Matthew 5:17-20 ESV:

17 “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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus asserted very categorically that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. As if abolishing and fulfilling meant and entailed different things. What would happen if Jesus had come to abolish the Law instead of fulfill it? Would that make any difference? Or for example, what if Jesus had come to both fulfill and abolish the Law simultaneously? Would that make any difference? In other words, I would like to know what Jesus' understanding was regarding the concepts of abolishment and fulfillment when applied to the Law, and what the implications are for believers in each scenario.

  • 1
    Read the book of Galations. The apostle Paul clearly understood that the so called Jewish tradition and its laws were absolutely not replaced by Jesus at no time during or after His ministry! He (Jesus) specifically told those listening in Matthew 5 not one jot or tittle shall be changed from the law until heaven and earth pass away. We are all still very much alive and kicking on this planet, I am quite certain the earth hasn't yet passed away! All it means is that we are not saved by the law, we are saved by grace! The "patience of saints in Revelation" (those with law and testimony)
    – Adam
    Mar 20, 2021 at 20:13
  • @Adam Seems pretty clear to me that the old world (Jewish Covenental world) has passed away. Mar 20, 2021 at 21:13
  • 'What would happen if . . . . ' and 'What if . . . .' are hypothetical questions and, therefore, matters of opinion. So also is 'Jesus understanding' a matter of conjecture. This question is not enquiring about the text that we actually have before us.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 20, 2021 at 22:10
  • @NigelJ - it surely has to do with the text. Those are just guiding questions to make the reader reflect on the meaning of words which are explicitly mentioned in the text. If you find that confusing, feel free to propose edits.
    – user38524
    Mar 21, 2021 at 0:00

2 Answers 2


Abolishing the Law would, in the mind of the Jews at the time, be a significant insult--the written Law was what (in the eyes of many) defined their people. They were God's people because He had made a covenant with them. Was that covenant to be abolished? No, it was to be fulfilled.


"To abolish" carries a more negative connotation than to fulfil--if something is abolished, this suggests there was something wrong with it, it was in error. Consider the following synonyms of abolish:

abate, abrogate, annul, avoid, cancel, disannul, dissolve, invalidate, negate, null, nullify, quash, repeal, rescind, roll back, strike down, vacate, void (see here)

That's a pretty harsh list.


"To fulfil", on the other hand, suggests that what was given was appropriate for the time and now it has run its course. When something is fulfilled its validity is acknowledged. I believe that this is what Jesus had in mind--He was not saying that Moses was wrong, He was saying that the end purpose of the Law was to point people to Someone (Himself)--who had now arrived--who would fulfil the promises God made with Israel.

This meant He was claiming an authority greater than Moses--an incredible claim that many at the time found difficult to accept.

The Lord wasn't repenting for giving the Law, He was fulfilling its promises

The Epistle to the Hebrews is at its core an extensive argument that the ordinances of the Law were symbols of Christ, and that the old covenant had been replaced with a new covenant.

My (surprisingly off-putting =) ) argument from Hebrews--for Jesus fulfilling the Law by making Himself the ultimate offering--is found here.

Let's look at just 2 passages:


From Galatians 3, that God gave the Law, but it wasn't an end in itself--it was to point people to Christ:

19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.


21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.


24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ


From Hebrews 7, contrasting the daily ordinances of the Levitical priests with the eternal efficacy of the atonement of Christ:

25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.


27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.

The Law of Moses vs. laws in general

It is important to clarify what I'm not saying--I'm not saying the fulfilment of the Law of Moses means there are no more rules or commandments. Jesus fulfilled the Law; He also gave many commandments; this is what the next 28 verses following the passage in the OP are all about.

In what sense did Jesus fulfil the Law?

The atonement of Jesus Christ made efficacious everything God promised to do for His people.

God made a covenant with Israel; God kept His covenant with Israel.


