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The Fulfillment of the Law

Posted On January 25, 2019

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.”

We come today in the course of our study of the Sermon on the Mount to one of the most complex of Jesus’ teaching as he discusses the role of the Old Covenant Law. In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus discusses the Mosaic law to prevent His disciples from misunderstanding his points that follow. He does this because He is about to correct the teaching of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:21-48).

Matthew 5:17-20 points out that Jesus goal is not “to abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfill them”. Jesus’ point here is not that the Old Testament is obsolete. “To fulfill” does not dissolve the authority of the Old Testament. Fulfill means to fill up the Law’s intent and to show where it leads to Jesus. Jesus is teaching that He achieves the purpose of the Law and Prophets in the inauguration of the Kingdom in His life and ministry and its consummation at His return. The Law is valid under the New Covenant when used “lawfully” according to Paul in 1 Timothy 1:8, but it cannot be followed apart from Christ.

As we talk about the Law and how Jesus fulfills it’s crucial to understand how it relates to us as Christians today. Christ does not cast off the Law completely. For example, the New Covenant does not end God’s demand for atonement. Neither do we believe that we need to sacrifice animals anymore because Jesus who is the end of the sacrificial system has come. Our Lord Jesus is the goal of all the sacrifices has inaugurated the Kingdom in His death. Now, Christians obey the Father’s demand for atonement by approaching Him through the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:1-18).

With that said, the goal of the moral law (Westminister Confession of Faith 19) is a heart set apart to obey God joyfully and without hesitation (Deut 30:6). The Lord Jesus has begun this work in us (Hebrews 8:13) but will not bring it to completion until He consummates His Kingdom (Hebrews 9:27-28), which is why until then the Law’s ethical norms are fully binding.

The distinction between the civil, ceremonial, and moral laws of the Mosaic code is a helpful tool for applying the moral law into our lives as Christians. We study the Mosaic law to learn what the Lord would have us to do in Christ, which is why the law has been written into our hearts thanks to the Holy Spirit. With that said, we still do struggle to do the law which is why we need to contemplate the meaning of passages like Matthew 5:17-20 and to continue to study passages like this in our Bible’s to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

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Andreas Kostenberger- The Jesus of the Gospels: An Introduction

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