The Righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven Compared to that of the law of Moses

Keith Sharp
Conway, Arkansas

The teaching of Jesus is astonishing. People today are amazed at the depth of the truths taught by the Galilean carpenter. Those of the Master's own day were astounded at the authority with which He spake as well (Matt. 7:28-29).

No passage more emphatically demonstrates the authority with which the Lord taught than does Matt. 5:21-48. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, the Master boldly announced that He was replacing the precepts of the Law of Moses, the venerated covenant given to Israel by Jehovah, with His own law. This section of scripture thus serves as a graphic illustration of some of the major differences between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ.

In Matt. 5:21-48 the Master gave six separate examples of how His government is superior to that of Moses. Each time Jesus first quoted either the Old Testament directly or the rabbinic interpretation of Moses' Law ("Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time"-vv. 21, 27; "It hath been said"-v. 31; "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time"-v. 33; "Ye have heard that it hath been said"-vv. 38, 43) and then revealed His precept that replaced that of Moses ("But I say unto you"-vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).

Some contend that since Jesus introduced the quotes by explaining, "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time," that He was referring only to the rabbinic traditions that had been added to the law and not to the law itself This they assert in order to get around the truth that Jesus did abolish the Old Testament to establish the New.

The fact is, in each case the Master either quoted the law directly or gave a correct comment on the meaning of the law. The disciples of Jesus, to whom He was primarily addressing Himself (Matt. 5:1-2), were common people, who only knew the law by the oral teaching of the rabbis, particularly in the synagogues. Thus, "Ye have heard that it hath been said" was simply a way of referring to what they had heard read in the synagogue (cf. Jn. 12:34), which consisted of both the law itself and the rabbinic tradition. Jesus replaced both with His own law, the law of the kingdom of heaven.

The first reference of Jesus, "Thou shalt not kill" (Matt. 5:21), was a direct quote from the sixth of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17) and was thus central to the Law of Moses and even to the very Ten Commandments. The second portion of His reference, "and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matt. 5:21), although not a direct quote from the law and apparently a reference to the traditions of the fathers, was, nevertheless, a precisely correct comment on and summary of the law's demands concerning the murderer (cf. Num. 35:9-34; esp. vv. 16, 30-31; Lev. 24:21; Deut. 19:11-13). Thus, the Lord was replacing the law, and that moral, of Moses, the Old Testament.

Does this mean one is free to kill under the New Testament, since Jesus abolished the law which warned,. "Thou shaft no kill"? Most emphatically, No! The law of the nation of Mexico forbids murder. When, in 1836, following Sam Houston's attack on Santa Anna at San Jacinto, Texas became an independent nation, and later, in 1845, when she became a state of the Union, the laws of Mexico, which formerly governed Texans, no longer applied to them. Did that mean citizens of Texas were free to murder? No, for that law of the State of Texas also forbids murder. The Law of Moses forbids murder. It has been abrogated. But the law of Christ also forbids murder (Jas. 2:8-12). Murder is wrong, not because the Ten Commandments so teaches, but because the New Testament so declares.

So far as the outward act of murder is concerned the Law of Moses does not differ from that of Christ. But the difference between the laws is that Jesus did not merely condemn the act of murder itself; He went to the very root of sin and condemned the attitude of heart and the words which led to the sinful act (Matt. 5:22).

Christ Replaced Moses, Law with The Law of the Spirit

Announcing Principles of the Kingdom of Heaven

Matt. 4:23; 5:3, 10, 19, 20

Came to Fulfill The Law

Matt. 5: 17-20


Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17 <-------------- MURDER ----------------------------> Matt. 5:21-26
Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18 <--------------- ADULTERY ----------------------------> Matt. 5:27-30
Deut. 24:1-4 <----------------------------- DIVORCE ----------------------------> Matt. 5:31-32
Lev. 19:12 <------------------------------- SWEARING ----------------------------> Matt. 5:33-37
Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21 REVENGE ----------------------------> Matt. 5:38-42
Lev. 19:18 <------------------------------- LOVE & HATE ----------------------------> Matt. 5:43-47
Keep These: Fall

Gal. 5:4

Keep These: Perfect

Matt. 5:48

The Mosaic covenant stipulated, "Thou shaft not commit adultery" (Matt. 5:27; cf. Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). The Master warned:

. . .whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already In his heart (Matt. 5:28).

Thus, the law of Moses did primarily deal with outward actions. This was the general tenor of the law. This does not mean the Old Testament never dealt with attitudes. It did teach:

thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Devi. 6:5).

The Master even pointed to this as the paramount commandment of the law (Matt. 22:34-38). The second most important precept likewise dealt with attitudes Matt. 22:39-40). Even in relationship to adultery, Moses said, "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" (Exod. 20:17). Nevertheless, the Law of Moses was, generally speaking, "the law of a carnal commandment" (Heb. 7:16; cf. 9:10; Rom. 7:5). It dealt with outward, fleshly ordinances rather than with inward, spiritual principles.

