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SM #14: FILL 'ER UP! (Real Righteousness, Part 1)

Updated: Apr 6

Do not think that I have come to cast down the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to cast them down but to fill them up. ~ JESUS (Matthew 5:17)

SUMMARY: Read this and skip the rest (if you want)

  • Many scholars see Matthew 5:17-20 as Jesus' thesis statement for the Sermon on the Mount. Real righteousness must go beyond the righteousness of the religious leaders.

  • Religious righteousness was outside-in law living, with an emphasis on being moral. Real righteousness is inside-out love living, with an emphasis on being merciful.

  • How we read the Bible will be a big part of how we learn to live lives of real righteousness. The external righteousness of the Pharisees was at least in part rooted in their external, surface reading of Scripture.

  • Matthew's readers have already been confronted with the story of Joseph, who is declared "righteous" because he did not follow the letter of the law and turn Mary over for punishment because of her assumed adultery.

  • The Bible is less of a mirror to be looked at and more of a window to be looked through to see Jesus.

  • The Bible is less like the Word of God and more like John the Baptist or the Christmas star, pointing us to the Word of God, who is Jesus.

  • Jesus claims to fill up every Bible story and every law and every prophecy with its true meaning. The Bible is really the Big Book about Jesus.

  • When we don't let the Bible lead us to Jesus we will read it wrong, and can use it to justify violence, judgement, legalism and other things Jesus stands opposed to.

  • Reading the Bible "literally" is not our goal. Jesus takes us beyond the literal meaning of Scripture to see the deeper meaning and apply that to our lives.

  • Christians should go beyond reading the Bible in a christocentric way (seeing Jesus as the central theme), and read it in a christotelic way. Christotelic means Christ-as-end-goal: the combination of the Greek words christos (Messiah) and telos (meaning the end goal destination, completion, consummation, and realization). When we read the Bible with a christotelic hermeneutic, we are declaring that actually meeting with, interacting with, and really knowing Jesus is the ultimate goal of Scripture reading.

CORE (The heart of the message):

Real righteousness includes a right relationship with Scripture itself. Jesus pictures the Bible as a vessel, like a clay pot, that he has come, not to smash on the ground, but to fill up with its true meaning. Jesus will teach us how to use our own Bibles, not to hurt, harm, or harass one another, but to bring us together to experience and express the love of God.

Jesus does not point to the Bible (that is, the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament) and say either "Forget it!" or "Follow it!" Rather, Jesus says "Follow me" and he leads us in an entirely new way of reading the Bible, with Jesus at the centre of it all.

So begins our four-part, four-verse Master Class with Jesus on how to use our Bibles today (with a final fifth study on "How to Eat The Bible"). We are heading into the more theologically robust section of the Sermon on the Mount. These four verses are less pastoral and personal and more theological and philosophical, less heart and gut oriented and more head oriented.

So that said, it is time to get our Bibles out and our thinking caps on.

One more introductory thought: In these next four studies we are dealing with some theologically dense material. For some of us that is exciting news. For others, it will feel too intellectual to be practically helpful. If that is the case for you, feel free to skip ahead to our "How to Eat the Bible" study and move forward from there. Or read only the summaries at the start of each study. Either way, keep in mind that learning how to relate to our own Bibles will influence the kind of people, and the kind of Church, we become.

CONTEXT (What’s going on before and after this passage):

An early Jewish reader of Matthew’s Gospel would already be confronted with a puzzle presented in the text about real righteousness:

Mary's husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to release her quietly. ~ The apostle Matthew (Matthew 1:19)

Why is Joseph called a “righteous” man in Matthew 1:19? The only reason given in the text is his decision to break the Law of Moses by sending Mary away quietly rather than exposing her supposed sin so she can be appropriately punished (according to Deuteronomy 22:23-27). Joseph was responding to what he believed to be Mary's sexual infidelity with more compassion than the Law demanded. Already in Matthew, real righteousness seems to have more to do with love than with law, more to do with mercy than with justice.

Love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will help us see this truth in living colour.

Where our section is situated in the Sermon makes a difference. Zooming out to get the big picture, a basic overview of the full Sermon on the Mount looks something like this:

PROLOGUE: Jesus is presented as the new Moses, leading his followers out of slavery and into true freedom. After going through the water and into the wilderness, Jesus ascends a mountain to give God's people God's will and God's way. The values of the New Covenant are being written, not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts (see 2 Corinthians 3). Crowds are listening, but Jesus directs his teaching toward his disciples.

