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T. Harris, LLD: Founder/President, Trustee, Global Christian Higher Education Officer OF Natural Law In Christian Jurisprudence with the main jurisdictions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Delaware, South New Jersey & Colorado Regional Area
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FATHER GOD LET YOUR WILL TAKE PLACE AND YOUR KINGDOM COME!
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And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mt 28:18-20.
If you spent any significant amount of time attending a church that identifies itself as evangelical, then you would likely be familiar with these last three verses of the book of Matthew, commonly called the Great Commission. These are ostensibly the last words spoken by Jesus just prior to the remarks He made at His ascension in Acts 1:6-8.
If these verses are not familiar to you, they are viewed by many, and possibly most Christians as the marching orders of the incorporeal Church, i.e., the worldwide body of Christ through the years, not tied to any specific group, congregation or denomination. In other words, these verses sum up what it is that Christians are supposed to do in the world as Christians until Jesus returns.
I typically list the Great Commission among the four great commands given by God to all of humanity in its principal institutional capacities, that is, the Dominion Mandate (Gen. 1:28) given to families, the Greatest Commandments (Mat. 22:36-40) given to individuals, the purpose of civil power (1 Pet. 2:13-14) given to nations, and the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) given to the Church.
If you have a mastery of these four great commands, understanding what each includes and excludes, and how to interpret them without bringing them into conflict with each other, then you are well on your way to understanding God’s overall plan for mankind and His will for human society. Their importance cannot be overestimated.
There is no command or law higher than these. They are supreme over all other laws and commands found in the laws of nature and nature’s God, equal in authority and importance with the divine covenants. Indeed, two of them are divine covenants (the Dominion Mandate – Adamic covenant; and the Great Commission – Church covenant). The Greatest Commandments and the principles of civil power, in contrast, summarize eternal principles of the law of nature which coincidentally are reflected in the Mosaic covenant but are not derived from it.
WHAT ARE THE COMMANDS OF JESUS?
God’s Laws Are Jesus’ Commands
Let’s start with the obvious. Jesus is God, thus, Jesus’ commands are God’s commands, and vice versa. Remember who Jesus is:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col 1:15-17.
This is the same Jesus who said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 5:17-19.
Not everything God or Jesus has said is a commandment, or a law. Not everything the patriarchs, prophets and N.T. saints did are examples to us of rules and practices to follow. Not everything God laid out as a pattern for a particular group of people is a pattern for the rest of us. We need to observe the differences between orders, rules and admonitions, and recognize the role of liberty.
For example, when God told Abram to go from his father’s house to the land He would show him (Gen. 12:1), that was not a law, but an order. Similarly, when Jesus told the disciples to go to Jerusalem and prepare the Passover meal, that was an order. An order is a command to a particular person to do a particular task.
A law, on the other hand, is a rule of conduct that all men must abide by. Sometimes rules can be directed to the people of a particular nation (such as Israel), but of course in fulfilling the Great Commission we want to identify rules applicable to all nations.
Scripturally, there is a strong connection between Jesus, the creation, and the laws of God which existed before His birth in Bethlehem. Thus, His commands are not limited to things said in His First Advent, but include all of the laws of nature and nature’s God. Who are we, to limit the scope of His commands to things said while He was in the flesh, when His authority extends to all things past, present and future?
Look at the words in Mt 5:17-19 and re-read them carefully.
1. When Jesus said He would fulfill the law rather than abolish it, many people read that as though Jesus would bring the law to completion, and usher in something new (i.e., grace) to replace it. Functionally, that would mean the law has been terminated, which is the same thing as abolished. But since Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law, that cannot possibly be a correct interpretation of these verses.
2. The better way to understand these verses is to use another definition of fulfill, namely, to keep the law or carry it out. Not only is this more consistent with not abolishing the law, it makes verse 17 more consistent with verse 18. Thus, Jesus’ whole ministry was undertaken with the goal of honoring the prior law and adhering to it. That makes what Jesus said in the Great Commission a lot easier to understand, doesn’t it?