Jesus' famous statement in Matt 5:17-19 is a loaded statement. It has been made unnecessarily complex by the theology of some moderns who want to treat the entire Torah as a single entity. Even a casual glance at Scripture tells us two things:

  1. At least some parts of the Torah are no longer applicable especially the ceremonial laws because of the ripped temple curtain (Matt 27:51) and the fact that the temple and priesthood no longer exists. Thus we could no longer keep this covenant even if we wanted to.
  2. The moral requirements of the law are still binding because they are so often quoted in the NT such as: Eph 6:2, 3 <> Deut 5:16, Ex 20:12; James 2:11 <> Ex 20:13; Rom 13:9 <> Ex 20:13-15, 17; Rom 7:7 <> Ex 20:17; Acts 23:5 <> Ex 22:28; Heb 9:20 <> Ex 24:8; 1 Peter 1:16 <> Lev 19:2; Matt 22:39, James 2:8, Gal 5:14 <> Lev 19:18; 2 Tim 2:19 <> Num 16:5; Matt 19:18, 19 <> Deut 5:16-20; Mark 12:32 <> Deut 6:4; 2 Cor 13:1  Deut 19:15; Matt 5:31, 19:7 <> Deut 24:1; 1 Cor 9:9 <> Deut 25:4; Rom 12:19 <> Deut 32:35; Heb 10:30 <> Deut 32:35, 36; Acts 15:29 <> food sacrificed, no blood, no strangled animal meat, no fornication, etc.

Thus, it is immediately apparent that some parts of the Torah are still applicable and some are not. The way to tell the difference is via Jesus' statement in Matt 5:17-19 about fulfilling the law. In the OT, "law" had no meaning apart from an associated covenant - see appendix below.

The ceremonial covenant, which pointed to Jesus and His sacrifice was fulfilled in Jesus as our great High Priest, no question.

The civil covenant, or Davidic covenant with its Hebrew Jurisprudence was fulfilled in Jesus as the King of the Kingdom of God.

The Moral covenant is essentially repeated and expanded in the NT and clearly existed before Sinai as many are judged against its requirements (another question!)


Thus, none of the Torah was abolished - parts were fulfilled in Jesus.

APPENDIX - Bible Covenants

In the New Testament, the English word “covenant” is a translation of the Greek, “diatheke”. In Hellenistic (non-biblical) Koine Greek, the exclusive meaning of diatheke is “last will and testament” (see BDAG), that is, a series of instructions about what to do with a person’s property when they die. Thus it is used in Heb 9:16, 17, (and possibly Gal 3:15?). However, in all other 30 instances, it appears to be heavily influenced by the meaning in the Septuagint where it translates the Hebrew, “berith”, all of which fall into two obvious categories:

(a) Covenants between various people, Gen 14:13, 21:27, 32, 26:28, 34:44, Ex 23:32, Josh 9:6ff, 1 Kings 12 (= 2 Chron 2), 2 Kings 23:3, Ezra 10:3, etc. In this sense, “berith” means an agreement for mutual peace between equal parties, ie, ‘compact’, ‘agreement’, ‘contract’, ‘treaty’, etc.

(b) Covenants initiated by God for His chosen people, eg, Gen 9:9ff, 15:18, 17:2ff, Ex 2:24, 6:4, 5, 19:5, 24:7, 8, 31:16, 34:10, 12ff, Lev 2:13, 24:8, 26:9ff, Num 10:33, 14:44, 18:19, 25:12, 13, 4:13ff, 5:2, 3, 7:2ff, 8:18, 9:9, 11, 15, 10:8, 17:2, 29:1ff, 31ff, 33:9, Josh 3:3ff, 23:16, 24:25, etc. In this sense, “berith” means, ‘decree’, ‘declaration of purpose’, ‘set of regulations’ (BDAG), which God alone initiates, and God alone sets the regulations. In all cases, a “berith” from God is part of declaration of intent to save His chosen people and thus not an agreement between two parties. With the exception of Heb 9:16, 17, “diatheke” in the NT appears to be given the second meaning (b) above under the influence of the Septuagint which translates the Hebrew OT. It is this second meaning that is discussed below.

