The law required perfect obedience and pronounced a death sentence on any who broke it. Paul tells us that "the wages of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23).
Consider, for a moment the penalty that each of us brought on ourselves by sin. It isn't purgatory or hell, or some other place or state of being or consciousness (request or download our free booklet Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?). It is death —eternal oblivion, a nothingness, a total blotting out of existence from which we could never escape were it not for God's promise of the resurrection.
Paul continues in Romans 6:23, "...But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Since we all sin, the law can only demand our death. It has no provision for giving us eternal life. So how could anyone hope for life beyond the grave?
Jesus also fulfilled the law in the sense that He met the law's requirement by paying the penalty each of us incurred for disobedience, which is death. Jesus, who never sinned, never brought on Himself the death penalty that was required by the law. But as Creator of humankind and our perfect sacrifice for sin, He was able to satisfy the law's demands that required our death. Thus He "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). Having "washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Revelation 1:5), Jesus makes it possible for us to receive God's gift of eternal life.
The "Law" section of the Bible, the five books of Moses, contains several kinds of laws. In addition to what we might call the moral laws that govern human behavior (such as the Ten Commandments), this section also contained various sacrificial laws requiring sacrifices for sin. Of themselves these laws and sacrifices could never remove the death penalty for sin.
Hebrews 10:1-14 tells us that this sacrificial system "can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?
"But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, 'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me ...
"It is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all ... when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, 'he sat down at the right hand of God,'...For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (NRSV).
What this is telling us is that Jesus fulfilled everything prescribed in the offerings for sin in the law of sacrifices. Jesus upheld the entire law by becoming the sacrifice for sin.
If Christ had not presented Himself as an offering for sin, the sacrifices that foreshadowed the "single offering for sins" would have been an unfulfilled prophecy or pledge, because they all pointed to Him.
Jesus said He came not to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. He did so on several different levels and in several different ways. He showed the full spiritual intent of the law, living it perfectly as an example for us. The prophets had previously announced His person, His mission and many details of His birth, life, death and resurrection—which He fulfilled. The sacrifices of the law foreshadowed His sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind—which He alone could fulfill.
What Jesus was saying is that the Old Testament in all its parts and elements—moral and prophetic—referred to Himself and was accomplished by Him. He fulfilled all aspects of what the Law and Prophets required, substantiating them and making good what they demanded and announced.