In this episode we will be exploring the topic of the Kingdom, and how the instructions about how to live in God’s kingdom, or God’s torah, is eternal.
Yeshua stated it this way:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others [to do] the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches [them,] he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19
In order for us to have a clearer understanding of this teaching, it would be best to break this down into at least a couple of parts. Now I just want to give you all a heads up that we will be covering a lot of ground today, so you may want to have a Bible or Bible app handy for reference from time to time and pause the podcast if you need to reference something that I’m talking about here.
So, with that caveat out of the way, let’s jump in to our topic today. First, what is the Law and Prophets and commandments that Yeshua talks about here, and secondly, when are these “all accomplished”?
What is Torah?
So let’s start with the first part concerning the Law and the Prophets and commandments. Without going into a whole review of texts and manuscripts, in essence, what is known today as the “Old Testament” in our Christian bibles was known in Yeshua’s day as the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Law or Torah included the five books of Moses, the Prophets included the major and minor prophetical works, and the Writings included the wisdom and historical portions.
This group of writings collectively became known as the Tenakh based on the acronym for the Hebrew consonants: T, N, and K. T stands for Torah, N stands for Nevi’im (the prophets) and K stands for Ketuvim (the Writings). Together the T-N-K is pronounced Tenakh for simplification. In Christian circles today this group of writings is called the Old Testament, but the more accurate term is the Tenakh.
In the Hebraic understanding, to mention one or two portions of the above was generally to speak of the whole thing. To speak of Torah can be used of the first five books of Moses, or of the Tenakh as a whole. When you get right down to it, torah is simply the Hebrew word for instruction. Therefore, we should not be put off by the idea that God’s torah, his instruction, is eternal.
Anytime God commands or gives direction to something or someone, torah exists. Torah is not just the ten commandments and the giving of the law at Sinai. Torah is through every fiber of the Bible, from the first page of Genesis all the way through the Revelation.
For example, God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and rule over the earth; this is torah.
Genesis 1:27-28 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Noah had the direct commands of God; this is torah.
Genesis 7:1-3 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you [alone] I have seen [to be] righteous before Me in this time. “You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.
Isaac was told that Abraham had and kept the commands and statutes of God; this is torah.
Genesis 26:4-5 “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws [torah].”
In fact, all of Creation itself is based on the torah of God. In the Creation narrative of Genesis 1, every time God spoke and something happened, it means that what he commanded was fulfilled within the Creation itself. Creation itself came into being through the commands and instruction (torah) of God.
Genesis 1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. …
Genesis 1:9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. …
Genesis 1:11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, [and] fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. …
It is no wonder, then, that the whole Bible is based on torah, or instruction, from God.
We have an understanding of torah first and foremost from the books of Moses, whose narrative describes the Creation of the world through Israel preparing to enter the land of Canaan. Those principles established in that root story are repeated and expanded through the Prophets and the Writings of the Tenakh (OT), along with the writings of the Messianic Believers (NT).
The regulating principle of God’s torah: How does God keep things in check?
The torah of God has a simple self-regulating principle: anything not conforming with torah originally related by God to Moses is not considered valid. The torah of God given to Moses is the standard of all subsequent scripture.
Deuteronomy 4:2 “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Deuteronomy 12:32 “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.
Proverbs 30:5-6 Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.
Ecclesiastes 3:14 I also know that whatever God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken away from it. God has made it this way, so that men will fear him.
Therefore, if some new doctrine or teaching comes along that does not fit the principles, patterns, and standards of torah as previously revealed, then it cannot be considered a legitimate spiritual teaching from God, and should not be added.
This same principle carries over into the writings of the NT. Since Yeshua did not add or take away from God’s torah, we must be careful to ensure we also do not do the same with his teachings.
2 John 1:9 Anyone who does not remain in Christ’s teaching but goes beyond it does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son.
The guiding principles of torah as revealed to Moses also ensure we don’t take anything away from God’s torah. Taking away something that has been previously revealed is equally as destructive as adding something that does not belong. Yeshua was careful to demonstrate he was not advocating taking anything away from God’s torah.
Matthew 5:17-19 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law [torah] or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law [torah] until all is accomplished. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others [to do] the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches [them,] he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
According to Yeshua, the kingdom of God is directly connected to his instruction, and his instruction is directly connected to his kingdom. Yeshua ties the keeping of torah (or God’s instruction) to greatness in the kingdom of God, and the anullment of torah (or God’s instruction) to being least in the kingdom.
