One of the arguments that is extrapolated from this is that if heaven and earth have not yet passed away, then Christians are still under the law. Hence, since Christians are under grace, and not the law, heaven and earth must have passed away. Since the literal cosmos has not passed away, Preterists must be right about their allegorical interpretation of the phrase, "heaven and earth," which actually refers to the old covenant in this context.
Another argument is that the law would still be in affect for Jews outside of Christ, and this means that Jews would be able to achieve salvation by following the Mosaic Law outside of Christ.
Let's look at the first claim for a moment.
1. The biggest objection to this is that it clearly is not true when we look at the pre-A.D. 70 claims of the New Testament, specifically, concerning what Paul claimed.
Paul argues that the only reason he still may practice the ritual law is to gain an opportunity with those whom he wishes to evangelize; but he clearly states that all things are lawful for him (1 Cor 6:12), and that he is not under the law any longer.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-21, Paul states:
For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law.
Again, in Romans 6:14-15, he states of the Roman believers:
For sin will have no mastery over you,because you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!
He argues further,
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead, to bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code. (7:4-6)
Furthermore, the Judaizers in Galatia would have been in the right for insisting that the Gentiles be circumcised and follow the ritual law, since everyone would have been supposedly still under it. Paul would be in the wrong because he would have been stating that the Galatians were free from the law while they were still under it.
Instead, Paul argues that the Galatian believers are no longer under the law.
Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (3:23-27)
For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (2:19-21)
If heaven and earth, i.e., the old covenant, needs to pass away before one can be free from being under the law, then how did Paul and early believers become free before A.D. 70? Obviously, "heaven and earth" passing away was not needed.
Let's discuss the second the idea for a moment now.
There seems to be some presuppositional idea in this argument that the law is a vehicle of salvation in the OT, and therefore, would remain one until the old covenant is done away with in A.D. 70.
I think it is clear from the NT that there is no transitional period. What was left of the external religion of the old covenant ended at the cross of Christ. However, it was never a vehicle of salvation for anyone but Christ alone. The one who would see life from the law was to obey all of it. Only Christ has ever done this. Therefore, as Paul argues, the law is an instrument of death to everyone else. Hence, it has been, is now, and always will be that the vehicle of salvation is being united to Christ by faith, whether for old covenant believers or new. Old covenant believers were united to Christ via faith in YHWH and looking toward the cross with sacrifices and ritual law. New covenant believers have received Christ, not in shadows of rituals, but as the substance of He who has now been revealed.
The odd suggestion that the law itself would pass away while men are still outside of Christ and sinning is also an odd one. With what standard will men be judged now? Every passage that speaks of judgment speaks of a judgment according to one's works. Paul himself states that the law exists to hold all men accountable to God.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Rom 3:19-22)
The distinction between those under the law and saved by grace via faith in Christ is not "old covenant versus new covenant," but rather damned versus redeemed. In other words, God is not going to do away with the law until all men have been judged for their sins. Notice, that the law is not merely for Israel, as Paul means to argue that the law exists both in special revelation via Moses and in natural revelation via creation and conscience. The law does not pass away before it holds all men accountable and brings them into judgment. Neither Jew nor Gentile is free from the judgment of the law before or after A.D. 70 if, in fact, they are not united to Jesus Christ through faith.
But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. (1 Tim 1:8-10)
So, in this regard, the law cannot pass away until all men are judged and that occurs when the old heaven and earth pass away in preparation for their renewal into an eternal state.
Hence, the idea that there are two covenants in effect during A.D. 30-70 simply misses the point the New Testament is making. The old external covenant was never a means to salvation for anyone but Christ. It was, is now, and will continue to be a vehicle of condemnation for those outside of Christ.
However, the law also has another function for those who are already justified by Christ. For those who have turned from self-love to Christ-love, the moral law is instruction/guidance/direction of what love looks like. In fact, the preface of the law in Deuteronomy presents the law as an expression of loving God with one's whole being. Indeed, Paul continually argues that the law is fulfilled in loving one's fellow covenant member who represents God/Christ. Law is condemnation for those sinners attempting to use it as a vehicle to be justified before God, but it is a teacher of what love of God and fellow believer looks like in various situations.
And it is this aspect of law that Jesus is talking about in Matthew, as Matthew presents Jesus as arguing that one must, as a kingdom member, observe the law in terms of using it as a way to love God and the least of these brothers of Christ.
In fact, Preterists tend to only quote part of the verse, but the entire verse makes it clear that the law to which Jesus is referring is the "law OR the prophets," i.e., the Scripture, and specifically to moral commands found in the law, are for kingdom members, those in the new covenant, since they are commands to love God or other believers in a particular way that new covenant members are to put into practice. The text reads:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17-20)
Notice that there is nothing here about being "under the law" until heaven and earth pass away. To say that a text that tells us that the law will not pass away until all is accomplished means everyone is under the law until it passes away is just a non sequitur. It says it will not pass away until everything is accomplished, not that it will pass away once everyone is no longer under it. In other words, the terminology is not that of using it as a vehicle of justification, but one of verification that one is loving God and one's fellow believer, as well as the evidence brought forward in one's judgment to verify the claim that he knows Christ and has loved Him through the least of these who represent Him.