Covenant Function

The various covenants in the Bible all had a single function – to regulate a relationship between two parties. That is, without a relationship between two parties, a covenant has no meaning. Further, the regulations of each covenant only function within the relationship. Put another way, the law or regulations exist for the sake of the covenant; the covenant does not exist for the sake of the law. In this context, keeping a law in the absence of the covenant is unknown in the Bible and has no meaning. Because God’s covenant of salvation, or better, declaration of intent to save or bless is entirely God’s initiative, and that the requirements that invariably accompany such decrees, it is often called a “covenant of grace” because God binds Himself to do this by making a series of promises.

Covenant Structure/Content

All divine covenants in the Bible contain the following six elements:

  • Statement of pre-amble and/or purpose of the covenant
  • Promise of benefits given by God. This shows that such divine covenants are the initiative of God alone. In no case were such covenants initiated by humans.
  • Promise of curses/consequences if the covenant is not kept
  • Requirements of people on whom the benefits are bestowed. This is sometimes also call the associated “law” of the covenant.
  • A sign of the covenant to remind the people of their responsibilities
  • A ceremony, usually consisting of a “cutting”, always a sacrifice or similar.

Seven covenants that God initiated are listed below in Biblical order:

Edenic Covenant: Gen 1:26, 28-30, 2:16, 17.

This covenant is not as explicit as those which follow because the word “covenant” is not used. However, following the general principle that laws are never given without a being in the context of a covenant, there appears to be a clear implication of one. This covenant consists of:

  • God blessed mankind, Gen 1:28
  • God gives the gift of all seed-bearing plants as food, including fruit trees and green plants, Gen 1:28, 2:16
  • Instruction to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”, Gen 1:28
  • Instruction to “subdue the earth”, Gen 1:28
  • Instruction to “rule over the all creatures”, Gen 1:26, 28
  • Instruction to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil else they would die, Gen 2:17. This was fulfilled in Gen 3.

Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17.

The Noahide Covenant is actually a covenant with all living creatures and all mankind. It consisted of:

  • This covenant was initiated in order to ensure continuity of seasons without interruption, Gen 8:21, 22.
  • God promises never to curse the ground again, Gen 8:21.
  • God promises never to destroy humans and animals by flood again, Gen 8:21, 9:11.
  • God promises that seasons would never be stopped again, Gen 8:22.
  • God commands humans to multiply and increase on the earth, Gen 9:2, 7.
  • God commands humans to take charge of the earth and maintain it responsibly, Gen 9:2, 3; see also Gen 1:28, 29.
  • God commands humans not to eat blood, Gen 9:4.
  • God commands humans not to commit murder else an accounting will be required. Murder destroys the image of God in mankind, Gen 9:5, 6.
  • The rainbow is given as a token/sign (Heb: “oth”, Gen 9:12, 13, 17) of God’s promise to save mankind.
  • The covenant was initiated and solemnised by animal sacrifice, Gen 8:20.

Note that in this statement of God’s covenant of grace, it is universal and applying to all mankind and all animals (Gen 9:8-10, 16, 17), despite the recognition that mankind is evil (Gen 8:21). Further, the prohibition against murder and eating blood are specifically prohibited to prevent God’s image in mankind being marred. One of the unusual aspects of this covenant is the animals – God promises something to animals! Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18

The Abrahamic Covenant is stated in two places, Gen 15 & 17, 13 years apart (and repeated in Gen 18:9-15, 22:15-18 without using the word “covenant” nor formal sacrifices) and consisted of the following: Gen 15

  • God promises Abram a biological son
  • God promises Abram uncountable descendants
  • God promises Abram’s descendants the land of Canaan, “from the wadi of Egypt to the great river Euphrates”.
  • God promises to return Abram’s descendants to Canaan after Egyptian slavery of 400 years
  • God promises to punish the Egyptians
  • God promises great possessions to Abram’s descendants when they leave Egypt
  • The covenant was initiated and signified by a ceremony (significant to the culture of Abraham) of cutting several animals in half and God passing between the halves, and (and so solemnly promising) to keep the provisions of the covenant.

