WHAT IS THE LAW?
The Old Testament Law is also known as Torah and found in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This includes the Ten Commandments.
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” — Matthew 5:17-20
DOES THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW STILL APPLY?
If Yeshua did not come to abolish the law, does that mean all the Old Testament laws still apply to us today? In the Old Testament, the law can be understood to have three dimensions: ceremonial, civil, and moral.
ONE: Ceremonial Law
The ceremonial law related specifically to Israel’s worship and atonement (see Lev 1:2-3, for example). Its primary purpose was to point forward to the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world; these laws, Yeshua fulfills in both his comings as Savior, High Priest and King. While we are not able to keep all of the ceremonial law since the Temple was destroyed, the principles behind them—to worship and love a holy God—still apply and it is prophesied that they will be followed again in the Messianic Age when Messiah rebuilds the Temple.
TWO: Civil Law
The civil law applied to daily living in Israel (see Deut 24:10-11, for example). Because modern society and culture in all the lands of Israel’s migration are so radically different from that time and setting of ancient Israel, many of these guidelines are difficult to observe today until Messiah returns the exiles of Israel back to the land of their inheritance. But the principles behind the commands are timeless and should guide our conduct. Yeshua demonstrated these principles by example in every aspect of his life.
THREE: Moral Law
The moral law (such as the Ten Commandments) is the direct command of God, and it requires strict obedience (see Exod 20:13, for example). The moral law reveals the nature and will of God, and it still applies today. Yeshua obeyed the moral law completely.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL
God’s laws were given to help people love God with all their hearts and minds. Throughout Israel’s history, however, these laws had often been misquoted and misapplied. By Yeshua’ time, religious leaders had turned the laws into a confusing mass of rules. When Yeshua talked about a new way to understand God’s law, he was actually trying to bring people back to its original purpose. Yeshua did not speak against the law itself but against the abuses and excesses to which it had been subjected (see John 1:17).
TRUE REPENTANCE LEADS TO A HEART CHANGE AND OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW MOTIVATED BY LOVE…
The Pharisees were exacting and scrupulous in their attempts to follow their laws. So how could Yeshua reasonably call us to greater righteousness than theirs? The Pharisees’ weakness was that they were content to obey the laws outwardly without allowing God to change their hearts (or attitudes). They looked pious, but they were far from the Kingdom of Heaven in their self-focus and self-righteousness. God judges our hearts as well as our deeds, for it is in the heart that our real allegiance lies.
Yeshua was saying that his listeners needed a different kind of righteousness altogether (out of love for God), not just a more intense version of the Pharisees’ obedience (which was mere legal compliance). Our righteousness must
(1) come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves,
(2) be God-centered, not self-centered,
(3) be based on reverence for God, not approval from people, and
(4) go beyond keeping the law to living by the principles behind the law. We should be just as concerned about our attitudes that people don’t see as about our actions that they do see.
BUT THE CHURCH SAYS THE LAW WAS NAILED TO THE CROSS?
In their struggle to find a New Testament scripture that supports their misconception that God’s law is “done away,” many people point to Colossians 2:14 to “prove” that Yeshua nailed the law of God to the cross. In fact, this verse becomes a major linchpin in their fallacious argument that Yeshuaians are not required to keep God’s “harsh Old Testament law.” Proponents of such a teaching say that the “handwriting of requirements [ordinances, KJV]” refers to the law “that was against us.” They further claim that Yeshua “took it out of the way” or abolished the law.
Does Colossians 2:14 do away with God’s law? What is “the handwriting of requirements”? What really was “nailed . . . to the cross”? Let’s carefully examine this scripture to see what Paul is truly saying.
First of all, note the context. In verses 11-13, Paul explains what Yeshua did for us and how those who have believed in Him are now spiritually circumcised:
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Yeshua, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
Here we see that the subject under discussion is the means of our justification. Paul is saying that, when we repented and were baptized, the “old man” of sin was buried in a watery grave, and our sins were completely forgiven through our faith in the sacrifice of Yeshua. After being raised out of the water, we were “made alive” with Him and imputed to be righteous in God’s sight. Paul refers to this process as “circumcision made without hands,” that is, spiritual circumcision.
Handwriting of Requirements
The first part of verse 14 continues the sentence begun at the end of verse 13. Paul continues to explain how our justification was accomplished. Thus, the whole sentence reads,
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.
What was this “handwriting of requirements”? These words are translated from the Greek phrase cheirographon tois dogmasin. Cheirographon means anything written by hand, but can more specifically apply to a legal document, bond or note of debt. Dogmasin refers to decrees, laws or ordinances, and in this context means a body of beliefs or practices that have become the guidelines governing a person’s conduct or way of life.
What Paul is saying is that, by His death, Yeshua has wiped out the note of guilt or debt that we owed as a result of our sins—sins which resulted from our past way of life. Before repentance, our lives had been governed by the standards and values of this present, evil world—the “decrees, laws and ordinances” of the society in which we lived.
Now that we have repented and accepted Yeshua, we have embarked on a new way of life and are living by God’s standards and values. Consequently, God has wiped out the debt we acquired as a result of our sins and has imputed righteousness to us.
