Many times in studying certain portions of Scripture we expect them to conform to our own ideas, whether cultural or theological. However it is essential to always look at the context and meaning that was intended, and then make application for our lives. During His earthly ministry, Yeshua, the Living Word, continually gave teaching which challenged all of Israel especially the religious leaders of His day to reexamine their lives, repent and trust in Him and not in their own works.Just recently an Israeli believer in Messiah wrote to me and asked me to explain Messiah’s statement from His Sermon on the Mount where He declares that He came to fulfill the Law, which in that context referred to the first five books of Moses (Matthew 5:17-20). Since even today there is much confusion and misunderstanding as to what Messiah was teaching concerning the Law, it is vital for us to understand the meaning of His teaching from the Sermon on the Mount for our own lives. We will consider how Yeshua meant His teaching to be a challenge by debunking four common myths.Myth 1: the Law is Obliterated
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them
.” (Matthew 5:17)
Yeshua says that He did not come to destroy Torah. Why would someone think he taught this? Well, imagine that you are trying to be good for goodness sake – and God lets some unspiritual person win the lottery! The good people can easily feel gypped. Yeshua had been healing people indiscriminately –regardless if they were religious or irreligious (Matthew 5). Naturally, as He was healing whoever came to Him, one might think that He lowered the standards of Torah. Since He is healing sinners or lawbreakers, is He not contrary to the Law and in fact setting the Law aside?
Some still think that Yeshua and the New Covenant are opposed to the Torah of Moses. They are not. Believers are called to live holy lives and to follow a holy God. If Yeshua lowered the standards, that lowers the standards for life and relationships. To lower the standards on holiness is to diminish God’s holiness, since His word reflects His nature and not ours. God is still holy and His standards are still found in His word. He did not come to repeal the Law any more than he came to repeat it. A destroyed torah is unfulfilled truth.Myth 2: The Law is Obsolete “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished
.” (Matthew 5:18)
Torah’s fulfillment is standard for Messiah’s kingdom, and is permanent through His kingdom rule. Some people think that while not destroyed, its actually passed away, or is not for today - in other words, irrelevant. Yet the idea of not one letter passing away confirms the eternal standard of righteousness in Torah. As the smallest letter would stand forever, so the standard of righteousness that the letters represent would as well.
Since heaven and earth are the witnesses to the charge of Torah obedience (Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19), the creation therefore would have to pass away before the law did! The Torah of Moses will remain until Olam HaBa, the world to come (Rev 20:11; 21:1). “Until all is accomplished” means that all that the Law contains will take place and that is when heaven and earth pass away. So also though marriage is only for this world and not for the next world (Matt 22:30), we are nonetheless to live out God’s eternal values in this earthly arrangement. Marriage has not passed away. Neither has the Torah.
All the Scriptures point to Yeshua (John 5:39). He is the redemptive program that the Feasts celebrate and that we observe. Thus God’s redemptive program, from Passover through Booths, will be accomplished. Myth 3: The Law is Optional
“Therefore whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven
.” (Matthew 5:19)
Many believers think of Torah as optional, that Messiah came and died so that we can disregard the small stuff. However, liberty does not make the Law optional. He who annuls the least is least. He who keeps the least is great.
There are rewards for faithfulness to the Lord. Being in Messiah’s kingdom is not based on faithfulness to the Law since even those who are inconsistent with respect to the Torah – and that is all of us - are said to be in the kingdom! Rather least and great refers to the rewards of faithfulness.
What is meant by “the least”? Later Messiah speaks of the minimal importance of tithing “mint, dill, and cumin,” in comparison with the “weightier matters of the law,” justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). A primary issue of loving your neighbor is not the same as a secondary issue like tithing, but both are Scriptural matters. Our book Messianic Foundations
gives more on how the New Covenant helps us apply Torah. Myth 4: the Law is Orthodox Judaism
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven
.” (Matthew 5:20) Pharisees have not entered.
How this must have floored some Pharisees (others like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethia trusted in Yeshua)! These were the professionals; Biblical standards were what they were about. How could the religious be out and yet the law breakers be in? Yet, the best and most religious are not our standard.You must exceed them to enter.
