How Did Jesus Transcend the Law?

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I'm trying to formulate my understanding of the way in which Jesus transcended the Law of God while being obedient to it at the same time. Here is a specific example:

Lev 13:45
Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, "˜Unclean! Unclean!´ 46 He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Jews would be considered unclean who touched or went near a leper. The same was true of touching anything dead. The Jew that touched an uncleansed leper would be unclean until they were purified.
Luke 17:11-19
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, "œJesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
So when He saw them, He said to them, "œGo, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
So Jesus answered and said, "œWere there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "œArise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."
At first glance, it seems there isn't a problem for a Jew here. The lepers maintain their distance like they're supposed to. Jesus tells them to present themselves to the priest and they're healed along the way so one comes back and worships Him. It would seem that the leper is clean but according to Levitical law, the person was not clean until the priest purified him.
Lev 14:1-9
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "œThis shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest. 3 And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, 4 then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. 7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. 8 He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. 9 But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows"”all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean.
In one sense Christ's question to the returning leper could be considered strange. After all, if the others presented themselves to the priest for examination and then cleansing then they were obeying the Law of God. I understand the that it was the one leper that recognized that Christ was God and he's the one that acted in true faith and worshipped Him so the fact that they obeyed the Law but failed to worship Christ is in mind here.

Nevertheless, as I try to understand this further I wonder if some of you have insights on when Christ obeyed the Law as an obedient servant and when it was permissible for Him to transcend the Law because He was the One who gave it.

A regular Jew would have been unclean after having a leper fall at his feet (leaving aside the worship issue) because the leper had not been ceremonially cleansed. To me it is very devotional to reflect upon Christ, the Clean One, touching uncleanness (whether it be leprosy or a discharge or a dead body) and making it clean. This story of the lepers is beautiful when you consider how torturous the leper's existence was and the cry "Have mercy on me."

But what about Jesus as a Jew then. Do you suppose He just didn't undergo purification afterwards because He knew He didn't need to? Where others would be considered ceremonially unclean for touching a leper or a dead body, would He not need to be ceremonially cleansed? The Law required a Jew sometimes to stay outside the camp for a week after their period of uncleanness ended. Do you suppose He knew it didn't really apply to Him so He would show up at Synagogue or the Tabernacle? If so, it would seem other Jews would have reacted with charges that He never cleansed Himself after touching lepers, women with discharges, dead bodies, etc.

Your thoughts on this would be appreciated.
 

srhoades

Puritan Board Freshman
I'll give my insight. There is no specific time frame mentioned from when the lepers are sent away and when they returned, so they very well could have waited the prescribed time for cleansing. You also mention it would be unclean for Jesus to be near a leper, but how close is too close? That, and it would not be unreasonable for the lepers to know what the prescribed distance was to avoid making Jesus and anyone else unclean . And finally, once the leper returned, since Jesus would have healed him completly and if we assume he waiting the prescriped number of days for cleansing, then again there is nothing here that would make Jesus unclean.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
It seems that Jesus started repaling the ceremonial laws during his life. Here is one example:
17After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
Mark 7. That may have something to do with it.

[Edited on 7-7-2006 by Scott]
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Mt. 8:3 recounts a leper coming to Jesus and "worshipping him." Jesus deliberately "touched" the leper. Jesus could touch lepers.

Why could Jesus touch lepers?

Jesus touching lepers, and not contaiging uncleanness, is evidence that he is the Messiah. It is evidence that he has the power to forgive sin. He has the power to heal.

Whether leprosy the disease was "contagious" or not, legally it was contagious. It contaminated the toucher, like any other ordinary unclean thing contaminated a clean thing by touch. The power to corrupt is a powerful power. Did you ever read in the OT of something clean touching something unclean and cleansing it? There were times that a holy thing touching something common made that common thing holy, and unavailable for any further common use. Touching removed it from the realm of common. But the power of uncleanness (sin) is terrible. What can save from it?

Jesus had that power. He proved it when he actually took the uncleanness away. His power to heal these persons was all the evidence anyone needed to prove that he had the right to touch them. Simply put, they could not contaminate him! Instead, his touch abolished the uncleanness. Here was something only divine power could answer. What God had declared unclean, only he could cleanse, if he so chose. It's not that Jesus was flouting the Law at this point. It simply did not apply to him in the same way it did the common Israelite. Jesus was unique.

"And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, "I will; be thou made clean." And strightway his leprosy was cleansed."
 

turmeric

Megerator
I'm wondering if the situations with Jesus and unclean-ness (e.g. death & leprosy) were situations which were not in view when God gave the laws to Moses? After all, how often during the wilderness trek and the times of the kings were lepers and dead people likely to be touched by God directly in a human body? If a sinful human touched them, he would be ceremonially unclean but would Jesus have been considered a different case under those laws?
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Bruce's thoughts make sense.