3. Verse 18 says not one part of the Law will pass away: a) until heaven and earth pass away; and b) until all is accomplished. Arguably, both of those phrases refer to the same thing, i.e., the end of time. In other words, the laws Jesus is referring to both pre-date His First Advent and they are eternal, meaning they are still applicable today because heaven and earth have not yet passed away. The laws Jesus came to keep are still around, folks!
4. When Jesus said He would fulfill the Law and the Prophets, do not assume He was mainly or exclusively referring to the Mosaic laws. We know the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law have been obsoleted (Heb. 7:12), so if Jesus was talking about aspects of the Old Testament laws He knew would be around forever, He must have been talking about laws other than the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law. In other words, Jesus must have referred to laws applicable to everyone, and not just the Jews. Namely, the laws applicable to all men under the laws of nature and nature’s God.
5. Notice the penalty and reward statements in verse 19, and coordinate them with the Great Commission. If you obey the Great Commission and teach all nations to observe God’s laws, you will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. If you fail to do this, you will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. In the latter case, you will still be saved, but you will have failed to do what God wanted you to do. Wait – don’t tell me you thought your heavenly reward will be based on how many people you evangelize!? Oops!
Some of you are no doubt thinking that what I have just said cannot possibly be true. You have had it drummed into your head all of your church-going life that God’s laws were relevant in the Old Testament, but not the New Testament. But you have been sold a bill of goods. Teaching and following God’s commands is not a concept negated by the N.T., but rather embraced by it. Let’s allow the scripture to speak for itself.
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. 1 Jn 3:23-24.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 Jn 5:2-3.
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 2 Jn 4-6
First, just because we live in the age of grace does not mean that obedience to God’s commandments has somehow become irrelevant. God has commandments that still apply to Christians and He expects us to still obey them.
Second, notice these three texts use the commandments of Jesus, the commandments of God, and the commandments of the Father interchangeably – they are all equivalent terms for each other. Don’t fall into the trap of making distinctions that have no real difference. Just because different words are used does not mean there are three different sets of commands (Jesus’ commands, God’s commands, and the Father’s commands) containing different rules for different people or different ages. The scripture uses over a dozen different names or titles for Jesus Christ – not for the purpose of dividing Him, but to give us a greater range of perspectives of the same person. Same here.
Third, notice how well 1 Jn 3:23-24 tracks with Matt. 22:37-40:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
1 Jn 3 tells us that we should: 1) believe in the name of Jesus Christ; and 2) love one another. Matt. 22 tells us to: 1) love the Lord your God; and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. Are these two sets of unrelated commandments; or are they in fact the same commandments expressed with slightly different words? Aren’t they the same? And isn’t that what we should expect? “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Heb. 13:8.
So in other words, the commandments under the law (referred to in Matt. 22) are the same as the commandments in the age of grace, i.e., love God and your neighbor as yourself. No change. What’s more, the commandments of Jesus comprehend all the Law and the Prophets – it does not exclude them, but includes them (yet only as they are applicable to all men under the laws of nature and nature’s God).
Fourth, notice the phrase, from the beginning in 2 Jn 4-6. Don’t get sloppy – it doesn’t mean from the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It means from the beginning of time. From the beginning when Jesus was God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jn 1:1.
Are you beginning to get the picture? All of the laws of nature and nature’s God are the laws Jesus came to fulfill and which His entire earthly ministry were based around. These same laws are the commandments of Jesus, and these are what the Church is supposed to be teaching the nations pursuant to the Great Commission. And whether we teach these laws to the nations is the criterion by which God will determine who is least and greatest in heaven.
But, Lord help us, the Church is NOT teaching the laws of nature and nature’s God to anyone, much less the whole world. In fact, just the opposite. Asserting the pseudo-argument of law vs. grace, we negate the Great Commission and do the very opposite of what Jesus commanded – all while we claim to be doing His will.
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15 (KJV).
For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
EAUA TEACHERS FUND, LLP.,FOUNDED BY JESUS & CO-FOUNDED BY: T. HARRIS, LLD