"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. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:17-20 NKJV).
- The Law's Fulfillment (v.17)
You cannot understand the Law of God in purely materialistic terms. It is a Muslim belief that bringing the earth into order under God's law is all God really wants. But if that is all God wanted then why doesn't an all-powerful all-knowing God, simply enforce His law Himself? There is a deep philosophical question that Islam cannot answer, that holds our key to understanding the LAW. "What does God intend, and what does it say about us? If God is not constrained by the temporal material world, then God must be a part of a higher order than naturalism, and that order cannot terminate on material things.
Whether a Jew born under the Law or a gentile without the Law, there is a desire in man to escape corruption in a real sense, not to just turn back to dust, but to persist in some form of immortality; and that desire leads us away from our material desires. In that desire for immortality is the opportunity for the soul of man to find his purpose in God himself and there transcend the temporal world. So the LAW cannot be just about rules with no bearing beyond the natural world. The LAW rightly understood must always be focused on God and His purpose for mankind.
Here Jesus in one passage rejects the two prevailing views of God's law among theist. 1) That the LAW is just about natural order, and God is good and knows what is best for man, so he makes those good things his LAW, and we keep that LAW for our own good. 2) The Gnostic/New Age/Spiritual view that the LAW doesn't matter because it is only about temporary material things and once you have knowledge about the eternal, the temporary doesn't matter.
Jesus gives us a 3rd alternative, that the LAW is about God and His holiness, that all material things must be sanctified to enter God's presence; therefore man must be sanctified, made clean, and dedicated to God's purpose to have any hope of entering into His presence. But that LAW perfectly followed only made temporary atonement where one man the priest entered God's presence but for a moment once a year. Furthermore Jesus was about to break down how imperfectly man had been keeping God's LAW, and that will sound hopeless for man except for verse 17 where Jesus cracks open the door to heaven and says "I will fulfill the LAW". Don't you relax it, modify or soften the LAW, because the LAW is about God's holiness, and in Jesus sinless self we will see God. Not once a year, but day by day Jesus will live out not only the letter of the LAW in a physical sense, but the purpose of the LAW to see holiness, and our chance to be sanctified by Him escaping corruption.
- Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the law with His amazing life.
When the Lord spoke to Moses regarding the Passover requirement to offer a Lamb, he said in Exodus 12:5 "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats."
2 Corinthians 5:21 "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
We learned in our study through Hebrews in chapter 4 verse 15 "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN" (NKJV).
The apostle Peter, who was in Jesus' inner circle for 3 ½ years of ministry said of his close friend and Savior in 1 Peter 2:22 "Who [Jesus] COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH" (NKJV).
Jesus Himself even challenged the fault-finding Pharisees (the masters of Mosaic law) in John 8:46 by saying, "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" And no one came up with anything. He was SINLESS; Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the law with His amazing life.
- Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial demands of the law by His atoning death.
When Jesus died He fulfilled the details of the ceremonial law concerning sacrifices and offerings.
Jesus was the unleavened bread of the Passover, and He was the Paschal lamb, and His was the blood that was shed for sin. Because of this, Jesus could say, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to FULFILL" (Matt. 5:17).
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
Jesus' life and death leave no doubt about the law's fulfillment, but what about…
- The Law's Future (v.18)
Jesus assures His hearers in verse 18 of chapter 5, "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 until all is fulfilled" (NKJV).
The jot was the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the tittle was the smallest part of any letter. As Hebrew had no vowels the sounds were indicated by small marks above and below the consonant letters, sometimes no more than a single dot.
As we will learn later in chapter, the Pharisees had sometimes relaxed or changed the Law to suit their own purpose, Jesus will not only keep the letter of the Law but the God glorifying intent as well.
There will be changes in heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1), but not until their present purpose is fulfilled, and so it is with the Law of God. To show how the substance of the material world can be sanctified for the exclusive use of a Holy God.
"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV).
To emphasize that the law should be taken seriously as a standard, Jesus spoke about the consequences of violating it in verse 19.
- The Law's Force (v.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, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19 NKJV).
Jesus exposed the foolishness of the Pharisees who spent their time dividing the Mosaic Law into what they called "great commandments" and "least commandments". Before we judge the Pharisees, we need to recognize that we often do that too. Think about it for a minute. Do you think that someone keeping the Sabbath holy is as big of a deal as not killing someone? How about desiring your neighbors stuff compared with committing adultery? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Remember the Law is about holiness; God does not treat His commandments casually, and neither should we.
- The Law's Insufficiency (v.20)
In one simple statement, Jesus dismantles "works salvation" by saying, "unless your righteousness EXCEEDS that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20 NKJV). This was quite a statement to those hearing our Lord because they knew full well the reputation of the Scribes and Pharisees.
The Scribes were those whose lives were dedicated to the copying and interpretation of God's law; know one knew it better. They were the religious elite, the brilliant scholars of the day. Scribes were the authority on KNOWING what the law said. Our modern day American equivalent would be the PhD's found in the ivory towers of our Seminaries.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the religious zealots who were better known for DOING what the law said (and then some). They multiplied minute precepts and distinctions to such an extent that the whole life of Israel was hemmed in and burdened by instructions so numerous and hairsplitting that the law was almost lost sight of (Matt. 12:1-13; 23:23; Mark 3:1-6; 7:2-4; Luke 13:10-17; 18:12).
Our modern day American equivalent would be the legalistic Christian whose "holy appearance" takes priority above everything else in life.
Verse 20 is our challenge "unless your righteousness is better than the Pharisees", you will not be sanctified, you will not be holy, you will not enter God's kingdom, you will not escape corruption, and you will not see God.
Jesus FULFILLED the moral demands of the law with His amazing life; and He FULFILLED the ceremonial demands of the law with His atoning death! By faith in Him, we are "dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne"! Not only that, but we are also indwelt by His powerful Holy Spirit; who now guides us and instructs us in keeping the standard of God's law by loving Him with all our heart and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Lord of the law know lives in us and through us!
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.