Jean’s Gospel: Law and Gospel
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.” (Matt 22:34-35)
In this encounter, the Pharisees and Jesus exchanged two important questions: one about the Law; the other about the Christ. Out of these two questions, Jesus addresses the two central themes or teachings of the entire Bible: the Law; and the Gospel. These two themes are central because they run throughout the entire Bible and together are essential teachings if one is to be saved. Therefore, the preaching and teaching of both the Law and the Gospel must continue, alongside one another, until Christ returns.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt 22:36)
When God created mankind in His own image (Gen 1:27), He endowed us with the knowledge of God and both the ability and willingness to do God’s will. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), Adam and Eve were created with an innate love for God and each other. This is God’s eternal, unchangeable will (or Law), which Adam and Eve walked in from a willing spirit without coercion, before the fall.
The Divine image in Adam and Eve was shattered when, seduced by the serpent, they ate the forbidden fruit and fell from grace. Sin and death entered the world: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” (Gen 3:7a) Adam no longer loved God as he had: “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10); Adam no longer loved Eve as he had: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen 3:12); and Eve no longer loved Adam as she had: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16b) God’s Law would remain in effect, but after the fall, for Adam and all of his descendants, obedience to it would have to be coerced with threats and punishments.
“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.’ ” (Matt 22:37-40)
At Sinai God gave Moses the Law in the form of Ten Commandments. These Commandments are often divided into two tables (representing the two tablets received by Moses): The first table consists of the Commandments which we owe directly to God (the first 3 or 4 according to one’s tradition); the second table consists of the remaining Commandments, which we owe to our neighbors. In answering the lawyer’s question, Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into Two Commandments, one for each of the two tables. These are not different or additional commandments, but a distillation of what all Ten Commandments essentially mean.
The Law tells us what God requires of an individual to stand in the right before Him. The Law must be kept perfectly in thought, word and deed, as it is written: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48); and “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10)
What the Law requires of mankind, however, we do not have the ability or will to accomplish. The Law is powerless to accomplish in us what it requires of us. In this way, the Law shows us what we have become as children of Adam: “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.’ ” (Rom 3:9-11) Therefore the Law must always be preached “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” (Rom 3:19).
“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ ” (Matt 22:41-42a)
If we do not know our miserable and hopeless state before God, we will never inquire about Christ. (That was the Pharisees’ problem, who presumed to walk in the Law, never truly understanding it.) Therefore, the Law must show us our universal disease, or we will never inquire for the Physician and His help.
But God’s purpose is not to diagnose our disease and leave us dead in our sin. Therefore, Christ and the Gospel must be preached alongside the Law. Jesus knows man cannot fulfill the Law and stand in the right before God. Thus, He broaches the second and ultimate theme of the Bible – the Christ and the Gospel. “Whose son is he?”
“They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matt 42b-46)
What does it mean to know Christ? The Pharisees were clueless; they did not consider him more than David’s son. They expected him to be only a temporal ruler. But that they would need him in their lost state, to help them out of sin and death, of that the Pharisees knew nothing. The Holy Spirit must teach that Christ is not only David’s son, but also God’s Son.
Jesus here does not provide a full Christology, but broaches the subject of His divinity using Psalm 110:1: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord”? Christ is David’s Lord to whom the Father says: “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” The Father is saying essentially to Christ: “You shall be acknowledged and worshipped as true God.” Since the Father places Christ equal with himself, He must be more than all creatures. Therefore, we are to believe that Christ was both David’s true son by human descent and also David’s Lord, whom David himself must worship and hold as God. It is impossible to make these statements harmonize, unless the Holy Spirit reveals how the two are at the same time in the one Christ, both that he is truly David’s son and God’s Son.
Christ came and stepped between the Father and us. He bore in His flesh our transgressions, shedding His blood for the entire human race to grant us the forgiveness of sins. Moreover, Christ fulfilled the Law for us so that we might be clothed in His righteousness and thereby come to grace.
Jesus also sends us the Holy Spirit to follow Him, and even in this life begins to extinguish and slay sin, until we come to Him and become like him without any sin and in perfect righteousness. For Christ was raised from the dead to the right hand of the Father to totally abolish sin, death and hell and bring us to new eternal righteousness and eternal life. Amen.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Rom 3:21) Amen.