This would have floored His disciples. Your righteousness must exceed that of Billy Graham, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or Rabbi Shneerson. The righteousness required by the Law to enter the presence of God was a quality only God has. Yeshua lived it out in the flesh, and by faith it is deposited to your account (2 Corinthians 5:21). And it is to be lived out. So the standard for the home, friendships, and even our careers is Torah through a New Covenant application.The Torah Is Fulfilled
It is because of Yeshua that the Law is fulfilled and will therefore not pass away until it is accomplished in Him. Thus it is His fulfillment that is the standard through the Kingdom period. His fulfillment is to be taught and done. Those who teach something other than a Yeshua-fulfilled-Torah are teaching false torah.
Some understand “fulfill” as to conclude, as in no longer applicable, but the passage means the exact opposite. Yeshua’s fulfillment of the Law is truly a profound matter, which cannot fully be addressed here or perhaps in this world. Here are some considerations for edification. .
- He came to fulfill as in living the Torah and not annulling its guidance: He is a lamp unto our feet.
- He came to fulfill as in completing the Torah and not annulling its meaning: a deeper righteousness. The word is used when days of pregnancy or a job is completed (Genesis 25:24; Genesis 29:21; Luke 21:24). It is a fulfillment of a promise (1 Kings 2:27) in that it demonstrates a faithfulness to a promise. He came to fulfill –that is fulfill its requirements, promises and its purpose, since He is the righteousness of that torah–it is inspired and profitable. Thus the righteousness required is fulfilled and completed in Messiah.
- He came to fulfill as in fruit of Torah and not annulling its aim: a new covenant. To be fulfilled is to be satisfied (Psalm 81:10; Ecclesiastes 1:8; 6:7) and so Yeshua fully satisfied the Torah demands and expectations. In some cases the meaning of prophecy is only fully known in its fulfillment (Matthew 2:15; Isaiah 7:14). So fulfilling all righteousness was not known to the prophet but only to the Lord (Matthew 3:15). Torah is the root; Yeshua and the New Covenant is the fruit.
We would not know how the Scriptures would be fulfilled but by Yeshua’s life. Its purpose is to show God’s own righteousness - Yeshua - and how we are to walk with our God in holy living. For a fulfilling marriage, both partners need to walk fully with God; He invented marriage; it is supposed to work well in light of His purpose and in accordance with His instruction manual on marriage, that is, Torah. The basis of a fulfilling relationship is righteousness, that is, love and faithfulness.
If you realize that you have failed to keep the Law and fall short of its standard, then turn to Yeshua! He is the word incarnate even as Scripture is the Word inscribed. Because Yeshua is Torah, the Word of God, He is Torah’s only fulfillment. You cannot understand or follow Torah apart from Him, He is its meaning and its fulfillment, and apart from Yeshua you can do nothing, John 15:5. He does not give a deeper meaning to Torah –He gives its only true meaning, the real meaning to all of God’s will. Only His teaching is the true meaning of Torah. The New Covenant writings are His authorized meaning and application of Torah.
The command to “proclaim liberty,” first found in Leviticus 25:10 for the year of Jubilee, is inscribed on the liberty bell in Philadelphia. One after another, dictatorial regimes from Tunisia to Egypt are falling, crushed by this same desire to proclaim liberty. However, in some “liberated” countries, we do not always see this resulting in blessing. In fact, liberty without godliness seems to produce chaos, insecurity, and terror. This seeming paradox should bring us back to search the Scriptures as we consider the question, what is true freedom?
The name Jubilee (in Hebrew yovel which means the sound of the ram’s horn) became identified by the term d’ror or “release” (Leviticus 27:18; Joshua 6:4). Jubilee was to be celebrated every 50th year following the 7th sabbatical cycle of years. In Greek, the same word for liberty is found in Isaiah 61:1, and in Luke 4:18. Interestingly, Yeshua comments on Isaiah’s command to “proclaim liberty” is itself a commentary on the Leviticus portion. In each recurrence to “proclaim liberty” we see a development as to how the Jubilee is applied. What this shows us is that the purpose of release is so we can return to God –from servitude, from separation of exile, and from slavery to sin. Let’s take a look at this development.
