How Christ Fulfilled the Law
We all know and believe that Yeshua [Jesus] fulfilled the law, but too often many fail to consider and ponder just what that fully entails. Does fulfilling scripture only mean that some prophecy has been accomplished, like predicting a future event and then that event coming to pass? Is this what Yeshua meant when He declared that HE came to fulfill the law (MATTHEW 5:17)? Or does fulfilling the law mean that all 900+ minutiae of the law have never been broken, always followed to the letter? Is this what He meant when He declared that He came to fulfill the law? Un-tethered from the traditions we have been taught, let us take a closer look at just what Yeshua meant when He proclaimed that He came to fulfill the law.
At the commencement of Yeshua's ministry, after reading from the scroll of Isaiah, he proclaimed, "This day is this scripture fulfilled [pleroo] in your ears" (LUKE 4:21). If we have believed that to fulfill the law meant to accomplish the law, then "fulfilled in your ears" is a phrase that should have arrested our attention long ago. How are we to understand that a scripture can be accomplished in somebody's ears? Some Commentators have claimed that because Yeshua's audience heard this prophecy proclaimed and then witnessed it being accomplished, that it was therefore fulfilled in their ears, but I'm not so sure that argument really stands up to much scrutiny.
Maybe fulfilled doesn't mean "to accomplish" here at all. Fulfill, from the Greek word pleroo, also means "to expound upon it, to elucidate (illuminate, illustrate), to explain, to give the full and true meaning, to bring to realization, realize" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon). Very possibly Yeshua was referring to illuminating or expounding upon the scriptures, not accomplishing a prediction.
There is a good Greek word which can mean "accomplish" or "come to pass". It is ginomai, and is used by GOD together with pleroo in several passages. Let us first consider some of these to help us distinguish between the two words. The first usage of either of these two Greek words in the Christian Scriptures is found in a single verse, which in itself is quite curious. We will quote the entire context encompassing the incident.
MATTHEW 1:18-23 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Now all this was done [ginomai], that it might be fulfilled [pleroo] which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet [ISAIAH 7:13-14], saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Reading the prophecy in ISAIAH one is presented with somewhat of a different picture than what we find fulfilled in MATTHEW. Most significant being that the child's name in ISAIAH was to be Emmanuel when in MATTHEW the angel commanded Joseph that His name was to be Jesus (Yeshua). Thus we understand that fulfilling prophecy didn't mean that exactly what was written by Isaiah was going to be exactly accomplished in the future by Yeshua. Rather, we see that what it was which was accomplished (ginomai) in MATTHEW, didn't actually fulfill that prophecy, but rather just expounded upon (pleroo) what Isaiah had written. Thus, fulfilling the prophecy really meant explaining or expounding upon it.
MATTHEW provides us with two other brilliant examples of how these two Greek words interact.
MATTHEW 21:1-4 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done [ginomai, was accomplished] that it might be fulfilled [pleroo, explained, expounded upon] which was spoken by the prophet....
MATTHEW 26:55-56 In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done [ginomai, was accomplished], that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled [pleroo, explained, expounded]. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
If fulfilled meant or equaled accomplished, then surely Matthew would have used ginomai in both places. There evidently must be a noticeable difference between the two words, ginomai and pleroo. The fourth Gospel also provides us with the necessary evidence to understand something of the relationship between these two Greek words.
JOHN 19:36 For these things were done [ginomai, were accomplished] that the scripture should be fulfilled [pleroo, explained],
A bone of him shall not be broken.
John records this incident, the soldiers bypassing Yeshua in their breaking the legs of their captors, in order to expound to the reader that just as the Passover lamb was not to have a bone broken, so GOD's own Passover sacrifice was not to have a bone broken. The two passages from the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures echo and mirror each other, but one is not the accomplishment of the other.
Now let's look at a few other passages where this Greek word pleroo is referring, not to a prediction being fulfilled or accomplished but rather where something has been "expounded upon or realized".
LUKE 7:1 Now when he [Yeshua] had ended [pleroo] all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
Ending all His sayings didn't mean He was accomplishing them, but rather that He had given unto the people the "full and true meaning" of His sayings. He had filled them full of the knowledge of GOD, so to speak. Here is another.
