Much of current day Christianity’s message to the world is predicated on the need for obedience to God. Obedience implies the existence of rules and requirements, a law.
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law and not to destroy it, so there seems to be some evidence that after Jesus we still are under the law. Of course, Jesus spoke to a Jewish audience at the time, which were the sole recipients of the Jewish law as emphasized by Paul in Romans 3:1-2, 19. Then in Colossians 2:14 Paul again says that Christ nailed the law to the cross. That in addition to Paul’s strong admonitions against relying on the law as a means to righteousness would lead us to believe that the law was indeed eliminated by Christ.
So the remaining question is this what does fulfilling the law mean and how does fulfilling and not destroying reconcile with the warnings of Paul. How did Jesus fulfill the law?
The role of the law in the plan of God is little considered by many. The depiction of God as a divine ruler and judge enforces the idea that God is defined by some kind of law. Without rules and requirements there is no basis to rule or measure by which to judge. It’s as if without a law there is no room for God at all, post creation.
What then do we make of the introduction of the law into the plan of God? What purpose did law keeping under the Judaic system serve? Paul said in Galatians 3 that the law led to Christ. It was preparatory, but does that mean it ended after the preparation was complete, i.e. after Jesus’ work was finished?
Some, maybe many, will object that Jesus is not yet finished, but must return in the future to wrap up some unfinished business. That business is supposed to include a judgment which brings us back to the need for law.
However, in Matthew 24 and elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus emphatically forecast the end of Judaism in a cataclysmic destruction of the city of Jerusalem along with all the vestiges of the Judaic religious system, including the law. Since that time the Judaism of Jesus’ day has never existed. This was the unfinished business that Jesus alluded to, not something in our future. The then future judgment on Jerusalem was a final judgment on Israel and served as a condemnation and repudiation of judgment itself. In this final event the law was both fulfilled in its role of highlighting the futility of righteousness by law keeping and the destructiveness of human judgments. The law thus was destroyed as a religious weapon against humanity.
So we are left to consider what the destruction of the law means? Could that imply that a part of its function ceased but another remained. I suspect personally that the law always served two purposes, one proper and righteous and the other improper and sinful. When the law was a personal guide it led to peace, joy, and happiness between humans. But when it was used to judge others, identify enemies, and exert punishments it did exactly the opposite, creating strife, turmoil, retributions, and all manner of ills.
Jesus, therefore, could fulfill the law by initiating a period of change from law keeping to righteousness by grace and not law. He thereby engaged in both fulfillment (the end of an age of law keeping) while not completely ending the law. He instead redirected the law’s focus from judging my neighbor to guiding my own conscience.
To make matters more emphatic Jesus reduced every requirement down to the Golden Rule which had always hovered in the background of the law. The Golden Rule involves no need to judge and condemn my neighbor. Instead I must judge what is proper for me based on my own heart.
I conclude that Jesus could both fulfill and redirect the law at the same time. That redirection ended one aspect of the law and retained another, thus destroying and reconfirming at the same time.