Jesus: The Promised Messiah

One of the evidences of the authenticity and inspiration of the Bible is its prophecy. It not only provides an irrefutable proof for the existence of the God who inspired the prophets but also distinguishes the Bible as God’s Word out of the “sacred books” of the world’s religions.

Biblical prophecies revolve around two major themes: the nation of Israel and Jesus the Messiah who came through Israel as the Saviour of all mankind. This piece will focus on the latter.

God inspired the Bible prophets to provide details about the lineage, birth, mission, death and resurrection of the Messiah and these were accurately fulfilled in Jesus. Thus, Jesus stands out as unique and without any rival out of the founders of religions (e.g Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius).

Some skeptics who intend to disprove Bible prophecy propounded what I call the “Passover Plot” theory. It claims that Jesus conspired with Judas and the apostles to fulfil the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament so as to convince them He was the Messiah.

But let’s take a look at these messianic prophecies and how they were fulfilled.

1. Virgin birth. The first promise of the Messiah was given in Genesis 3:15. God foretold that there will be enmity between Satan and the Messiah which was identified as “her seed.” The phrase “her seed” points to the virgin birth which was fulfilled in Jesus. He was born of Mary alone, without Joseph’s participation (Mt. 1:16).

In Isaiah 7:14 a promise was given to the unbelieving King Ahaz: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son…” The Hebrew word rendered as “virgin” is almah which is also used for Rebekah as a virgin (Gen. 24:43), maids of the young (Ex. 2:8) virgins/unwed young women (SOS 11:3) and damsels (Ps. 68:25-26). The word almah “never refers to a maiden who has lost her virginity” (Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, 266-68)

A writer claimed this prophecy failed because vs 16 says before Jesus reaches the age of maturity, two Jewish countries would be destroyed. This is a classic display of ignorance. After vs. 14-16, Isaiah wasn’t talking about Jesus but “the boy” whom he later names as “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” He was the son of Abi, the bride of King Ahaz (Is. 8:3).

The prophecy said that “two kings” Ahaz dreaded “will be laid waste” and this was fulfilled about 3 years after this boy was born, when the two kings of Syria and Ephraim were killed (2 Kings 15:30; 16:9).

2. Patriarchal Line. God’s promised Abraham that “in you all the family of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2). This is connected with the Messiah coming from his line. The same promise was repeated to Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 17:19; 25:23).

Numbers 24:17-19 says a “star will come out of Jacob; a scepter [ruler] will rise out of Israel” who will crush the enemy and have dominion. These promises were fulfilled in Jesus who came from this very lineage (Mt. 1:1).

3. The Line of Judah. Genesis 49:10 says “The sceptre will not depart from Judah … until he comes to whom it belongs.” The sceptre was still in Judah when Jesus was born, though by the time Jesus had completed His mission, it had departed as evidenced by the rabbis’ inability to exact the death penalty (Jn. 18:31).

4. The Line of David. In God’s promise to David, He included the coming of the Messiah who would have an everlasting dynasty (“house”); rule (“throne”) over people (“kingdom”), and His rule would be “eternal.” (2 Sam. 7:12-16) This promise was expanded in Psalm 89 and by prophet Isaiah that the Messiah will reign on the “throne of his father David” (Is. 9:7).

Jesus fulfilled this by coming through the lineage of David (Mt. 1:6). Matthew gives a lineage of Joseph while Luke gave that of Mary, but only placed Joseph’s name in place of Mary (Lk. 3).

5. His Place of birth. Micah 5:2 predicted the birthplace of the Christ as Bethlehem, a town so small and insignificant in Judah that it was not often listed. This was the town where Jesus was born (Lk. 2:4).

The lineage, place and timing of the Jesus’ birth as foretold were obviously beyond the influence of any ordinary mortal or a “passover plot”. His birth had to occur before the sceptre departed from Judah (Gen. 49:10), while the temple was still standing (Mal. 3:1), while the genealogical records were available to prove His lineage (2 Sam. 7:12) and shortly before the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed (Dan. 9:26).

These weren’t mere coincidences or chances. There was a narrow time range within which the Messiah had to come – and He did. Jesus’ coming followed a divinely arranged time-table. “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman [i.e virgin born]…” (Gal. 4:4).