Consecration of the year
“You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.” (Leviticus 25:8 -10)
Prior to the year of Jubilee, the land was to be given rest and debts were to be remitted every 7 years for 49 years (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1; 31). Only after the seven cycles could you have the 50th year of true freedom and proclaim liberty. But if the owner has not been giving the land its sabbath and forgiving debt, a Jubilee to free all servants would seem over the top-- fifty years was probably far longer than his own lifespan! To use liberty for disobedient living would only reinforce the problem.
Jubilee was declared on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:9). The liberty of Jubilee is the fruit of reconciliation which came on that day. Without realizing what we have been set free from, it may be hard to set free others from their debts. It gives freedom for those who were not free, but it requires sacrifice and limitation for those that are in charge. Thus, Jubilee has its foundation in the reconciliation of the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur atonement restored the nation to its service for God, so His forgiveness is the foundation of our freedom. Through his forgiveness, everyone is liberated to serve Him alone.
Consecration of the year precedes liberty in the year (Leviticus 25:10a). Liberty without consecration is desecration. Not only would the land continue to have a sabbath as during the sabbatical years but now there is an added dimension of “each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.” There would be rest for the land and release of all acquired properties, and all servants.
Consideration for the afflicted
When Jerusalem was besieged by Babylon, they attempted to appease God by declaring a sabbatical year of Jubilee, at least partially by releasing all their Jewish servants (Jeremiah 34:8-22). However, they soon broke their agreement and Jubilee was never truly observed. From a purely economic perspective we can understand why: it basically destroyed the economy that they had developed for the past years. The wealthy who had accumulated land would have to give it all back; those who had accumulated many servants would lose them all. For disobeying God, the Babylonian captivity followed, as was prophesied:
Then the land will enjoy its Sabbaths, all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.(Leviticus 26:34; Jeremiah 25:11; 1 Chronicles 36:21).
The fulfillment of forgiveness is found in restoration: “It shall be a jubilee for you” (Leviticus 25:10b). By declaring this, we see that there was restoration to the place of promise. “For the land is Mine” – and the land is still His (Leviticus 25:23)! Thus, every fifty years, we were to hit the reset button. Also the people belong to Him: “For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 25:42). The land mattered only to point us to the Lord.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Isaiah 61:1)
Consideration for the afflicted is the character of Jubilee liberty. Isaiah is picturing the Jubilee year and the release of captives and the return, not only within the land, but from another land—Babylon. The hope of the Messiah is found throughout, as Rabbi David Kimchi notes, “They are the words of the Messiah, who should say, ‘because the Lord has anointed me’,” and as the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm, “the heavens and the earth will listen to His Messiah” (DSS 4Q521). The redemptive return is their coming back to the Land of Judah with their families, but the preceding chapter reveals that the year of the favor of the Lord is something far more glorious. In Him is not only fulfillment of the Shabbat in being our rest but also in Him is found yom shekulo shabbat, “the day when all is Shabbat.” He is the first and last, in Him is eternal life now.
Proclamation of Messiah
This Isaiah portion is explicitly fulfilled by Yeshua in Luke 4:16-18. When He said, “Today this Scripture portion is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), He was publicly declaring Himself as the Messiah as God’s favor. Yet he stopped reading in mid sentence! He said “the year of the Lord’s favor,” but not “the day of vengeance of our God”! This belongs to His second coming and judgment. Messiah came the first time as the Lamb of God; He will return as the Lion of Judah. Jubilee is for proclaiming Messiah.
The promise is that the Messiah will set the captives free. But captives of what? Often we think of freedom in political, health or economic terms: slaves freed from an evil master, or a person in bondage to poverty. The Bible speaks of a deeper freedom and a greater liberty from the mastery of sin. Sin not only defiles the soul, but also perverts our liberty into a license that results in an even worse bondage. Biblical liberty sets one free to fulfill the very purpose of his creation, which is to enjoy a relationship with God and fulfill His will. As a train is only fulfilled and free while on its tracks, so we are only fulfilled and free when we are “on track” in His will, which is revealed in His word. We may have been derailed by sin, but the enjoyment of freedom is in the application of his word. In freedom, stay on track, not living by the world’s values, but in Messiah’s victory and grace. The favor of His forgiveness is our freedom.
You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete Sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:15-17)
Of all the three major pilgrim festivals, Shavuot is unique. “Shavuot” actually means “Weeks.” Why is it called this? It is not because the festival lasts for many weeks! Rather, it is called the Feast of Weeks because of the way you find out when it is to be celebrated. Unlike Passover and The Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Weeks is dateless.