Another means of ascertaining what “handwriting of requirements” means is to notice that it restates the phrase immediately before it. “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us” parallels “having forgiven you all trespasses.” Thus, Paul could not be referring to the law itself but rather to the record of our transgression of that law—sin!
What Was Nailed to the Cross?
Note also the last sentence in verse 14: “And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” In this sentence, the word “it” is a singular pronoun and refers back to the singular word “handwriting.” “Requirements” could not be its antecedent because “requirements” is plural. So, some kind of handwriting—a note, a record or a citation—was affixed to the cross.
Historically, only two objects were nailed to the stake of crucifixion: 1) the condemned person and 2) an inscription naming the crimes for which he was being punished. Thus, when Yeshua was crucified, only His body and Pilate’s inscription (“This is Yeshua of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”; see Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19) were nailed to the cross. Normally, the inscription would be more accusative, saying something like, “This is Yeshua of Nazareth, who rebelled against Caesar.” Pilate’s complimentary inscription replaced the customary note or record of guilt—the “handwriting of requirements” that would have been found nailed to the crosses of the two malefactors crucified with Him.
Just before He died, when the Father forsook Him (Matthew 27:46), our sins were symbolically nailed to the cross in His body along with the law of sin and death against us. “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (I Peter 2:24). At the time of His crucifixion, Yeshua Yeshua became sin for us. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). Our note of debt that we owed God as a result of our sins is what was “taken out of the way” and “nailed . . . to the cross.”
No, it was not the law that was nailed to the cross. The law is not against us or contrary to us but is a great blessing to us. “Moreover by them [God’s commandments and statutes] your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11). Paul clearly writes in Romans 7:12, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”
We now see that, far from doing away with the law of God, Colossians 2:14 explains a deep and profound truth, the doctrine of justification. Paul describes the manner in which we are reckoned righteous in God’s sight through faith in the sacrifice of Yeshua. Our Savior paid in His own body the great debt which we owed God because of our breaking of His holy and righteous laws. Now our sins have been “taken out of the way” and “nailed . . . to the cross.” Having risen from that watery grave, we now have the promise of eternal life as we live a new way of life—a life of righteousness and service to Him!
WHAT DID THE SAVIOR SAY?
Some people who still do not want to believe that we need to keep God’s law, or God’s Sabbath or Holy Days today, cite Luke 16:16: “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.”
Is Yeshua saying in this verse that God’s law was required to be kept and the prophets respected until John the Baptist, but now the law has perished or failed, and is no longer necessary to keep?
Is Yeshua saying also, that we no longer even need to respect or abide by the teachings of the prophets of God who came before John the Baptist?
The very next verse contains the spoken words of Yeshua, which show very clearly that the law of God is not done away with. The law of God is consistent and will always be.
“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17).
Have the starry heavens or the planet earth passed away?
Yeshua said it would be easier for them to perish or be destroyed than even for one tiny part of God’s law to pass away or to perish.
Just before Luke 16:16, Yeshua quotes the Tenth Commandment and corrects the Pharisees for their covetousness.
After Luke 16:16 Yeshua quotes the Seventh Commandment and gives detailed instruction about not committing adultery.
Hardly, doing away with God’s law, wouldn’t you say?
On another occasion mentioned in Matthew 19:17 Yeshua told a young man, seeking the way to eternal life, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.”
How clear it is that God’s holy law is still in existence.
So what can we learn from Luke 16:16? What is the message Yeshua is delivering? What did Yeshua mean by the statement, “The law and the prophets were until John”?
When Yeshua spoke of the “law and the prophets”, He was referring to the Old Testament. The first five books of the Bible, written by Moses, are known as the law; the books of Joshua through Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets comprise the “prophets.” The third major section of the Old Testament was known as the “writings” or “psalms.” Notice Luke 24:27-45.
Yeshua was simply stating a fact, that the Old Testament scriptures alone were preached until the coming of John the Baptist. They were the only writings and information that they had. The New Testament had not been written yet.
When John came on the scene, he was the forerunner of Yeshua, preparing the way before Him, the “voice crying in the wilderness” (Mark 1:2-8).
John had to deal with the Pharisees, just as Yeshua was dealing with them, here in these verses surrounding Luke 16:16.
John thundered to the Pharisees, the Sadducees and all of the people of his day, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
John began to proclaim the gospel (good news), preparing the way for Yeshua Himself. But, what gospel and what good news did Yeshua preach?
“Now after John was put in prison, Yeshua came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
So, we see plainly, that Yeshua preached the same gospel that John did.
This is why Yeshua said in Luke 16:16 that from the time of John the Baptist, the good news of God’s coming Kingdom or Government on this earth, was being proclaimed.
Yeshua spoke later in Luke 16 of the importance of following God’s inspired Word and laws in the Bible: “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’ ” (Luke 16:31).
Do we heed these words of Yeshua today, or are we dead of hearing like the Pharisees?
Do we heed the words of Moses and the prophets and live God’s Way of life now in this life? Do we seek to develop the character and mind of Yeshua (Philippians 2:5)? Do we lovingly keep God’s commandments (1 John 5:3) as we prepare now to be in Yeshua’s Government of God on this earth?
Good questions to ask ourselves and we turn back to God in true repentance. I pray you are blessed as you give your whole life to God and follow His ways in all you do!
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Study by Rabbi Isaac. © 2020 Assembly of Called-Out Believers.
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