Matthew 5:17-20 - Christ Fulfills the Law

Jesus explains that the Old and New Testaments are one harmonious whole

There are multiple aspects of the law:

  • Moral - what God deems is absolutely right and wrong (for all time)
  • Judicial - the legal system that governed Israel
  • Ceremonial - dealing with clean and unclean things

Jesus fulfilled each of these aspects of the law:

  • Moral: in perfect obedience to it
  • Judicial: by personifying God's perfect justice
  • Ceremonial: by becoming the final complete sacrifice for sin
    • He followed the ceremonial law perfectly by never sinning, and therefore never needing to offer a sacrifice to cover his sin!
  • Predictions of the prophets
He thus exalted the law, as Isaiah 42:14-21 foretells

Jesus makes a distinction between "fulfilling" and "destroying"

  • Not the smallest part of the law will pass away until heaven and Earth pass away
    • Rom. 3:31 - the law is not nullified, but rather established!
    • And we (should) delight in it (Rom 7:22)
  • Why then don't we follow all of the ordinances of the Old Testaments?
    • John 8:4-7 - Jesus reveals that He fulfills the law by upholding the intent of the law, not legalism
    • Col. 2:16-17 - Jesus fulfills the law by demonstrating true Holiness - he is the one of whom the law is merely a shadow
      • Because Jesus has fulfilled the ceremonial laws, we are now told we don't need to worry about feasts, festivals, or sabbaths
      • These were a shadow of the picture of holiness
      • Now, Jesus is our true picture of what true holiness looks like
    • "Not one jot or tittle will pass away"
      • Jesus doesn't say that the ceremonial laws were wrong - instead, he upholds them as being inerrant - but now fulfilled in himself
    • Romans and Hebrews both have much to help us interpret what is meant here:
      • Rom 10:4
        • Jesus was the first human to carry out the ceremonial law perfectly, thus fulfilling it so that we no longer have to
        • We are set apart (made holy) by accepting Christ's sacrifice for our sins, not by making our own sacrifices - this would clearly not only be unnecessary, but offensive to Jesus!
      • Heb 9:6-10 - The external regulations were applicable only until the time of reformation (of the new order)
        • See also Gal. 3:23-25
        • Gentiles are not under the Mosaic law, but rather under the Law of Christ
          • Gal. 6:1-5, 1 Cor. 9:19-23
      • Heb 9:24 - the earthly tabernacle and temple were merely copies of the true, heavenly dwelling of God where Jesus returned to following his sacrifice
      • Heb 10:1 - the law (and sacrifices) were merely a shadow of the good things to come - not the realities themselves
      • Heb. 10:8-14 - Jesus in fact "does away with the first order", thus eliminating the need for any more priestly sacrifices
So, we as NT Christians are not arbitrarily picking and choosing which of the OT laws we will follow and which ones we won't (in contradiction to what Jesus commands in Mat 5:19).  Rather, we are using the NT, and Jesus' teachings, to instruct us how to distinguish between Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial aspects of the law, and then how to follow in the Spirit of the law out of love for God.

"Will be called least in the kingdom of heaven"
  • An interesting implication of rank in God's Kingdom  (cf. Mat. 20:23)
  • But not a loss of salvation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10)