6. His forerunner. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would have a forerunner who will call men to repentance and “prepare the way for the Lord” (Is. 40:3). Prophet Malachi calls this forerunner a “messenger who will prepare the way before” the Messiah (Mal. 3:1). This messenger was John the Baptist who prepared the way before Jesus (Jn. 1:23, Mk. 1:2-3).

7. His mission. Isaiah says that “The Spirit of the Lord God” will come upon the Christ to empower and anoint Him to preach the gospel and release those in spiritual bondage (Is. 61:1). The Spirit of God came on Jesus and anointed Him (Jn. 1:32). God promised to “honor the Galilee of the Gentiles” and show them His light. In fulfilment Christ settled in Nazareth – in the midst of the Gentiles – a Roman province (Is. 9:1-2; Mt. 4:15-16).

8. His life. In Isaiah 7:14, the coming Messiah was called Immanuel meaning “God with us.” This was fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry. The name sums up the words and works of God which Christ acutely demonstrated. Thus, God’s people could testify: “God has come to help his people.” (Lk. 7:16)

9. His ministry. Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s coming when “the eyes of the blind” will open “and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Is. 35:5) along with the promises of “freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (61:1-2) from the Lord’s anointed.

This fits in perfectly with Jesus’ earthly ministry in opening the eyes of the blind, opening the ears of the deaf, expelling demons, raising the dead, healing the lame and preaching the gospel to the people (Mt. 11:5-6). Isaiah 42:2-4 predicted that the Messiah would not be warlike or contentious, but kind and compassionate. This is said of Jesus (Mt. 12:19-21).

10. His teaching. Prophet David predicted One who will “open [his] mouth in parables … [and] utter hidden things, things from of old” (Ps. 78:2). In the same way, Jesus “spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Mt. 13:34-35).

11. His presentation. Prophet Zechariah predicted that the King of Israel who is “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding a donkey” will enter into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9). This was fulfilled at the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem (Lk 19:37). This flies in the face of the “passover theory” as a Bible teacher noted:

Where did Jesus get the money to pay off the multitude that lined the road into Jerusalem and hailed Him as the Messiah when He rode in on a donkey – the last beast one would expect a triumphant king to choose – precisely as foretold in Zechariah 9:9? It was Nisan 10 (April 6), A.D. 32, the very day the prophets had declared that this amazing event would occur – 483 years to the day (69 weeks of years as Daniel 9:25 foretold it) after Nehemiah … had received received (on Nisan 1, 455 B.C.) authority to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1)!” (Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, Oregon: Harvest House, 1994, 32).

12. His rejection. David likens the Messiah’s rejection by the Jewish people to “the stone the builders rejected” (Ps. 118:22). This was precisely what happened to Jesus (Matt. 21:42). It was also predicted that the Messiah would be forsaken by all His friends at a crucial moment (Zech. 13:7). This was fulfilled also. (Matt. 26:31).

13. His betrayal. David in a double reference, foretold treachery of a close associate of the Messiah, “he who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9). This happened as foretold (Jn. 13:18, 21-30). Prophet Zechariah predicted “thirty pieces of silver” which will be thrown “into the house of the LORD to the potter” (11:12-13)

This was fulfilled when Judas betrayed Jesus with 30 pieces of silver which he used to buy a potter’s field and finally threw down at the feet of the rabbis at the temple (Mat. 26:14-16). Did Jesus make a “Passover plot” with the rabbis to pay Judas that exact amount?

Isaiah foretold how Christ will be “oppressed and afflicted yet he [will] not open his mouth” (Is. 53:7). In the same vein, Jesus didn’t defend Himself before His accusers (Mt. 26:62-63; 27:12-14; Lk. 23:8-10). The only time He spoke was when He was with Pilate in private (Jn. 18:36). This has to be pointed out because some misinformed critics have attempted to find contradictions here whereas there are none.

14. His suffering and death. Isaiah predicted the Messiah’s suffering and disfigurement by scourgings. This was meted out on Jesus (Is. 52:14; Jn. 19:1). In Psalm 22:6, David describes in actual words how the Messiah would be insulted and it came to pass as foretold (Mt. 27:39, 43).

