2 And it came to pass that when Jesus had said these words he perceived that there were some among them who marveled, and wondered what he would concerning the law of Moses; for they understood not the saying that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new.
3 And he said unto them: Marvel not that I said unto you that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new.
4 Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses.
5 Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end.
6 Behold, I do not destroy the prophets, for as many as have not been fulfilled in me, verily I say unto you, shall all be fulfilled.
7 And because I said unto you that old things have passed away, I do not destroy that which hath been spoken concerning things which are to come.
8 For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me.
(3 Nephi 15:2-8)
Change is hard. In our day-to-day lives, we naturally anchor ourselves emotionally to tangible things which create some sense of permanence or stability, even though we recognize that those things are temporary. A few years ago, when the company I worked for was acquired, I and all of my colleagues were shellshocked. Huge multi-year projects which had seemed so important the day before were suddenly irrelevant. One of my colleagues remarked during the train ride home, “We sometimes think that there is a difference between employees and contractors, but on a day like today, it’s pretty clear: we’re all contractors.”
When we experience big changes, and particularly when institutions which constitute some of our emotional scaffolding are dismantled, we have the opportunity to reconnect with fundamental principles which do not change. Our day-to-day activities may change, but if we are well-grounded, we don’t have to discard the fundamental truths and values that those activities were based upon.
In the passage above, Jesus explains one of His teachings which was potentially confusing to the people. A couple of chapters earlier, He said, “Those things that were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled. Old things are done away, and all things have become new” (3 Nephi 12:46-47). That sounds pretty comprehensive. Surely His intent was to emphasize to His listeners the need to adapt to the significant changes in religious practices they were about to experience. He had already declared an end to animal sacrifice, and He was about to introduce a new ordinance—the sacrament (3 Nephi 9:18-20, 3 Nephi 18:1-11).
But there was some danger of His listeners interpreting His meaning too broadly and discarding fundamental parts of His gospel which were not changing and which in fact would never change. Just a few years earlier, after the sign had been given of the Savior’s birth, some people “began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses.” Mormon tells us that these people didn’t understand the scriptures, and that they were soon taught “that the law was not yet fulfilled, and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled” (3 Nephi 1:24-25).
Similarly, in the passage above, the Savior emphasizes that, even though the law had now been fulfilled, there were still many things which had not yet been fulfilled. Prophets had spoken of future events which had not yet occurred, and the covenant which the God made with Israel remained in force. The changes in religious observance which they were about to experience did not imply a dissolution of the fundamental principles of the gospel. In fact, the very cessation of some of the practices associated with the law of Moses, such as animal sacrifice, represented an affirmation that the event which those practices foreshadowed—the Savior’s Atonement—was now in the past, and that it was therefore appropriate to commemorate that event in a different way. This is what the Savior meant when He said, “The law in me is fulfilled.”
Today, as I participate in religious practices which connect me with God, I will remember that those practices represent underlying realities which are permanent and stable. Institutions, policies, and procedures change over time. But we can continue to trust in prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled, covenants we have made with God, and the eternal and unchanging principles of the gospel.