Many people have heard about how the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah, and they know about the ways Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, but Jesus also claimed that he came to “fulfill the law.” What does this mean?
Some Ways that Jesus Fulfilled the Law
What was the meaning of all those strange Old Testament laws about not wearing a cloth made from a blend of woolen or linen, or the importance of eating unleavened bread, for example, if they didn’t point to, or symbolize, a deeper truth? The Greek word for “fulfill” is pleroo. It means “to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full.”(1) Jesus explained that his purpose in life was to fulfill the law and the prophets–to finally reveal their meaning in a way that gave evidence that there is a supernatural being who had a plan and purpose for our planet and our existence.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:17-19, ESV
He also said he didn’t come to abolish (dissolve, destroy) the law, so why don’t we still operate under the old Jewish religious system?
When the law was first delivered, it was given to a physical nation, with a physical temple (or tabernacle), and its commands were written on tablets of stone. It had physical rituals (such as cutting away the flesh in circumcision) and physical sacrifices, but the writer of Hebrews explained that these material aspects of the law were only a “shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:17, ESV).
This old system has now ended—in the sense that it is no longer practiced in the old way—but gloriously, it’s now practiced in a new and fuller way!
Jesus described how the kingdom was like a tiny mustard seed that would grow into the largest of “all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matt. 13:32, ESV). What started as the little seed of the Hebrew religion would now expand to become the large tree of the spiritual kingdom of God! For example:
The temple was fulfilled (expanded) because the church is now the spiritual temple of God. It no longer has a physical location. Jesus predicted that the temple would be destroyed, and he would raise it up in three days. The Pharisees didn’t understand that he meant his body was going to be raised from the dead. In the future his disciples would be called the Body of Christ, the temple of the living God.
Old Testament: “And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.” – Ezra 5:15, KJV
New Testament fulfillment: “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” – John 2:19-21, ESV
New Testament fulfillment: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV
The Sabbath was fulfilled (expanded) because it was a symbol of Jesus, who offers rest from religious works to all people of God. (2)
Old Testament: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” – Exodus 20:8, KJV
New Testament fulfillment: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” – Hebrews 4:10, KJV
Circumcision was fulfilled (expanded) because even Gentiles were considered to be circumcised if they had a soft heart toward God:
Old Testament: “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child . . . on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” – Leviticus 12:2-3. KJV
New Testament fulfillment: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” – Romans 2:28-29, KJV
The tithe was fulfilled (expanded) because it represented the resurrection. Jesus was the firstfruits of the harvest from the dead. Because he was raised from the dead, those who put their trust in him will also be raised from the dead at his coming.
Old Testament: “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.” –Exod. 34:26a, KJV
New Testament fulfillment: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” – 1 Cor. 15:22-23, KJV
The sacrifice of animals was fulfilled (expanded) because the blood of animals was once used as a covering for the sins of Israel, but the sacrifices merely represented Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV).
Old Testament: “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.” – 16:15, ESV.
New Testament fulfillment: “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” – Heb. 9:12, ESV
Incidentally, Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born, was the place where the lambs for the temple sacrifice were born and prepared, and because they couldn’t have any imperfections or blemishes, the shepherds would wrap them in swaddling clothes, so that while they were still wobbly they wouldn’t fall down and get cuts or bruises. When the unblemished lambs were finally sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem, the priests would come out and declare, “It is finished.” (3)
Jesus was born in a stable like a sacrificial lamb, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and just like a temple lamb, he was crucified on the day of the Passover Feast, declaring, “it is finished” (John 19:30) right before he died. Just as the prophet Isaiah foretold, nearly 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the future Messiah would be like a temple lamb who would die for the sins of others.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth . . . for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgressions of my people was he stricken.” –Isaiah 53:7-8, KJV
The priesthood was fulfilled (expanded) because the earthly Hebrew priests were only a symbol of Jesus, our heavenly high priest who “always lives to make intercession” for all believers before the throne of grace (Heb. 7:25, ESV). Because the veil has been torn, there is no need for any “mediator” between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5) In the Old Testament, the priest would enter into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies once a year, but now all people can enter into God’s presence at any time through the blood of Jesus.
Old Testament: “And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.” – Exodus 28:1, KJV
New Testament fulfillment: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:5, KJV
The prohibition against eating unclean foods (such as pork or shellfish) has been fulfilled (expanded). It represented the Gentile nations which are no longer unclean due to the gospel.