This idea of adding or taking away from torah is to be corroborated with the principle of testing. Moses warned and wrote about a method for testing false prophets, or those who would teach something contrary to the torah of God:
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Yeshua also warned about testing false prophets in a similar way. Just as Moses instructed that the results of a prophet’s prediction will prove him right or wrong, Yeshua explained the same principle using the fruits that are produced by those who have false teachings as an indicator of their falsehood.
Matthew 7:15-17, 20 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn [bushes] nor figs from thistles, are they? “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. … “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
In this way, Yeshua demonstrated that his teaching on the testing of prophets was established upon the same principles of God’s torah as revealed to Moses.
The early believers in Messiah were also commanded to carry on this same practice of testing false teachers.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits [of the teachers] to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything [carefully;] hold fast to that which is good;
Since they didn’t have a “New Testament” to go by, they were instructed to examine everything in light of the only torah that was already established, the Tenakh, which includes the torah originally related by God to Moses, to ensure they would not be led astray. In the process of following the Tenakh by believing in its fulfillment in Messiah, some of them then created the letters and epistles that have become what we call the New Testament writings of today.
Fulfillment of Torah
Let’s look at the other aspect of Yeshua’s instruction: “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law [or torah] until all is accomplished.”
True torah cannot be added to or diminished, but according to Yeshua, it can be fulfilled or brought to fruition. Yeshua fulfilled the ultimate purpose of the sacrificial aspects of the Torah, but that does not mean there is no longer a need to follow the principles of the Torah. He is our example of how to be obedient to the Father. He clearly states that he did not come to destroy torah, but to fulfill it. If he fulfilled it, so should we.
1 John 2:3-6 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
As we fulfill God’s torah by following its direction, then it accomplishes the intent that God had for it in the first place. This in itself is a principle of torah that the prophet Isaiah spoke of.
Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding [in the matter] for which I sent it.
According to the apostle John, the very definition of sin is exemplified as not abiding by torah.
1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness [literally: torah-lessness].
Therefore, the opposite must also be true: obedience to torah leads to non-sinfulness, that is, to righteous and holy actions. The apostle Paul corroborates this.
Romans 7:12 So then, the Law [torah] is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
We must remember that torah obedience on its own does not totally accomplish freedom from sin because our hearts are still not right in God’s eyes, and ultimately we still desire our own ways.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.
Zechariah 7:8-12 Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. “They made their hearts [like] flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.
Torah can tell us the right things to do, but it can’t make us do the right things with the right attitude and for the right reason.
Yeshua accused the Jewish leaders of this very thing. They tried to follow the letter of the Torah in scrutinizing detail, even adding their own man-made traditions in an effort to ensure the Torah commands themselves would not be violated. However, they missed the intended goal of torah because their hearts were not right before God.
Matthew 15:7-11 “You hypocrites [the Jewish leaders], rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'”
Matthew 23:23, 27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. … “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness [torah-lessness].
The Jewish leaders were guilty of what the apostle Paul calls following “the letter of the law,” but not the spirit of it. This resulted in hypocrisy which led them even further from torah. But Paul taught that following the spirit of the law, and not just the letter of it, is what brings life.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate [as] servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The Jewish leaders were trying so hard to follow all of the rules that they missed the intent or spirit of the rules in the first place. This can be likened to a pedestrian at a busy intersection who wants to cross the street. However, they are focusing so hard on staying within the lines of a crosswalk that they forget to check for traffic.
The letter of Torah alone can be deadly if misapplied. Even though it tells us the right things to do, it cannot bring life on its own.
Galatians 3:21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
The righteousness that Paul is speaking of here is the type that says we have right-standing in God’s eyes. Paul is saying it takes more than just following a set of rules to be exhibiting true faith in God. Faith that honors God is simply believing what God said is true, and then being obedient to it; not the other way around.
Torah as tutor
God continues to teach people about his ways and lead people to Messiah through the symbols and object lessons of all of his torah. But just like graduating from one grade to another does not make all of what you learned vanish, it simply indicates that you have now earned a basic understanding of the rudiments of that grade level, and can now apply and follow those things that you have learned as you continue to grow.
Galatians 3:23-26 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
This passage is famous for causing confusion, as most Christians take away from it that if believers are no longer under the tutor of the Torah, it is done away with. Since we have already seen that we cannot take away from God’s torah without violating it, we should understand that Paul must be trying to teach something else here.