  • A. INTRODUCTION: Beatitudes + Salt & Light (Matthew 5:3-16)

  • B. MAIN THESIS: The Bible leads us to Jesus, and Jesus leads us into his Kingdom of true righteousness. Real righteousness is not rule-compliance but right-relatedness, going beyond law to love, and beyond justice and judgement to grace, mercy, and peace (Matthew 5:17-20) <-- YOU ARE HERE

  • C. THESIS DEVELOPMENT & ILLUSTRATIONS: the Six Antitheses (Matthew 5:21-47)

  • D. THESIS SUMMARY: Be perfect in mercy (Matthew 5:48, in light of Luke 6:36)

  • E. WARNINGS: Hypocrisy, Materialism, Worry, Judgementalism, Falsehood, and Inaction (Matthew 6-7)

  • F. CONCLUSION: Building our lives on Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 7:24-27)

EPILOGUE: The crowds are amazed at Jesus' teaching because of his "authority". Jesus is not just exegeting Scripture, but taking charge of and centring himself in the whole narrative.

This is a broad-stroke overview and there is lots of overlap. For instance, there are warnings against angry judgementalism and religious legalism embedded within the six antitheses; there are beautiful teachings on prayer and the golden rule of love embedded within the warnings section; and the last warning against inaction is also the conclusion of the sermon. But in general, the above five points give us the flow of focus in the sermon.

All four verses of the thesis presentation (“B” in the outline above) hang together and give each other proper context, with verse 20 being the main statement. We will address each verse one at a time over the next four studies, but it will be good to keep Jesus’ full thesis statement in mind as we go:

[17] Do not think that I have come to cast down the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to cast them down but to fill them up. [18] For Amen I tell you, until the heavens and the earth pass away, not the smallest letter or even a part of a letter will pass away from the Law until everything comes into being. [19] Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches this to others will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you that unless your righteousness goes above and beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of the heavens. ~ JESUS (Matthew 5:17-20)

We have just read Jesus’ only book review. And, in the words of Anabaptist scholar Scot McKnight, it is “the most significant passage in the entire Bible about how to read the Bible” (Sermon on the Mount). Another scholar writes:

The compactness of 5:17-20 is at once its power and its difficulty. By virtue of its pithy, contrastive statements we get a large-scale snapshot of the issue. But its brevity and super-concentrated collection of weighty terms and ideas mean that every sentence is a spark that sets off a fire in a different direction. Like good poetry, this short passage is deep with meaning and in need of deep reflection. ~ Jonathan T. Pennington (The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing)

When interpreted in the context of what comes before and after (especially all of Matthew 5), this THESIS STATEMENT can be paraphrased as saying something like this:

The Bible is the Big Book of Jesus. Every bit of Scripture finds its true meaning and purpose in the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ. The WAY OF LAW had a limited purpose for a limited time, but now the Word of God has come in the flesh to show us the WAY OF LOVE. The path to maximum human flourishing is found by following all the teachings of Jesus all the time, in all situations, and always helping others to do the same. If we ignore Scripture, we will diminish our understanding and experience of Jesus. If we use the Bible the way it is intended - to lead us to Jesus - Jesus will lead us out of mere religious correctness, institutional preservation, and legalistic rule following (the righteousness of the Pharisees) and into his kingdom of loving right-relatedness (the righteousness of God). (Thesis Statement Paraphrase)

In other words, if reading the Bible doesn't make us more merciful, we are doing it wrong.

God is inviting us to enter his kingdom as we live loving lives of TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS. (For an important and expanded study on biblical righteousness, see our post called "SM #5: Holy Hunger".) This inside-out, Spirit-guided, alter-cultural RIGHT-RELATEDNESS includes embracing the New Covenant values of love over law, grace over shame, peace over payback, faith over fear, mercy over justice, relationship over religion, and unconditional compassion toward others and ourselves.

This is not a religion – this is a revolution.

CONSIDER (Observations about the passage):

Do not think. There must have been something in what Jesus has already been teaching and doing and/or is about to teach and do that could be misinterpreted and arouse suspicion that Jesus is anti-Bible, anti-Scripture, anti-Judaism (e.g., Matthew 12:2; Acts 6:14). So, Jesus begins with a pre-emptive correction: don’t even think it. (Or, to be said with a thick New York City accent: “Forget about it!”) Yes, there is something so radical in Jesus’ words and deeds that he can be misunderstood as being down on Scripture, but that misses the point. This is helpful for us. When our lives and teachings make religious conservatives so uncomfortable that we have to assure them that we are not actually anti-Bible, we’re starting to live and teach like Jesus. To the idea that Jesus and his followers are against the Bible, Jesus says: Don’t even think it. At the same time, this statement sounds more absolute than it needs to be. Jesus uses the same absolute language later where he says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace…” (Matthew 10:34), but we all believe Jesus did indeed come to bring peace in some way even if his message causes division in other ways (his point in that passage). This way of talking is Hebrew hyperbole. So, maybe the same is true in our passage here – Do not think that Jesus has come to abolish the Law in some ways, even though he will end it in other ways (e.g., John 19:30; Ephesians 2:14-16). We will have to keep reading to see how this all works.