Verse 16, says that His hands and feet would be pierced. This was an apt description of the Roman crucifixion centuries before this means of execution became known. God in His foreknowledge knew Jesus wouldn’t die by stoning (the Jewish execution) because the rabbis had lost the power to exact the death penalty by 7 A.D. (Jn. 18:31).

This is why the “passover plot” theory is false. It would have been ludicrous for Jesus to get Himself killed in order to convince a small band of inept followers that He was the Messiah. The Jews (even His disciples) had expected the Messiah to be victorious and deliver them from the Roman oppression, so Jesus’ death could only have meant that He wasn’t the Messiah.

The prophecies about Christ’s death (e.g Ps. 22:16, Is. 53:5-8) were avoided by the Jews because the same Messiah is also predicted to “extend [His] mighty sceptre from Zion” and “reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom” (Ps. 110: 2; Is. 9:7). How can He suffer and die and then reign as king? The Jewish interpreters decided to reject what didn’t fit into their mindset.

But this is no contradiction because: the promised Messiah had to come twice. First, to die for man’s sins and second, to reign as King. Yet some Jews today are still awaiting the first coming of the Messiah!

David’s prophecy speaks of His bones which would be kept intact (Ps. 22:17; 34:20). Even though this wasn’t the normal custom, Jesus’ bones were kept intact (Jn. 19:33-36). Psalm 22:18 says that soldiers would gamble for Christ’s clothes and it came to pass (Jn. 19:24).

How could Jesus had known which soldiers would be on duty so as to bribe them to do this? Did He also arrange with them to offer Him vinegar and gall at the cross? (Ps. 69:21) The prayer Jesus prayed in Matthew 26:39 was prophesied in Psalm 22:24.

15. His burial. Jesus was buried in a rich tomb as it was predicted of the Messiah (Is. 59:3; Mt. 27:57-60). Did He also arrange where He should be buried?

16. His resurrection. Psalms 16:10 predicts the Messiah’s bodily resurrection before seeing decay and this happened as foretold (Acts 2:24-27, 31). Had the Romans soldiers allowed the disciples to secretly steal His body, they would have been on those crosses the next day for breaking a tomb with the Roman seal. The only logical explanation of the empty tomb is that Jesus rose from the dead.

17. His ascension. Psalm 68:18 predicts the end of Jesus’ earthly life. His exaltation to God’s right hand was also predicted in Ps. 110:1. This was fulfilled (Acts 7:56, Eph. 4:8).

18. His Reign. David describes Christ’s millennial reign as King in Jerusalem over the nations of the world (24:7-10). Isaiah describes Him as the Son whose governmental rule will be a reign of justice over the restored Israel and the world (9:6-7; 11:5-16) along with the great blessings of this reign (Is. 35:1-10). Zechariah also predicts the destruction of Israel’s enemies and Christ’s rule over all the nations at His second coming (Zec. 14:9-12).

The fulfilment of these prophecies proves beyond a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah and Saviour of the world. This gives us a strong confidence in the one True God and His infallible Word – the Bible.

What was the Council of Nicea About?

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Perhaps no other council in church history has been as misrepresented as the Council of Nicea. Most people who have a problem with the Bible seem to love the party line: “Your Bible was made up at the Council of Nicea.”

New Ager, Shirley MacLaine, in her book, Out on a Limb says: “The theory of reincarnation is recorded in the Bible. But the proper interpretation were struck from it during … the Council of Nicaea.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim this council “laid the groundwork for later Trinitarian theology.”

Dan Brown, in The Davinci Code lurched even higher in his fancies:

Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea … until that moment in history Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal” (p. 233).

It’s often tragic to find otherwise smart people parroting Dan Brown’s remarks mindlessly. Personally, once a person makes such remarks about Nicea, it sets off a tripwire alarm in me to dismiss all their arguments as irrelevant.

Nothing damages one’s credibility more than trotting out a patently false and ignorant argument – especially in an age when knowledge is at one’s fingertips.

Thus, this piece intends to look at what really happened at the Council of Nicea and the significance it holds in church history.

The Arian Controversy

The Council of Nicea was held between May to July 325 AD, which was about 14 years after the persecution Galerius meted out on the church ended.