You can look at it this way: once you graduate from school, the lessons you have learned don’t disappear as if they no longer apply. You are now able to take what you have learned and use it in practical ways all the time, even though you are not in school anymore. Therefore, you no longer require the teacher, because what the teacher taught you is now ingrained in you, and you now do textbook things naturally without always needing to reference the textbooks. The textbooks are still valuable, and you will still abide by the principles in the textbooks, you just don’t need to reference them because you are already understanding and practicing what they teach.
Remember what the apostle John wrote to the early Messianic believers:
1 John 2:4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
1 John 5:2-3 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
His commandments are his torah. If we are not abiding by the principles of torah, then that is evidence that we haven’t had our hearts truly changed. This is why believers should still exhibit that we are following the principles of God’s torah, even though we technically no longer need it as a tutor. It is being fulfilled in us as we live it out in sincerity and truth.
It is true that torah can give us indications of the right actions to do that lead to life. But it is when we act with the spirit and intent of torah that we know life has actually come into being and changed us.
John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.
Romans 8:1-2 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Torah in the heart
The culmination of everything prophetically promised about the future of God’s people was that there would be a point where the people of God would no longer be a rebellious people, but that they would obey his torah from the heart.
Jeremiah 31:33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law [torah] within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
If God always intended to put his torah in the heart of his people, why would it be done away with?
This is what Paul was trying to show in relation to God’s torah; it hadn’t passed away, it simply served as an ongoing foundation for the believers heart-service to God based on their new life of faith in Messiah. Believers had been set free from the restrictive confines of the letter of the torah because they were now able to follow the intent of the rules (the spirit of it) from the heart at all times. This has only been possible through new life in Messiah.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, [he is] a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
As long as there are people who don’t know the God of the Bible, these written standards of God’s torah will continue to lead people to the truth of his Messiah. His torah is ultimately a tutor for all among the nations, so that people will continue to learn and practice his ways. As they come to believe in and follow his Messiah, the torah of God will reside in their heart and bear fruit among all men. This is how God’s kingdom is, and will continue to be, established on the earth.
Psalm 119:142, 144, 152 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law [torah] is truth. … Your testimonies are righteous forever; Give me understanding that I may live. … Of old I have known from Your testimonies That You have founded them forever.
Micah 4:2 Many nations will come and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD And to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For from Zion will go forth the law [torah], Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Looked at in this light, we can see that Yeshua’s admonition to maintain God’s torah or his instruction, takes on a different shade of meaning. Rather than pass away, it becomes something that needs to be constantly fulfilled. In essence, Yeshua is saying: Do not relax even the smallest standards of Torah for yourself and others; do it and teach it. This is how the kingdom operates: it is based on God’s torah, his Word, being fulfilled in the hearts of individuals populating the kingdom.
If the kingdom began in the days of Yeshua and is a kingdom that would never end, then it makes sense that the instruction of God is also eternal and will not pass away unless it is fulfilled within every individual he intends.
Many are of the opinion that Torah has passed away with the death of Messiah. To the contrary, his death was exactly what Torah predicted would happen. Like a seed planted in the ground, the Torah principles taught by Yeshua are continuing to grow into a mighty tree of life as they are practiced by those who follow him. Yes, it is true that Yeshua fulfilled many of the sacrificial aspects of torah, but that does not mean we no longer experience the effects of those sacrificial aspects in our spiritual journey today, otherwise no would would be forgiven today. Our forgiveness is based upon the very torah that many Christians are saying was done away with. These two things cannot be true at the same time.
Yeshua said that it would be easier for the world to pass away than for Torah to pass away.
Luke 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for a single stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
What this implies is that Yeshua is saying that Torah, because it has been issued from an eternal God who exists beyond this earthly creation, is likewise eternal. It is not tied to this earthly realm. It lasts forever and will never pass away.
I freely admit torah has not been fully accomplished, as we still have murder, adultery, and any other number of commandments from God’s instruction which remain unfulfilled in the lives of people today. However, since God has provided instruction for mankind in his word, we, as believers, should do all we can to be faithful in keeping it (i.e., obeying it) and sharing it with others who will listen. Only as it is fulfilled in our lives will it bear good fruit for the continued growth of God’s kingdom.
Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that the torah of God is the instruction of God. Anything God has commanded is torah, and we need to ensure that we do not add new aspects or take away existing aspects that are as of yet unfulfilled in us and in others around us. Since his torah is eternal, we can know that it will never change and that what God has promised about his kingdom will come to pass.
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Thanks for your interest in listening today. As always, I hope to be invited back into your headphones in another episode to come. Take care!