I have come. Come from where? Jesus is teaching in Galilee, where he lives. So where did he come from? He might have said “Do not think that I want to” or “Do not think that my mission is” or “Do not think that I was born for the purpose of”, but instead Jesus speaks about himself like he existed before coming to earth. Jesus doesn’t talk about himself like he is a regular human that God chose, but a pre-existent being whom God sent.

Cast down. The Greek word here is kataluó, and is traditionally translated “abolish” or “destroy”. It comes from kata (meaning “down”) + luó (meaning to “untie” or “loosen” or “release”; also used in verse 19). Kataluó literally means to “loosen down” (reversing the word order to make sense in English), to untie something so it falls to the ground. Jesus uses the same word in Matthew 24:2, when he prophesies that all the stones of the Jerusalem Temple will be “thrown down”. Interestingly, this word could also be used of a person untying themselves from the burdens of the day and throwing themselves down into their bed to find rest; or even just being fully relaxed in someone’s home, like we might today invite someone to “take a load off” (see Luke 9:12 and 19:7). Notice Jesus repeats this phrase twice in this one verse; he is emphasizing that abolishing the Old Testament completely is not his mission. Jesus has not come to teach us to throw our Bibles to the ground, but to lift them up to find the deeper meaning. The Torah is meant to take us to an endpoint destination: Jesus. Once the Torah Train arrives at the Jesus Station, we are no longer under the law, but we don’t blow up the train. Jesus is not a Torah terrorist, because as he will teach us, if we use it properly, the Torah Train will continue to run along the tracks that bring us back to Jesus again and again.

The Law or the Prophets. The word for “Law” here (Greek, nomos) is Torah in Hebrew, which can refer to the Laws of Moses specifically or the first five books of the Bible in their entirety, supposedly written by Moses. Torah really means “teaching” or “instruction”, and in the Old Covenant the guidance of God was primarily law-based. Usually people would say “the law AND the prophets” when referring to the entire Hebrew Bible; by using “or” here Jesus emphasises that there is not one section of the Hebrew Bible that he has come to cast down – not this section OR that. We should therefore beware of any approach to the Bible that says “we follow this part of the Bible but not that part” or “we live by these laws but not those laws” (e.g., the Protestant theory of dividing the Torah into Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial law, some of which we keep and others of which we do not). No, it’s all or nothing with Jesus. Jesus does not abolish any of it; but he does fulfill all of it. We must keep reading through chapter five to see what this looks like.

But. Some Christians read Jesus' words here as though he ended the sentence after saying "I have not come to cast down the law" period, full stop. However, there is a big "but" here. Jesus is not just affirming the enduring nature of Scripture, he is also alerting us to a change in how his disciples should read it. This is one of the biggest buts of the Bible.

Fill up. Our author, Matthew, uses the word "fulfill" seven times in the preceding four chapters to talk about Jesus (Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23; 3:15; 4:14-16), so we can get a pretty good idea of his understanding of what Jesus is talking about here. This Greek word (pléroó) literally means to fill something up full or to complete. Elsewhere Jesus says the Law and the Prophets (not just the prophets) all “prophesy” (Matthew 11:13), that is, they promise and point toward something – and that something is a someone. Stunningly, Jesus does not just claim to show us how God will fulfill Scripture (which would be interesting enough); he claims to actually BE God’s fulfillment of Scripture. Whoa. Who talks this way? Jesus sees himself as the centre of what God wants to do in the world and the centre of everything God has inspired in Scripture (also see Luke 4:21). In the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones, “It is the most stupendous claim that He ever made.” Jesus sees himself as the one to whom and from whom all history flows (see Colossians 1:16). Jesus sees himself as the completion and consummation of the story of the Bible. Jesus says even time itself is filled-full now that his kingdom has come (Mark 1:15). Nothing would ever be the same again. The Law has arrived at its goal. The Torah train has reached the Jesus station.

Jesus fulfills (Lit, fills-full) the Scriptures in at least five ways:

  1. As our MESSIAH, Jesus actualizes specific prophecies. Matthew has already used this verb several times to refer to Jesus fulfilling (Lit, filling-full) specific Scriptures in specific ways (Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23, 3:15; 4:14), and will point this out many more times.