Old Testament: “This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and living creature that may not be eaten.” – Leviticus 11:46-47, ESV (4)
New Testament fulfillment: “Peter. . . fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’” – Acts 10:9-15, ESV
The ways that Jesus fulfilled the physical laws of Israel could fill many books! Even the Old Testament law forbidding the blending of woollen and linen was fulfilled. It was a type and shadow of the grace that would come through Jesus! (5)
Jesus Fulfilled the Feasts of Israel
The law required the Jews to celebrate festivals (feasts) on certain days. There were seven feasts:
- The Feast of Passover
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread
- The Feast of Firstfruits
- The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost)
- The Feast of Trumpets
- The Feast Day of Atonement
- The Feast of Tabernacles
Each of these feasts was (or will be) fulfilled in Christ! The first four feasts were to be celebrated at the times of the early rains of the year. Then there was to be a dry period until the final feasts were celebrated at the time of the latter rains. (6) There are so many more Scriptures and teachings that could fill out this teaching, but here are a few examples of how Jesus fulfilled the feasts:
- The Feast of Passover represented the commemoration of the time in Egypt when the blood of a lamb was placed on the doorpost of the home as a protection so that the death angel would “pass over” that family. It would be fulfilled in Christ, the unblemished lamb whose blood was shed so that we would “not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV). The apostle Paul used this imagery when he said, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5: 7b, ESV). Jesus also used the imagery of shed blood when he presented the wine at the Last Supper: “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28, KJV).
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread represented the need to root out sin, as symbolized by leaven (yeast). Jesus was the unblemished, sinless Lamb whose body was sacrificed. In the Last Supper he explained that the bread represented his broken body: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26, KJV). The apostle Paul explained that God made “him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21, KJV).
- The Feast of Firstfruits was celebrated by giving tithes (one-tenth) from the harvest of the ground. These tithes represented Jesus, the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead. All who died in Christ or who are alive and have remained in him will participate in the final resurrection and will be changed from mortal to immortal in the twinkling of an eye.
- The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) was celebrated fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits. This festival represented the early harvest and was fulfilled at Pentecost when the power of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and they preached with tongues of fire, bringing a great harvest of souls from all nations into the kingdom of God (Acts 2).
- The Feast of Trumpets was to be observed in the law by the blowing of a trumpet. According to the apostle Paul, this would be fulfilled at the return of Jesus because his appearance in the clouds would be accompanied by a trumpet blast. “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” – 1 Cor. 15:51-52, ESV
- The Feast Day of Atonement would represent the day when the Jews were to be “afflicted” (Lev. 23:29, KJV). The prophet Zechariah foretells of the moment this feast will be fulfilled: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” – Zech. 12:10, ESV
- The Feast of Tabernacles would represent the final culmination of the relationship between God and His people. It would be symbolized by tabernacles (tents), commemorating the time when Israel was with God in the wilderness as they were being delivered from the bondage of Egypt. The prophet Ezekiel said it was at that time that Israel became God’s bride (Ezekiel 16). (Entering a tent was an indication of the consummation of a marriage, as seen in the example of Isaac and Rebekah [Gen. 24:67]). Jesus will also celebrate the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9, KJV) with His Bride who “has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7, ESV).  John described this time of consummation in his vision of the future: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” – Rev. 21:3, KJV
Jesus Fulfilled the Moral Law
Jesus also fulfilled the moral law. He accomplished this, first of all, by leading a holy, perfect, and sinless life, something no other man could accomplish, but Jesus could because “in him dwelled all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Secondly, he fulfilled the law by expanding the ability to obey it to His people. Remember, he didn’t abolish the law; he expanded it. Jesus said, “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven . . .” (Matt. 5:19, ESV). In fact, Jesus listed the sins that make a person unclean and they align with the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17)!
“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are what defile a person.” – Matt. 15:19-20a, KJV (7)
Notice that Jesus mentioned “evil thoughts” in the list of sins, showing that he even strengthened the laws imposed by the Old Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said adultery was wrong, but then he took it even further and said that even if a man looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he’s committed adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). Why would Jesus expand the law?! Wasn’t it hard enough to obey?!
Paul also made it clear that the law is good:
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” — Romans 7:12, KJV
Trying to live out the law without the power of the Holy Spirit led Paul to call the law a “ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7), not because the laws were bad or evil, but because the inability to obey them led to death. But Paul also rejoiced that God sent “the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead” (Rom. 8:11, KJV) to dwell in us and give us freedom from the bondage of sin. We are now “more than conquerors through him who loved us!” (Rom. 8:37, KJV).
The purpose of the New Covenant wasn’t to remove the law as the standard of behavior; it was to empower those who believed in Jesus to live out the law in an even greater way by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus told his disciples he had to leave because he had to send back a “helper” (John 16:7, ESV). Under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit only anointed a few people, but under the New Covenant, all who come to him are anointed with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21). (He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, fulfilling the Old Testament feast.) The power to live holy lives is called the “law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2, KJV). This was in contrast to the Old Testament “law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2, KJV).
