“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)
God created Adam and placed him in the garden, created a wife for him, gave them work to do, and, together, they lived in God’s presence, naked, and unashamed. Just a few chapters later, the serpent enters and Adam and Eve listen to the serpent, shattering their relationship with God. They are banned from his presence, but promised a head-crusher who would one day destroy the serpent (Gen 3:15). That head-crusher, we know, is the God-man Christ Jesus.
He crushed the serpent’s head, but he didn’t abolish the Law. Why not?
The Law, or "Torah," was established at Mt. Sinai. God had just rescued his people Israel from slavery in Egypt, instituting the Passover and leading them through the Red Sea on dry ground. Yahweh “went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night” (Exod 13:21). His presence was leading them, and his presence would soon dwell among them in the tabernacle. But there was a problem, which was made clear by God’s instructions to Moses regarding the holy mountain: don’t come near or you’ll die.
How can an unholy people enter into God’s presence and live?
Enter the Torah, or "instruction," which would make it possible for God to once again dwell among his people, at least to a certain degre. These 613 commandments, summed up by Christ as loving God and neighbor, would make it possible for God’s people to live in God’s presence and not die. But there were a few problems.
First, God still dwelled in a tent that separated him from his people. He dwelled among them, but the distinct separation between God and God’s people remained. Second, no one kept the law perfectly and therefore the people remained in danger of imminent death should they enter God’s presence. Third, only one person, and only once per year, could go into the most holy place in the tabernacle, where God’s presence dwelled. The same held true for the temple that David built: God would dwell there, his presence would be among his people, but they remained distinctly separated from him, and this for their own protection.
The Law made it possible for God to dwell among his people without them dying as a result of being in his presence, but no one could keep the law, and, eventually, God’s presence itself left the temple because of his people’s persistent sin. The very thing that was to provide access to God revealed the vast chasm that could not be bridged which Paul said much about later.
This brings us back to our question: why didn’t Jesus abolish the Law? Well, he said it—because he fulfilled the Law (and the Prophets). God created this mechanism by which God’s people could dwell in God’s presence and, yet, not die. Of course God’s people couldn’t keep the law, so they needed this head-crusher to come and defeat death, which is exactly what Christ did. He, himself, dwelled among us, John’s Gospel tells us, and after his ascension, the Spirit now dwells within us. That’s because Jesus fulfilled the Law; he lived the perfect life required by the Law and was the perfect sacrifice whereby God made reconciliation with us. Christ became the propitiation for our sin, and when the Father sees us, he sees Christ’s righteousness, not our filthy rags. As a result, the Spirit of God now lives within us and we don’t die.
That’s the good news.