In order to celebrate Shavuot, you had to count “seven weeks” from “the day after the Sabbath” of the Passover, and the next day, the fiftieth day, would be Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-16).
Why don’t the Scriptures just give the date? In this fast-paced, “day-timer”-controlled world we live in, we would have been inclined to say to Moses, “Forget counting fifty days, and just give me the date and I’ll show up and worship!” No, you had to count fifty days regardless of how busy your schedule might be. Why?
In the same way, can you imagine if your mother never told you your birthday? Rather, suppose she told you to celebrate it fifty days after the anniversary of your Uncle Murray’s death. When you are very young, this might be okay, but in high school, it would be embarrassing not to know the date of your birth. “Hey Joel, when’s your birthday?” “Well, it’s fifty days after the day my Uncle Murray died.” You would eventually run home, insisting on knowing the date of your birthday. Mom would reply, “It’s fifty days after your uncle Murray died.”
“But, Mom why do I have to count fifty days from Uncle Murray’s death?”
“Because, your Uncle Murray left you his fortune and I never want you to forget your Uncle Murray!”
Israel was to count fifty days so that in order to celebrate Shavuot they would never forget Passover.
May it never be that Israel would reckon itself from the giving of the Law, and not from the true foundation of their life as a people at Passover. Shavuot is traditionally remembered as a time when God made Israel one people in the Law. Nevertheless, it was Passover when God redeemed us from bondage and destruction through the blood of the Lamb.
Passover is to be the foundation and head of the year (Exodus 12:2). It celebrates Israel’s redemption from bondage, and redemption is the foundation of our salvation. Thus the foundation of Israel’s redemption was provided only in Passover, not Shavuot. Every year as Israel counted the weeks from Passover to Pentecost they remembered that their redemption as a people was found in the lamb of Passover.
Likewise, we are never to forget our Messiah who gave His life for us, and with that, the unspeakable riches of our new birth in Him. Like Israel’s redemption from bondage, our foundation of faith as believers in Messiah Yeshua is forever tied to Passover and our redemption in the Lamb of God. We are not firstfruits to God just because we look to the Holy Spirit, but when we look to Yeshua as the true foundation for our spiritual lives. Through Him we are a firstfruits offering, for God’s use only.
Every Shavuot, believers are to remember Passover and the Passover Lamb, Yeshua. Though Pentecost is the ‘birthday celebration’ of the Body of Messiah when the Holy Spirit came, we are never to look to the Holy Spirit as the foundation of our faith either individually or as a body of believers. No matter how big or small our congregations may be, we are not secure in congregational size, wealth, or prestige. Our security is experienced only when we look to Yeshua as our foundation of faith. Our confidence is in the Lord and in Him alone. The Passover redemption of the believers reminds us each year that despite all that the world, the flesh and the devil may throw at us, we are secure in Messiah.
Passover was meant to be like the foundation of a house in a storm:
Yeshua said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
How strong is your foundation? Do you trust in someone or something besides the Lord (Jeremiah 17:5)? If you are trusting in anything or anyone else, stop! Place your faith in His eternal atonement for your sins and receive new life in Yeshua, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Of the three major festivals requiring pilgrimage to Jerusalem--Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot--Shavuot (or Pentecost, June 7-9) is unique. Shavuot in Hebrew means “weeks.” Why would the festival be called that? It is not because the festival lasts for many weeks! Rather, it is because of the way you find out when it is to be celebrated. Unlike the others, the Feast of Weeks is “dateless,” and the timing points us back to Passover, and ultimately, the death and resurrection of Messiah.
On Shavuot, the people of Israel were to bring a two-loaf offering as a “Firstfruits to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:17). However, there is already a “firstfruits” offering on the calendar, during the week of Passover. And now there is a second firstfruits offering? At some point, one might think, shouldn’t it be called “secondfruits”? Not at all.
Firstfruits are the portion of the crop or produce which is set apart unto the Lord, for His use only. The day after the Sabbath during Passover, the priests in the Temple gave a “first firstfruits” offering of the barley harvest (Leviticus 23:10-14). The observances could not be practiced after the Temple was destroyed in 70AD. Still, one part from that tradition remained: “the counting of the omer,” or the numbering of days until the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, was to be celebrated.