  2. As our TEACHER, Jesus shows us how to find the love embedded within the Law, the principle within every precept (see 7:12; 22:34-40, where the Golden Rule of other-centred love “sums up” the Law and Prophets). Jesus will give us examples of how to read the Bible this way in the rest of Matthew 5.

  3. As our LORD, Jesus takes authority over Scripture itself, closing down some temporary laws (like divorce and death penalty laws, oath laws, revenge laws, and dietary laws in chapters 5, 15, and 19). Ultimately his sacrificial death as the Lamb of God will eradicate all of the sacrificial laws as well. When Jesus "fulfills" the Law, the Law ceases to hold authority over us. Jesus, not the Law, is Lord.

  4. As the SON OF GOD and SON OF MAN (true God and true human), Jesus sums up and redeems the entire story of humanity told in the Bible. Jesus seems to use the word to “fulfill” this way when he tells John the Baptist that he must be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). Like Israel, Jesus must go through the water before going into the wilderness. Jesus brings the whole biblical story to its intended end point destination. So - and this is important - it's not just specific overt prophecies that point to Jesus: the whole panoramic story of the Hebrew Bible becomes a kind of mega-meta-prophecy, a giant foreshadowing. The Old Testament is like the “before” of a “before and after” picture, preparing us to appreciate and embrace the New Testament way of Jesus. (More about this in the Commentary section below.)

  5. As the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative WORD OF GOD, Jesus becomes in the flesh everything the Bible points toward in print and parchment. Jesus claimed to be the alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus is the A to the Z of what God has to say to us. This changes how we read Scripture: We read the Bible so we can follow the Word of God, who is Jesus. (John 1:1, 14, 18; 5:37-40; Revelation 22:13)

CONFESSION (Personal reflection):

I confess that I have often misunderstood how to relate to my own Bible.

When I was a child, growing up in church it didn’t take long for me to realize that although we often said that we followed the whole Bible with our whole hearts, we did not follow some parts and we did follow other parts. And the dividing line between what we did and didn’t follow wasn’t clearly found between the New Testament and the Old Testament. For instance, in the Old Testament: we DIDN’T make animal sacrifices, allow slavery, stone adulterers (whew), forbid wearing clothing woven with two different kinds of material, or forbid men from trimming their beards. But we DID keep the Ten Commandments. No wait, we said we kept the Ten Commandments, but we didn’t keep the command to honour the Sabbath. Our kind of Christians followed the majority practice of switching honouring the Sabbath (which is Saturday) with Sunday services, since Jesus rose on a Sunday. And in the New Testament: we DIDN’T instruct women to wear head coverings, practice foot washing, or greet one another with holy kisses (we were more huggy or shaky than kissy). But we DID eat meat with blood still in it, against the instructions of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 (and I am still a medium-rare guy to this day). Not to mention us completely avoiding the New Testament instructions for eye gouging and hand chopping. Oh man, I just had to trust the adults in my life to figure it all out.

Now that I am an adult trying to figure it all out, I realize that many adult Christians don’t have it all figured out. In fact, most of us don’t have a sweet clue how to use our own Bibles. This makes Bible interpretation rather arbitrary and most of us just give up and give in to those Christian influencers with the biggest platforms and loudest voices.

Thankfully, some years ago I started to see Matthew chapter 5 as Jesus’ Master Class in how to use Scripture. The Scripture that Jesus has in mind is the Hebrew Bible, but it makes sense to apply his teaching to the whole Bible now that we have it all, Old and New Testaments. For instance, it would be silly if we learned from Jesus to not read the Old Testament legalistically, but we still read the New Testament legalistically. Whatever principles of interpretation we learn from Jesus about the Old Testament we should be able to apply to our reading of the New Testament as well.

The biggest shift in my own spirituality came when I realized that Jesus is God’s Word, God’s main message to us (John 1:1, 14-18). I grew up calling the Bible “the Word of God” but the Bible says Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus himself says he is the “Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 22:13). Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In other words, JESUS (not the Bible) is the A to the Z of what God has to say to us. Jesus is God’s whole alphabet, the way God fashions his message to the world. God’s ultimate message to us was not written through paper and ink but through the flesh and blood and character and teaching of Jesus embedded in human history. In fact, Jesus says that even if we know, study, and memorize the Bible, if we don’t let what we learn lead us to Jesus, we don’t really know God’s “word” (John 5:38)!

God has proclaimed his word through prophets, revealed his word in Jesus, and continues to embed his word in the Church (2 Corinthians 3; 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 1:1-2).  God has always wanted his Word to come into the world through persons, not just print on a page. The Bible is not the Word of God, but it is God's window through which we see the Word of God, which is Jesus.