Many of the bishops had been exiled and tortured and still bore the scars when they attended the council. It was also the first time in church history that an emperor called a council.

The council was summoned because of a Christological heresy by an aged presbyter named Arius (250-336 AD). He taught that:

“The Father alone is without a beginning. The Son (or Logos) had a beginning; God created Logos in order that He might create the world” (Harry Bower, A Short History of the Early Church, 1976, p. 112).

Arius began teaching this heresy in Alexandria (Egypt), saying that Jesus was a created being and not eternal as the Bible says.

Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria held a Synod in 320 which denounced and excommunicated Arius. After this, he went to the East to popularise his teachings where he gained much support and followers. Alexander wrote letters to the Eastern churches warning them against the Arians.

This led to a controversy that almost divided the church. Constantine, the emperor, saw that this could threaten the unity of the empire so he called for the Council of Nicaea to deal with the problem.

According to tradition, 318 bishops were in attendance at the council, most of which were from the East. However, they were in three parties:

  1. The Arian party consisting of Arius, Theonas, Socundus (bishops from Egypt), and Eusebius of Nicomedia who led them. They held to the view that Jesus was a creature and of a different substance from the Father.
  2. The “orthodox” (or middle) party led by bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. They held to the view that Jesus was of a similar substance (Gr: homoiousios) to the Father. They used this term to avoid stating that Jesus and the Father were one person.
  3. The Alexandrian party which consisted of Athanasius, bishop Ossius and Alexander of Alexandria. They held to the view that Christ is not merely like the Father, but is of the same substance (Gr: homo-ousios) as God the Father. Thus, Jesus has the same essence as God.

The dispute with Arius concerns the use of these two words: homoousios (“of the same nature”) and homoiousios (“of a similar nature”).

As a scholar notes, “Arius was happy to say that Christ was a supernatural heavenly being and that he was created by God before the creation of the rest of the universe, and even that he was “similar” to God in his nature. Thus, Arius would agree to the word homoiosios” (Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, England, 1999, p. 114).

Athanasius however, indicated the desire of the bishops to express their faith Scripturally with the term – homoousios – which would be antithetical to the Arian heresy by emphasizing that Jesus is fully God and at the same time not drift into modalist heresy.

Though the council of Nicea condemned Arius and his followers as heretics, it was the council of Constantinople in 381 AD that finally put the “nature” debate to rest by decreeing that Jesus had the same nature (homoousios) as God the Father. The resulting Nicene creed says in part:

“We believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance [homoousion] with the Father, through whom all things came to be, those things that are in heaven and those things that are on earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and was made man…”

The Moody Handbook of Theology points out that the terms “God from God” and “true God from true God” further stressed the deity of Christ. At the same time “begotten, not made” and “came down” stressed His eternality (p. 448).

What Role did Constantine Play?

Many cults that reject the deity of Christ claim that Constantine somehow “enforced” his views on the council to accept that Jesus has the same nature as God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In their booklet, Should You Believe in the Trinity? the Watchtower Society distorts a quote (on pg. 8) from a source to promote this theory:

“Constantine himself presided, actively guiding the discussions, and personally proposed (no doubt on Ossius’ prompting) the crucial formula expressing the relation of Christ to God in the creed issued by the council, ‘of one substance with the Father’ (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1976, 6:386).

The part appearing in bold was omitted and the volume and page number of the source was not given (so that readers would not discover their slyness).

Ossius was the bishop of Cordoba and an ecclesiastical adviser to Constantine. He was the one who prompted him on which steps to take.

Constantine was a politician, not a theologian, and was ready to agree with whatever party for peace to reign in his empire.

“Constantine had basically no understanding whatsoever of the questions that were being asked in Greek theology” (Bernard Lohse, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, 1966, p. 51).

Unfortunately, Dan Brown relied on much personal imaginations in his novel:

Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier [Gnostic] gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (The Davinci Code, p. 234).

There is no evidence that Constantine commissioned any Bible nor ordered the burning of any Gnostic gospels. What were burned were Arian papers found by the council to be heretical.

It must also be noted that the Nicene council did not address the issue of the Bible canon (only regional councils of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 did).