Here is a collateral passage from Haggai 2 that is an interesting application of the laws of deflilement:
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Haggai: 11 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil or other food, does it become consecrated?' "
The priests answered, "No."
13 Then Haggai said, "If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?"
"Yes," the priests replied, "it becomes defiled."

14 Then Haggai said, " 'So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,' declares the LORD. 'Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Nevertheless, as I try to understand this further I wonder if some of you have insights on when Christ obeyed the Law as an obedient servant and when it was permissible for Him to transcend the Law because He was the One who gave it.

How could Christ transcend His own character?
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Originally posted by srhoades
I'll give my insight. There is no specific time frame mentioned from when the lepers are sent away and when they returned, so they very well could have waited the prescribed time for cleansing. You also mention it would be unclean for Jesus to be near a leper, but how close is too close? That, and it would not be unreasonable for the lepers to know what the prescribed distance was to avoid making Jesus and anyone else unclean . And finally, once the leper returned, since Jesus would have healed him completly and if we assume he waiting the prescriped number of days for cleansing, then again there is nothing here that would make Jesus unclean.
Sean,

The passage states that the lepers are cleansed on the way to the Priest and one of them notices and returns. Bruce makes that issue immaterial. I thought there was a case of a leper actually touching Jesus but I didn't have my Concordance with me at the time.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Originally posted by C. Matthew McMahon
Nevertheless, as I try to understand this further I wonder if some of you have insights on when Christ obeyed the Law as an obedient servant and when it was permissible for Him to transcend the Law because He was the One who gave it.

How could Christ transcend His own character?
Matt,

I struggled with the phrase I wanted to use. I didn't want to use the term "violate the Law" or "break the Law". I'm referring here to the Law of Moses. I realize that the Law represents God's Holy character (read Christ's character) so that is the reason I'm trying to pull this all together.

I appreciate what Bruce is saying here. He expands the thought I had about Christ making the Unclean, Clean when all through Scripture it was precisely the opposite. I'm totally on board with that.

I'm just trying to figure out how He obeyed His own Law in the process. Perhaps the answer is that He was inaugurating the New Covenant and was setting aside those Laws as they occurred. But, if so, then why send the lepers to the priest per the Torah?

Perhaps it's just sufficient to say that He was the Lord of the Torah as He was the Lord of the Sabbath. The reason I love this story so much is that it is such a poignant story of how Christ delivers us from our inner sinfulness and filth. Deliverance from the shame and repugnance of leprosy was such a stunning thing. I just love to read about all the unclean people that came and touched Christ and instead of defiling them, He cleansed them! His cleansing was more than a temporary, ceremonial cleansing too! Beautiful.

I just want to hear more insight.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
One reason Jesus sent the lepers-no-more to the priest was: they were his witnesses to the powers on earth that the Messiah was present. The whole OT has only two miraculous cures of leprosy that I can think of, Miriam and Naaman. A healed leper was unheard-of. Sure, the law contained this provision for examining a healed leper, but who had ever used it? Jesus even uses Naaman as an indictment against Israel (Lk. 4:27). Sending these men to the priest was serving notice to him that One was present to whom he must be subservient. And, these men were still under the law of Moses, and Jesus simply enforces it in their case.

Second, yes, he was the Lord of the Torah. Jesus (who had the power/authority) to declare that which was unclean "clean") could not be rendered "unclean" by anything. "Virtue went out from him;" contaigon could never go the other direction. Jesus could not be defiled by touching a dead body. Instead, he touched the dead and raised them to life.

Jesus was subject to "laws" in the OT code that could reasonably be applied to him, or submitted to by him. He could not perform his office if he did not touch lepers or dead people! Therefore, those laws simply did not apply to him, the way they did to everyone else. The high priest was forbidden to touch a dead body (or even to mourn!) Why? Because even a sanctified person like that could be defiled! But not Jesus.

And yet, I don't suppose that Jesus ever ate pork. Why? Well, what purpose would it have served? Just to prove he could? What redemptive or healing purpose would that have served? So he likely submitted to the regulation. Just like he hemmed his garments. Just like he paid the temple tax. He obeyed the Father in legal matters to a "T". And he obeyed the Father when he touched the leper and cleansed him. The proof, again, that he was uniquely allowed to do this--proof that he could not be contaminated and therefore was exempt from the letter of the law--was that he in fact healed the ones he touched. If he wasn't allowed to touch them, then they wouldn't have been healed. It's that simple.

The days of ceremony were coming to an end. The apostles would announce the new liberties at the appropriate time. The end of the nation (and the Temple) marked the terminus ad quem for all these rituals.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Yea, I was "preaching" it to myself this afternoon. I can already see it happening in a little while...
 
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