Jesus' Teaching on God's Law

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“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 Matthew 5:17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
American King James Version×
).

Perhaps the most widespread controversies about the teachings of Jesus concern His attitude toward the laws of God recorded in the Old Testament. The approach of most churches and denominations regarding Jesus is that He brought a new teaching differing considerably from the instructions of the Old Testament. The common view is that the teachings of Christ in the New Testament annulled and replaced the teachings of the Old Testament. But do they?

The idea that Jesus departed from the Old Testament is also a common assumption within Judaism. Jacob Neusner, in his book A Rabbi Talks With Jesus, explains why Jews as a whole do not follow Jesus and reject any possibility that He could be the Messiah. “Jews believe in the Torah of Moses,” he explains, “…and that belief requires faithful Jews to enter a dissent at the teachings of Jesus, on the grounds that those teachings at important points contradict the Torah” (1993, pp. xii).

Here is a serious mistake both Christianity and Judaism make about the teachings of Jesus. Both hold the erroneous view that Jesus departed from the teachings of the Old Testament, especially with regard to law.

As we will see, the record shows that while Jesus disagreed with the religious leaders, He didn’t disagree with Old Testament Scriptures. The same record shows that traditional Christianity itself does not follow the teachings of Christ.

To know the real Jesus we have to ask: What did He really say? It doesn’t ultimately matter what people say about Him. Nor does it really matter what interpretations they give of what He said. What truly matters is what He really said, and whether we’re going to believe what He said.

Clear statement in the Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount is a good place to begin. Since this is the longest recorded statement of Jesus Christ’s teachings, we should expect to find in it His view toward the laws of God as recorded in the Old Testament. And indeed we do.

One of the reasons for some of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount is that—because His preaching was so different from that of the Pharisees and Sadducees—some people believed His intention was to subvert the authority of God’s Word and substitute His own in its place. But His real intention was to demonstrate that many of the things the Pharisees and Sadducees had taught all along were contrary to the original teachings of the Torah of Moses, the first five books of the Bible.

Jesus refuted the erroneous ideas people had formed regarding Him with three emphatic declarations about the law. Let’s look at them.

“I did not come to destroy but to fulfill”

Jesus explains His view of the law very quickly after giving the beatitudes: “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 Matthew 5:17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
American King James Version×
).

So immediately we see that Jesus had no intention of destroying the law. He even tells us not to even think such a thing. Far from being antagonistic to the Old Testament Scriptures, He said He had come to fulfill “the Law and the Prophets” and proceeded to confirm their authority. “The Law and the Prophets” was a term commonly used for the Old Testament Scriptures (compare Matthew 7:12 Matthew 7:12Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
American King James Version×
).

“The Law” referred to the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses in which God’s laws were written down. “The Prophets” referred not only to the writings of the biblical prophets, but also to the historical books of what came to be known as the Old Testament.

We have discussed in earlier chapters how Jesus fulfilled “the Prophets.” But what did Jesus mean when He spoke of fulfilling the law?

Regrettably, the meaning of “fulfilling the law” has been twisted by many who claim the name of Jesus but don’t really understand what He taught. They say that since Jesus said He would fulfill the law, we no longer need to keep it and the law has no further obligation on His followers.

Another view of “fulfilling the law” is that Jesus “filled full” what was lacking in the law—that is, He completed it, partly canceling it and partly adding to it, forming what is sometimes referred to as “Christ’s law” or “New Testament teaching.” The implication of this view is that the New Testament brought a change in the requirements for salvation and that the laws given in the Old Testament are obsolete. But do either of these views accurately reflect what Jesus meant?

Jesus’ view of fulfilling the law

The Greek word pleroo, translated “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 Matthew 5:17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
American King James Version×
, means “to make full, to fill, to fill up,…to fill to the full” or “to render full, i.e. to complete” ( Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2002, Strong’s number 4137). In other words, Jesus said He came to complete the law and make it perfect. How? By showing the spiritual intent and application of God’s law. His meaning is clear from the remainder of the chapter, where He showed the spiritual intent of specific commandments.