JOHN 12:3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled [pleroo] with the odour of the ointment.
The fragrance permeated the house. Everyone knew, they realized from the fragrance of the perfume what Mary had done. It entered their noses, just as Yeshua's words had entered the ears of those in the preceding verse from LUKE. Thus, pleroo does not mean here accomplish or anything like it but rather has to do with evidencing or manifesting something. Here is another.
JOHN 16:6 But because I [Yeshua] have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled [pleroo] your heart.
When the disciples began to realize the true meaning of Yeshua's words, sorrow began to overtake and saturate their hearts. As Mary's ointment filled the room so sorrow was filling their hearts, causing them to realize the depth of that which He had been telling them. The only way sorrow could fill their hearts was if they indeed had began to realize the truth of His words.
ACTS 2:2 And suddenly there came [ginomai] a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled [pleroo] all the house where they were sitting.
Here again we have an example of something causing those present to be aware of an event. The "rushing mighty wind" caused every man to look up, be aware and realize that a momentous event was transpiring. Being in the Temple at the hour of prayer the multitude most likely were kneeling in prayer with their eyes closed. The "rushing mighty wind" no doubt startled them, causing them to pause and open their eyes and see the cloven tongues like fire. The rushing mighty wind, as it filled all the house (the Temple, not the upper room) awakened them out of their meditations, so to speak.
ACTS 5:28 ....Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled [pleroo] Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.
As the perfume in the house, the sorrow in the heart and the rushing mighty wind in the Temple, now this "doctrine" is causing an awareness, a realization, an illumination to transpire throughout Jerusalem. Everywhere men were hearing the gospel and believing that which they heard. It was filling every house and every heart. Not everyone believed, but everyone heard.
ROMANS 8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled [pleroo] in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
This is a very significant passage. The righteousness of the law is fulfilled, is illustrated, is realized by those who walk "not after the flesh, but after the spirit". The spiritual walk alone, which is to walk by faith, is the only way that the true nature of the law can be realized and be understood. There is a righteousness of the law, and that righteousness can only be given its full and true meaning by those who walk after the spirit.
ROMANS 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled [pleroo] the law.
Here again we are told that loving another is the only way to "give a full and true meaning" of the law. The law is spiritual. The law is holy. How else could it be understood, but by faith, which is energized by love (GALATIANS 5:6). One cannot understand the true nature of the law by just physically going through the motions. It has to be a heart obedience; a heart obedient to faith (ROMANS 1:5; 16:26).
ROMANS 15:19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached [pleroo] the gospel of Christ.
This is a great example of exactly what we are trying to demonstrate. Pleroo often means just this, to "fully preach". Paul had expounded upon the gospel, he had given the full and true meaning of it. He also had filled them full of the knowledge of GOD.
GALATIANS 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled [pleroo] in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
As seen before (ROMANS 13:8), the law can only be "fulfilled" by loving your neighbor. "Loving your neighbor" in no way accomplishes all 900+ precepts of the law. Nor does loving your neighbor fulfill some scripture that was long ago written or proclaimed. Rather, loving your neighbor "demonstrates" the full and true meaning of the law of GOD. Thus, only by faith can we demonstrate the full and true meaning of the law.
COLOSSIANS 1:25 Whereof I am made [ginomai] a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil [pleroo] the word of God.
Perhaps we can now finally understand this verse which has been so wrongly interpreted for so long. Many understand pleroo in this verse to mean complete and teach that Paul was writing that the Bible is now complete. They teach that since the Bible was then complete, nothing can be added and nothing can be taken away. Yet COLOSSIANS was not the last portion of the Book to be written. COLOSSIANS was not even the last epistle by Paul to be written, so how can they declare that this verse in COLOSSIANS is telling us that the Bible was then complete?
Actually, this verse in COLOSSIANS is not even talking about the Bible, but about the word of GOD. The two are not identical. Of course the Bible contains the words of GOD, but that is not the only place GOD has placed HIS words. No book, no matter how great, can possible contain all the words of GOD. The Universe cannot contain them (PSALM 19:1-4). All eternity cannot contain them. How in the world can a single book contain them all?
