(Matthew 5:17-20) Jesus And The Law

By Johnny Stringer

Jesus did not want men to think that he was in conflict with the Law of Moses and the Old Testament prophets. In the Sermon on the Mount he corrected that idea and taught men to respect the Law. In fact, he said that whether or not one respected the Law had a bearing on whether he would enter the Lord’s kingdom.

Jesus Came to Fulfill

To understand what Jesus meant when he said that he came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, we must understand the purpose of the Law. The Law was a part of God’s preparation for bringing Christ into the world.

In preparing for the Savior, God built a nation (Israel) from which the Savior would come. He gave that nation a land to live in (Canaan) and a law to live by (the Law of Moses). He worked with Israel for hundreds of years, training, teaching, and disciplining them, so that when the Savior came they would be ready to receive him.

The Law of Moses played a key role in preparing the Israelites for Christ. It was a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ (Gal. 3:24). It kept within their hearts the knowledge of God and a concept of purity and morality. Moreover, it contained rituals and functionaries that symbolized or foreshadowed Christ and his work (Heb. 10:1). Also, it helped make men aware of their sins and their need for a Savior.

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets in that he was the one they led to and pointed to. He was the fulfillment of the types, shadows, and prophecies. When he did his work on earth, that to which the Law and prophets had pointed was accomplished; hence, his work constituted the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets.

Not To Destroy

When Jesus said that he did not come to destroy the Law and prophets, he did not mean that the Law of Moses would never cease to be binding. In fact, as a result of his work, the Law of Moses did cease to be binding (Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14-16; Rom. 7:1-7; Heb. 7:12; Gal. 3:24-25). Then what did he mean?

Among the definitions Thayer gives for the word rendered “destroy” is “to overthrow i.e. render vain, deprive of success, bring to naught.” Jesus did not come to render the Law and prophets vain (useless) and deprive them of success. To the contrary, his work was the very thing the Law and prophecies pointed to. Jesus was making the point that his work was not in conflict with the Old Testament. Rather, it was in perfect harmony with the Old Testament, being the very thing the Old Testament pointed to.

When Jesus accomplished his work, the Law of Moses was fulfilled. That which it had been designed to lead men to had come. So having served its purpose, it passed away (Gal. 3:25). It was not destroyed in the sense Jesus used the term in our text. Consider the following illustration.

As the Law led to Christ (Gal. 3:24), an engagement leads to a marriage. The marriage is not in conflict with the engagement, but it does bring an end to the engagement. It does not destroy the engagement in the sense that an engagement would be destroyed if it were just broken off and nullified. When the marriage comes the engagement has served its purpose. Its goal has been fulfilled. It is no longer in effect. But people at a wedding do not say that the engagement is being destroyed.

As the engagement ends with the marriage, the Law of Moses ended with the word of Christ. Christ was not in conflict with the Law any more than the marriage is in conflict with the engagement; he did not “destroy” the Law any more than a marriage destroys an engagement.

Significance of Attitude Toward The Law

Until Jesus had completed his work on earth, thereby fulfilling the Law, the Law was to be obeyed (v. 18). Jesus said that those who did not obey it would be called least in the kingdom of heaven, while those who obeyed it would be called great in the kingdom (v. 19).

This was true because an obedient spirit would be required in the kingdom. In fact, a higher degree of righteousness would be required in the kingdom than that which was taught and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees (v. 20). Those who had a spirit of disobedience, and hence disobeyed the Law of Moses, would not be acceptable in the kingdom, assuming they continued to have that spirit after the kingdom began.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 18, p. 563
September 17, 1987