"THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS WERE UNTIL JOHN"


EXACTLY WHAT DOES THIS SCRIPTURE MEAN?

The message of Luke 16:16 seems clear enough yet many do misunderstand it and even argue over it. What is this verse really saying?

Jesus said,

'The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it' (Luke 16:16, NIV throughout).

The 'Law and the Prophets,' of course, is a clear reference to the Hebrew Bible (what we now refer to as the 'Old Testament')


This clearly indicates that the Mosaic Law was about to conclude the purpose which God had intended it to serve and it would soon no longer be effective. After the events of Calvary the message of the 'Law and Prophets' would no longer hold 'centre stage' since it would be replaced by a greater revelation, that of the New Covenant. But Jesus immediately (in verse 17) stresses that the Old Testament would always remain inspired, and moreover fulfilled, Scripture (not something to be, thereafter, tossed aside).

The context tells us that Jesus had just warned some Pharisees of the dangers of the love of money, knowing that they were inclined toward covetousness (16:14). His statement to the scoffing and hypocritical Pharisees was intended to show them how superficial their religion really was. They enjoyed displaying a certain outward adherence to the law, but Jesus knew they were really hypocrites. As lovers of money, they were guilty of devouring widows houses while making a pretension at prayer,

'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will be puinished more severely' (Matthew 23:14).

Yet many ordinary people, including even the despised tax collectors, gladly heard John the Baptist as he announced the coming of the kingdom,

'In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near"'' (Matthew 3:1-2).

As we know, many responded to that call and were baptized by John,

'People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River' (Matthew 3:5-6).

"This is the violence of the Gospel. It is as though those becoming Christians during this age of the Church... are involved in this direct war!"

From that time on, many began to 'force' their way into that kingdom, or to take it 'violently' (depending upon which translation one reads, but both renditions seem fair), even as an invading army would make haste to take control of a conquered and subdued nation. Satan would soon be bound at the cross of Calvary, that ancient serpent defeated (sure, he still has some power and will yet cause havoc but he is restricted now with his final defeat certain). Jesus undoubtedly had Satan in mind when he said,

.'...How can anyone enter into a strong man's house, and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then He can rob his house' (Matthew 12: 29).

This is the violence of the Gospel. It is as though those becoming Christians during this age of the Church (that is, during the age of the preaching and availability of the Gospel message), are involved in this direct war; Jesus has bound the 'strong man' and now we - as an invading army - go in and seize the kingdom! As Jesus went to His cross He could quite emphatically say,

'Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out' (John 12: 31).

Notice that the word 'now' is used twice in this verse. This happened at the cross; this was not a prophecy of an event yet distant.

So it is interesting to note that the ending of the period of the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the coming of the kingdom are quite inexorably bound together; of course, another way of stating this is to say that the Old Covenant came to an end and the glorious New Covenant commenced!

In the Old Testament the LORD had promised Solomon that,

'I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, "You shall never fail to have a man to rule over Israel"' (2 Chronicles 7:18).

Looking down through time to when Jesus Christ would be the King of Kings, the Psalmist offered His praise to God in this manner,

'Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom' (Psalm 45:6).
'The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all' (Psalm 103:19).
'Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And your dominion endures through all generations' (Psalm145:13).

Daniel made it clear that the establishment of this kingdom would be in the days of Roman rule (Daniel 2:41-44) and prophesied that it would be an everlasting kingdom and a dominion from generation to generation (Daniel 4:3,34). His prophecy affirmed that the saints would receive it and it would last forever (Daniel 7:13-14,18,22,27). That kingdom was indeed established in the days of Roman rule around 33 AD.

Some Christians insist on seeing the establishment of this kingdom in the future but the New Testament is clear that the kingdom arrived at the cross of Calvary (although the fullest manifestations of it lie yet in the future).

One of the first things Jesus did was to preach,

'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near' (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).

