(By Ed Stevens) After the Cross the law was bound only for the “Jewish Christians” and only for “conscience-sake” (testimony’s sake) until it was all fulfilled and removed in AD 70. Jesus commanded His Jewish followers (not Gentiles) to keep every jot and tittle of it better than the scribes and Pharisees so that their good law-keeping example would pave the way for them to preach the gospel to their fellow-Jews. That gave the Jews a whole generation (40 years) to hear the gospel coming from fellow law-keeping Jews before the Law was rendered inoperable in AD 70. After AD 70 no one could keep the Law. It was a moot issue for Christians (Jew and Gentile alike) after AD 70. But until the temple was destroyed and the sacrificial system was abolished, those Jewish Christians needed to continue keeping it so that their good law-abiding exemplary lifestyle would open the door for the gospel to be heard and accepted by their fellow Jews. They were to continue to keep the law, but now, not for “salvation’s sake” –> It was for “conscience’s and testimony’s sake.”
“19 For though I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may gain more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the Law, I became as one under the Law, though not being under the Law myself, so that I might gain those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without the Law, I became as one without the Law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might gain those who are without the Law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak; I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23 [NAS95])
Paul’s teaching on this is crucial. He stated that he himself was NOT UNDER the Law (because he died to it in Christ), but he still KEPT the Law in order to adorn the gospel and make it attractive to his fellow Jews, and thus win some of them to Christ before the wrath was poured out. In Romans and Galatians and Corinthians he labors to show that if a Jew converted to Christ, then he died to the Law (through Christ’s death on the Cross) and was no longer UNDER the Law. But Jesus and the apostles (including Paul) still instructed those Jewish Christians to continue KEEPING the Law (every jot and tittle) until that OT system passed away at AD 70.
In Galatians 5:3, Paul reminded those Gentiles who had been circumcised by the Judaizers that they had brought themselves UNDER obligation to KEEP the whole Law (every jot and tittle of it). That would be a non-sensical statement unless it was still possible after the Cross to be UNDER the Law. But for those in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, it was no longer binding after the Cross (i.e., they were no longer UNDER the Law).
So, it does seem that the Law was still BINDING upon those unbelieving Israelites, but not on the Christian Israelites. Those in Christ had been set free from the Law by His death on the Cross. And the main reason the Christian Israelites continued KEEPING the Law was in order to make the gospel attractive (not repulsive) to their fellow Israelites, and thus save some of them.
Having the Law still in operation after the Cross was crucial to saving that righteous remnant of elect Israelites, so that all who were true spiritual Israelites (including in-grafted Gentiles) could be saved before the covenant wrath was poured out upon apostate Israel. If Christ had cut them off at the Cross, almost none of the Israelites would have been saved. But God gave them a whole generation to understand what Jesus did on the Cross, before He destroyed the Temple and rendered the Law inoperable.
Think about it. Would a Pharisee or a priest ever listen to a Christian if they were law breakers? Remember that until AD 70 the law of the land in Israel was still the Mosaic law. It still had not passed away. That was still the law of the land, and if you lived in that land, that was your law, no matter whether you were Jew or Christian. And it would be illegal for you to break that law if you lived in that land. You were still bound to keep the law, not for salvation’s sake, but for conscience sake, as Paul says (1 Cor. 10:23-33).
It would have discredited Christianity instantly if the preachers of the gospel were law-breakers. Instead, Jesus tells them that until all that stuff in the Law was fulfilled and heaven and earth passed away, the Jewish Christians needed to keep every jot and tittle of it better than the scribes and Pharisees were keeping it.
There is a big difference between those two motivations for keeping the Law. I think many Christians today have not understood this very well. Paul certainly didn’t continue keeping the sacrifices and the festivals because he believed that he was bound to do so for salvation’s sake. He knew very clearly, as did all the apostles, that salvation is in Christ, and in Christ alone. So they knew that performing those sacrifices did not save them. But they were still a part of the national governmental system, and those laws were kept for “conscience sake” in order to be a good example, to maintain a good law-abiding reputation, so that the gospel would be adorned and attractive to other Jews.
In net effect, by keeping the jots and tittles better than the scribes and Pharisees, it could make the scribes and Pharisees sit up and take notice of Christianity. It could make some of them take a serious look at it and examine it carefully. If Christianity made Jewish people better law-keepers, then the scribes and Pharisees would have been jealous, and some would have wanted to get into Christianity in order to be the best Law-keepers possible. Christianity would become attractive to them because it would make them better law-keepers. And Jesus tells the Jewish Christians that they need to maintain that law-keeping UNTIL all the promises in the Scriptures were fulfilled and the old heavens and earth passed away. After the fulfillment and the passing away, the Law would no longer be obligatory for them to keep.
On a last note, Jesus says (Matt. 5:19), “Whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments, even the smallest letter [jot] and the smallest stroke of the law [tittle], whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom.” Notice that Jesus does not make a distinction between Jews inside Palestine versus Jews who dwelt outside in the Diaspora. All Jewish Christians whether inside Israel, or outside in the Diaspora, needed to keep every jot and tittle. If they didn’t keep the Law, their preaching of the gospel to their fellow Jews would be rejected and discredited. So it was absolutely critical that they kept every jot and tittle, and that they kept it even better than the scribes and Pharisees did –> until that old heaven and earth passed away in AD 70.
So, Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20). And it was not all fulfilled until AD 70. After the Temple was destroyed, it was no longer possible to keep the Law. Therefore, it could not be bound on anyone after that. Nor could anyone keep all of its jots and tittles after that. It passed away by default. It vanished. It disappeared. It was rendered inoperable (abolished).
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Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 7 Lesson 3b Matt. 16:27-28 (sub study on “Heaven and Earth”)”]
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 9 Rev. Chapter 21”]
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 10 Rev. Chapter 22”]