This ceremony of cutting sacrificed animals in half is a direct allusion of the word “berith” (= “covenant”), meaning, “to cut”. That this covenant was a covenant of grace is confirmed by Gen 15:6, “Abram believed the LORD and he credited it to him as righteousness”. (See also Rom 4:3, Gal 3:6, James 2:23.) Gen 17, 18:9-15

  • God promises a biological son by Sarah, viz. Isaac
  • God promises to greatly increase Abram’s numbers
  • God promises Abram that he would be the father of many nations
  • God promises Abraham the land of Canaan
  • God promises that Ishmael would also be fruitful
  • Abraham and his descendants must promise to be faithful to God
  • The covenant is signified by the token/sign (Heb: “oth”, Gen 17:10, 11, 13, Rom 4:11) of circumcision (= circular cut), Acts 8:7, and a change of name from Abram to Abraham. It is immediately clear that this covenant is a re-statement, with only slight variations, of the covenant in Gen 15, and was an eternal covenant, Gen 17:7, 13.

Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – often called, “The Old Covenant”, or, “Moral Covenant”, or, sometimes incorrectly called, “The Mosaic Covenant”.

In Ex 19 Moses is instructed in the Covenant directly by God. Moses then conveys the content of the covenant to the people which is recorded in Ex 20:1-17 as the 10 Commandments, and then explained and amplified in Ex 20:22-23:33. The people answered, three times, “whatever the Lord has said we will do”, Ex 19:8, 24:3, 7, thus creating the Israelite covenant. [Later they rejected the Covenant and a New Covenant had to be instituted with Christians with the same content.] This Covenant was open to all people from its inception and was voluntary.

This Israelite Covenant consisted of the following:

  • God promises to “save” Israel from Egyptian slavery and deliver them to the Promised Land as stated in the preamble to the 10 commandments, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6. This was to fulfil God’s earlier promise to Abraham and others to give the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants, Ex 2:24, 6:4, 5, forever, 1 Chron 16:15, Ps 105:8, 111:9.
  • God promises to protect His people by sending a protecting angel, Ex 23:19, 20, and establish their borders, Ex 23:31.
  • The benefits/promises of the covenant are also clearly set out in Lev 26:1-13, Deut 28:1-14 (blessings for obedience), and, Lev 26:14-39, Deut 28:15-68 (curses for disobedience).
  • The purpose the Covenant (Ex 20:1-17) is stated clearly in Ex 19:5, 6 – to make the Israelites God’s peculiar treasure, his special people, distinguished by the way they conducted themselves. Ps 50:16-18, 74:20, 78:36, 37. This purpose of the covenant was stated in other ways as, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, … ” Ex 6:7. This is stated repeatedly: Lev 26:9-12, Deut 29:9-13, 2 Sam 7:24, 1 Chron 11:2, Ps 50:7, 95:7, 100:3, Isa 40:1, Jer 7:23, 11:1-4, 24:7, 30:9, 22, 31:1, 33, 32:38-40, Eze 11:20, 34:30, 31, 36:26-28, 37:23, 24, Hos 1:9, 4:6, Joel 2:26, 27, Zech 8:8. It is significant that the first of the 10 Commandments is a decree to have only ONE God, the LORD, Ex 20:3, Deut, 5:7, 6:4-6.

This same idea is also expressed another way – creating a people who would be “called by the name of the LORD”, or, “called by my name”, 2 Chron 7:14, Isa 43:7, 65:1; that is, to bear the character of a gracious, loving, kind God. The Jerusalem Temple was also a symbol of this covenant because it was “called by my Name”, 1 Kings 8:13, Jer 7:10, 11, 14, 32:34, 34:15. Such people, God declared, “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession … a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Ex 19:5, 6. See also Ruth 1:16. Significantly, in Eze 36:16-38, the LORD sternly rebukes Israel because, “they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, yet they had to leave His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they had gone. (v22, 23). That is, Israel had profaned the name of God by sinning.

