The Messiah’s Torah of Life
J. Dan Gill
The Messiah’s words, his teachings and commands, are the terms of God’s new covenant. Jesus did not come to give the people the Law of Moses. They already had that. Jesus’ mission was to bring God’s new covenant. He did expect that his fellow Jews of the day would observe Moses’ law (e.g. Matt. 23:2, 3). He himself was a Jew who was born during the term of the law. Paul writes that Christ was “born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4, 5).
Both Moses and Jesus received words from God. However, what Moses received at Sinai was a law that was for a limited number of people, for a limited time and with limited benefits. What Jesus received was God’s eternal and final arrangement with humanity which was for all people, for all time, and with the benefit of eternal life!
Jesus brought a “new commandment” (John 13:34). In this commandment, he raised the principle of “love for one another” to a new and higher level. Now the standard became the love with which Jesus loved his people (John 15:12, 17). Moses never spoke of this commandment.
That commandment is the foundation upon which God’s new covenant is built. It begins with God’s own love in which he “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). It continues in that son who loved his fellow human beings so much that he gave his life for them (Matt. 20:28). The love of that son is then joined with the love that his people are to share (1 John 3:16). It is this ultimate love of God, the Messiah, and his people, that forms the basis for God’s new and final covenant with humankind.
That love is a commandment, a law. It is the basis for the new Torah — the Torah of Messiah (Gal. 6:2). The New Testament is essentially an exposition of that love. Sharing in the unique love of God and of Christ is required in order for a person to be a partaker in the new covenant and to have eternal life (1 John 3:14, 15). And just as the love that Christ has toward God is conjoined with his obedience to God (John 8:28; Matt. 26:39–42; 1 Cor. 11:3), the love of Christ’s people cannot be separated from their obedience to Christ — keeping his commandments (Heb. 5:9; John 15:14). And obedience to the Messiah’s commandments leads to eternal life. Jesus said of the words that God gave to him:
I know that his commandment is eternal life. Therefore, I speak just what the Father has told me to say (John 12:50).
Again, Jesus says:
The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life (John 6:63).
For people who have confidence in the leading of the spirit of God, they must recognize that according to the Bible, the spirit does not lead Christians to observe Moses’ law. Rather, the spirit leads people to the new covenant of “life” in Messiah Jesus (2 Cor. 3:3–8; Gal. 3:1–5).
On the occasion above in which Jesus says that his words are “spirit” and “life,” Peter makes this statement to Jesus:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).¹
There were many teachers of Moses’ law in the land. Yet Peter is recognizing that it is Jesus who has “the words of eternal life.” Hence, the concern under the new covenant is not Moses’ law but the words of Jesus and obedience to him:
And having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb. 5:9).
The New Testament is not a book filled with exhortations to keep Moses’ Law. It is a book filled with exhortations to obey Messiah Jesus and keep his words. And his words will never pass away. It is Jesus himself who says:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Matt. 24:35).
(1) English translations have long tended to render zoe aionios as “eternal life.” Both the celebrated Anglican scholar N. T. Wright and New Testament scholar Anthony Buzzard move us forward in their recent translations of the New Testament. N. T. Wright renders the phrase, “the life of the coming age,” i.e. the life of the kingdom. N. T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (New York: Harper Collins, 2011). That life, among other things, is of course unending in its nature and hence “eternal.” Anthony Buzzard in his translation comments that the phrase zoe aionios is ”much too vaguely translated as ‘eternal life.’” He translates the phrase as “the Life of the Age to Come.” Anthony Buzzard, The One God, the Father and One Man Messiah, New Testament (Morrow, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2014), 246, N-46.