Not only did Jesus fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament, He also said he came to fulfill the law. The Greek word for “fulfill” is pleroo. It means “to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full.” (1) He said:
“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. And 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 woolen and linen was fulfilled. It was a type and shadow of the grace that would come through Jesus! (5)
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). (7) 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
When Jesus said the prophets pointed to him we can easily see how the Old Testament prophecies that foretold his coming were miraculous. How can so many different people from different times and places create a portrait that would predict, with such detail, things that wouldn’t happen for hundreds, or even thousands, of years?
But the Old Testament law pointed to Jesus in a miraculous way also. How could the life of Jesus fit into so many allegorical (is that the right word) or symbolic fulfilments? Would it even be humanly possible to formulate a way to blend the life of Jesus with the Old Testament law? The Old Testament law was part of Israeli history. Jesus was a historical figure. Yet somehow he fulfilled the laws concerning the temple, the tithe, the sacrificial lamb, the priesthood, and many, many more! This was a supernatural design. There is no way this could have been humanly contrived. Perhaps a few symbolic connections could have been pulled out of his life, but the deeper a person looks, the more they find, and the more unlikely it becomes that these connections were manmade. The combination of the law and the prophets is almost impossible to overcome for any rational, thinking person. Together they provide ample evidence that the life of Jesus had a supernatural origin. Perhaps this is the best tool we can offer for people to help them believe. After all, it was the tool that Jesus himself used on the Road to Emmaus and it caused their hearts to “burn” within them.
- “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.
- 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.”
- 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/.
- 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)
- 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/.
- 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.
- 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.’”