Jesus: The Fulfillment of the Law

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

As Jesus introduces to His followers the radical message that we find in the beatitudes and in the passage that follows which clearly shows we are to live our lives publicly for His glory, He assures us that, though His words may seem new and radical, that which has been written before in the OT has not become obsolete or irrelevant. This is important. Jesus wants the truth to be known that His coming is a really big deal but His coming does not discredit the OT but fulfills it.

I had a friend years ago that I worked with. He was not a Christian but did enjoy talking about the Bible and about Jesus. He admitted to me that He really liked the teachings of Jesus. He would talk about familiar passages about Jesus’ kindness, of His compassion toward the weak and the sick. He admired Jesus’ straight forward yet loving message of salvation. He was selective about what He liked about Jesus but I don’t think he saw that. He had Jesus framed a certain way that was consistent with what He wanted Jesus to be. Much of it was biblical but I would say incomplete. For instance, he believed Jesus to be tolerant and accepting of other religions, other faiths and of unrepentant sinners. So He liked Jesus in the way He defined and characterized Jesus, and he really thought he was being faithful and careful to understand Jesus for who He was.

He would not then talk about Jesus being the only way to the Father. He would not quote what Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life not one comes to the Father except through Me.” That kind of exclusivity of the gospel was not what he chose to see and believe.

Anyway, with his view, incomplete and in some ways completely wrong view of Jesus, my friend could and did say, I really like the Jesus of the NT but I loathe the God of the OT. He claimed to love Jesus and to hate God the Father. My friend saw them as polar opposites. This is not an uncommon view. And knowing that people would gravitate toward this kind of thinking, that is, that God the Father and God the Son are not of the same mind, this may be why Jesus went to such great lengths to say otherwise. Jesus says, they are One. Jesus says that He is God.

John 10:30 I and the Father are One.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And not only are Jesus and God one and does Jesus claim to be God, but He was also in the beginning. You see, my friend wanted to believe that Jesus came on the seen late in history. That Jesus came with a new message, a more compassionate inclusive message. He wanted to believe that Jesus came as the kinder and gentler One who had no relationship with the Father and no relationship with the past. Yet we know differently. In John 1:2-3 we read this:

John 1:2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

It is well established in the Bible that Jesus and God are One, that Jesus is part of the Trinity, He is God and that Jesus was from the beginning, working since the beginning of time in unison with the Father. Jesus wants us to know and understand this. The point is that we must see Jesus in light of all of the scripture including the OT. All of the OT points to a person. It points to Jesus, all of it. And Jesus confirms and confirms this in Matthew 5:17-20:

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, not to act counter to them. It was one plan. That plan was and is being fulfilled and it finds its culmination in Jesus. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. The first obvious question is: What is the Law and the Prophets? What did Jesus come to fulfill?

The Law and the Prophets is talking about the entire OT scriptures. It is the same as the reference to the Law in verse 18. Many would accuse Jesus of throwing out the Law, of trying to discredit the Law, the OT Scriptures. This is not what Jesus said or what He did. He came to fulfill the Law. We can think of the fulfillment of the Law just like we would think of fulfilling a prophecy. Jesus came to fulfill the Law. He was and is the fulfillment of the Law in every respect. Think about the moral laws given in the OT, the Ten Commandments for instance.

Exodus 20:7 You shall have no other gods before me… Exodus 20:8 You shall not make for yourself a carved image… Exodus 20:11 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain… Exodus 20:12 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… Exodus 20:16 Honor your father and your mother… Exodus 20:17 You shall not murder. Exodus 20:18 And you shall not commit adultery. Exodus 20:19 And you shall not steal. Exodus 20:20 And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:21 And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

Jesus and only Jesus has kept each one and more perfectly. In that sense Jesus has fulfilled the moral law.

How do we get to God? By being righteous. How is one righteous? By keeping the moral law...all of it. Have you done that perfectly? No, no one has except One, Jesus. He kept it for you, He kept it for me…perfectly. Jesus came and did what you cannot do. He kept all the commands. The Law doesn’t save you, but the fulfillment of the law does, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law.

What about ceremonial law and all the feasts and festivals and ceremonies? All of them pointed to Jesus. Jesus is the embodiment of them all. What about judicial Law, sacrificial Law, all of the commandments to slaughter animals to shed blood for the forgiveness of sin? It all pointed to Jesus, it all pointed to a perfect sacrifice, all of it to the Lamb of God who was slain. Every animal placed on an altar was a picture of Jesus Who was to come. The Law was fulfilled in Him, through Him, through death through the shedding of His blood for us.

We should never read the OT without seeing Jesus in all of its parts. Every story, every command, every person, every circumstance we must see Jesus in it and therefore see the culmination of all of the Law and prophets in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. The Law will all be accomplished. This is an astounding claim and a testimony to God’s ultimate and complete sovereignty. No one can stay His will. No one can alter His plan, no one can stand before Him and challenge effectively His way. He will accomplish all that He has set out to accomplish so when we read of what He says He will do we can be assured that it will be done.