This way of thinking does not denigrate Scripture, but exalts Christ and his Spirit's work in the life of the Church. God inspired Scripture to lead us to Jesus and to train us in recognizing the Holy Spirit’s voice (like in Acts 15). We don't leave our Bibles behind to follow Jesus, but rather study our Bibles with Jesus at the centre of it all.

As a youth I realized that I wanted to be a Christ-follower, not a Bible-follower, and that there is a difference. I saw that “following the Bible” can lead to all kinds of legalism and even violence (as was the case with the Protestant Reformers). I learned how to read the Bible as a supernaturally inspired gift from God to help me get to know Jesus, so I can follow him (as was practiced by the Radical Reformers). And that new Jesus-focus helped everything make more sense.

I now see the Bible playing a similar role to John the Baptist, pointing to Jesus, telling us to follow him - "Behold! The Lamb of God!" I see the Bible more like the Christmas star, guiding the Magi to Christ. Once they come to Christ they worship Jesus, not the star. Both John the Baptist and the star of Bethlehem were ordained and inspired by God, but neither was the Word of God. I think the same is true about the Bible.

The Bible is our God-given treasure map, but it is not our God-given treasure.

The Bible is our God-given menu, but it is not our God-given meal.

The Bible is less of a God-given painting to be looked at and more of a God-given window to be looked through to see Jesus.

(Okay, enough with the analogies. You get the point.)

One difference between some of these analogies and following Jesus is worth pointing out: When we find the treasure we have no more use for the treasure map. When we order our dinner, we stop reading the menu. On this point, our relationship with the Bible is different. John's disciples left him to follow Jesus, but we don't leave the Bible behind to follow Jesus - we bring it with us and keep reading, learning, and growing. Jesus still speaks to us through the Bible.

These words of Jesus in Matthew 5:17 help it all make sense to me. Jesus is not wiping out the Bible because the Bible is our best window to see the Word of God. But we better remember that it all points to Jesus or we will run the risk of becoming modern day Pharisees. If we don’t look through the window of Scripture to see Jesus, we will be more likely to focus on our own reflections in the window. Without Jesus as our guiding interpretive principle, we can make Scripture support almost any value we project onto it. Like a Rorschach inkblot test, without clear guidance from Jesus, our interpretations of Scripture will end up telling us more about ourselves and about our leaders than they do about God.

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. ~ JESUS (John 5:46)

Again let me emphasize: this line of reasoning should not be confused with devaluing the Bible. On the contrary, now we cherish the Bible even more, because it is our clearest way to see Jesus. Jesus-followers should be Bible-readers. But Jesus says how we read the Bible is just as important as actually reading it.

For instance, growing up I also noticed that there tend to be two very different vibes of Evangelical Christian out there. Not just groups with different theologies, but with two distinct feels, two overlapping yet different emotional undertones:

  • GROUP 1: Those who tend to be more serious, sour, severe, and sin-focused. (“God is holy! We’ve lost sight of his glory! We need to preach more about the severity of sin, judgement, and hell!”) When these Christians look at the cross, they see a holy God pouring out his wrath on Jesus. The emotional overtones of this group include angry preaching designed to produce conviction and contrition. These Christians believe it is important to regularly preach the condemning message of our failure to keep the law of God to tenderize our hearts so we are receptive to the gospel of grace.

  • GROUP 2: Those who tend to be more free, upbeat, and grace-focussed. (“God is love! Don’t lose sight of his kindness! We need to preach more about forgiveness, freedom, and joy!”) When these Christians look at the cross, they see a gracious God pouring out his love through Jesus. The emotional overtones of this group tend toward joy. These Christians emphasize our freedom from the law as people of the New Covenant.

I have become convinced that the second group is more theologically accurate and more emotionally in tune with the fruit of the Spirit, but I want to understand what influences the first group to be the way they are. How does the same Bible lead different Christians into different camps, not only theologically but emotionally? I think the answer, at least in part, is how we read our Bibles.

Some Reformed Protestant leaders, from John Calvin to Jonathan Edwards, not only believe that we should read the whole Bible to see Jesus more clearly (we agree there!), but they also urge Christians to read the Old Testament so we can feel the weight of our sin, making us more appreciative of the gospel of grace. We need to let the law hammer us, they argue, so we will return to Jesus to heal us. The Law has continued value for Christians, they say, not just as a pointer to Jesus, but as a kind of mirror to show us the stain of sin all over us. John Calvin (1509-1564AD) wrote: “Even for a spiritual man not yet free of the weight of the flesh the law remains a constant sting that will not let him stand still” (Institutes 2.7.12). In other words, the law stings us, convicts us, and moves us toward Jesus again and again. It’s a kind of cattle prod, driving us toward grace. (I agree with Protestants that the law leads us to Jesus, but not in the way they say.) Christians, say the Reformers, should read the Old Testament regularly to be reminded of how sinful we are so we are more grateful for the salvation of Christ. Calvin’s Geneva Catechism (1541) says that the Law “reminds them [that is, believers] of their perpetual guilt” and that it is “a kind of bridle, by which they are kept in the fear of God”. You can probably see now that using the Bible to regularly remind us of our “perpetual guilt” will definitely create a more serious vibe within certain church circles.

