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 Jesus’ point here is not that the Old Testament is obsolete.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 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.