Matthew 5:17-19 (NKJV)17 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
What did He mean?
Some people think that since He came to, and did, fulfill “The Law” that “The Law” no longer applies to Christians.
If that is the case, then let me ask a few questions.
● Is it all right to worship other gods because Jesus kept the First Commandment?
● Is it all right to have religious images as part of our worship because Jesus kept the Second Commandment?
● Is it permissible to take God’s name in vain because Jesus kept the Third Commandment?
● Can one break the Sabbath—the Fourth Commandment—because Jesus kept it?
● Because Jesus honored His parents—the Fifth Commandment—are believers permitted to dishonor their parents?
● Since Jesus did not murder, commit sexual sins, steal, lie or covet anything that belonged to others, are Christians free of any obligation to keep the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and 10th Commandments?
We know the answers to these questions is a resounding No!.
Yes, these things still apply to us today. Yet Jesus said that He came to fulfill “The Law” and His last words on the cross were “It is finished”, meaning all that He came to do while on earth was complete and, we can assume that included fulfilling “The Law”.
John 19:30 (HCSB)30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
Let me clear up the confusion.
What Law are we talking about?
The first thing we need to do is to determine when Jesus referred to “The Law” what He was talking about. Was it the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17?
1. You shall have no other gods before Me
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
5. Honor your father and your mother
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall not bear false witness
10. You shall not covet
The “Sermon on the Mount” comprises the entire fifth chapter of Matthew and in it Jesus refers to the Law but only two of them are from the Ten Commandments.
Matthew 5:21 (HCSB) “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.
Matthew 5:27 (HCSB) “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery.
The other topics Jesus covered—divorce, oaths, revenge, and hatred—are taken from other places elsewhere in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 24:1 (HCSB) “If a man marries a woman, but she becomes displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her away from his house.
Numbers 30:2 (HCSB) When a man makes a vow to the LORD or swears an oath to put himself under an obligation, he must not break his word; he must do whatever he has promised.
Deuteronomy 19:21 (HCSB) You must not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.
Leviticus 19:18 (HCSB) Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.
When He said,“The Law” and the Prophets that would indicate that He was talking about more than the Ten Commandments, and the first five books, of what we now know as the Bible. In another place He includes even more.
Luke 24:44 (HCSB) Then He told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
How Did Jesus Fulfill the Law?
Remember the Scripture at the beginning of the post says that Jesus didn’t come to abolish but to fulfill “The Law” which we have now determined to be the Hebrew Scriptures or Torah. Jesus loved and obeyed “The Law”. He fulfilled all the prophecies about Himself as the Messiah, He fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic law as codified in The Pentateuch, which called for perfect obedience.
The Greek word pleroo is translated “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17. Strong’s defines pleroo.
“to make replete, i.e. (literal) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figurative) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish (a period or task), verify (or coincide with a prediction), etc. : - accomplish, × after, (be) complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfil, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply.”
To fulfill can mean to complete or accomplish, but it can also mean to fill to the full. Taken in context, when Jesus said that He did not come to abolish but to fulfill, His intent is clear. Jesus came to fulfill the true meaning and purpose of what the Law was all about.
He was speaking of the spirit of the law, the heart and essence of the law itself. The “spirit of the law” is often contrasted to the “letter of the law.” In that context, the spirit of the law has to do with the deeper meaning or reason for the law, whereas the letter of the law refers to exact wording, applied, without regard for any deeper meaning.
Jesus simplified what others had complicated when he made love central to the law.
This passage is often called “the Great Commandment” because with it, Jesus succinctly sums up the entire Old Testament Law. And Jesus perfectly demonstrated this commandment when He gave up His life for us.
In so doing, Jesus reduced the 613 laws of the scribes to the law of love for God and your neighbor.
In doing this, he kept the real meaning of the law, which was reverence for God and respect for others. In this sense Jesus offered the law as a reliable guide for successful living.
Matthew 22:36-40 NIV “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ““‘ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The question now is, how did Christ fulfill the law?
1. Jesus fulfilled the law in his own person.
Jesus dramatized in his own life what it means to revere God. That reverence did not consist in laboriously following rules and regulations. It expressed in mercy; its pattern was not legalism but love.
Matthew 9:10-13 NIV While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
2. Jesus fulfilled the law by giving it internal meaning.
Prior to the coming of Christ, the law related primarily to the externals of life. It concerned itself chiefly with conduct. Jesus took us to a deeper meaning of the law than simply the external actions of people.
Hebrews 10:15-16 NIV The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
3. Jesus fulfilled the law by giving it a positive application.
Jesus made the law constructive. For years, the dominant theme of the law was “Thou shalt not.” Don’t do this. Don’t do that. By the time the rabbis had superimposed their own meaning on the laws, there were so many things a person was not allowed to do that little time was left for positive thinking. Jesus changed this dramatically. He turned our attention, not so much to what we are not to do, as to what we are to do. Jesus defined goodness, not so much in terms of abstaining from vices, as in obtaining virtues.
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The following is from the book “Irresistible” by Andy Stanley.
“According to Jesus, nothing in the law would “disappear” until everything was “accomplished.” Once it was accomplished, however, the law would begin to disappear. Which is exactly what happened.
For the next forty years, religious Israel would wrestle with the internal tension created by The Way. The harder they tried to stamp it out, the faster it grew. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the apostle Paul and others, Jews throughout the Roman world began abandoning strict adherence to the rules of the local synagogue to follow the resurrected teacher from Nazareth.
Then, on August 6 in the year AD 70, the transition ended abruptly. It was on that day that the four-year conflict between Jewish rebels and Rome came to a bloody and violent end. The Jewish temple was looted, burned, and razed. The destruction of the temple signaled the end of ancient Judaism. While the words of the covenant were preserved, Israel’s ability to live in accordance with those words vanished in a day.
Judaism, as prescribed by Moses at Mount Sinai, ceased to exist. To use Jesus’ term, it “disappeared.”
As Jesus predicted.
God’s covenant with Israel was no longer needed. It had been fulfilled and replaced with a better covenant.
A new covenant.
New Testament scholars have long debated the significance of Jesus’ famous last words from the cross: “It is finished.”6 As His disheartened followers would soon discover, Jesus wasn’t finished. But something was. In His final moments, He was announcing to those gathered that the covenant He came to fulfill was at last fulfilled. And through the shedding of His blood, a new covenant, a better covenant, a broader covenant was being established between God and all who would choose to participate.”