When Yeshua said in Mat 5:17 that until heaven and earth pass away, we interpret that to mean not one tiniest aspect of the Torah shall pass away until all is fulfilled. Christianity says that on the cross, all was fulfilled in His sacrifice and therefore, since Torah has now been fulfilled, we don’t need to be concerned about it anymore. The commandments are abolished since in some strange twist of logic, not abolished but fulfilled really means abolished(!)
On the other hand, Messianics, Torah-obedient, Hebrew roots believers et al say that as long as heaven and earth stand, all of Torah, the 613 mitzvot are in effect. No aspect of the Law has been nullified. Simple, right? Not really.
The term “heaven and earth” is actually an idiom referring to the Temple. Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian said “…for if any one do but consider the fabric of the tabernacle, and take a view of the garments of the high priest, and of those vessels which we make use of in our sacred ministration, he will find that our legislator was a divine man, and that we are unjustly reproached by others; for if any one do without prejudice, and with judgment, look upon these things, he will find they were everyone made in way of imitation and representation of the universe. When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the seas, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men.” Philo, a contemporary historian of Josephus, many Talmudic rabbis and even well-renowned preachers such as Bishop Lightfoot or even Charles Spurgeon also confirm this. Spurgeon once said “Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacles, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of the divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it.”
So if Yeshua speaking about heaven and earth is actually referring to the Temple, that gives His statement in Mat 24:35 a whole new meaning where He says “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away,” or in Luke 16:17 “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.” Once the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the law was done away with and believers are now free from Torah. Furthermore, when John speaks of the new heaven and earth and the New Jerusalem in Revelation can the city literally be 1500 miles high since outer space begins about 62 miles above the earth. Doesn’t this all seem to be figurative language? Are the Preterists actually correct?
Preterism is a view of eschatology that says some or all prophecies were fulfilled in 70 AD. If the preterist view of the Bible is to be believed, there is no 7 year tribulation period, 1000 year reign of Messiah on earth, the restoration of Israel with Satan bound and then released after 1000 years to be defeated and cast into the lake of fire, or a new heavens and new earth. It’s all been done and the language is simply metaphorical. We’re the Temple now. Once heaven and earth (the Temple) were destroyed, the Torah was no longer relevant and we now all live our lives in obedience to God through the lens of grace and forgiveness. Many Scriptures can and have been used to back this position up. Hebrews 7:12 clearly says “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” The same author says a chapter later “When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” The first is obsolete, right? Except this is a too-simplistic view of what Yeshua and the apostles meant, as well as many of the Old Covenant prophets.
There can be no doubt that the Torah was altered when the Temple was destroyed. The apostles speak of this change in the epistles. We have to ask though exactly what was changed. Most pastors will tell you that violating 9 of the 10 commandments (we won’t discuss the 4th one as that is a whole other subject) is still verboten today. Honouring your parents is still considered honourable while stealing, murdering, lying and committing adultery are generally frowned upon in the majority of churches still today. So what changed?
Paul answers this for us in Eph 2:14-17 – “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” Although many will say Paul is saying the Law was abolished, he only references the enmity (Greek echthran – hostility, alienation) contained in ordinances that separated Jew and Gentile. The whole context of the passage is the one new man and that the dividing wall has been broken down. Gentiles who were once far off from God are now brought near because of His death and resurrection. Paul’s mission was to the take the Gospel to the Gentiles to help them understand they too could have salvation through Messiah. Before Yeshua, Gentiles were only permitted in the outer court of the Temple. In fact, there was a sign in 3 languages stating that if a Gentile were to enter the holy place or the inner court, they would be instantly killed. This is what caused the riot in the Temple in Acts 21:27. Peter tells Cornelius that he knows how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or even visit him, but he was not to call any man unclean. Peter understood perfectly what God was telling him. The reason why God used the sheet of unclean animals and told Peter to eat it was because Jews considered Gentiles unclean primarily due to what they ate and how they sacrificed food to idols. As soon as the sheet went up for the 3rd time, the three men came to bring Peter to Cornelius’s house to preach the Gospel to him.
So Paul is not saying here that all the commandments are done away with; just the ones separating Jews and Gentiles. As for the Heb 7:12 passage speaking about change in the Law, the author is speaking about the new priesthood. The Levitical priest’s main job was to intercede for people through the sacrificial system. Once Yeshua became our High Priest and replaced the sacrifices with that of His own blood, the former became unnecessary. When the Temple was destroyed, the sacrificial system was abolished. It had been replaced with the once and for all sacrifice of Yeshua. Besides, the Levitical system never took away sin (Heb 10:4) but only provided a kippur or atonement, a covering. That’s why they kept doing them over and over. Although once Yeshua died the Levitical priesthood was no longer necessary, it took another 37 years before heaven and earth passed away, making it official.
If we read the Heb 8:13 passage a little more closely, it says whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. It’s in process of becoming obsolete but as long as there is sin in the world there is need for commandments to contrast our behaviour with God’s righteousness. Do we not still need the Torah to convict unbelievers of their need for salvation or the believer to be conformed to Messiah’s image?
So with the destruction of the Temple and the changing of the Law, what about the rest of the commandments? This was not the first time Israel was without a temple. The Babylonian exile also saw Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, unparalleled in the ancient world for its beauty, razed to the ground and Israel without sacrifice for several decades. Did that mean Torah was abolished? Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael decided not to defile themselves with the king’s choice food and wine (i.e. sacrificed to idols). Daniel prayed 3 hours a day corresponding to the daily sacrifices. He was ritually pure in all ways, Temple or no Temple. It didn’t matter. Although he couldn’t obey all, he did what he could. Why do believers today insist on throwing out the baby with the bathwater so to speak? Why such a disdain for God’s commandments when Paul tells us the Torah is both holy and spiritual? John tells us in his first epistle “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” When was this written? After the destruction of the Temple. Apparently the Apostle of love thought keeping Torah was important after heaven and earth had passed away.
Although it is true that many of the commandments of Torah today are not possible to keep due to not living in the land of Israel, under a Theocracy with the Temple standing, it is also true that not all commands of Torah have ever applied to everyone. Men needed not be concerned about Lev 12 which deals with the commands of ritual purity for women after childbirth. Much of Leviticus deals with just the priesthood. Certain commands pertain to the tribal boundaries in the land or just for the king. Never have all 613 mitzvot ever applied to everyone all the time, nor could anyone keep the ones they could do perfectly. That is why Messiah came to begin with.
So what should we do today? Paul advises us to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. We focus on the commandments that the Holy Spirit guides us to and gently has us deal with. If Mat 22:40 tells us that God defines love through the Torah, how can we dismiss it? Torah is written on our hearts now. What commandments we can keep we should try. When we fail, the Ruach convicts us of sin and we repent. When we have our new bodies and are with Him, we will be perfect like Him. Until then, we must continue to strive with God against our old nature and live our lives in accordance with the rest of God’s commandments which are right and pleasing to him. One day, a new heaven and new earth will be built. Until then, the Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.
In the Love of Messiah
Rabbi Darryl Weinberg