Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law in Luke 2

My devotional reading over the past 2 days has brought me to the birth, circumcision, and dedication of the baby Jesus found in Luke 2. Concurrently I have been reading Introducing Covenant Theology by Michael Horton. As I’ve read Luke 2, I’ve been amazed at how clearly the text presents Jesus as fulfilling all the requirements of the Law, even though as an infant he had no direct control over this reality.

The first instance was the application of the covenant symbol of Circumcision to Jesus at the age of eight days. Interestingly enough, the text does not indicate that this is in fulfillment of the Law. This is because, strictly speaking, it is not. The sign of circumcision was the covenant symbol of the Abrahamic covenant. Without going into a lot of details, the Abrahamic covenant was a Royal Grant treaty, in which the Great King simply declares a positive benefit for his vassal, with no conditions. Circumcision was not a stipulation of the covenant, it was simply a sign to recall the covenant. In being circumcised, Jesus is associated with the covenant, as he is in his later Baptism.

As we progress through the chapter, we immediately see that in verse 22, the Law is fulfilled in that Mary waited the appropriate time of purification to bring Jesus to the temple. Next, in verse 24 we see that the appropriate sacrifice was made “according to the Law of the Lord.” After a brief description of Simeon we see in verse 27 that Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple “to do for him according to the custom of the Law.” Finally, we see again in the summary of verse 39 that Mary and Joseph only return to Nazareth after “they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord.”

In the course of 20 or so verses, Luke explicitly tells us 4 times that Jesus’s early life was already explicitly fulfilling the law.

As we continue to the account of the boy Jesus in the Temple (sidenote: This is commonly preached as though Jesus was TEACHING in the Temple, which has little or no solid exegetical proof in my opinion. The text presents Jesus respectfully learning from the teachers there, who are astounded by his knowledge and answers. Although the text does present Jesus as having special knowledge of the Scriptures and knowledge of who his Father is, this account is enveloped in an inclusio which begins and ends with an explicit statement that Jesus was growing in “wisdom and stature.” The text clearly presents a Jesus who develops intellectually and increases in knowledge, not some freakish docetic Jesus who is fully aware of his identity and all knowledge from the womb.) we see that the poor Mary and Joseph make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover every year (verse 41). Although not explicitly associated with “the Law,” the text does indicate that they make this long trip “according to custom.” (verse 42) Although it is possible that this is simply their personal custom, it is more likely that this is a reference to the customs proscribed by the Mosaic Law (possibly a reference to Oral Tradition. Compare the usage of ἔθος / ethos in Acts 6:14).

It is often said that Luke’s purpose is to show that Jesus Christ is the savior of not just Israel, but also of the gentiles and other outcasts. However, we must not ever forget that even though this is true, Jesus saves us by fulfilling the stipulations of the Covenant of Works, of which the Mosaic Covenant is a republication. Luke makes clear in this chapter that from the beginning of Jesus life, and all through his childhood, that Jesus lives a life of active obedience to the requirements of the Law. It is the blessings of the Covenant of Works that Christ conveys to us through the Covenant of Grace.

Update 10/28/2016: It is worth noting that I no longer hold that the Mosaic Covenant is a republication of the Covenant of Works, at least not in the sense that I implied here. However, the point I was making with this post still stands, that Christ fulfills the Covenant of Works which is formally —but not materially— republished at Sinai. See WCF19 and the recent OPC Report of the Committee to Study Republication for more information.