Some distort the meaning of “fulfill” to have Jesus saying, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to end it by fulfilling it.” This is inconsistent with His own words. Through the remainder of the chapter, He showed that the spiritual application of the law made it even more difficult to keep, not that it was annulled or no longer necessary.

Jesus, by explaining, expanding and exemplifying God’s law, fulfilled a prophecy of the Messiah found in Isaiah 42:21 Isaiah 42:21The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable.
American King James Version×
: “The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt the law, and make it honorable.” The Hebrew word gadal, translated “exalt” or “magnify” (KJV) literally means “to be or become great” (William Wilson, Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, “Magnify”).

Jesus Christ did exactly that, showing the holy, spiritual intent, purpose and scope of God’s law. He met the law’s requirements by obeying it perfectly in thought and deed, both in the letter and in the intent of the heart.

All will be fulfilled

The second major statement by Jesus given in the exact same context makes it even clearer that Jesus did not come to destroy, rescind, nullify or abrogate the law. “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18 Matthew 5:18For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
).

With these words, Jesus likened the continuance of the law to the permanence of heaven and earth. He is saying that the law is immutable, inviolable and unchangeable and can only be fulfilled, never abrogated.

We should note that in this verse a different Greek word is used for “fulfilled”: ginomai, meaning “to become,” “to come into existence” or “to come to pass” ( Thayer’s, Strong’s number 1096). Until the ultimate completion of God’s plan to glorify humanity in His Kingdom comes to pass—that is, as long as there are still fleshly human beings—the physical codification of God’s law in Scripture is necessary. This, Jesus explained, is as certain as the continued existence of the universe.

His servants must keep the law

The third statement of Jesus pronounces that our fate rests on our attitude toward and treatment of God’s holy law. “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 Matthew 5:19Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
). The “by those” is added for clarification, since, as explained in other passages, those who persist in lawbreaking and teach others to break God’s law will not themselves be in the Kingdom at all.

Jesus makes it very clear that those who follow Him and aspire to His Kingdom have a perpetual obligation to obey and uphold God’s law. He is saying that we cannot diminish from the law of God by even a jot or tittle—the equivalent of the crossing of a “t” or dotting of an “i.”

The value He places on the commandments of God is also unmistakable —as well as the high esteem toward the law that He requires from all those who teach in His name. His disapproval falls on those who slight the least of the law’s commands, and His honor will be bestowed on those who teach and obey the commandments.

Since Jesus obeyed the commandments of God, it follows that His servants, too, must keep the commandments and teach others to do the same (1 John 2:2-6 1 John 2:2-6 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that said, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps his word, in him truly is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6 He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
American King James Version×
). It is in this way that the true ministers of Christ are to be identified—by their following the example He left them (John 13:15 John 13:15For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
American King James Version×
).

Must exceed the scribes and Pharisees

With the next statement in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus leaves no doubt as to what He meant in the previous three declarations. He meant without question for His disciples to obey God’s law—and He was requiring them to obey according to a standard that went beyond anything they’d heard before. “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 Matthew 5:20For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
).

Who were the scribes and Pharisees? The scribes were the most renowned teachers of the law—the interpreters of the law, the learned men, the experts. The Pharisees, a related group, were commonly viewed as the most exemplary models of Judaism. They formed a sect of Judaism that established a code of morals and rituals more rigid than that spelled out in the law of Moses, basing much of their practices on years of traditions. The scribes and Pharisees were both highly strict and highly respected in Judaism (Acts 26:5 Acts 26:5Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most strait sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
American King James Version×
).

While the scribes were the experts, the Pharisees professed the purest practice of righteousness. So when Jesus stated that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, this was a startling declaration!

The Pharisees were looked up to as those who had attained the very pinnacle of personal righteousness, and the common people supposed that such heights of spirituality were far beyond their reach. But Jesus asserted that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees wasn’t enough to entitle them to enter the Kingdom of which He spoke! What hope, then, did others have?