  • The requirements of the Israelite covenant are the 10 Commandments as recorded on the tablets of stone and amplified in Ex 20:22-23:33, the book of Deuteronomy and elsewhere such as Lev 17-19, 26. This is shown by the following facts:
  • Ex 24:7 introduces the “Book of the Covenant” (which see) as already existing, ie, Ex 20:22 – 23:33. It served as an expansion and legal context in which to place the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments.
  • These tablets of stone with the 10 Commandments are called “the covenant” (Ex 34:27, 28, Deut 9:9, 11, 15) and placed inside the ark (Ex 25:16, 21, 40:20, Heb 9:4). [The tables of stone were also called “the tables of Testimony” (Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:29), or just, “The Testimony” (Ex 25:16, 21).]
  • The “Ark of the Covenant” (Num 10:33, 14:44, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, 26, Josh 3:3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 4:7, 9, 18, 6:6, 8:33, etc) or, “Ark of the Testimony” (Ex 25:22, 26:33, 34, 30:6, 26, 31:7, 39:35, 40:3, 5, 21, Lev 16:13, Num 4:5, 7:89, Josh 4:16, etc) is described thus precisely because it contained the stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God (Ex 31:18, Deut 9:10) with the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments. 1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chron 5:10.
  • The ancient sacred “Tabernacle”, also known as the “tent of meeting” (Ex 39:32, 40:2, 6, 22, 24, 35, Lev 17:4, Num 3:7, 8, 4:25, 31) was also called the “tent of covenant law” (Num 9:15, 1:50, 53, Ex 38:21) because it housed the Ark of the Covenant containing the Covenant Law.
  • The re-statement and expansion of the 10 Commandments as the covenant in Deut 4:13, 23, 31, 5:2, 3 includes a reference back to the Covenant at Horeb, ie, Mt Sinai (See Ex 3:1, 17:6, 33:6, etc, and the statement of the covenant in Ex 19, 20, and restated in Ex 24).
  • The 10 Commandments Covenant is distinct from the Levitical law and Davidic Covenant.
  • The visible symbols of the Israelite Covenant solemnity and importance included: an altar of 12 stones (Ex 24:4), a sacrifice (Ex 24:5), sprinkled blood of the covenant (Ex 24:8). The blood of the covenant was used dramatically when painted on the door posts in Egypt at the first Passover (Ex 12).
  • The tokens/signs of the covenant (Heb: “oth”) appear to have been the law of the 10 Commandments themselves (Deut 6:8, 11:18), and especially the Sabbath (Ex 31:13, 16, 17, Isa 56:4, 6, Exe 20:12, 20, see “Sabbath”); the blood of the covenant from the Passover Lamb is also used as a sign in Ex 12:13; the famous “Ark of the Covenant” containing the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone (Ex 16:34, 24:12, 25:16, 21, 31:18, 32:15, 19, 34:1, 4, 28, 40:20, Deut 4:13, 9-11, etc). [Note: This did not include circumcision as this was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant to which the Israelites fell heirs.]
  • Lev 26:44, 45, Jer 31:35-37, 32, 40, 33:25 declare the Israelite covenant immutable and irrevocable. See also Heb 13:20, 1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8, Eze 37:26. Later Views on the Israelite Covenant

The ancient Israelites were often reprimanded for assuming that God’s covenant with them was a mere matter of ceremonies, the stone tablets and the temple. 1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, etc. That is, they confused the Levitical and Moral Covenant. More particularly, the Israelites were repeatedly told that the conditions of the Covenant were a matter for the heart and NOT external regulations (Deut 6:5, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28), because God initiated the covenant to save Israel; it was a covenant of transforming grace and forgiveness! Isa 59:21 says the covenant is the eternal gift of the Spirit.

That this Israelite Covenant was a covenant of transforming grace is confirmed by several ideas:

  • The Old Covenant was a covenant initiated entirely by God alone, to save Israel. God alone set out the requirements and blessings. God makes it clear that they were selected as the chosen people, NOT because of any Israelite merit, but simply because God wanted to. Deut 7:7, 9:5, 6, 10:15.
  • The Old Covenant was a matter of the “heart” (Deut 6:5, 10:12, 16, 11:18, 22, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28) and NOT mere regulations (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). These references make it clear that the Old Covenant did not really include the animal sacrifices, and that they could not define nor atone for sin. (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). The animal sacrifices and the sanctuary ritual were part of the Levitical covenant which acted as teaching device that anticipated, and was a type of, the High Priestly ministry of Messiah.
  • The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Covenant stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, was constructed in a highly symbolic way. The 10 Commandments were inside the box and the “atonement cover” or “mercy seat” was placed above them. Ex 25:17-22, 26:34, 30:6, 31:17, 37:9, 40:20, Lev 16:13; see also Heb 9:5. This arrangement was placed in the Most Holy Place, in the sanctuary, and always remained at the center of God’s Covenant people.
  • In Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he describes the (Israelite) Covenant as God showing “lovingkindness”, or, “steadfast love”, to people. 1 Kings 8:23, 2 Chron 6:14, See also Neh 1:5, 9:32, Ps 89:28, 33, 34, 103:17, 18, 111:4, 5, 9, Isa 54:10, 55:3. This suggests that the Law of God, or the Moral Law, is an expression of God’s love and is just as eternal.

