Matthew 5:17-20 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. 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. 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Tax Collector gives us the fullest account of the Sermon on the Mount available. As an accurate accountant he faithfully records each and every instance where the Messiah [in full rabbi mode] speaks of the law of Moses. Prefacing this contrast that Jesus gives between the law of Moses and His own teaching, Jesus foretells that He has not come to destroy the law and prophets, but to fulfill. Here then is an instance of the term “fulfilled prophecy” but also the term “fulfilled law”. Jesus expected those obedient to His teachings not to relax the law of Moses in any way, but to continue to teach it and follow it. He then explains in Matthew 5:21-48 how His teachings actually supersede the law of Moses.
As the Tax Collector scandalizes the establishment by including this discourse of Jesus whereby He supersedes the law with His own teaching, the scribes and Pharisees stand aghast. This rabbi has just placed His own teaching above the law of Moses. Yet in the discourse, the law of Moses is not abandoned, but even further established. Jesus has pronounced blessings upon those who follow His teachings proclaiming these humble people to be the light of the world, Matthew 5:1-16. Now He gives His stance on where His teachings stand in accordance with the law and the prophets.
The quotations from the scriptures and the teachings of Jesus in comparison to them are worth noting. The law states, “Do not kill.” However, the decree of Jesus is that hatred in your heart is equal with murder. A broken relationship with your brother must be mended to avoid hating your brother in your heart, Matthew 5:21-26. The law states, “Do not commit adultery.” Jesus condemns anyone who gives a lustful look. It would be better not to even have that eye that causes you to sin than to be cast into hell with it, Matthew 5:27-30. The law permitted divorce but Jesus shows that many times divorce leads to adultery, Matthew 5:31-32. The law commanded us to fulfill our vows, but Jesus commands to be careful of what comes out of our mouths when we take a vow. Just a simple yes or no should be enough, yet we complicate the issue by swearing an oath by this or that instead of having truthful communication in the first place, Matthew 5:33-37. Rather than “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus tells us to allow someone to strike us with no retaliation, Matthew 5:38-42. Instead of “Love your neighbor but hate your enemy,” it’s “love your enemy” all the way! Why? Because if you want to be like your Father in heaven, you must love like He loves. He sends blessings on everyone, even those who hate Him. If you want to be like Him, you must love both the just and the unjust, Matthew 5:43-48. Then, as if to drive this stinging point home, Jesus states that if you only love those that love you, you’ve done nothing more than a common tax collector. Of course a tax collector will love people who love him. That’s easy! If you want to be complete like your Father in heaven, you will show complete love like Him and love everybody including your enemies, not like a common tax collector. (Matthew strikes again.)
Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus has a definition for the law and the prophets. After reading His summary, it is easy to see why Jesus came to fulfill this and not destroy it. The simple law of love is what should prevail in our reading of the law and the prophets. Any scriptures that we read should encourage us to treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. This law of love is what Christ came to establish. This simple principle is restated no less than three times in the epistles. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.” James 2:8.
Jesus stating the principle before the cross and three affirmations of the same principle in the epistles after the cross show that the cross did nothing to change the law. What is now changed is that the law is written on the hearts of those who believe in Christ. Jeremiah 31:33 is the original prophecy of the new covenant and how it would be administered. II Corinthians 3:3-6 shows that new covenant believers have the law of God written on their hearts. The change that occurred in the ministration of the new covenant is not the abolishment of the law, but the establishment of the law upon the hearts of the people of God.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compares those who follow His teachings to a wise man building His house upon a rock. Follow these teachings and you will never be shaken. The term “fulfilled prophecy” should take on a new dimension when read in this light. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets. How did that happen in the Sermon on the Mount? It occurred by the followers of Christ putting the teachings of Jesus into practice. Once again, fulfilled has the idea of an overflowing. The teachings of Jesus come flowing out of the pages of scriptures into the lives of His followers. If we have a proper reading of the law and the prophets, those teachings also come flowing out in proper perspective into the lives of those who follow God. Even one who had not heard the specific teaching of Jesus Christ, if they truly sought God and wanted to follow the scriptures, the law and the prophets would testify for them to love their neighbor as themselves. That would be fulfilling the law and the prophets in their lives according to Matthew 7:12.
Jesus fulfills the law. Jesus fulfills the prophets. Whichever application you make to one must equally apply to the other. It is Matthew alone who gives us this brief statement which has been quoted so many times giving us insight into the law and the prophets. Hopefully this installment of A Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy will help as we continue to examine each prophecy that Matthew quotes as being fulfilled in the Messiah.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. The issue that I take with so many theologians is their interpretation of this verse when applying it to their overall framework of the new covenant with the old covenant. They end up with a view of Jesus which, although He states that He has not come to destroy the law, in their final estimation He has destroyed the law; albeit, they will use different terminology such as “abrogating fulfillment”. Abrogation means to abolish or put an end to. There should be no mincing of words when we discover that they have ultimately contradicted the words of Jesus right here. Anyone who states that they believe that Jesus put an end to the law no matter what terminology they use has contradicted this basic principle. This is also restated in some way in Romans 3:31.