One of the biggest questions that Christians have been confronted with since the beginning of the Jesus movement is, how are we supposed to view the Torah today and what is our responsibility to all the laws of Moses given by God at Mt. Sinai?
Matthew records a story that we know as the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus went up on the mountain to teach his followers specific guidelines for how to live as a community that shows the rest of the world what God is like. It is a very intentional moment that is meant to connect this teaching of Jesus with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Jesus is clearly portrayed as a new Moses, and it’s within this scene on the mountain that Jesus says:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
When Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the Torah and the Prophets, he is saying that he has come to pick up the story of God’s plan that the Torah and the Prophets left unfulfilled, and that he is now going to take that story forward through something new that he is doing. The focus will now be on him and his teaching instead of ancient Israel and their Torah. That doesn’t mean that God’s people can now ignore or set aside the Torah, but it does mean that they must now view all of its commands through the lens of what Jesus teaches.
So what is our responsibility to all the laws of Moses given by God at Mt. Sinai?
Well, we can’t hit on everything that the New Testament authors had to say about this big question, but we can offer some insight to help us understand what all this means for us today.
Honor and Teach the Torah
First, we as Christians need to possess the same attitude towards the Old Testament that Jesus and his first followers had. Jesus said that he did not come to set aside or to replace the Torah but rather to fulfill it. He constantly taught from the Torah, and his followers did the same. Any brand of Christian teaching that attempts to undermine the authority of the Old Testament is a brand of teaching that Jesus and his first followers would have rebuked.
So does that mean that we are supposed to obey all the rules and laws in the Torah today?
Well, the laws of Moses given in the Torah were given to ancient Israel in the context of the covenant that God was making with them at Mt. Sinai. Jesus has fulfilled that covenant with the new covenant. And so this means that we are no longer bound by the rules and laws of God’s covenant with ancient Israel. However, we are still called to uphold their importance in the overall plan of God, and we are commanded to learn from them and to even teach them to others. To sum it up, Christians need to honor, respect and teach the Torah like Christ.
Learn to Discern and Obey
Next, because we are to honor, respect and teach the Torah like Christ, we as Christians must also learn how to filter the laws of Moses through the teaching of Jesus.
What do we mean by that?
It means that we have to learn how to read a command from the Torah and then discern if it should still be obeyed at face value or if there is a principal underneath the command that should still be obeyed or if the command seems to be a custom specific to ancient Israel’s covenant with God that we can learn from but that we don’t need to put into practice today.
To give a couple examples, the commands to have no other gods and to not steal should clearly still be obeyed at face value because they provide us with practical ways that we can make sure that we are fulfilling Jesus’ command to love God and to love others. However, the command to not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain is not as clear for us today. While it does seem cruel to muzzle an ox that’s working for you so it can’t eat any of the grain that falls, many of us don’t own an ox or a field. But this is a particular command where we can still find a principal underneath the command that we should still obey today. And this is exactly what Paul does when he uses this command about muzzling an ox in two of his letters to point out that Christians should not withhold financial support from those who have worked hard to help them grow in their faithfulness to Jesus. And so, Christians should still obey the principal that this Old Testament command about muzzling an ox teaches us.
To sum it up, as those who have now entered into a new covenant with God and who have been commanded to listen to his Son, we must learn how to filter the laws of Moses through the teaching of Jesus in order to discern what we should still obey and how to best obey it.
Live as a Community of Love
And lastly, we as Christians should live as a community of love that shows the rest of the world our love for God and his love for the world. For God so loved the world that he did not give up on humanity but gave himself up for humanity so that we could be forgiven of our sin and once again enjoy his favor and his fellowship. This is the God that we represent. We must be God’s people who fully love him by living in a relationship of trusting obedience towards him, and we must fully love others by selflessly serving everyone (even our enemies) and considering their lives as more important than our own.
And so, as Christians, we must have the same attitude towards the Old Testament that Jesus had. We must learn how to filter the laws of Moses through the teaching of Jesus so that we can obey all that God has commanded. And we must be what God intends for his people to be and live as a community of love that shows the rest of the world what God is truly like.
Jesus, the Christ, is the promised Savior, Teacher, Mediator and King. He is the prophet greater than Moses who has come to fulfill the Torah and to transform our hearts by putting the Holy Spirit inside of us. And so, we as Christians today are now God’s royal-priesthood who represent him to the rest of the world and who help extend his blessing to all nations by making more disciples of Jesus who love God passionately and who love others selflessly.