The Law and the Prophets
“17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
“18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
For most Christians, we see the teachings of Jesus as an altogether different religion than that found in the Old Testament. In reality, Jesus did not replace the Law of Moses, but fulfilled or transcended it with a higher law. In Jesus’ teachings, we do not find a rejection of the Mosaic Law, but a newer and higher interpretation of it.
The purpose of all prophets is to get the people prepared to enter into the presence of God and experience personally the glory of the Almighty. D&C 84 teaches us that this is what Moses had in mind when he took Israel to Mount Sinai, immediately after escaping the Egyptians at the Red Sea.
“19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
“20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
“21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
“22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
“23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God. (D&C 84)”
It goes further and explains that because Israel refused to enter into God’s presence, and chose instead to rebel and worship the golden calf, they were given the lesser Aaronic priesthood with its gift of ministering angels instead of the Melchizedek Priesthood and its gift of the mystery of godliness, or to stand in God’s presence and have Him revealed personally to them. Along with the lesser priesthood, the Israelites received a lesser, terrestrial set of laws and rules to follow, called the Mosaic Law, or Law of Moses. This included the Ten Commandments, and hundreds of other rules that each person was expected to abide by.
Jesus did not tell people to stop following the Ten Commandments, stop paying tithes, stop praying, or stop eating according to the dietary commandments of the Mosaic Law. Instead, he gave the people key principles of the higher law to abide by.
Today, General Authorities of the Church encourage us to focus on the key doctrines and principles of the gospel. For example, President Boyd K. Packer stated:
"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."
The key doctrines and principles never change. However, the implementation of certain teachings, practices, and policies can change. Why? Because they are not at the foundation of all the doctrines and principles God gives us.
“Thou shalt not kill” is forever important, but not as great or challenging a law as “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”
“Thou shalt not commit adultery” is just the beginning of the Law of Chastity, wherein Christ warns us against lusting in our hearts.
Swearing oaths and keeping them is important in the Mosaic Law. Even more important is to always speak the truth, so one does not have to make oaths in the first place.
“An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth” is important for Israelites who were used to killing the person who harmed them. Forgiving is a very difficult thing to do, but is the higher order of things. Imagine the end of violence, because people and nations forgave, rather than seeking vengeance.
And, instead of loving only your neighbors (dear friends), you must even love your enemies. How often have we actually prayed for those who seek us harm? How often have we sought to forgive them with all our heart? For Jesus, this higher way of doing things, tied to the higher priesthood, was the way for one to become perfect, even as God is perfect. The term used here actually means “completed” or “finished.” We are pottery in God’s hands. We will either end up a completed and finished pot that can be used, or tossed. We get to choose how well we work under His guiding fingers. We can form smoothly into a masterpiece, or resist Him and become dross.
As we’ve seen so far, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focused on key doctrines and principles, and the correct way to implement them. There is the terrestrial/Mosaic Law method, and then the higher method of the celestial/Law of Christ.
In the Book of Matthew, there are 8 Beatitudes. The term in Latin means, “Blessed.” It can be compared to Luke’s version at the Sermon on the Plain, where Luke has 4 Blessed, contrasted with 4 Woes (Luke 6). According to some scholars, the Beatitudes are part of the early sayings of Jesus found in an original source (called “Q” or Quelle, source) used by both Matthew and Luke to write their gospels. Many believe that Luke used a literal translation from the source, so that “the poor” were those who were physically hungry and homeless. Matthew, then, used the spiritual reading of “Q” and so we read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
In the Sermon at the Temple in Bountiful, the Book of Mormon actually adds a few Beatitudes to the beginning of the list. Jesus proclaimed:
“...Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
“2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12)”
Jesus taught in the previous chapter that the Doctrine of Christ consists in a few key things. First, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost “are one.” Then Jesus explained that his doctrine also consisted in Faith in Christ, Repentance, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins (and we could add other ordinances to this), and receiving the baptism of fire, the Gift of the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 11:31-40). In Jesus’ continued teachings to the Nephites, he will frequently refer back to these two concepts: unity, and the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. He will tell the Nephites they must be one, even as the Godhead is one, and that the principles and ordinances are the stepping stones to achieving this.
In studying the Beatitudes, we find they are a step-by-step approach to becoming perfected (e.g., completed), or prepared to be one with the Godhead, ready to enter into the presence of God, as Christ restored the key of the higher priesthood: the mystery of godliness, or seeing God’s face. And in this, the culminating concept given us in Matthew chapter 5 is:
“48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Or, as the resurrected and perfected/completed/glorified Christ commanded the Nephites:
“48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (3 Ne 11)”
Beatitudes in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatitudes
Beatitudes in Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02371a.htm
Jim F’s Notes on Lesson 8: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2011/02/06/nt-sunday-school-lesson-8-jf-matthew-5/
Feasting on the Word: Great site on the Scriptures: http://feastupontheword.org/Site:SS_lessons
Boyd K. Packer, "Do Not Fear", May 2004 Ensign: http://lds.org/liahona/2004/05/do-not-fear?lang=eng