Levitical Covenant: – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8. This is an eternal covenant (Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30) of salt, Num 18:19.

The Levitical covenant is stated in Num 3:11-13, 25:12 where God takes the Levites (especially the line of Phineas as High Priest) instead of the all the firstborn of each family, thus changing the (informal) priesthood from the firstborn of each family to the (formal) priesthood of tribe of Levi. Several Bible writers refer to this Levitical Covenant including:

  • Neh 13:29 – “the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites”
  • Jer 33:18, 21 – “covenant with the Levitical priests.”
  • Mal 2:4-8 – “the covenant with Levi”
  • Num 25:10-13 – the eternal covenant of priesthood was also a covenant of peace and a covenant of “salt” (Num 18:19), ie, very solemn and eternal.
  • Isa 54:10 & Eze 34:25 also describes the covenant of peace with the Levites From other Bible passages we can see what the Levitical covenant was.
  • The purpose of the Levitical covenant was to teach and inculcate the plan of salvation (Deut 33:9, 10, Heb 9:8, 9, 11-14, 10:1-3, Col 2:16, 17). That is, it symbolically taught about salvation by grace through the coming Messiah via His substitutionary death in the place of the sinner. Thus, the sacrifices, Levites, priests and High Priest became a type of Jesus in various ways.
  • A promise by God to set them apart, ie, make them “holy” (Num 3:12, 13), to be a substitute for the first born in Israel, and to have the primary responsibility for caring for the sanctuary, its ritual services and sacrifices, maintaining and transporting its equipment. Ex 32:25-29. In this way, they became the priests of Israel. All these regulations were contained in Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27.
  • Thus, the Levites enjoyed a “blessed” (and privileged) status. Ex 32:29, Mal 2:5.
  • The book of Leviticus (and Num 1 & 18) sets out the responsibilities of the Levites in operating the ceremonial rites and sanctuary services and caring for the sanctuary equipment. See also Num 1:53, 18:2, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, Josh 3:3, 2 Sam 15:24, 1 Chron 15:26.
  • The token/sign (Heb: “oth”) of the Levitical covenant appears to have been the unleavened bread at the annual festival (Ex 13:6, 9, 16, Lev 24:8). The Israelite Covenant never mentions a formal priesthood; thus the Israelite covenant was distinct from the Levitical covenant. In the NT, this Levitical Covenant with all its ceremonies was often abbreviated to “the Law of Moses”, or just, “circumcision” and are clearly understood as distinct from the Old Israelite covenant laws, 1 Cor 7:19, Eph 2:15, Acts 15.

Davidic (or Regal, or Royal) Covenant: 2 Sam 7, 23:5, 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:14-16, 7:17, 18, 13:5, Ps 89:4, 29, 34, 39, 132:11, 12, Jer 33:21, Eze 37:15-28. This is an eternal covenant.

The provisions of the Davidic Covenant were as follows.

  • God promised to make David, a shepherd king over Israel. 2 Sam 7:9, 1 Kings 8:25, 2 Chron 21:7.
  • God promised to defeat all David’s enemies and give him peace on all sides, 2 Sam 7:9
  • David’s name would be great, 2 Sam 7:9-11
  • God promised there would always be a blood descendant of David on his throne, by an eternal “covenant of salt” (ie very solemn), 2 Chron 13:5, forever, 2 Sam 7:13, 15, 16, Eze 37:26, (2 Sam 23:5).
  • God promised that the descendant of David would have God as his Father and he would be His son, 2 Sam 7:14.
  • David’s son, Solomon, was the person to build the temple, 2 Sam 7:12, 13.
  • David and his descendants must remain faithful to God and keep all that is written in the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy), Deut 17:18, 31:26. Note that the Davidic Covenant was distinct from the Israelite and Levitical Covenants – David became a type of the eternal reign of Messiah to come.

