Friday, March 01, 2013

The Fulfillment of the Law

[Read]  17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-20)

[Meditate]  D.A. Carson describes Matt 5:17–20 as “among the most difficult verses in all the Bible.”

17 From Bible.org: “Abolish” (kataluo) is a very strong word. In its other three usages in Matthew, the verb is used of demolishing a temple.

Jesus is loyal to the Old Testament Law. In verses 17-19 He tells His listeners that He has not come to abolish the least of the Old Testament rules, but that they shall stand until “heaven and earth pass away.” It seems clear, then, that Jesus means to recover the Law and bring out its fullness, not to make changes in it that would negate the least of its principles. This leads us to conclude that Jesus intends to clarify misunderstandings.  -From William Luck, Bible.org

"Jesus fulfills the entire Old Testament- the Law and the Prophets [Matt. 11:12]- in many ways.  Because they point toward him, he has certainly not come to abolish them.  Rather, he has come to fulfill them in a rich diversity of ways... Jesus does not conceive of his life and ministry in terms of opposition to the Old Testament, but in terms of bringing to fruition that toward which it points."  -From D.A. Carson, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

What did Jesus mean by the word fulfill?

The word “fulfill” (pleroo) occurs numerous times in Matthew, and it normally means “to bring to its intended meaning.”  “Fulfill” does not mean “to bring to an end.”  Rather, it means, “to fill out, expand, or complete.” Concerning the Old Testament, we could say that Jesus “filled it up” or “filled it full” with meaning.  Whether we study the furnishings of the temple, probe the messianic passages in the Psalms, or delve into the details of Isaiah 53, we see Jesus Christ. Just as the fetus is fulfilled in the adult human, so Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  We could go so far as to say that the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ.  Therefore, Jesus does not contradict the Old Testament; He’s the culmination of it. The entire Old Testament points to Jesus and will be fulfilled in Him, down to the smallest detail.

Jesus restated some of the Old Testament Laws (19:18–19), but some He modified (5:31–32). Some He intensified (5:21–22, 27–28), and others He changed significantly (5:33–37, 38–42, 43–47). Some Laws He abrogated entirely (Mark 7:15–19). Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by His teaching.

The Law prescribed a system of sacrifices to deal with sin. For 1500 years, day after day, week after week, and especially year after year, the people brought their sacrifices. These offerings signified that sin brings punishment and only death and blood could release someone from that punishment. Those thousands of dead animals pointed forward to a sacrifice. That’s why John the Baptizer exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Through Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death, the penalty for sin has been paid. Christ provided a way of salvation that meets all Old Testament requirements and demands.

18  Luke 16:17 says, "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law."

“Until heaven and earth pass away” is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts.  "The Law" here represents the entire Old Testament.

"The term 'smallest letter' refers to the Hebrew letter yodh, which looks like an apostrophe (').  The stroke refers to the minute distinction between an O and a Q.  Only the little 'tail' distinguishes the Q from the O.  Jesus emphasized that all the details of the Old Testament writings would be fulfilled down to the very letter."  (Enns, 164)

20  Likely Jesus is saying, connecting with verse 19, that keeping the law- and teaching it rightly- is important.  The Pharisees are not keeping the true intent of the law (which Jesus will next explain); you can't act like them and enter the kingdom of heaven.

The main theme is true righteousness.  The religious leaders had an artificial, external righteousness based on Law.  But the righteousness Jesus described is a true and vital righteousness that begins internally, in the heart. The Pharisees were concerned about the minute details of conduct, but they neglected the major matter of character. Conduct flows out of character.  -Warrren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

Jesus does on several occasions in the subsection quote Old Testament material, but He has served notice that He is correcting Pharasaical misinterpretations of the Law. It is as if He were saying, “You have heard the Old Testament quoted and explained in the following way, but let me explain to you its true and full meaning.” In other words, the very quoting of the Law evoked in His listeners’ minds the aberrant teaching that Jesus intended to correct. He does not intend to annul the commandment, only its Pharasaical interpretation.  -From William Luck, Bible.org

A final structural point is that in each of the first three saying groups (unlike the second three) the addressed “you” is presented in the hypothetical situation as being guilty of some offense that Pharasaical teaching had missed: in the first instance, unjust anger; in the second, lust; in the third, breaking solemn covenant. It is a foreboding refrain:

You think you are innocent of ____, but you are guilty.

You think you are innocent of ____, but you are guilty.

You think you are innocent of ____, but you are guilty.

In each case the Pharisee’s audience had been led to believe that they were avoiding guilt by committing an act beyond the jurisdiction of the Commandment. But they were wrong. God’s concern goes way deeper than that.  -From William Luck, Bible.org

[Pray]  From this passage, I can tell that practicing and teaching the commands of God are something of vital importance to the Lord.  Also true righteousness is important.  So I pray, Lord, that we would live well and teach well.  Not only hearing the word of God, but doing what it says from the heart.  The internal heart as well as the external actions.  And you place a high premium on teachers.  So when we teach, would it be accurately, and not in a way that neglects the commands of God.  In Jesus name, Amen.

[Live]  Which commandments are Jesus referring to?  Specifically the ones before or after this text?  Teach in accordance with the scriptures.  Walk in them.


Paul Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989).
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