Jesus condemns religious hypocrisy

In actual fact, there was a real problem with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The heart of the matter was that their righteousness was defective in that it was external only. They appeared to obey the law to those who observed them, but broke God’s law inwardly, where it couldn’t be seen by others.

Notice Jesus’ scathing denunciation of their hypocrisy in making a show of religion: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence …For you …indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness …You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28 Matthew 23:25-28 25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 You blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
American King James Version×
).

These self-appointed religious teachers emphasized minor aspects of the law while neglecting more important issues. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23). Jesus was concerned that every part of the righteous requirement be obeyed, and angry that they were blind to the “weightier” parts—the major spiritual aspects—of the law.

While they were fastidious with their ceremonial traditions, at the same time they took liberties to disobey God’s direct commands. In some situations they actually elevated their traditions above the clear commands of God (Matthew 15:1-9 Matthew 15:1-9 1 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3 But he answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, Honor your father and mother: and, He that curses father or mother, let him die the death. 5 But you say, Whoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me; 6 And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. 7 You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
American King James Version×
).

Behind their actions was the base motive of self-exaltation and self-interest. They went public with what should have been their private devotions toward God—prayer, fasting and giving alms—all so they could be seen and thought of by others as righteous (Matthew 6:1-6 Matthew 6:1-6 1 Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2 Therefore when you do your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. 3 But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: 4 That your alms may be in secret: and your Father which sees in secret himself shall reward you openly. 5 And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.
American King James Version×
; Matthew 23:5-7 Matthew 23:5-7 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
American King James Version×
).

Religious leaders did not keep God’s law

Immediately after His statement that He had no intention of doing away with God’s law, Jesus proceeded to give examples of the traditions and teachings of the Jewish religious leaders that completely missed the point or even contradicted the spiritual intent of God’s laws.

The first example He gave was the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” All that the Pharisees understood about this commandment was that the act of murder was prohibited. Jesus taught what should have been obvious, that the intent of the Sixth Commandment was not just to prohibit the literal act of murder, but every evil attitude of heart and mind that led to murder—including unjust anger and contemptuous words (Matthew 5:21-26 Matthew 5:21-26 21 You have heard that it was said of them of old time, You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you; 24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, whiles you are in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, You shall by no means come out there, till you have paid the uttermost farthing.
American King James Version×
).

He did likewise with their narrow view of the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” The Pharisees of the day understood the physical act of sexual relations with a woman outside of marriage to be sin. They should also have known, as in the case of the Sixth Commandment, that lust for another woman was sinful because the one lusting had already broken the Commandment in his heart.

These are examples of the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus characterized as making the outside of the cup and dish clean, while on the inside remaining “full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25 Matthew 23:25Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
American King James Version×
, NRSV).

Jesus instructed His disciples that God’s law must indeed be obeyed outwardly, but it must also be obeyed in the spirit and intent of the heart. When Jesus taught such heartfelt obedience to God’s laws, He was faithful to what the Old Testament taught: “For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 1 Samuel 16:7But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
American King James Version×
).

The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to a time when God would establish a new covenant in which God promised to “put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33 Jeremiah 31:33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version×
). God’s original intent for His law was that people would observe it from their hearts (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×
). The failure of human beings to obey God’s law in the “inward being” (Psalms 51:6 Psalms 51:6Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part you shall make me to know wisdom.
American King James Version×
, NRSV) inevitably led to outward disobedience.

Jesus did not change the law

Jesus prefaced His contrast of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ narrow interpretation of the law with its true spiritual intent using the words, “You have heard that it was said …But I say to you…” (Matthew 5:21-28 Matthew 5:21-28 21 You have heard that it was said of them of old time, You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you; 24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, whiles you are in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, You shall by no means come out there, till you have paid the uttermost farthing. 27 You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: 28 But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
American King James Version×
).

Some erroneously think Jesus’ intention was to contrast His own teaching with that of Moses and thereby declare Himself as the true authority. They assume that Jesus was either opposed to the Mosaic law or modifying it in some way.