While David and his successors were earthly kings, they were to recognise that the real king of Israel was God. 1 Sam 8:7, 8, 24:6, 2 Sam 19:21, 1 Chron 28:5, 2 Chron 9:8, 13:8, Ps 5:2, 44:4. See also 1 Sam 12:14.

Note especially, what the angel said to Mary before Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:32, 33 – He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end!”

Christian Covenant – often called, “The New Covenant”, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15, 10:16, 29, 12:24, (Jer 31:31, 33), an eternal covenant (Heb 13:20). The Christian Communion service celebrates the New Covenant and thus serves as one of the “signs” of the New Covenant. Before proceeding further we should note:

  • The Old Israelite Covenant is eternal (1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8)
  • The Levitical Covenant is eternal (Lev 24:8, Num 25:10-13, Ps 106:30)
  • The Davidic Covenant is eternal (2 Sam 23:5, 1 Kings 9:5, 2 Chron 13:5, Eze 37:25, 26)
  • The Abrahamic Covenant is eternal (Gen 17:9, 13, 19)
  • The Noahide Covenant is eternal (Gen 9:16) Thus, none of these covenants was abrogated as confirmed by Matt 5:17, “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.” See also Matt 5:18-20.

According to Heb 8:7, 8, 9, the New Covenant was created, not because the Old was defective but because the people (literal Israelites) did not understand, rejected the old covenant and a New Covenant was made with new people, Christians, who accept the promises by faith. Jesus made the same point in Matt 21:43, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” See also Gal 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise”. Paul makes the same point in Rom 9:6-9, 11:11-22 where the old covenant was not revoked (it was immutable, Jer 31:35-37) but Christians, people of faith, were grafted into the original “olive tree”. This is also confirmed by Eph 2:12 where Paul discusses Gentiles being absorbed into spiritual Israel becoming part of the ancient covenant promises, all by faith.

Thus, the New Covenant and the Old Covenant are the same thing distinguished only by the people to whom God made the promises, namely, Israelites for the Old Covenant and Christians for the New Covenant (without excluding the Israelites!!). The same Moral Law applied in both cases (see below). Indeed, the Old and New Covenant distinction becomes quite blurred when one recalls that the Israelite covenant was always open to all people. See “Israel”. Anyone was free to become a Jew or Israelite by joining their community of faith.

As usual, the key to understanding this is the centrality of Jesus. See Heb 8:6-13, and Heb 9:15.

