Jewish Objection: Jesus Eliminated the Law
By Luke Lancaster
Jewish Objection: Some followers of Judaism reject Jesus as the promised Messiah because the TaNaK (Jewish Scripture) says to keep the Mosaic commandments to be righteous. This can be seen in various passages, such as Deuteronomy 4, 5, and 6. One striking passage is Deuteronomy 30:16, “If you obey the commandments of the Lord…then you shall live and multiply…” So, when Jesus came and dispensed the Mosaic commandments, he showed himself to be a false Messiah. How do Christians respond to this?
Catholic Response: The whole Law (613 commandments) was to be kept by Israel as a part of the Mosaic covenant between them and God. However, there are three reasons that Jesus’s elimination (of certain aspects) of the Mosaic Law does not disqualify Him from being the Messiah. First, since the Mosaic covenant is a cursed covenant, then certain aspects can be eliminated. Second, since certain aspects of the Law were temporary enough to have been eliminated by God in 70 AD, then it should be no stretch for the Messiah to eliminate other aspects of the Law as well. Third, and finally, the Jewish prophets foretold that a new covenant would come, so the dispensation with certain commands should be expected.
1. The Jews are underneath a cursed covenant (Galatians 3:10). Moses said in Deuteronomy 28 that if the people of Israel obeyed the Law-covenant with God, then they would be blessed (Deut. 28:1-14), but that if they disobeyed the Law-covenant, then they would be cursed (Deut. 28:15-68). Probably the greatest of those curses was exile from the land of Israel. The people of Israel ended up breaking that covenant with God, as seen prominently in the writings of Jeremiah the prophet, and this triggered the covenant curses. Exile and destruction of the Temple occurred, such as in 586 BC via Babylon and in 70 AD via Rome. Living under a cursed covenant that stripped Israel from the very land required to fulfill that covenant implied that certain aspects of the Law would be lost. The Messiah could deem other commands to be unnecessary as well.
2. With a cursed covenant, the eternal aspects of the Law, such as the priesthood, Temple services, and sacrifices, ceased. They ceased during the two destructions of the Temple and subsequent exiles of Israel, and they have continued down to this day. Consider some of the “eternal” aspects of the Law that were thrown down. The fire on the altar, which was to burn continually (Lev. 6:13), is accomplished by zero Jews to this day. Oil for the lamp within the tent of meeting, which was supposed to burn forever and be continually supplied by the people of Israel (Lev. 24:3), has ceased. The bread of the presence in the Tabernacle, which was to be placed there as a covenant forever (Lev. 24:8), is not kept to this day. The priesthood, called to be a perpetual reality (Exodus 40:15), has zero members of it. The red heifer, which was to be sacrificed by the priest as a perpetual statute (Num. 19:10), has not been sacrificed for thousands of years. The special day of atonement, offered to God by the high priest for all of the sins of Israel as a statute forever (Lev. 16:34), has ceased. Sins cannot be atoned! Jews are only keeping some of the Law today, which was to be expected from living under a cursed covenant, so if God considered these “eternal” commands to not be essential, then other commands could be non-essential as well. Jesus’s discontinuance of certain aspects of the Law does not disqualify Him as the Messiah.
3. The facets of the Mosaic Law dispensed by Jesus was to be expected, for God had promised through His prophets that a new covenant would come one day (Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 37:26). This covenant would not be like the legalistic 613 commands of the Mosaic covenant at Sinai (Jer. 31:32). Rather, the new covenant would be like the covenant with Abraham - written on the heart (Jer. 31:33). Abraham did not have to follow kosher laws or feast days. He simply had to live a life of faith (Gen. 15:6) and obedience (Gen. 22) to God. How to fulfill this did not require an extensive law-code but was written on the conscience. St. Paul fleshed this out in Galatians 3 and Romans 4. When Jesus then appeared, He claimed to have brought about this new covenant (Luke 22:20), and hence, eliminated some of the Mosaic Law. Jesus brought in the law written on the heart.
Jesus is not disqualified from being the Messiah. He did exactly what needed to be done – eradicate the cursed covenant and bring on the new covenant. Yet Jesus did not simply abolish the Mosaic Law, rather, He fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). For example, Jesus kept all of the 10 commandments (Hebrews 4:15) and urged Christians to follow them (Matthew 19:16-17). He also took certain aspects of the Mosaic Law and morphed them into something new. For example, the eternal covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17 was changed to the sacrament of baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). The Passover sacrifice was morphed into the Christian Passover sacrifice of Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 6:53; Luke 22:19-20). The rest offered by the Sabbath on Saturday morphed into the rest offered by Jesus (Matthew 11:28-12:7) on His resurrection day – Sunday (Acts 20:7). Now, this is not to say that He only morphed the Mosaic Law. He also ended certain aspects of the Mosaic Law. For example, Jesus ended the kosher/dietary laws of the Mosaic covenant. He ended the need to avoid foods like bacon or practices like joining meat and cheese. Instead, He redirected the focus, saying that it was not the food entering the body that needed to be avoided. Rather, it was the sins that exited the heart (Mark 7:18-23). The Mosaic feasts as well, whether specific days, months, seasons, or years, were no longer required (Galatians 4:9-10). Instead, new feasts were to be observed, such as His resurrection day or the sending of the fiery Holy Spirit on Pentecost. All of this was to be expected with the coming of the new covenant and does not disqualify Jesus as the Messiah.