“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10, ESV)
I was reading through the book of John and stopped on this verse. As I pondered over it, it struck me that it had a very subtle idea in the text. We are to obey Jesus’s commandments just as Jesus kept His Fathers commandments. In the past I usually tossed this verse up to the fact that Jesus is God, so therefore he is referring to God’s commandments. Lately I am not as sure of this. I asked myself, what are the commands of the Christ? What kind of things do we see in the gospels? Then we have Acts and the rest of the apostolic writings, what do they reveal to us?
Let’s first dive into Acts 15, this is a pivotal point in the book of Acts in regards to how the early assemblies of believers would deal with the gentile issue and the law.
“When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”” (Acts 15:4–5, ESV)
The problem then was that Jewish believers in the Christ were trying to insist that gentiles convert Judaism by getting circumcised and then keeping the Law of Moses. But in the end, it was decided through a quote from Amos that gentiles were to adhere to 4 things so that it would be well. Not to save them, but to allow them to have fellowship with the circumcised. But was that just a starting point, and then they would follow the law of Moses? I am not so sure of this anymore. After reading and praying carefully through the writings of Paul, keeping in mind the context of second temple writings, I am not fully convinced.
But before I get to Paul, are there other subtle clues in the gospels to consider? What about the transfiguration of Jesus that James, John, and Peter witnessed? What can we take away from that encounter that impacted Peter so much that he would later write about it in his own letter?
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” (Matthew 17:1–5, ESV)
Jesus is with Moses and Elijah who represent both the Law and the Prophets in the Scriptures. They hear a voice from heaven say that this is my beloved son…LISTEN TO HIM. They fall on their face and when they look up Jesus is alone. Later the writer of Hebrews would tell us that in the past God spoke to us through the prophets but now He is speaking to us through His Son. He would then go on to show that Jesus is greater than the angels, and then the Jesus is greater than Moses.
I also noticed something else that is very subtle in the gospels. Jesus changes one of the foundational laws given in the law of Moses. To get the full impact of this let’s first take a look at what Jesus teaches a certain lawyer that had come to Jesus to put Him to the test.
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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.”” (Matthew 22:35–40, ESV)
So, Jesus tells the Lawyer that the great commandment is to Love the Lord your God…and then to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands depend all the law and prophets. Now look at what Jesus is teaching his disciples in John 15, part of a long teaching that Jesus gave before he went to the cross.
““This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12–14, ESV)
Instead of loving your neighbor as yourself, which is very man focused, Jesus tells them that this is His commandment to love one another as I have loved you. This changes the whole focus of the command from man to Jesus. He is now the center of this command. He is the focus and our love should reflect to others the way has loved us…sacrificially. What is even more compelling is the fact that Jesus changed the command. That is definitely something to think about. It is also important to note that it ends with “You are my Friends IF you do what I command you”
Before I could move on though, I had to then think about what Jesus meant in Matthew…
““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……“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–18, 20, ESV)
Let’s get some context here. Jesus is speaking to his disciples with crowds also gathered around as he teaches what we would label the sermon on the mount. Right before he dives in to give us principles that take the law and drive it down to our heart, he tells them that he has come to fulfill them. He also notes that until heaven and earth pass away not one iota or dot will change until all things are accomplished. That is interesting considering that he changes one of those commands in the writings of John.
Let’s first look at that word fulfill. Many have tried to use this to support going one direction or another. I really like the Theological Dictionary of the NT’s definition:
In Mt. 5:17 (b) the idea is not simply that of validating the law as distinct from abolishing it. The goal of Jesus’ mission is fulfilment. He does not simply affirm the law and the prophets but actualizes the will of God that is declared in them from the standpoint of both promise and demand.(1)
When you join this with what Jesus taught on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection:
“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27, ESV)
They all point to Him; He is the focus of it all. So, could the words on the cross that Jesus spoke right before He died be what He meant on the mount when He said “until all things are accomplished? John, the only disciple that was at the cross when Jesus died records it as such:
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:28–30, ESV)
There are arguments on both sides of the fence on this, but the idea behind the Greek word used for finished is tetelestai. In the LXX this word has such senses as goal, result, conclusion, or accomplished.(1) So if all the law and the prophets point to him and he has accomplished all the demands and requirements of the law, I would think that finished is related to “until all is accomplished”.
After Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, the disciples began to meet together daily with many of those coming to believe in the Christ, one of the things that occupied their time was that they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching. I would have loved to be around then. Can you imagine the excitement, the passion, the loyalty that they had to following Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit? Why did Luke tell us the apostles teaching and not the teaching of the law, or the study of the Scripture which all Jewish people of the time held in the highest esteem.
Moving through the book of Acts there are things we could dive into but we eventually come to Acts 15 and to the ministry that Paul has to the gentiles. As I discussed earlier in this post the problem that was in view was that Jewish believers were wanting the gentile believers to convert to Judaism and follow the law of Moses on top of believing in the Christ.
So, I have looked at and pondered a fair amount of text, there is so much more that can be said but I don’t want to write a book. I don’t want to leave though without saying that the principles found in the law of Moses are still of value. But that value must be found in the light of the Christ and the teachings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I finish with this idea from Romans with collaborates that love, as Christ loved, is ultimately part of the primary commands that we are to obey today. Paul uses a familiar phrase, but we know that ultimately Jesus moves it’s focus to him. He is the focal point of all things.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8–10, ESV)
As I ponder all these things, I am sure I will revisit this subject in the near future.
 Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 869). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.