But it’s hard to imagine that Jesus, just after delivering the most solemn and emphatic proclamation of the permanence of the law and emphasizing His own high regard for it, would now undermine the authority of the law by other pronouncements. Jesus wasn’t inconsistent; He honored and upheld the law in all His statements.

In this passage He is not pitting Himself against the Mosaic law, nor is He claiming a superior spirituality. What He was doing was refuting the wrong interpretations perpetuated by the scribes and Pharisees. This is why He declared that one’s righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus was restoring, in the minds of His listeners, the Mosaic precepts to their original place, purity and power. (For a better understanding of these laws, request or download your free copy of the booklet The Ten Commandments . )

It should also be obvious that because the same God is the Author of Old and New Covenant alike, there can be no vital conflict between them, and that the fundamental laws of morality underlying both must be and are in full accord. God tells us in Malachi 3:6 Malachi 3:6For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.
American King James Version×
, “I am the LORD, I do not change .”

Jesus and the Sabbath

Among those who claim to follow Jesus, no biblical command has aroused as much controversy as the Fourth Commandment—God’s instruction to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
). Here in particular we find that people’s interpretations of Jesus’ teaching are all over the map.

Some argue that Jesus annulled all of the Ten Commandments but that nine were reinstituted in the New Testament—all except the Sabbath. Some believe that Jesus replaced the Sabbath with Himself, and that He is now our “rest.” Some believe that no Sabbath at all is needed now, that we can rest or worship on any day or at any time we choose. Regardless of which argument one uses, an overwhelming portion of traditional Christianity believes that Sunday, the first day of the week, has replaced the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week.

Can we find support for these views in Christ’s practice or teaching? In light of Jesus’ clear teaching on the permanence of God’s laws, what do we find when it comes to His attitude toward the Sabbath day?

In studying the Gospels, one of the first things we should notice is that Jesus’ custom was to attend the synagogue for worship on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
American King James Version×
). This was His regular practice. On this particular occasion, He even announced His mission as Messiah to those in the synagogue that day.

Interestingly, we later find that Paul’s custom was also to worship and teach in the synagogues on the Sabbath day (Acts 17:2-3 Acts 17:2-3 2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in to them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach to you, is Christ.
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). Neither he nor Jesus ever so much as hinted that they needn’t be there or that they should worship on a different day!

Confrontations over how, not whether, to keep the Sabbath

Where many people jump to wrong conclusions about Jesus and the Sabbath is in His confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees. Yet these confrontations were never over whether to keep the Sabbath—only over how it should be kept. There is a crucial difference between the two!

For example, Jesus boldly challenged the Jews concerning their interpretation of Sabbath observance by performing healings on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6 Mark 3:1-6 1 And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4 And he said to them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
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; Luke 13:10-17 Luke 13:10-17 10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said to her, Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity. 13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said to the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, see, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
American King James Version×
; Luke 14:1-6 Luke 14:1-6 1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. 2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 3 And Jesus answering spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? 4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; 5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer him again to these things.
American King James Version×
).

According to the Pharisees, rendering medical attention to someone, unless it were a matter of life and death, was prohibited on the Sabbath. And since none of these healings involved a life-and-death situation, they thought Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. But as the Savior, Jesus understood the purpose of the Sabbath, that it was a perfectly appropriate time to bring His message of healing, hope and redemption to humanity and to live that message through His actions.

To make His point, Jesus asked the Pharisees the question, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4 Mark 3:4And he said to them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.
American King James Version×
). He exposed their hypocrisy in that they saw nothing wrong with working to rescue an animal that fell into a pit on the Sabbath day, or watering an animal on that day, yet they were condemning Him for helping on the Sabbath a human being—whose worth was far greater than that of any animal (Luke 13:15-17 Luke 13:15-17 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, see, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
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; Matthew 12:10-14 Matthew 12:10-14 10 And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. 11 And he said to them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Why it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. 13 Then said he to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. 14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.
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).

