The Law (Torah)
by Dr. Michael Brown
The Torah is forever, every jot and tittle, and only traditional Jews keep it. In fact, even the so-called New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 says that God will put the Torah in our hearts. Therefore, since Yeshua abolished the Torah, He cannot be the Messiah.
Yeshua came to fulfill the Torah, not to abolish it, and in Him alone can it truly be said that “the Torah is forever.” The clearest example of this truth is found with regard to the rituals of the Tabernacle and the Levitical priesthood, which formed such a large part of the Mosaic legislation. Over and over it was stated that these institutions and their governing laws were “eternal” (see, e.g., Ex. 27:21; 28:43; 29:9,28; 40:15). But with the Temple destroyed, how could the Jewish people observe these commandments? Without a sanctuary, how could there be legitimate sacrifices, acceptable to God?
The New Covenant provides the answer, for not only did Yeshua foretell the destruction of the Temple forty years in advance (see, e.g., Luke 19:42-44), but, by His substitutionary death on the cross, He fulfilled the demands of the Law’s sacrificial system. When the Temple did in fact fall, the followers of Yeshua had no problem, since they did not have to invent alternative means of atonement. Their sacrifice for sins had already been made.
As far as traditional Judaism is concerned, it has had no sacrifices since A.D. 70; but those who recognize Yeshua as Messiah have enjoyed His once-for-all sacrifice for every generation. Thus, rather than Yeshua abolishing the sacrificial system, He has brought it to fulfillment. In the same way, His identification as the Lamb of God has effectively deepened and underscored the Passover message of liberation from bondage, and Messianic Jews can celebrate this holiday with greater fervor and conviction than ever before. Through Moses they have been delivered from the hand of Pharaoh, and through Yeshua they have been redeemed from the power of sin!
Another example is seen in the fact that the priesthood of all Israel was established as a goal of the Torah (Ex. 19:6). The Pharisees sought to realize this goal by developing a system that required every Jew to live with the same ritual cleanliness as a consecrated priest. Unfortunately, this only resulted in new regulations and laws, without bringing the people into a truly priestly ministry. Yet now, through Yeshua the Messiah, all New Covenant believers are “being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God!” (1 Pet. 2:5). The New Covenant community has become the very Temple of God (see Eph. 2:19-22), and every believing member has direct access into the holy presence of the King!
As far as the ethical commandments of the Law are concerned, Yeshua always brought out the deepest meanings of God’s righteous requirements, and He refused to allow following the Lord to degenerate into a mere outward formality. One key feature of the New Covenant as prophesied by Jeremiah was that the Torah would be written in our hearts. Thus, rather than destroying and nullifying the Law, Yeshua planted it in our hearts and gave us the ability through the Spirit not only to hear, but also to obey.
As for the argument that while Yeshua did not actually abolish the Law, He did change it, the question may be asked, “Doesn’t Jewish tradition teach that when Messiah comes, He will give new commandments or a new Torah?” In other words, while the righteous principles of the Law will never change, won’t some of the earthbound regulations be affected? And if this is possible, could not Yeshua as Messiah institute certain “New Commandments,” since He had brought about the fulfillment of Torah’s demands in His perfect life and sacrificial death? This being the case, is it even accurate to speak of Yeshua’s changing the Law?
Paul, James and the other early followers of Yeshua were known as observant Jews who were zealous for the Law (Acts 21:20-25). What better proof could there be that Yeshua in no way sought to contradict, nullify, or abrogate the commandments of God? It is ironic that today, when Messianic Jews want to worship on Saturday, celebrate the feasts and circumcise their sons as children of Abraham, they are called deceptive and hypocritical!
While there are some who argue that in order for Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy to be truly fulfilled, God would have to place the whole Torah in our hearts, this argument is based on a misconception of the biblical meaning of Torah. Actually, although the Hebrew word torah is generally taken as referring to the first Five Books of the Bible (the Pentateuch), and while many Jews understand every reference to torah in the Scriptures as meaning God’s entire revelation to His Jewish people, the fact is that torah has a variety of meanings in the Tanakh.
In the sense of “the Torah,” it can be a synonym for the first Five Books. Yet, more often than not, it simply means “teaching,” “instruction,” “law,” or “regulation.” Therefore, when Jeremiah prophesied that under the New Covenant, God would put the Torah in the hearts of Israel and Judah, he was saying that God’s teaching would be planted within the believer, and that the revelation of the Lord would, by the Spirit (see Ezek. 36:25-27), be internalized. He was not saying that the traditional Jewish Torah, consisting of Mishnah and Talmud, would automatically be placed in the hearts of the partakers of this covenant!