Rather, Paul was writing in COLOSSIANS 1:25 that the dispensation of GOD, which was given to him, was for the purpose of expounding, of making known and causing his readers to realize the word of GOD.
Here is one last passage to consider before we apply what we have learned to just how Yeshua fulfilled the law.
COLOSSIANS 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete [pleroo] in all the will of God.
Our final example is one that fits perfectly with what GOD would have us to understand. Epaphras prayed fervently that they might fully realize GOD's will for their lives, just as Paul also had prayed they would in 1:9, "that ye might be filled [pleroo] with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding". This is the all important reason for the scripture being fulfilled in one's ears, that they might comprehend it. That they might connect the dots.
Understanding cannot be forced into a persons mind. All that can be done is for seed-thoughts to be planted. Then the student either disregards them or hopefully, he considers and ponders them. Hopefully he will begin to ask himself questions about his thoughts upon the scripture. When he does this, GOD can breath into his heart a fuller understanding of HIS truth. GOD can make him full, filled full of HIS knowledge.
So now we come full circle to our verse in question. How did Yeshua fulfill the law? What exactly does it mean to fulfill the law? It means to elucidate it, to make it known, to cause one to realize its true meaning (see LUKE 24:44-45). As perfume might fill a room, so too Yeshua's teaching illuminates the law. That is how Yeshua fulfilled, pleroo the law.
MATTHEW 5:17-18 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil [pleroo, to cause His followers to realize the true nature of the law]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled [ginomai, accomplished].
Chapters 5-7 of MATTHEW contain Yeshua's so-called "Sermon on the Mount". This is the context of our quest to understand just how Yeshua fulfilled the law in 5:17. And in this "Sermon on the Mount" isn't this just what He was doing? And isn't this just what He had been doing? And isn't this just what He was continuing to do on that very mountain? He was teaching the people. He was causing them to understand. He was expounding the scriptures.
How often had He said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time" and then give the full and true meaning by declaring, "But I say unto you..."? Six times in this one chapter (chapter 5) He so says. Six times at least He expounds, He elucidates, explains and gives the full meaning of the scriptures. And then at the close of the sermon, where He has so beautifully expounded unto them the scriptures, He presents them with a promise.
MATTHEW 7:24-29 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
For centuries the scribes had often failed miserably to understand the true nature of the law. Yeshua was sent to teach that they might now understand. "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them...!" This is the reason He was elucidating unto them the scriptures, that when the rain descended, when the floods came and when the wind blew that they would not fall, but stand strong. By His doctrine and His teaching, He was fulfilling, He was expounding upon the law, He was giving its full and true meaning.
It is sometimes taught and believed that to fulfill the law one must accomplish all 900+ precepts contained therein. Howbeit, Scripture doesn't teach this. Yeshua certainly didn't teach this.
LUKE 10:25-28 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him [Yeshua], saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he [Yeshua] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
"What is written in the law? how readest thou?" Yeshua asked him what he understood the law to require that he might have life. His correct answer was love. Love GOD and love his neighbor. "This do!" Not the works of the law, but the works of love. Not to obey the law with your hands but obey the law with your heart! This was how the law was fulfilled, this was how the law was realized.
Nor did the apostle Paul teach that one must accomplish all 900+ precepts of the law to fulfill it.
GALATIANS 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled [pleroo] in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Works of love rather than works of the flesh is how the law is fulfilled, elucidated, expounded. As we noted before, "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled [pleroo] in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (ROMANS 8:4).
So then the question arises, as Paul thought it might when he wrote his epistle to the Roman believers, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (ROMANS 3:31). How? Through faith! Only through faith can the law be established.
"The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good," (ROMANS 7:12), however, "the law is spiritual: but I am carnal" (ROMANS 7:14). The only way for the righteousness of the law to be realized, is when we act out of love, walking by the spirit, walking by faith.
Yeshua's mission in fulfilling the law was to teach the truth regarding the law, that the law is spiritual and can only be realized by love.