Many people were plainly keen and anxious to forcefully enter this kingdom.

Jesus promised Peter the keys of this new kingdom (Matthew 16:19). This clearly shows that the Church is the route for kingdom entry. This is not the Church as an edifice, or as a huge politico/ecclesiastical system of men, but the Church in its essential elements of giving a clear and rational witness and account of the substance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, providing fertile conditions for the Holy Spirit to work.

On Pentecost Peter opened up the grand and glorious doors to the Kingdom through preaching Christ as the risen Saviour. Peter declared that Jesus is right now exalted at the right hand of the Almighty and is indeed Lord and Master,

'Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear' (Acts 2:29-33).

This clearly shows us that Jesus inherited His throne with His resurrection: His coronation is not an event which lies yet in the future as some teach. So with the establishment of the kingdom came also the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the Prophets. The apostle Paul said that the law was 'blotted out' by the death of Christ.

'Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross' (Colossians 2:14).

So from henceforth nobody should be judged by Mosaic precepts.

'Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day' (verse 16). He concluded that the law was but a 'shadow of the things that were to come' (verse 17).

Then in Hebrews 10:1 we read this,

'The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming -.not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those those who draw near to worship' (Hebrews 10:1).

Hebrews 8:13 is quite clear,

'By calling this covenant "new", he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear.'

In AD 70, a number of years after this was written, the Romans destroyed the temple at Jerusalem thereby underlining the end of the temple system and of the Old Covenant.

So we see that the preaching of John the Baptist marks the prelude of the transition in the taking away of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New. John's role in God's scheme of redemption was quite unique: Though he heralded the arrival of the glorious administration of Christ, he actually lived and died under the Law of Moses. The Kingdom of God was not set up during his life time. Remember that Jesus had said,

'I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he' (Matthew 11:11).

It was Paul who fully explained the purpose of the law. He wrote to the Romans that through the law came the knowledge of sin (Romans 7:7). To the Galatians he explained that the law was added because of sin and was designed to lead the sinner to Christ for justification (Galatians 3:19-20,23-24). The Law was never designed to justify a sinner and it could never do so (Galatians 2:16). Only through obedient faith in Jesus Christ are sins ever removed. Yet that faith which saves us never becomes a work of ours - for without the grace of God such faith would be impossible.

The blood of bulls and goats were never effective in removing sins (Hebrews 10:4). But from the time that Jesus was preached, men diligently sought entrance into the kingdom of God.

The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where modern orthodox religious Jews attempt to hold on to a little of their past, but the message of Holy Scripture is that the Old Covenant is now abrogated and no longer in force. It is truly a closed chapter in God's dealings with Mankind.

On the day of its establishment (Acts 2:1-4), thousands were added to it by the Lord. Acts 2:38-41 reads:

' Peter replied, "Repent, and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day'

Paul said that Moses had to wear a veil so that his dazzling brightness would not shine upon the people of Israel. That was symbolic of the position which Moses held regarding the law.

'Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Cor. 3:7-11.).

The Old Testament is true and it is inspired Scripture, moreover, it contains many things which were fulfilled and reached their fruition in Christ. Its purpose was divine. Yet it was the 'instruction book' of the Old Covenant much more than of the New. It is the New Testament which is the sole rule of faith and practice for the New Covenant Church of God and for the Christian Faith. We begin to see then what a huge misunderstanding it is for any to spend many hours seeking out obscure verses in the Law (that is, the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible) and begin to complain because the Church does not perform these things today. The evangelical rule of thumb is that the principles behind many of those laws would still apply - but not the letter! The letter of the law was for another people of another time who stood under a different covenant.

Hopefully this explains the meaning of Luke 16:16.

Robin A. Brace, 2006.

The reader may also wish to consult:

MATTHEW 5:17-19; JESUS, CHRISTIANS AND THE LAW

THE GRAND PURPOSE OF THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

UK APOLOGETICS