The New Testament canon was already recognized by the church. Other matters discussed at the council “included the consideration of the Melitian schism, the settlement of the controversial date of Easter celebration and the promulgation of 26 disciplinary canons” (Samson Fatokun, History and Doctrine of the Early Church, Crownfit, 1999, p. 80).

The canon 6 issued at the council also reflects the pattern of church government at the time:

“Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1983, II, XIV:15).

This, with other data of evidence, show us that at this time, the idea of a single universal head exercising jurisdiction over the whole church was unknown.

The bishop of Rome had no jurisdiction over the entire church. He was only regarded as the leader of the most influential church in the West.

Since the Nicene church did not look up to one individual or a church as their final authority, the idea that the Catholic Church (or Constantine) conspired in the 4th century to “force” the deity of Christ or the Trinity on Christians is a poorly concocted fiction.

Another proof that Constantine had little influence on the decisions taken at Nicaea can be seen in how he later succumbed to Arian and semi-Arian heresies:

“The Arian party grew, and years afterwards influenced Constantine, and especially his son the emperor Constantius. The emperors interfered more and more in the church, deposing and exiling whichever bishops did not affirm the doctrine of those who had the emperor’s ear” (John Hunt, Concise Church History, AMG Publishers, 2008, p. 128).

Arian heresies gained an upper hand after the Nicene council such that the Council of Jerusalem in 335 AD, cleared Arius of all the charges of heresies previously levied on him.

Regional councils met at Sirminum (351), Arelate (353) and Milan (355) and the resulting Arian and semi-Arian creeds from them were forced on the Western church.

Athanasius was condemned as a troublemaker and stripped of his bishopric. All the bishops who resisted them were banished. Even Liberius, the bishop of Rome and Ossius were forced to accept Arianism.

Athanasius however, persisted in standing for the homoousios clause because he believed in the sufficiency of the Scriptures – until it was affirmed by the Council of Constantinople.

It must also be noted that the term “homoousios” was not “the invention of the council of Nicea, still less of Constantine, but had previously arisen in theological language, and occurs even in Origen [185-254 AD] and among the Gnostics” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:628).

The Evidence of Scripture and History

Christians today believe in the Deity of Christ, not because a Council or an emperor forced it on us, but because it’s a clear teaching of the inspired apostles of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14; Rom. 9:6; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-17; 2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:13 etc).

The writings of the early church fathers (and early church documents) are also historical evidence that the Deity of Christ had been a well-established doctrine long before Nicea. For example:

I. Ignatius (died c. 108 AD): “There is only one physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passable and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ephesians 7, The Apostolic Fathers, J. B. Lightfoot, 1984, 139)

II. Aristides (140 AD): “[Christians] are they who, above every people of the Earth have found the truth, for they acknowledge God, the creator and maker of all things in the only begotten Son and in the Holy Spirit” (Apology, 16).

III. Justin Martyr (150 AD): “The Father of the universe has a Son, who along being the first begotten Word of God is even God” (First Apology, ch. 63).

IV. Tatian the Syrian (170 AD): “We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense, when we report that God was born in form of a man” (Address to the Greeks, 21).

V. Melito of Sardis (c. 170-180 AD): “But listen, as you tremble in the face of him on whose account the earth trembled. He who hung the earth in place is hanged. He who fixed the heaven in place is fixed in place. He who made all things fast is made fast on the tree. The Master is insulted. God is murdered. The king of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand” (A Homily on the Passover Sect, 96-96).

VI. Athenagoras (177 AD): “The Son of God is the Word of the Father in thought and actuality. By him and through him all things were made, the Father and the Son being one” (Plea for the Christians, 10:2-4).

VII. Theophilus of Antioch (180 AD): “In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity; of God, and His Word, and His Wisdom” (Of the Fourth Day, To Autolycus, 2:15).

VIII. Ireneaus (185 AD): “Christ Jesus is our Lord, and God and Saviour and King” (Against Heresies, bk. 1, ch. 10, sec. 1).

IX. Clement of Alexandria (190 AD): “[Jesus is] the Expiator, the Saviour, the Soother, the Divine Word, he that is quite evidently the true God, he that is put on a level with the Lord of the universe because he was his Son” (Exhortation to the Greeks, 10:110).