  • The purpose of the Old Covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant: Specifically, God said of the Christian community, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9, 10 (Compare Ex 19:5, 6, Hos 1:9, 4:6).
  • All the promises God made under the Old Covenant to Israelites find their fulfilment in Jesus as mediator of the New Covenant to Christians, Matt 5:17, Gal 3:14, 16, 22, 29, Eph 1:18, Col 3:23, 24, 2 Cor 1:20, Rom 9:8, Heb 9:15, 11:18, 1 Peter 1:4. Thus, the New Covenant promises to save all people. For example, The Old Covenant was to save people from slavery, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6; the New Covenant is also designed to save people from slavery (of sin), Luke 4:18, 19, John 8:32, 34-36, Gal 3:22, 5:1, 13, 14, Acts 8:23, 13:38, 39, Rom 6:14, 18, 22, 8:1-4, 20, 21, James 1:25, 1 Peter 2:16, 2 Peter 2:19, etc.
  • The Jerusalem council resolution in Acts 15:28, 29 is a specific set of requirements that were repeated from the Old Covenant for the New Covenant.
  • Hebrews discusses the same idea that the Moral Law of God is to be written on our hearts, Heb 8:7-13, 10:16, 17, exactly as it should have been under the Old Covenant (compare Deut 6:5, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28). Significantly, when Heb 8:10, 10:16, “I will write my law on their hearts” quotes Jer 31:33, the word used for “law” is “Torah”. This further reinforces the idea that it was the Torah and its Israelite Covenant that is to be kept.
  • Christians were to be “called by my Name” as confirmed in Acts 11:26, just as under the Old Covenant (2 Chron 7:14, Isa 43:7, 65:1). Matt 10:22, 24:9, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17, Acts 15:17.
  • Indeed, being “called by my name” (= Christians) and imitating Christ is the seal of God and of the New Covenant as administered by the Holy Spirit, 2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13, 14, 4:30. See “Seal of God”.
  • Jesus is the promised King of the new Christian Community, ie, the Kingdom of Heaven, or, Kingdom of God, Luke 1:33, John 1:49, Acts 13:23, Rev 11:15. Compare Jer 33:14-17, Eze 37:22. Thus, Jesus inherits the Davidic Covenant. He is also the “Son of David” (Matt 1:1-16) and “Son of God” as predicted in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7); and His kingdom will never be defeated and is eternal, Luke 1:33, Heb 1:8, Rev 11:15, compare Ps 61:7, Isa 9:7, Ps 146:10.
  • Jesus is now seated on the eternal throne in heaven at the right hand of God, Matt 26:64, Mark 14:62, 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33, 7:55-56 (standing), Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22. See also Ps 110:1, Matt 22:44, Mark 12:36, Acts 2:34, Heb 1:13, Rev 5.
  • Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant Heb 4:14-16, 5:10, 7:23-28, 8:1, 2, 9:1-28, 10:1-18. Thus, Jesus inherits and was the fulfilment of the Levitical Covenant (See Mal 3:1). Jesus did this in several ways as well such as: (a) Jesus was the fulfilment of what the sanctuary/temple typified, John 2:19-21, Heb 9:1-28, 10:1-18 (b) Jesus represented the foundation of the temple as well, 1 Peter 2:4-8 (Compare Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22) (c) Jesus was the Passover Lamb and thus the promised Messiah, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 12:1-14). (d) Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant in fulfilment of the Levitical covenant, Heb 4:14-16, 5:10, 7:23-28, because He was “pure, blameless, set apart” exactly as the Levites were. See also Heb 9:15, 12:24. (e) Jesus provided the blood of the new covenant of which the communion ceremony was to be a memorial, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 24:5, 8).

Thus, Jesus did not abolish the Israelite Covenant and Moral Law but came to fulfil them, Matt 5:17-20, Gal 3:21. The moral law still applies to Christians BUT Jesus fulfils the Levitical and Davidic covenants by being the eternal High Priest and the eternal King of the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • 2
    'The moral covenant' are words never found (or alluded to) in scripture : a bargain between two parties. Righteousness of God, is found, however. And Justification is by faith. With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 20, 2021 at 22:18
  • @NigelJ - the fact that a phrase does no appear in Scripture does no make it wrong. Here are more examples: Millennium; anti-slavery; monogamy; Christian ethics; Christ-like character; etc. You latter remarks are correct and the means by which the new covenant transforms the sinner to be Christ-like.
    – Dottard
    Mar 20, 2021 at 22:22
  • Galatians . . . . 'apart from law' 'without the deeds of the law'. If one's gospel includes law (or a 'moral covenant') then it is no longer gospel, but law throughout. 'Foolish Galatians : who hath bewitched you ?'
    – Nigel J
    Mar 20, 2021 at 22:45
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    “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one jot of the Law to become void.” (Luke 16:17), “we uphold the law by faith” (Rom 3:31), “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7:12), “the law is spiritual” (Rom 7:14), “the law is good” (1 Tim 1:8), keeping the law is to do right (James 2:8). “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Certainly not! Instead, we uphold the law.” (Rom 3:31). “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? Certainly not!”
    – Dottard
    Mar 20, 2021 at 22:51
  • 1
    They that are led of the Spirit (an indwelling Holy Spirit within) do not do the things you suggest. But bring in the law, and (by experience we know) sin arises, as Paul clearly teaches. I shall leave it there. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 20, 2021 at 22:52

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