This new way of living was prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel. He said a time was coming when the people of God would be given new hearts and new spirits, causing them to be able to obey the Lord’s commandments.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27, ESV
Paul explained how living the life of the Spirit was supposed to go beyond the prohibitive commands of the law—the “thou shalt nots”—by enlarging the law to include the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22, KJV). Even though he said those who are “led by the Spirit” are not “under the law,” (Gal. 5:18), he still listed the “works of the flesh” and warned Christians that if they did such things they would not inherit the kingdom of God.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Gal. 5:19-21, ESV
On the other hand, the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23, ESV). The first fruit listed is love. Paul told the Corinthians that love was greater than the gift of prophecy, having faith to move mountains, giving to the poor, or even martyrdom.
Jesus also referred to love as being the most important aspect of the law. He said the commands to love God and love our neighbor could sum up all the other commandments, but does that mean that love should take precedence over the law? No, because the moral commands are an expression of love!
The Spirit of love has been the testimony of the faithful church throughout the ages as they worshiped God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, KJV), but those who promote a worldly form of “love” over lawfulness are of an antichrist spirit, not the Holy Spirit. The Antichrist is called the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thes. 2:3, ESV).
Christians are to go forth into the world in obedience to the Word of truth and live out the commands of Jesus. We are no longer slaves to sin. It has no dominion over us (Rom. 6:9). The Son has set us free—not from having to obey the moral law, but free from the inability to keep the law!
We aren’t saved by obeying the law (because no one is able to keep the law perfectly, except Jesus, and he paid the penalty for our sins), but being able to keep the law is evidence that we’ve been saved. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus explained:
“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” – 1 John 3:4-6, ESV
John even said that any person who was born again could not make a practice of sinning.
“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” – 1 John 3:9, ESV
If we sin, Jesus will be our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1, KJV), but we must not have an unrepentant lifestyle of sin, causing the spirit of grace to be grieved.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Rom. 6:1-2, ESV
Because Jesus didn’t abolish the law, but fulfilled it (expanded it), we can see why there are so many instructions in the New Testament which line up with the Old Testament moral law. These lists are accompanied by the warning that those who remain in their sins won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Here is an example of a typical list in the New Testament that aligns with the Old Testament law:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Cor. 6:9-11, ESV
The kingdom of God is made up of people who have become new creations in Christ—people who have been empowered to fulfill the law by loving God and loving their neighbor. James, the brother of Jesus, described the Christian faith this way: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27, KJV). (Caring for the “least of these” has been a great mission of the church—but as I hope I’ve shown in the pages of my books, our efforts must remain “unspotted” by worldly views.)
When the resurrected Jesus walked with Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, they said Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets and “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, NIV). They were amazed at the teachings of Jesus and described their reaction to them: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32, NIV).
There is more in this universe than what we can know and understand from our small human perspective. Something out there has been trying to communicate with the human race–and he used the Old Testament law and the prophets to convey the extraterrestrial message.
The important question is: WHAT IS THAT MESSAGE?
1) “G4137 – plēroō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 2 Sep, 2019. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4137&t=ESV.
(2) Romans 14:5-6 makes it clear that keeping the Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ. “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be persuaded in his own mind.” Colossians 2:16 also distinguishes the Sabbath from the moral law: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”
(3) Howard Hewitt. “Story of Bethlehem Sheep More Than Legend,” March 14, 2014. Wabash.edu. Accessed Sept. 26, 2019. https://blog.wabash.edu/immersionlearning201314/2014/03/14/story-of-bethlehem-sheep-more-than-legend/.
(4) There are many people who turn to this scripture as a justification for claiming homosexuality is no longer a sin. After all, Christians freely eat pork and shellfish, so how can they claim that the laws against homosexuality are still in effect? But this change in dietary law points specifically to the fulfillment of many Old Testament scriptures which prophesy that Israel would be a blessing to many nations. God told Abraham that in him “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3b). The prophet Isaiah reiterated this same message:
“I will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” – Isaiah 42:6-7, KJV
The prohibition against eating unclean foods was fulfilled in Jesus because it was a law that pointed to the prophecy that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles, opening the door of the kingdom to them. How would the prohibitions against homosexuality point to Jesus’ fulfillment (expansion) of the Law—since both the Old and New Testaments specifically forbid it? (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, Jude 1:7, Rev. 21:8, 22:15)
(5) For a further teaching on this subject and how it points to Jesus, see: Diana Lesperance, “What Does It Mean to Not Blend the Woolen and the Linen?” Dec. 31, 2013. The Faithful Church. Accessed June 7, 2019. https://thefaithfulchurch.com/2013/12/31/what-does-it-mean-to-not-blend-the-woolen-and-the-linen/.
(6) The Jews were expecting a triumphant Messiah, but the feasts reveal that there would be two comings of the Christ: first as the Suffering Servant, the sacrificial Lamb, and later as the victorious King, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
(7) Honoring parents isn’t listed here, but Jesus confirmed that it’s a continuing command in Matt. 15:3-6, ESV:
“He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the Word of God.’”