He was rightfully angry at their inability to see that they placed their own traditions and interpretations over the true purpose of Sabbath observance (Mark 3:5 Mark 3:5And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.
American King James Version×
). Yet they were so spiritually blind that they hated Him for exposing their distortions of God’s commands (Mark 3:6 Mark 3:6And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
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).

On one occasion Jesus’ disciples, as they walked through a field on the Sabbath day, picked handfuls of grain so they would have something to eat. The disciples weren’t harvesting the field; they were merely grabbing a quick snack to take care of their hunger. But the Pharisees insisted this was not lawful. Jesus used an example from Scripture to show that the spirit and intent of the law were not broken and that God’s law allowed for mercy (Mark 2:23-26 Mark 2:23-26 23 And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25 And he said to them, Have you never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the show bread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
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It was in this context that Jesus gives the true purpose of the Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” He said (Mark 2:27 Mark 2:27And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
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). The Pharisees had reversed the priorities of the law of God. They had added so many meticulous regulations and traditions to the Sabbath commandment that trying to keep it as they demanded had become an enormous burden for people rather than the blessing God had intended it to be (Isaiah 58:13-14 Isaiah 58:13-14 13 If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: 14 Then shall you delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.
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Jesus then claimed to have authority to say how the Sabbath should be observed: “Therefore, the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 Mark 2:28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
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). Here Jesus takes His rightful place as the One who gave this law of the Sabbath in the first place. For, being the very Creator as we have previously seen (Colossians 1:16 Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
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; John 1:3 John 1:3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
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), He is the One who created the Sabbath by resting on it (Genesis 2:2-3 Genesis 2:2-3 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
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). Thus it is foolish to argue that Jesus would abolish or annul something that He had personally created for the benefit of every human being!

What Jesus is in essence saying to the Pharisees here is: You don’t have a right to tell people how to keep God’s laws. I am the One who gave the law to man in the first place, therefore I know why it was commanded and how it was intended to be observed.

When Jesus spoke, it was from the authority He inherently possessed as the great Lawgiver. Jesus never abrogated His own law! But He did most certainly correct these religious leaders’ perversions of the law without hesitation. (If you would like to know more about the biblical Sabbath day, request or download your free copy of the booklet Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest .)

Judaism forsook Moses, Christianity forsook Christ

When it comes to Jesus and the law, we have to conclude that the “Christian” religion has let us down by not holding to the original teachings of Christ, who Himself held to the original teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures. And as the teachings of Jewish religious leaders corrupted Moses, so did the later teachers of Christ—that is, false teachers—corrupt the teachings of Jesus. In reality, Jesus and Moses agreed.

Let’s ask a question here. If Jesus were here today, which day would He observe as the Sabbath? It would be the day He commanded in the Ten Commandments, the seventh day.

The real Jesus kept the law and expected His disciples to do the same. He made clear His attitude about anyone diminishing one iota from the law. Anyone not keeping it is only using the good name of Christ without doing what He said.

He warns us: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘LORD, LORD,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 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 7:21-23 Matthew 7:21-23 21 Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
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So we have to ask, Do the churches which claim to represent Christ really represent Him accurately?

Jesus often pointed out that His teaching was based in the Old Testament Scriptures. When challenged concerning His teaching He responded, “Have you not read…?” before pointing His challengers to the Scriptures that supported what He had said (Matthew 12:3-5 Matthew 12:3-5 3 But he said to them, Have you not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; 4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the show bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?
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; Matthew 19:4 Matthew 19:4And he answered and said to them, Have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
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; Matthew 22:31 Matthew 22:31But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying,
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).

Those who say that Jesus departed from the Old Testament are simply wrong. In this chapter we have demonstrated that both many Jews and most of Christianity are incorrect in their assessment of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus faithfully taught the written word of the Old Testament.

We have seen earlier that Jesus was actually God in the Old Testament. God doesn’t change His ways. He is eternal. It would not inspire much faith to know that He required one thing in the Old Testament but then changed His mind and came up with a wholly different set of requirements in the New. Jesus Christ is consistent, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
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