Such a concept would not only have been strange to Jeremiah’s ears, it would have been totally alien, since the concept of “traditional interpretation of the Law” had not even come into existence! And, although traditional Jews
claim that the “oral law” was revealed to Moses, almost all modern Jewish scholars will admit that the vast part of the oral law did not even exist before the days of Yeshua. It is therefore with every right that Messianic Jews claim to be the true heirs of Moses and the Prophets, children of the New Covenant. We do not lean on later Jewish tradition. We place our feet firmly on the written revelation of God.
According to the Law, Yeshua was a false prophet, and those who follow Him are guilty of the worst kind of idolatry: making God into a man!
Deuteronomy 13:1-3 says:
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.
According to these criteria, Yeshua can only be classified as a true and faithful prophet, since the entire object of His earthly ministry was to bring glory and honor to His Father, the God of Israel. When asked which was the first and greatest commandment, Jesus answered: “The most important one…is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30). Matthew records that when the crowds saw the great miracles that He did, “they praised the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:31). Over and again, Yeshua pointed the people to God.
How then could it be said that Yeshua Himself was God? And doesn’t this in fact make God into man?
First, it should be emphasized that both traditional Jews as well as Messianic Jews would agree that “God is not a man” (Num. 23:19), and that for God in His totality to become man would mean that God would cease to be God. And yet Judaism has often asked the question of how God, who is an infinite spiritual Being, can come into fellowship with man, who is a finite physical (and spiritual) being. In answer to this question, various streams of Jewish teaching have offered some different solutions, and yet all of them have this one thought in common—one way or another, God condescended to the level of man.
Some rabbis taught that God, the perfect Spirit, reached down to man, the imperfect earthling, by means of successive emanations (Hebrew, sephirot) of His being. In other words, He revealed Himself in successive stages or spheres, until, at the lowest sphere, He was able to be perceived by man. Others believed that He revealed Himself to man through His Divine Word (Aramaic, memra).
Each of these concepts gives us insights into the New Covenant portrayal of Yeshua as Son of Man and Son of God. First, the idea that there are different spheres or emanations in God is similar to the idea of the Trinity: God, who is One, exists in the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is in this way alone that He reveals Himself to man. Thus, Yeshua (the Son) came down to earth to reveal the Father to the world. This is what He meant when He said, “I came from the Father and entered the world: now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28); and, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).
There is also much Jewish teaching that speaks of the Shekinah, the Divine Presence itself, going into exile with the Jewish people. According to this concept, God cannot be “whole” again until His people return from their physical and spiritual exile, since the rabbis saw in the Shekinah the “motherly” aspect of God, suffering with her children in foreign lands. Similarly, the New Covenant teaches us that God, in the Person of the Son, has joined Himself with man—Yeshua is thus wholly God and wholly man. As the Son, the One who proceeded forth from the Father, He was the “image of the invisible God” to us. As Man, He lived a perfectly righteous life and died for our sins, thereby becoming the “new” or “second” Adam.
As for the revelation of God by means of His memra (Word), Jewish teaching understands that, because God is infinite and totally above man, He can only interact with us by His Word. Thus, rather than God Himself “touching” this earth, He does it by means of His memra. Of course, readers of the New Covenant will immediately think of John’s description of Yeshua as “the Word” (Greek, logos) Who was with God in the beginning, and yet at the same time was God. And, although “no one has ever seen God,…God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side,” has declared God to us (John 1:18). We learn about the Father by means of His Word! And, just as the Hebrew Scriptures declare that God created all things by His Word (see Gen. 1 and Ps. 33:6-9), so also the New Covenant teaches us that it is through Yeshua that all things were created, and it is by Him that all things consist (Col. 1:16, 17).
From all this we can learn two important facts. First, while Judaism has consistently taught that God alone is the Savior, it has also taught that, in a sense, “man must save himself.” Both of these concepts, rooted as they are in the Scriptures, are fulfilled in Yeshua: as man, He broke the power of sin over man and paid the penalty for our disobedience; as God, He alone is the means by which we can be saved, since man without God will always turn away.
Second, although the New Covenant concept of the Trinity does not allow for different levels of deity (although the Jewish mystical concept of the sephirot seems to view the divine “emanations” in this way), the consistent emphasis in the Scriptures is that the Father is God and Yeshua is the Messiah. Thus, Paul could write that when all things are made subject to Yeshua the Son, “then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
It is clear, then, that, rather than having a coarse and idolatrous view of God, the New Covenant has explained to us the real way by which God could remain the high and lofty Holy One, sitting on His heavenly throne, while at the same time, as the Savior of the world, He was reaching down to the lowliest sinner. And it is through the earthly ministry of Yeshua that countless millions of people around the world have “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). He alone is the Savior, and He alone will bring the nations to God.