It turns out that I am not unique in understanding the Sermon on the Mount as a New Covenant document. Others have gotten there long before me, such as John Bergsma, author of The New Covenant Document Is Completed and John W. Welch, author of The Sermon on the Mount in Light of the Temple. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2009.
Two posts ago (the last post was catching up from a session in the late early autumn) we ended with the question of what exactly was supposed to be accomplished by the Law and the Prophets. We read Deuteronomy 30:1-6 for clues as to what the blessings and curses were expected to accomplish, and what relevance that may have regarding Jesus’ statement in Matt. 5:17 about coming to fulfil them. I will comment at relevant points in Deut. 30:1-6.
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you
Note that there is no “if” here. They were going to end up with both the blessings and the curses.
and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations
Here is the first clue as to the intent of the blessings and curses: a change of heart that draws them back to God.
and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today,
The phrase “with all your heart and with all your soul” reminds the alert reader of the first of Jesus’ “greatest commandments,” which is based on a previous verse in this same book, 6:5.
then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.
Notice that they need a heart that loves and obeys God first, then comes a gathering from the uttermost parts of the earth of those so changed in heart.
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
Here once again is an even more explicit reference to the Greatest Commandment in 6:5. This is accompanied by a promise to “circumcise” their hearts in order for them to be enabled to love and obey God. What many modern readers miss is the symbolism of circumcision in terms of membership in the covenant of Israel. No uncircumcised male was allowed to belong to Israel.
A “circumcised heart” is an expression that denotes entry into a covenant with God. If we miss this, we probably miss the thrust of what Jesus was talking about.
Way back as Israel was about to enter their promised land, God was already telling them that their covenant would fail and that they would need to enter into a new covenant with Him in order to be restored.
In case we have missed the real reason the so-called Old Covenant failed, God tells us in Deut 5:29.
O that there were such an heart in them , that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
That verse follows the reiteration of the 10 Commandments in Deut. 5 and introduces the rest of the laws that follow in the book.
With all of that being said, the main purpose of the Law and the Prophets was to be a witness to the exiles of Judah and Israel (and anyone else who has ears to hear!) that reminds them to seek their Lord once again. Jesus came to give them a new, circumcised heart in order to fulfil the Law and the Prophets. [This does not mean I am unaware of His life, ministry, death and resurrection. This is an overview, not a detailed look.]
The reaction to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 follows the description of Deut. 30:1-6 closely in terms of the change of heart intended by the witness of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus puts His own heart in believers through the Holy Spirit.
Insofar as people have come to believe in and obey Jesus Christ as their Lord and receive the Holy Spirit, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in their individual lives. They do not have to worry about ultimately being cursed by the law, because the curse has fulfilled God’s intent for it by bringing them back into a new covenant with God.
It is a new covenant, with stipulations, warnings, exhortations that are both similar to and different from previous covenants. That is frightening for those of us brought up to think that there is only one covenant in the Bible. Just as frightening as it was to Paul’s Jewish converts who could not understand why Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to enter the New Covenant.The Holy Spirit within the believer is the circumcision of the heart that allows them to enter the New Covenant.
This seems to be where most Christian preaching stops regarding what Jesus intended to accomplish, as though it were already a done deal. If that is the case, why does Jesus plan to return? Why the terrifying imagery and resolution in the book of Revelation?
I think we need to remember that God promised the Israelites an earthly restoration following a spiritual restoration. Jesus will return to complete the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. (Believe it or not, the Prophets also had things to say about the destruction and restoration of Israel’s Gentile neighbours, too.)
According to Paul, Christians are grafted into the promises God made to Abraham (Romans 11:11-24). Among other things, God did promise Abraham that the nations of the world would be blessed through his Seed.
There is a lot of saving yet to be completed.
Jesus promises to complete it.