They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Did you know that discipleship is exactly that? Imitation. Imitation of everything your teacher says and does. In Judaism, disciples study the words of their rabbi. They memorize his teachings and his interpretation of the Torah, and then implement these into their lives.
Recently, a friend of mine asked me to disciple her. So I wondered how to go about this from a Hebraic perspective. Was I to teach her my ways, my understanding of Torah? After much prayer, I realized that, no, I am not to teach her my ways, but the ways of our Great Teacher, Jesus.
We started this relationship by going through Darren Huckey’s book, ‘Four Responsibilities of a Disciple’. When we came to the chapter on memorization, we realized we should memorize the words of our Rabbi, because as Peter puts it, He has the words of eternal life. What bigger chunk of His words can be found than in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount?
As I started memorizing and speaking these words out loud, I realized what a powerful message this is. And as many people come to realize, this is a Sinai event. How? At Sinai, God came to a mountain and taught the people Torah. Jesus, the Messiah, came to a mountain and taught the people Torah.
The Messiah according to Judaism
Consider the belief of Judaism regarding Messiah. Judaism understands that when Messiah comes, He will be proficient in Torah, be scrupulously observant, and encourage the highest standards in others. When we look at Jesus’ life and teaching, especially His teaching on the mountain, we see this fully realized.
First, let’s look at the reaction of the crowd at the end of the sermon in Matthew 7:27-28, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at the way he taught, for he was not instructing them like their Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself.” Those who heard His teaching realized He wasn’t quoting another rabbi, as was the standard in Judaism. Instead, He was expounding on the Torah Himself. He was, in Himself, proficient in Torah.
Next, we must realize that He was scrupulously Torah observant. Listen to what He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to complete.” And “Whoever disobeys the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus’ opponents right?
Many teachers agree with Jesus’ opponents. They say that He broke the Torah and taught His followers to do the same. So after hearing what He taught on the mountain, I have to ask, “Is Jesus schizophrenic, or are these teachers gravely mistaken?”
Another teaching on this passage says something a little different. It recognizes that Jesus was Torah observant, but because He kept the Torah, no one else has to keep it anymore. Now I can see where they might get this idea. If we only hear Him say that He came to complete the Torah, then that could be the understanding. But how does that fit when He says that the Torah is valid ‘until heaven and earth pass away’? Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m standing here on planet earth. How about you?
There’s something else to consider as well. When you look at the Greek words for ‘abolish’ and ‘complete’, you realize that ending the Torah is the opposite of Jesus’ intended meaning.
- The word for abolish is kataluo, which means to throw down, abolish, destroy, dissolve. So Jesus said that He did not come to destroy or dissolve the Torah.
- The word that means ‘to end’ in Greek is teleo. That is not the word used here. On the contrary, the word used in this passage is pleroo, which mean ‘to fill’. So Jesus said He came to fill the Torah.
So, when we revisit this passage with this information, we hear Jesus saying that He didn’t come to destroy or dissolve the Torah. Instead, He came to fill it up. But fill it with what? He filled it with the Spirit, because the Spirit gives life.
Idolatry destroyed the Temple
Now, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day understood that the first temple was destroyed because of idolatry. Lack of knowledge of the Torah allowed people’s hearts to go astray and follow after idols. Because of this, they scrupulously followed the letter of the Torah to keep this from happening again.
So when Jesus said, “Yes indeed! Until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah”, He’s agreeing with the Pharisees. The letter of the Law is important.
Solomon and the yud
Let me explain. There’s an old story about King Solomon and the letter yud. Now the yud is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And this letter had a problem with King Solomon, so he took his problem to God.
One day King Solomon was writing his personal copy of the Torah scroll, as commanded in Deuteronomy. As he was writing, he came across the commandment that said kings should not multiply wives for themselves or they will turn away from God.
Solomon reasoned that he had such great love and devotion for God, that no amount of wives could turn him away. He convinced himself that since he understood the spirit of the law, he didn’t have to follow the letter of the law. He could take as many wives as he wanted and he would remain faithful to God. So he left off the letter yud and changed the meaning of the law.
The poor, incensed yud went before the Almighty and said, “Master of the Universe, did You not say that not even one letter of the holy Torah will ever be erased? Look! Solomon has erased me!”
God assured the little yud that Solomon and a thousand like him will come and go, but not even the tip of a yud will ever be erased from the Torah.
Could it be this story that Jesus had in mind when He said, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah”? I would think His listeners caught the connection.
Think about it. Before giving us the spirit of the Law, Jesus makes sure we understand that he is not removing even the least letter of the Law in order to fill it up with the spirit of the Law. The letter of the Law is the foundation upon which the spirit builds. Had Solomon understood this, he may not have multiplied wives and gold for himself.
If Solomon, the wisest man on earth, couldn’t keep from straying without the letter of the law, even though he understood the spirit of the law, how can we?
The highest standard of Torah
And this is the final point, that Jesus encouraged the highest standard of Torah in others, by filling up the letter of the Torah with the spirit of the Torah.
For instance, He said that the letter of the Law says, ‘do not murder’. But as Messiah, He calls for a higher standard when He says that we shouldn’t even nurse anger against our brother. Not only that, but we shouldn’t cause our brother to sin by making him angry with us.
As Messiah, Jesus encourages His followers to live the highest standard of Torah, without leaving behind even the smallest letter. And He used the fool-hardiness of King Solomon, the wisest man on earth, to prove His point.