X. Tertullian (200 AD): “All Scriptures give clear proof of the Trinity. Thus the connotation of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produce three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another” (Against Praxeas, 24).

The Nicene creed prevailed eventually, not because of the authority of a pope or the council itself, but the authority of Scripture and the evidence of history.

Why then, did Arianism hold sway over the people later in spite of these?

“It was instrumental in the ‘conversion’ of many of the barbaric tribes” says a church historian. “It lowered the barriers between Christianity and the dominant Neoplatonist form of paganism, by emphasizing the oneness of God and representing the Son and the Spirit as high creatures. It brought Christianity closer to the normal polytheism that the barbarian tribes were accustomed to” (Concise Church History, 2008, AGM Publishers, p. 129).

The bold stand of theologians like Athanasius in the face of surging heresies is commendable. The church today still needs men and women who will stand up for the truths of Scripture – no matter how unpopular they may be.

Can Keeping the Law Save?

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One of the key differences between True Christianity and world religions and cults is the basis of man’s salvation.

While Bible Christianity teaches that only God saves man, false religions teach that man save himself by good works. One Muslim author wrote:

As against the teaching of the Master (Jesus), that salvation comes only through keeping the commandments (Matthew 19:16-17), Paul nails the law and the commandments to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and claims that salvation can only be obtained by the death and resurrection of Christ.”

This Matthew 19:16-17 is one of the most common Bible texts used to support the teaching of salvation by law.

It’s argued that when the young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him how He could be saved, Jesus told him to “observe the law” (Mk. 10:19-20, Mt. 19:18-20). But apostle Paul says that a person is saved by faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:21:28, Gal. 2:16).

Some even reach a bizarre conclusion: Christians are following apostle Paul, not Jesus.

Selective presentation of facts does not help – regardless of which side one is on – but rather damages one’s cause.

For instance, in the proceeding verses of Matthew 19:17 (which is never included), though the young ruler admits he obeys the Law, Jesus told him he still lacks something, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…then come, follow me” (v. 21).

By God’s standard, he still wasn’t perfect even though he kept the Law. He could only attain that by following Christ wholeheartedly. Perfection doesn’t come by keeping the Law it comes by faith in Christ.

When one takes the New Testament as a whole, rather than getting caught up with isolated texts, this truth about salvation clearly unfolds.

In Matthew 19, Jesus listed 6 out of the 10 commandments which govern one’s relationship with others – which he kept – but not the first four which deal with one’s devotion to God where he was sorely lacking.

The problem of that rich man was that his love of money surpassed his love for God. Hence, it is implied that his following Christ was the same as his keeping the first four commandments.

In Mark 10:29-30, Jesus assured that as many as have left all they had “for Me and the gospel” will receive “eternal life.” He didn’t say it’s by observing the law that they will qualify for it.

Jesus is revealed as the One who “shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21) and He had the power to forgive men’s sins (Luke 7:48-50). Certainly, He is more than a Prophet; He is the Saviour.

He says that “whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life … Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:15-18).

When the people came to Him and asked “What must we do to do the works God requires?” He replied “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29).

He said “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life…” (v. 40)

The case of the penitent thief at the cross also refutes the salvation by law. First, he saw himself as a sinner under condemnation: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”

Second, he saw Jesus as being more than a prophet or a mere man but as the Lord who had a kingdom and could decide his judgement: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus said to him “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:41-43). Salvation is not received by keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ and His finished work.

Another Bible text misused is Matthew 5:17 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil it.”

Some Christian legalists have jumped on this verse and run off with it saying, “Yes, Jesus said we must fulfil the law!”

They are reading their preconceived ideas into this text rather than letting it speak for itself. A Bible scholar explains that:

“In Matthew 5:17-18 Christ affirmed that not the smallest letter or stroke would pass from the law until it would be fulfilled. In verse 17 He referred to the law or the prophets, a common phrase designating the entire Old Testament. In this rather strong statement, Jesus affirmed the inviolability of the entire Old Testament and thereby affirmed the inspiration of the entire Old Testament” (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, 2008, 164).

The proceeding verse says:

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19)

By “these commandments” Jesus was referring to the ones He gave from verses 21-48 on to chapter 6, not Old Testament laws.

