The Law – a Quick Study #2

We started out last time noticing that the law – roughly expressed in Exodus 18-40 – could be divided into three classes. What I want to look at this time is how Jesus works with each division. This chart contains the references.

Division Exodus Reference Jesus Statement
Civil (King) Exodus 18:1-27, Exodus 21-22 John 18:36
Ceremonial (Priest) Exodus 23:10-19, Exodus 25ff Matt 15:2

Matt 12:6 (Key passage)

Matt 21:12

Luke 11:38

Moral (Prophet) Exodus 20 Matt 5:21-48 (Key passage)

John 15:17

Romans 13:9 (Paul agrees)

Gal 5:13-14 (even in Gal)

James 2:8 (and James = Paul)


What happens to the Civil law? “My Kingdom is not of this world.” While OT Israel was both state and church, Jesus proclaims the kingdom, but that kingdom is based in the new earth. The state and the church are divided. The church lives here as sojourners or strangers in a strange land. It is a (big word alert) proleptic – an out of time – event. The church is the Kingdom of the Christ. The church is all that will remain in the new earth. Right now, it is out of time. So what happens to civil law is that it has been fulfilled in Christ in the eschatological reality of the Church. The King has come and reigns from the right hand of the father.

What happens to the Ceremonial Law? “Something greater than the temple has come.” Jesus is the great high priest. His sacrifice on the cross satisfied all. The new temple is one of living stones – the church or better the members of the church. The appropriate sacrifices in the new temple are a broken and contrite heart. The ceremonial law, just like the Civil, has been fulfilled in Christ.

What happens to the Moral law? This one is tougher. If you step down the second table of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:13ff) and parallel them with Matt 5:21ff you will see what happens. Jesus takes each law and magnifies the impact reading each broadly (except stealing which is read broadly, but taken more like ‘if someone steals from you, let them”. Matt 5:41 – “If someone forces you to go 1 mile, go 2.”) This is just crushing. Luther does the same thing in his explanation in the small catechism.

So is the Christian bound by the moral law? No (and a very small yes). The law is not what we are judged or graded upon. That is the cross of Christ. But the law is revealed wisdom from God. It is how God intended and intends his people to live. Gal 5:13-14. We are called to love, because the entire law is fulfilled in one Word – “love you neighbor as yourself”. The law should not frighten the Christian. Its condemning power has been stripped away. But the moral law is fulfilled when we – enabled by the indwelling of the Spirit – live out our callings of love. Jesus fulfilled this on the cross while we were still sinners. We have been invited to share in his life and love.

What about when we stumble? Go back to the start of the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. The King grants the Kingdom right now to the poor. Those who have a broken and contrite heart.

Next posting in this series will look at how Jesus continues this is Matt 6:1-24 and how that relates to the traditional practices of lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.