John Calvin (1509-1564AD)

But I am all the more convinced that, at least for non-Jews, the Hebrew Bible is not meant to be our porta-conscience. Those few verses that speak about the Law making us conscious of sin refer to the Law’s role among the people of Israel (e.g., Romans 3:20; 7:7). For the rest of us, conviction for sin can come to us through our own conscience (Romans 2:14-15), the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11), and other believers (Matthew 7:4-5; 18:15; Luke 17:3; Galatians 6:1; etc.). Even grace itself is our teacher and motivator to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-12). For the Church, Jesus says the role of the Bible is to help us see Jesus more clearly, period.

Instead of reading the Old Testament to see our sin, we should read the Old Testament to see our Saviour!

The Old Testament can be less of a guilt trip and more of a constant joy to read as long as we remember that Jesus has already fulfilled it all and now it all points to him. When we read the Old Testament to remind us of our sin, we are ignoring the Atonement and partnering with the Accuser more than the Comforter.

When I was a kid we would often all hold our Bibles up in the air during church services and recite something about using our “swords” to help us follow God and fight the enemy. The tradition helped us value Scripture (and also reminded us to bring our Bibles to church, since we didn’t want to be empty-handed when everyone held their Bibles up in the air next Sunday). You see a taste of this tradition in the movie “Jesus Revolution” (see here for more about that movie).

Today if it became a regular practice to hold our Bibles in the air and recite a reminder, I think it would be good to say something like:

“This is my Bible, my window to the Word of God. I learn it and love it because it leads me to Jesus.”

"What John's prologue says of John the Baptist, we can say about the Bible: 'There was a book send from God that we call the Bible. The Bible came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. The Bible itself is not the light; it came only as a witness to the light.' This is not a low view of Scripture but a high view of Christ. ~ Brian Zahnd (quoted in Brad Jersak's A More Christlike Word)

COMMENTARY (Thoughts about meaning and application):

The Sermon on the Mount is ultimately about real righteousness, and it helps us answer many fundamental questions about this right-relatedness:

  • How does the New Covenant way relate to the Old Covenant way?

  • How does the Church relate to Israel as God’s people?

  • How should Christ-followers relate to one another?

  • How should Christ-followers relate to the world around us?

  • How does God want us to relate to him as Father and as the Holy Spirit?

  • And at the heart of it all: How do Spirit-led Christ-followers relate to the Spirit-inspired Scriptures in light of Jesus’ teaching?

Let’s recall that Jesus fulfills the Hebrew Scriptures in at least four ways:

  1. Jesus as MESSIAH fulfills specific prophecies.

  2. Jesus as TEACHER fulfills the true intention of every command.

  3. Jesus as LORD fulfills (and replaces) the temporary laws with more permanent love.

  4. Jesus as SON OF GOD & SON OF MAN fulfills the intent of the whole story.

The first point (#1) above is self-explanatory, and Matthew will give us reminders throughout his Gospel of specific ways Jesus fulfills specific prophecies. In our next few studies we will focus on #2 and #3 above. For now, let’s look at #4 – how Jesus fulfills the goal, direction, and intention of the metanarrative of Scripture.

Here is a great question: How should Christians read their own Bibles?

And here is a great answer: As a story pointing to Jesus.

If the Old Testament is implicitly about Jesus, and the New Testament is explicitly about Jesus, then the whole Bible is really “The Book of Jesus”. Certainly the Bible covers more topics than just Jesus, but ultimately none of those topics – not God, creation, suffering, sexuality, sin, sacrifice, forgiveness, family, heaven, hell, holiness, money, possessions, power, politics, war, peace, faith, hope, and love, etc – will make sense if we don’t let them lead us to the life and teachings of Jesus. In one sense, the entire Hebrew Bible poses a question to which Jesus is the answer.