Jesus then continues to argue that following the law evidences one's allegiance to Christ as Lord, and those who do not follow it are called "lawless" and told that Christ never knew them. This is because Matthew will present the greatest of commandments, as do the other Gospels, as loving God with one's whole being and loving one's fellow covenant community members who represent God. The moral law expresses love toward one's fellow Jewish believer, wife, and even fellow Gentile believer (which is what Matthew is primarily about).
But what is even more telling that this is what is meant by this passage is that Christ explicitly states that anyone who breaks even the least of these commands and teachers others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. The one who keeps them will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In other words, these commandments, in terms of the way that Jesus is using them here in Matthew, are for those in the kingdom, not just for those outside of it.
Yet, if the law passes away for those in the kingdom, why is Jesus telling those in the kingdom that they are to observe and teach others to observe even the least of the commandments? The kingdom IS the new covenant community, the eternal kingdom that exists on this side of eternity. While living here, kingdom members must observe what the Scripture has commanded because it has commanded them to do those things that are expressions of true love for God and one another.
Now, let's put it all together. If the law here exists for believers in the kingdom to use it as a guide to love one another until all is accomplished, they will be judged as to whether they loved Christ and one another by it, and yet, they are free from seeking justification before God through it, as Paul argues, because it is only a vehicle of condemnation for every sinner, then believers, before and after A.D. 70, are no longer "under the law," but the law still exists for them to direct their love toward God and one another, then in one regard (according to the Pauline sense) the external law has passed away as a vehicle of condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, but it still remains to judge all outside of Christ and to give direction to believers who want to know what love looks like.
So love looks like taking principles of the law, like not murdering, and applying it in ways that don't degrade the humanity of one's brother because the law was meant to give examples of what love looks like, rather than existing as some exhaustive list of morality. Love looks like taking the principle of the law of adultery and applying it to directing one's desires toward one's spouse rather than a stranger, and it looks like reconciliation rather than divorce. Love and reconciliation to God and fellow believer is the core context of the law in Matthew. All who claim to love God and nullify the Scripture in these areas are pretenders, or as more commonly translated, "hypocrites."
This is the same as the original law, which directed Israelites to love God through their fellow covenant member by not stealing their goods, locking up their dangerous animals, making right any debt owed through wrongdoing, etc.
So my point would be that the law never passes away on this side of creation. It exists to shut all men up before God and hold them accountable, and was a tutor that taught us we needed a sacrifice and a Savior. It exists to judge all men outside of Christ. It even exists to judge whether we truly love one another and as a guide, therefore, to direct our professed love.
This distinction is seen in Luke 16:16-17: “The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void.
Here we see the concept that the law and prophets, i.e., the Scripture again, are in force until John. Christ's advent ends this. Yet, in the same breathe, Jesus tells them that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to become void. So we have both the idea that, for those in the kingdom, the law is not in effect over them in terms of judgment; but the law is still in effect in other ways until the very ending of heaven and earth. Also notice, that "heaven and earth" cannot mean the old covenant/law if it is easier for it to pass away than the tiniest letter of the law to become void. If they are the same thing then it would be just as easy. In fact, it would be pretty nonsensical for Jesus to argue that it is easier for the law to pass away than for a tittle of the law to pass away. In fact, Luke's parallel to Matthew's statement here makes it clear that the intention is not to say that the law must completely pass away in order for grace to come, but that the law continues to be in effect even once the kingdom has come. It is merely important for one to realize how it is to be viewed. This is likely why Matthew adds the statement by Jesus that He did not, in fact, come to do away with the law, but instead to fill it up, establish it further, bring out its full intention among the covenant community, and indeed, within the world as a whole until all things are accomplished.
This brings us to an important discussion in that Preterists tend to confuse the old covenant with the principles of the law. The old covenant is actually the external nature of the law as existing in legal examples as opposed to the new covenant that is that same moral law written upon the minds, i.e., onto the actual being of the individual believer. The new covenant is not a different morality, but a different law in terms of the means of its communication to us. But we'll discuss this more in the next post when we talk about Auctor's quote of Jeremiah 31.
For now, it suffices to say that the claim that heaven and earth must have passed away or we are all under the law still, or the claim that the Jews could still be saved under the old covenant still, is a non sequitur and a misunderstanding of both the need of the law until the end and the context of Matthew that argues for a continued use of the law by believers.
For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. (Rom 7:22)
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom asan opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, live by the Spiritand you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! (Gal 5:13-21)