Read Matthew 22:23-40. What does Jesus identify as the greatest commandment in the law? Notice how Jesus’ statement is a summary of the ten commandments, which are themselves a synthesis of the 613 laws in the Torah. What do you think is significant about this?
Observe the structure of the ten commandments and discuss how they specifically describe practices of loving God and one’s neighbor (see Exodus 20:3-17).
Read Jeremiah 17:5-10. Which metaphors describe desperately sick hearts and which describe blessed hearts? Does humanity have any hope for having healthy, functioning hearts again (see Ezekiel 36:26-27 and Isaiah 61:1-3)? If so, how would we talk about that hope in our own words?
Read John 15:1-13 carefully and notice the metaphor Jesus uses to describe himself. How does Jesus fulfill the law and the prophets as the blessed vine/tree? How do we “abide,” or live, within his blessing?
Compare Exodus 19:3-6 and Exodus 20:1-3 with Galatians 5:1 and Galatians 5:13-14. Notice how these passages describe God’s identity and ours before giving a list of commands. How do you think remembering these identities can provide a foundation for following God’s commands?
How does the Spirit make us new, help us remember God’s redemption, and empower us to follow his life-giving ways (e.g. John 16:7-15, Galatians 5:16-25, Ephesians 1:7-14, Ephesians 2:3-7, Ephesians 3:4-18)?
Jon: You are most likely familiar with the 10 commandments in the Bible––stuff we generally take as good advice: don’t murder, don’t steal, honor your parents. The list goes on.
Tim: And those are just the first 10. There are actually a total of 613 commands, all given to ancient Israel, found in the first five books of the Bible, which in Hebrew are called the “Torah.”
Jon: Now the word torah is usually translated in English as “the law” because it has all these laws in it. And as you read through them you wonder, “Am I supposed to obey some of these? All of these? I mean, what’s the purpose of the law?”
Tim: Well that translation is kind of confusing because while the Torah has laws in it, the book itself is fundamentally a story about how God is creating new kinds of people who are fully able to love God and love others. And when Jesus taught about the Torah, he said that he was bringing that story to its fulfillment.
Jon: So walk me through the story and how it’s fulfilled.
The Story of the Torah [00:54-02:43]
Tim: So the story begins with God creating humanity who rebels. And God chooses Abraham to bless all of the nations through his family, who end up in slavery down in Egypt. And so God rescues them. Then at Mount Sinai, God makes a covenant with Israel, like an agreement. And all of the laws that Moses gives to Israel are the terms of that agreement. They’re like a constitution. And so some of the laws, they’re about rituals and customs that set Israel apart from the nations, other laws are about social justice or morality. And by following these, Israel would show the other nations what God is like.1
Jon: Okay, so the rest of the Torah is just the complete list of laws that Moses gives Israel?
Tim: No. The rest of the Torah just continues the story, and the 613 commands are only a selection from that original constitution. And even these have been broken up and placed at strategic points within the story. Now pay attention because you’ll see a really clear pattern. Moses gives the first laws to Israel.
Jon: Don’t worship other gods. Don’t make idols.
Tim: And then right after there’s a story of Israel breaking those very laws.
Jon: Yeah. They worship the golden calf.
Tim: And so Moses gives some more laws. And then you get more stories of rebellion, some more laws, rebellion again, some more laws, more rebellion, and you start to see the point.
Jon: Right. No matter how many laws, they are just going to continue to rebel.
Tim: So at the conclusion of the Torah’s story, Moses gives this final speech to Israel as they prepare to go into their new home. And he tells them, “You guys, I know that you’re not going to follow all of God’s laws. You’ve proven to me that you’re incapable.” And Moses says the problem is that their hearts are hard and that they’re going to need new transformed hearts if they’re ever going to truly follow God’s law.2 And he was right. I mean, the story goes on to recount Israel’s total failure.
Jon: They go into the land. They break all the laws.3
The Prophets [02:44-03:34]
Tim: Right. Now the next section of books in the Jewish tradition are the 15 books of the prophets, and they reflect back on the story. For example, Ezekiel, he said that if Israel was ever going to obey the law, God’s Spirit would have to transform their hard hearts into soft hearts. And Jeremiah said that’s when obedience to God’s commands wouldn’t feel like a duty, that they’d be written deep in their hearts. And Isaiah, he promised a future leader, Israel’s Messiah, who will lead all of the people in obedience to the law.4
Now, in Jewish tradition all of these books together are called the Prophets, even the historical books, because they are continuing the story, told from the perspective of the prophets.
Jon: Okay, so we have the law and the prophets, and they’re telling one connected story about God’s desire to bless the whole world through a people, Israel, who, it turns out, needs a new heart.
Jesus Fulfills the Law [03:35-04:45]
Tim: Yes! And Jesus saw himself as continuing that story. So he agreed with the law and the prophets when he taught that it’s out of the human heart that come the most ugly parts of human nature. It’s like the default setting of our hearts is opposed to God’s law. But Jesus also said that he came to solve that problem and, in his words, “to fulfill the law.”5
Jon: So what does he mean there, to “fulfill the law”?
Tim: Well, first he said that the demand of all the laws in the Torah could be fulfilled by what he called “the great command,” that we are to love God and to love others.6
Jon: So that seems pretty easy. I mean, we all want to love.
Tim: Well, we think we want to love. But Jesus showed how love is far more demanding than we realize. So he quotes the law, “Do not murder,” and he says, “Yes. Not killing someone is a very loving thing to do.” But then he also says that when you treat someone with disrespect or when you nurse resentment against them, you’re also violating God’s moral ideal because you are not treating that person with love. And so Jesus said true love ought to extend even to our own enemies. So even though this command seems very simple, Jesus showed how our hearts are not currently equipped to fulfill even this basic command of God to love others.
Transformed Hearts [04:46-05:26]
Jon: That’s kind of a downer.
Tim: But where Israel failed, Jesus brought the story to its fulfillment. As Israel’s Messiah, he fully loved God and others, and he showed all of the nations what God is truly like. He did this through his acts of compassion and mercy and ultimately by loving his enemies even unto death. And after his resurrection, he told his followers that he would send God’s Spirit to transform their hearts so that they could follow him and fulfill the purpose of the law––to love God and to love their neighbor. So this fulfills the story of the law and the prophets, or in the words of the apostle Paul, “The one who loves fulfills the law.”7