Parts of the Old Testament will remind us of the way of Jesus (e.g., 2 Kings 6:21-23), and other parts of the Old Testament will make us homesick for the way of Jesus (e.g., Joshua 8). Either way, every page of the Bible will lead us to Jesus if we let it. So when we come across bits of the Bible that don’t seem very Christ-like or love-like, we can say, “Okay, now I’m all the more grateful that Jesus came to bring us into a New Covenant way of living and loving together.” It all works to lead us to Jesus, either by prefiguring what Jesus is like (grace, mercy, and peace) or by showing a sharp contrast (judgement, wrath, and violence) making us even more eager and grateful for the grace, mercy, and peace of Jesus.

Not one page of the Bible is wasted. Every page, every story, every image helps get us to Jesus.

Let's look at some examples of how every story points to Jesus, starting at the beginning...

God creates the world through his Word. God says (doesn’t think or imagine or will things into being, but speaks) “Let there be light” to create light (Genesis 1:3), and so creation continues. If we remember that Jesus is God’s Word (John 1:1) then the New Testament teaching that God created everything through Jesus helps it all fit together (John 1:2-3; Colossians 1:16). Jesus was there at the start, with the Father – the Word creating the world he would later enter on his mission of mercy (John 1:1-18).

Then the story of Adam and Eve becomes the story of Jesus, but with a different outcome. Where Adam fails, Jesus as the new Adam, the new reset for humankind, succeeds (Romans 5:12-21). Where the serpent succeeds in tempting Adam to try to achieve God’s goals in self-serving ways, Jesus resists and submits entirely to God’s good plan (Matthew 4:1-11), and ultimately crushes the serpent’s power through his Body, the Church (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20). And on we go through Scripture.

Jesus is what every story is ultimately about:

  • the Ark that saves us from the flood of God's judgement

  • Abraham’s almost sacrifice of Isaac and God’s substitute

  • Joseph, rejected by his brothers but exalted with power to save rather than punish them

  • Moses and the liberation of God’s people out of slavery and into covenant relationship (talked about in our first Sermon on the Mount study)

  • Passover and the saving role of the lamb’s blood

  • water from a rock struck by the bearer of the law

  • manna as God’s bread given in the wilderness

  • the bronze serpent lifted high to save those who look with faith

  • blood sacrifices leading to forgiveness

  • the high priest who offers the sacrifices

  • the tabernacle/temple where sacrifice happens

  • Boaz who redeems Ruth and Naomi

  • the Spirit-anointed king who rules in righteousness

  • Jonah’s “death” and “resurrection” leading to God’s outpouring of mercy to a sinful people

And on and on it goes. One way or another, it’s all really about Jesus!

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. … He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. ~ The apostle Luke (Luke 24:26-27, 44-45)

Jesus ultimately shows us two things at once: what God is like AND what humans were made to be like. Let us pray that Jesus continues to open up our minds so we can understand the Scriptures. When we realize that JESUS fulfills the law, we can read all of the Bible without feeling the weight of moral condemnation, but with anticipation toward all that Jesus has accomplished and will accomplish.

As laws for us to obey, the entire Old Testament is over. As principles pointing to Jesus and his love ethic, the entire Old Testament endures. The Law no longer mediates between God and his people; there is one God and one mediator between God and us, and that is Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

All of this has implications for the idea of reading the Bible "literally". Jesus takes us beneath the literal reading of any scriptural text to see the love beneath the letter of the law. If every passage, every rule, and every story is really all about Jesus, then it is the figurative reading of Scripture and not the literal reading that gets us closer to the truth. So when someone asks, "Do you interpret the Bible literally?" we can answer, "No. I take the Bible much too seriously to interpret it literally." [For more on this, see our study called "SM #19: Murder in the Mind & Mouth" about Jesus' first illustration of his thesis.]

If we love Jesus we will cherish the entire Bible, since the Bible is the window through which we see Jesus most clearly. But let’s stop trying to follow the Bible. Let’s read the Bible, study the Bible, discuss the Bible, wrestle with the Bible, and cherish the Bible… so we can follow Jesus.

CONCLUSION (One last thought):

We have been talking about reading the Bible with a Christocentric (Christ-centred) lense. Let me wrap this up by introducing us to what may be a new word, and perhaps a new thought. (Isn't it interesting how sometimes it takes finding a new word to help us actually form a new thought.) Here it is:

We are learning from Jesus that the entire Bible is not only Christocentric, but also Christotelic.