Why do we struggle with trusting Him and believing Him? To emphasize this truth Jesus said, not one iota or dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. An iota is the smallest Hebrew letter and is often optional and a dot is a bend or a point that is used to distinguish certain Hebrew letters that look very similar. Jesus is simply saying, even what we may see as the smallest most insignificant part of the Law, even those things will be fulfilled!

God is not sloppy with His words or careless with His pronouncements, as we may be. God leaves no loose ends. Everything will be fulfilled and Jesus Himself is the demonstration of fulfillment, greatest fulfillment, of His grand plan to reveal His glory through the salvation of people who will never deserve it.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus speaks against the relaxing of the lease to the commandments. Relaxing here means to abolish or to set aside or to teach against. The concern here is those who would say, well you know, the OT Law and Prophets, they aren’t relevant or important or even, like my friend, to say they are bad and anti-Jesus.

Again, all of the OT has its purpose, none of it is wrong or a mistake, all of it is relevant and has the main point of pointing people to Christ. We can’t look at an OT story and say that it has no purpose or we don’t need to read that anymore or even, since Jesus has come, we don’t need to consider the OT. That would show disregard for God’s story. And it would belittle the purpose and the work of Jesus. Why? Well again, because it all points to Jesus. Jesus says those who relax one of the least of the commands and teaches others to do so will be least in the kingdom and those who teach them will be great. This is a clear reference to ranking within the kingdom of God.

Finally, verse 20:

Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus makes a stunning remark about righteousness, the Pharisees and the Kingdom of heaven.

The most righteous people of the day, outwardly righteous, would have been the Pharisees. They were an apparent righteous bunch. They knew the Law and they publicly followed the Law. Now what we will see in the coming weeks in Matthew, in this Sermon on the Mount, is that there was more to following the Law then just following the Law. The Law was not just about outward behavior but much about inward thoughts and attitudes. Certainly Jesus had this in mind as He spoke these words.

God has always been after the hearts of people. God is never impressed by or even pleased by mere outward appearances of obedience. In Whom is the Father pleased? He is pleased with Jesus. That is what He said audibly at the baptism of Jesus, these important words: “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” How would you describe Jesus’ obedience? It was from His heart, from His inner most being. It was motivated by love for the Father. They were One.

So looking then at verse 20 Jesus is talking about real obedience, not a show of obedience. He was talking about heart level obedience, not surface level obedience. This is real obedience the kind that Jesus models for us and the kind that was real in His life. In fact the only way that Jesus could have been the perfect Lamb of God was by full, inside, heart obedience that was without even a hint of selfishness or hypocrisy.

Now what does this mean for us? Jesus says our righteousness must exceed that of these Pharisees in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Now all of the sudden it seems that their focus is on us, on the listeners in the presence of Jesus. Can you imagine the gasps, the surprise or perhaps even feelings of hopelessness. The whispers may have been, “How can this be so?”

Well, we can look at this in two ways. First, we have to remember what salvation is. What is salvation? It is the process by which God changes our hearts from fully self-focused and gives us one that is responsive to Him. We are not made perfect but we are changed. And that change is not a simple outward change but an inward change. Our eyes are opened to many of the realities of God, to the realities of spiritual life. We can begin to see that obedience is not just what we do but how we live and respond to our Savior Whom we now love.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Or in Ephesians 2 after Paul describes a life apart from God and all of its selfish pursuits, he then says this: 4 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” That is the change! We are now alive, spiritually alive in Christ. This is new, this is new life!

And in this new life we are told by God to walk in holiness. It is not like we are still the old man and we are just trying to now be good, no, it is that we are changed people with the Spirit of God in us and our motives, our hearts and our direction has been changed. The Spirit is in us, working in us so that we can walk differently and this different walk is to be in the direction of righteousness in obedience.

But we know, don’t we, that on our best days we fail in this righteous walk. So the second way to see this verse on righteousness is to see Christ covering us, making us righteous before the Father. With Christ Jesus as our Savior, we have what we call an imputed righteousness that, no question, exceeds that of the Pharisees and of any other human because it is the perfect righteousness of Jesus. He gives us that, His perfect life, covering our sinfulness.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Our righteousness, all of our salvation is about Jesus. The theme of the Bible is redemption. From its beginning to its end God is redeeming a people for Himself, and this redemption comes through Jesus Christ. It is a seamless message in the Bible. Every point is true and every circumstance fleshes out this theme. It is a consistent message of salvation given by a glorious, gracious yet just God.

My friend was wrong about the Father and He was wrong about the Son. They are One in Spirit, One in purpose and One throughout the entirety of the Bible. And if you are a believer here today then praise God you have been caught up in this tremendous plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. You are a part of the plan.

If you are not a believer then listen carefully. There is only one way to God and it is through the person of Jesus. Only Jesus can give you righteousness, only Jesus can cover your sins, only Jesus has pleaded the Father. There is no salvation in any other. I urge you to repent of your sins, turn from them and embrace the Christ of the Bible. He can change your life.

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.