The teaching and ministry of Jesus indicated that He clearly knew he was, “the end (telos) of the law…” (Ro 10:4).
Although He was “born under the law” (Gal.4:4) and “fulfilled all righteousness” (Matt.3:15), Jesus wrapped up the era of biblical history where the law regulated the covenant relationship of the people of God.
Jesus is the new locus of authority for God’s people. He established for us what is pleasing to God. We are called to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20).
“The law was only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very image…” (Heb. 10:1). The earthly priesthood, temple and sacrifices were “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” (Heb. 8). All these things come to their full and final meaning in Christ. “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes…” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Jesus taught an anticipatory-fulfillment view of the Old Testament as pointing toward, looking to, and anticipating fulfillment in himself. The Old Testament Scriptures point toward and anticipate fulfillment in the Christ event. In the present age, we look to Jesus and look through Jesus for our understanding and application of the Old Testament.
A brief run of NT references:
“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Romans 3:31). “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:24-25). “You are not under the Law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). “Christ is the end of the Law” (Romans 10:4). “When there is a change in the priesthood, there must also be a change in the Law” (Hebrews 7:12). “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the law through the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4). “Those who are led by the spirit are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). “For the Law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2).This truth about fulfillment in Jesus points to the overall provisional nature of the OT — reflecting also the concessionary nature of regulations given to God’s people living for life in ANE cultures. Evangelicals have not always adequately recognized how the Bible itself reflects the concessionary nature of God’s dealings with humanity (see: The Bible – God’s will in the context of concession). We should not be surprised to find some strange things in the Old Testament Scriptures, because (as a cursory reading of ANE history validates), they address strange and barbaric times. God mercifully meets people where they are and graciously condescends to reach out to us. (see: The Bible: A strange but realistically hopeful book).
What about the discernible moral advance from Old Testament to New?
Why didn’t God require everything to operate on the teaching of Jesus during Old Testament days? Jesus said, “… love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36); “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45).
The OT days are summarized as times when God “let all nations go their own way” (Acts 14:15); times “when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past ” (Romans 3:25-26); when He “endured with much patience vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22-23) and “overlooked such ignorance” (Acts 17:30-31).
For those uncomfortable using words like “concession” regarding God and Scripture, alternatives like “accommodation” or “compromise” feel equally difficult. Yet it shouldn’t surprise us realize that we need some set of uncomfortable terms for understanding how a perfectly holy God could be in a relationship with sinful beings like ourselves.
Even when we approach the Bible we must allow these ominous words to take effect: “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21b-22; cf. Jeremiah 17:9).
For more on this theme, see Jesus, the Law and You Part I. Part 2. Part 3.