Christotelic means Christ-as-end-goal: the combination of the Greek words christos (Messiah) and telos (meaning the end goal destination, completion, consummation, and realization). Telos means the ultimate purpose of something being fulfilled; potential becoming actual. Yes, we read the Bible with a Christocentric hermeneutic, seeing Jesus as the central theme of the Bible. But we need to go beyond appreciating Jesus as the central theme of Scripture, which can remain a merely intellectual exercise (the way, say, we might appreciate the perils of unchecked ambition as the central theme of Shakespeare's Macbeth). When we read the Bible with a Christotelic hermeneutic, we are declaring that actually meeting with, interacting with, and really knowing Jesus is the ultimate goal of Scripture reading. The anonymous author of Hebrews says:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Notice, this passage doesn't contrast the prophets of the Old Testament with the apostles of the New; nor does it contrast the writings of the Old Testament with the writings of the New. It says that God has spoken to us through Jesus. We read the entire Bible with gratitude, but let's be clear - we open the book to have a supernatural rendezvous with a Person.

The apostle John writes:

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. ~ The apostle John (John 1:17)

Notice also that the law was “given” – like a thing presented at arms length. But grace and truth “came” – they are values embodied in the person of Jesus. Jesus claims to do more than TEACH Scripture’s true meaning and purpose. Jesus claims to BE Scripture’s true meaning and purpose.

The central theme of the Bible - Jesus - is more than the central theme of a book. Jesus is alive and well and with us now, and he is really, actually, and truly talking with us through Scripture. Christ wants more than our intellectual assent. He wants his disciples to be more than good Jesus-centred Bible students. Jesus wants us to be his friends (John 15:15). Knowing Jesus, not just knowing about Jesus, is the goal of life:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. ~ JESUS (John 17:3)

It might be worth taking some time to be still and be aware that Jesus is with you, speaking to you through every word of Scripture, and wanting you to experience his friendship right here and right now. This friendship is our telos - the reason we exist - and our very life itself.

If you don't know how to increase your awareness of Jesus' presence, you can start by sitting quietly, letting your mind become aware that Jesus is with you, and simply saying out loud: "Hi Jesus." (See our study on following Jesus for more on this.)

In a recent small church meeting discussing this study, we happened to have one empty chair in the circle. Our discussion leader suggested we think of Jesus sitting there as we sing and talk and pray. It really helped me be mentally and emotionally present to the presence of Jesus. Maybe this can be helpful for you too. Next time you spend time praying or reading the Bible, alone or in a group, try putting an empty chair directly in front of or beside you. See if it helps you pay attention to the person you are really learning about and from.

May we let Jesus be, not just the centre of our Bible study, but the centre of our lives.

Hi Jesus.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. ~ JESUS (John 5:39-40)

CONTEMPLATE (Scripture passages that relate to and deepen our understanding of this topic):

Matthew 5; Luke 16:16-17; 24:13-49; John 1:1-18, 45; 5:38-40, 46-47; Acts 17:11; 20:20-24; 26:22–23; Romans 1:1-3; 4:23-24; 6:14; 7:1-6; 10:1-4; 13:8-10; 15:4; 1 Corinthians 9:8-12; 10:11; 2 Corinthians 1:20; 3; Galatians 3:8, 19-25; 5:1-6, 14; Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 2:17; 1 Timothy 3:14-15; 5:17-18; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 4:2-4; Hebrews 1:1-3; 8:13 (and really the whole book of Hebrews); 1 Peter 1:12-16; 2:21

CONVERSATION (Talk together, learn together, grow together):

  1. What is God revealing to you about himself through this passage?

  2. What is God showing you about yourself through this passage?

  3. In your own words, talk about what it means to follow Jesus specifically, and not just the Bible in general. If possible, include examples from your own life or church history.

  4. What is one thing you can think, believe, or do differently in light of what you are learning? For instance, what are some ways a "christotelic" approach to Scripture might change your Bible-reading practices?

  5. What questions are you still processing about this topic?

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2 則留言


Excellent and thought-provoking.

Your mention of “ temporary laws” (like revenge and divorce) makes me wonder. Were they temporary? There are other possibilities:

- first-step laws.

I teach Bridge students “Always draw trumps first!” It’s not temporarily - but later they learn exceptional circumstances where it’s no not the best plan.

Moses’s people were warlike: injure my brother and we’ll massacre your entire family. An “eye for an eye” was a first step law?

- watered-down laws.

Sometimes divorce happens, beyond our control.

My first wife was unfaithful, then moved in with him, then married him! My marriage had ended. Mercifully, our laws allowed me to make arrangements over children, house, etc.

Maybe Moses’s original law was to provide regulations…



I see the mind, body and soul as vessels, individually and as one. It's like a coffee cup, what spirits you put into the cup, is the cup you drink from, good spirits or bad, its your cup and nobody else. Don't worry about how clean the outside of the cup is, worry about how clean it is on the inside. The three ways to keep the cup clean is with every word every thought and every action. Listen and let the Holy spirit guide you

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