wisdom

1When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters,[j] I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.[k] 2For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the One who was crucified. 3I came to you in weakness–timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.
6Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God[l]–His plan that was previously hidden, even though He made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love Him.”[m]

10But[n] it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.
13When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.[o] 14But people who aren’t spiritual[p] can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16For,

“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to teach Him?”[q]

But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

God Changes the Law

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God changes the Law at times.

At first, God tells all the Israelites they will be His priests. (Ex.19:5-6) Soon after, the people make a golden calf and only the tribe of Levi agrees to stand with Moses for the Lord.

Through Moses, God set up a priesthood to operate exclusively under the tribe of Levi and it was done in conjunction with the Law.

After having established Levites as priests perpetually, fast forward to Jesus as explained in Hebrews 7. Now via an oath, God suddenly breaks through this perpetuality and starts a new & final priesthood with Jesus being the High Priest forever. He changes the Law.

“Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.”
-Hebrews 7:11-12

No longer is this according to the Law, where only Levites can be priests. This is according to some external-to-the-Law oath. God is clearly above the Law, not equal to it. And as indicated in the text below, AFTER the Law, as in post-Law.

“For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.”
-Hebrews 7:28

New or Renewed?

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Kainos, Greek word meaning new or unprecedented

2 Cor. 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Rev. 21:1 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…”

Rev. 3:12 “….the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven…”

Heb. 8:8. “Finding fault with them, He says, “BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT…NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT…”

Some teach that when Jesus spoke of a new covenant as in Luke 22:20b, “…This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood,” that He meant renewed, similar to a new moon. The moon never actually goes away, it simply renews itself each month. They need it to mean renewed to nullify the idea that Jesus was somehow doing away with the old covenant. If Jesus were doing away with the old covenant, then that would mean the terms of the old covenant were no longer guaranteed and likewise the requirements of fulfilling the covenant were also subject to change.

If Jesus were renewing the old covenant, then we are all subject to fulfilling its requirements.

However, the Greek word kainos is always used to mean brand new. Or else we are only renewed creatures with renewed things having come, there is coming only a renewed heaven & renewed earth, and only a renewed Jerusalem. Other uses would mean putting renewed wine in renewed wineskins (yuck!), Jesus was laid in a renewed tomb. In Mark 1:27, it would read, “What is this? A renewed teaching with authority! He commands even unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”

It doesn’t fit in any instances. Even the Greek word for renewing as used in biblical sense means renovation, complete change for the better.

Finally, even the prophet Jeremiah before Jesus was even born, spoke of this special new covenant. The word used in Hebrew in this case is chadash. Surely it means renewed? Nope. It means new, fresh. And in other Hebrew passages it would have to say a renewed king over Egypt, renewed grain offering, renewed wife, renewed ropes to bind Sampson, and singing renewed songs, to name a few. But, it doesn’t.

There is simply no getting around the fact that Jesus said and meant “New” and all the implications therein. We must read what Scripture says, not what we want it to say.