While the “first firstfruits” were from the barley harvest, the firstfruits offering of Shavuot were from the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22). The barley offering from the day after the Sabbath of Passover was considered the poor man’s food, whereas the wheat of the Shavuot offering was considered rich man’s food (Psalm 81:16). So also, Messiah became poor that we might become spiritually rich in Him (2 Corinthians 8:9). The earlier firstfruits offering was given on the day of Yeshua’s resurrection and pictures Messiah as our firstfruits offering from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21-23). The second firstfruits offering is a different picture altogether. This offering is a picture of the believers in Messiah, His called-out ones. Acts 2 shows how this happened “when the Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) had fully come.”
Yeshua’s followers thus comprise a second firstfruits offering in Him. This is referred to in the book of James 1:18, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures.”
As Yeshua is the Firstfruits offering of the resurrection, so also we are a firstfruits offering in His new creation, the Body of Messiah. When my son Josh was born, the midwife exclaimed, “I see the head.” I did not need to ask if there was a body– where there is a head, there is a body. We learn in Ephesians that Messiah is the Head, and we are the body (Ephesians 1:23; 4:15-16). Messiah was raised from the dead to be our Firstfruits offering, and we are presented as “a kind of firstfruits among His creatures,” as the body of Messiah.
The symbol of Firstfruits
Giving the firstfruits of the crop honored the Lord and recognized Him as Provider. Thus firstfruits were for God’s use only, a reality which could never be changed. The significance of believers being firstfruits is that we are to be totally dedicated to the Lord: we are for God’s use only, set apart as saints unto Him.
From the original Shavuot at the giving of the Law, we learn that the “firstfruits” are the people of Israel. In Jeremiah 2:3 God declares, “Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; disaster will come upon them.” Just as we learn in Passover that Israel is God’s “firstborn” of the nations (Exodus 4:22-23), Israel is also the firstfruits of His increase, a nation called to be holy unto the Lord. This calling resulted in God’s foreign policy of blessing or cursing those nations based on their treatment of Israel, “I will bless those that bless you [Israel], and curse those that curse you” (Genesis 12:3). This position of firstfruits also accounts for God’s chastening upon our people, Israel, even as it is declared in Hosea 9:10, 17:
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season. But they went to Baal Peor, and separated themselves to that shame; they became an abomination like the thing they loved. ... because they did not obey Him... they shall be wanderers among the nations.
Along with the privileges of being God’s firstfruits also came responsibilities, as we read in Luke 12:48, “to whom much is given, much is required.” Consequently we are expected to live in such a way that the Lord is honored in all that we do.
The fulfillment of Shavuot firstfruits are New Covenant believers, both Jews and Gentiles. This is why the Holy Spirit was given– to empower followers of Messiah. Believers today are people of both privilege and responsibility to live faithfully for the Lord. Through faith in Messiah we have eternal salvation and new life as children of God. What a privilege to have the enablement ofthe Holy Spirit to live dedicated and holy lives to the glory of God. Though there is “no condemnation to those who are in Messiah” (Romans 8:1), there is chastening and discipline from the Lord for every child of His that we might grow in righteousness (Hebrews 12:6-8).
As believers we are to present ourselves for God’s use only. We experience His spiritual blessings when we yield ourselves to the Lord, and in living for Him fulfill His purpose for us.
To the Final Harvest
Throughout the summer season, first fruits would be given from the various harvests, culminating in the final harvest festival, Sukkot. So also in the Scriptures, pointing to a time of great tribulation, there will be a firstfruits of 144,000 Jewish believers called at that time, proving the permanence of Israel as the original Firstfruits: “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4). Even in the midst of the darkest period of history, God will have His holy firstfruits as lights in the world to testify to all who will believe.
Even now, as the Lord says in John 4:35, “the fields ... are white unto harvest.” From Shavuot onward our work is to do what we can only do here, this side of Heaven: share Messiah. Life in Him is to be used for more firstfruits harvests! The Holy Spirit’s work in us leads to His work through us. The Lord provides us with the full resource of the Spirit so we may live fully in Him and for Him. He doesn’t put us to work without the resource to accomplish the task. He will continue to give us the resources to be used for His purposes and His glory.