In contrast, the Law of Christ deals directly and primarily with man's heart, his attitudes (cf. Matt. 12:3435; 13:1-23; 15:18-20; Rom. 6:17-18). Thus, the New Testament embodies the highest and strictest moral and religious law ever given to man, including the strict demands of outward purity that the law of Moses contained with the even more stringent demands of inward purity taught by Christ.

When Jesus replaced Moses's law concerning divorce with his own (Matt. 5:31-32), He illustrated yet another distinction between the two covenants. Moses' commandment accepted a prevailing evil and regulated it (cf. Deut. 24:1-4). The Lord restored marriage to the high moral plane God placed it on in the beginning. The will of Christ, unlike the Mosaic regulations, restores man to his original state of purity.

The Master's quotation concerning swearing (Matt. 5:33) is not found in so many words in the Old Testament. However, it is a fair summary of the Old Testament rules concerning oaths (Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21-23). The Lord replaced it with a stricter standard (Matt. 5:43-47). Thus, another difference between the covenants is exemplified. Whereas the moral demands of the Old were exceedingly high, the highest previously known to man, the standards of the New are even higher, embodying moral perfection.

The precept pertaining to revenge (Matt. 5:38) is a direct quote from the Old Testament (Exod. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21) and demonstrates an important difference between the testaments. In Moses' law was found perfect justice (Rom. 7:12); in Christ's law, mercy triumphs over justice (Matt. 5:39-42; cf. Ja. 2:13).

The requirement to love one's neighbor (Matt. 5:43) was specifically laid down in the Mosaic covenant (Lev. 19:17-18). Although the opposite requirement, hatred of one's enemies, was not precisely stated in the law, it was a fair application of the teaching of the Old Testament. The Lord demanded that Israel annihilate the Amalekites (Deut. 25:17-19) and Canaanite nations that inhabited the land before them (Deut. 7:1-2, 16, 23-26). They were never to make peace with the Moabites or Ammonites (Deut. 23:3-6). Pure men of God hated not only the ways of the enemies of God; they hated the enemies themselves (Ps. 26:5; 31:6; 139:21-22).

Thus, a clear distinction was made between faithful children of Abraham and the Gentiles, and demand for love was largely though not entirely, limited to the Israelites. This had a dual purpose: to protect the people from the evil influence of their idolatrous enemies and to preserve the lineage of the Messiah. Therefore, according to Paul, the law was the basis of enmity between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:13-16). This was one of its defects, which, although it served a legitimate temporary purpose, necessitated its abrogation: Thus, another essential difference is exemplified between the two laws. The Law of Moses was a covenant designed for the nation of Israel alone (Deut. 5:1-3; 6:6-7), whereas the Law of Christ is universal in its scope (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15).

Comparing the Laws

Law of Moses Law of Christ
Primary Outward Act -- Matt. 5:21, 27 Primarily Attitudes -- Matt. 5:22, 28
Regulated Prevailing Practices -- Matt. 5:31 Restored Original Design -- Matt. 5:32
Strict -- Matt. 5:33 Stricter -- Matt. 5:34
Just -- Matt. 5:38 Merciful -- Matt. 5:39
National -- Matt. 5:43 Universal -- Matt. 5:44

Christ set the theme for the Sermon on the Mount by revealing-to his disciples:

That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). .

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

Although this primarily referred to the forgiveness of the gospel, it also demanded holier life than that which was considered the most pure in that day. Then, in Matthew 5:21-47, Jesus made known the standard of righteousness that would govern His kingdom. It was a standard far higher than ever before known, higher than the traditions of the Jews, yea, even higher than the Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments.

The Law of Christ is superior to that of Moses in at least five particulars. It deals directly and primarily with the heart of man, his attitudes, whereas the Law of Moses deal primarily with outward actions. The Old Testament merely regulated many existing evils, whereas the Covenant of Christ restores man to his original state of purity. Whereas the Mosaic precepts were strict, those of Christ are stricter yet. Under the New Testament, unlike the Old, mercy triumphs over justice, both in man's dealing with his fellow man and in God's dealings with men. The Law of Moses was a national standard, for Israel alone, while the Law of Christ is universal, the standard of right and way of salvation for all mankind.

What an exalted standard! The Law of Moses, as great as it was cannot compare. Thus, if we attempt to be justified by the Old Testament, we "are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). In contrast, were a man to completely keep the will of Christ, he would in character be "perfect," as God is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Of course, none of us do this (Jn. 1:8-10), but we should ever strive toward that goal (Phil. 3:12-14). As we make this perfect standard the rule of our lives, by which we examine ourselves daily (2 Cor. 13:5), obtaining forgiveness when we stumble (1 Jn. 2:1-2), we will be "perfect" in the sense of "mature, complete" or "lacking in nothing" (Jas. 1:4).

Truth Magazine XXII: 11, p.. 187-188
March 16, 1978