In this passage, Jesus was correcting the misinterpretations of the Law by the religious teachers. He wasn’t correcting what “You have read” but rather what “You have heard.” Big difference.

The Greek word translated as “fulfil” is plero, and it means to satisfy, expire, and to end by fulfilling like when prophecies are fulfilled.

Every jot and tittle of the whole law or contract at Sinai was fulfilled, ended, and abolished in Christ and “done away” by Him when He made the new contract/covenant with His blood (2 Cor. 3:6-15, Gal. 3:19-25, Heb. 7:11).

“But Jesus observed the Jewish Law,” someone may argue Yes, He did.

We are told that “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus was born a Jew in the flesh and was under the Jewish Law. But after His death, that Law contract was taken away (Col. 2:13-14).

What the Bible means by Jesus fulfilling the Law can be understood by this example.

When you want to build a house, you can get a building contractor based on a contract. The builder fulfills that contract, not by doing away with the it, but by finishing the structure as required by the contract. And once the work has been completed to the client’s satisfaction, the contract is fulfilled and the builder is no longer bound by it.

Likewise, Jesus didn’t come to rip up the Law but fulfilled it by keeping it perfectly. Once it is fulfilled by Christ, the law contract is no longer binding on God’s people.

Christians are now under a new law called “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) or “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2). The former law covenant given through Moses to the nation of Israel came to an end when Jesus’ death fulfilled it. Therefore, “we have been discharged from the law” (Romans 7:6).

“Does this mean that Christians are not under any sort of law?” No. There are also laws given in the New Testament directed to Christians. For example, Jesus emphasised two laws which sums up the ten commandments – love of God and love of neighbour (Mt. 22:36-40).

Some OT laws no longer apply to Christians (such as sabbath keeping) while some commands were reaffirmed.

This is similar to when a nation changes its constitution. Once the new constitution is legally in place, people are no longer required to obey the former one, even if some old laws are repeated in the new.

So nationality would need to study the new constitution carefully to see what laws now apply. Unlike the old laws which operated from the outside, now when people trust in Christ and become saved, they are empowered by God’s Spirit and transformed by His grace from within to obey the commands as defined and interpreted by the New Testament.

Why Can’t the Law Save Us?

1. Man being basically evil can’t really keep the law. “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law” (John 7:19).

The law was given to show man what sin is (“for by the law is the knowledge of sin” Romans 3:20).

2. For one to keep the old Jewish laws, he will have to keep the whole law all the time. To break it at any point is to break all of it (James 2:10-11, Gal. 3:10).

But man can’t keep the law perfectly, only Christ could do it. There is not a single place where the believer is asked to fulfil the Law.

3. The Law wasn’t given to justify or save man, but was “our tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24).

The Greek word paidagogos translated as tutor means a servant who was hired to walk the child to school and teach him the elements of education.

The Law teaches us the basic elements of righteousness, and also leads us to the school (Christ) where we can learn the real lesson.

4. There has been a change of the law. In the OT, the priesthood could only come from Aaron’s lineage, but Christ our High Priest came from Judah’s tribe (Hebrews 7:11-14).

It was God’s plan to replace the Old law with a New law (Jer. 31:31-35). This He did through Christ. “He sets aside the first to establish the second” (Heb. 10:9).

The old Law was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel while the new was a covenant between God and as many believe in Jesus as Saviour. Therefore, no one can have a right standing before God unless He is in this New Covenant relationship with God.

5. Salvation by grace through faith in Christ is not an “invention of apostle Paul” but is the consistent teaching of the New Testament (see John 1:12-13, 29, Acts 3:16-19, 10:43-48, 1John 5:4-5). No one can hold partially to the NT. You either accept it or reject it.

6  Finally, scripture distinguishes between: “the first covenant” and the “second covenant” (Heb 8:7); “the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39) and “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2); the “law of sin” (Rom 7:23) and the “law of righteousness” (Rom. 9:31); the glorious covenant and the more glorious covenant (2 Cor. 3:7-10), the law of works (Rom. 3:26-31) and the law of grace (Jn. 1:17); that which is “powerless to save” (Heb. 9:12-13) and that which “saves to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25).