The Law and Prophets

Fulfillment is a prominent theme in the Gospel of Matthew. With the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, the time of fulfillment commenced. But with his advent, what were the implications for the Law? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provided clear answers. He did not come to adjudicate the interpretive disputes between competing Jewish sects over the details of the Law, or to validate which oral traditions were correct, but instead, to fulfill the “Law and the Prophets.”

In his Sermon, the focus is not on how to keep the Law perfectly or whether it must be restored to some original pristine state free of later traditions. Instead, he summed up his mission as one of fulfillment. His authoritative declarations on the requirements of the Law went far beyond the statutes and regulations of what was written in the Torah.

Raging River - Photo by Backroad Packers on Unsplash
[Photo by Backroad Packers on Unsplash]

Indeed, he taught
HIS followers how to achieve “righteousness” that far exceeded the ritual purity of the most scrupulous interpreter of the Mosaic Law. After all, he was the Lawgiver and Prophet greater even than Moses -(Matthew 5:17-20).

The Pharisees kept the Law meticulously, having hedged it about with a myriad of traditions. The Sadducees rejected the oral law so valued by the Pharisees, and insisted on adhering to what was written in the Torah without later additions. However, Jesus represented something unique and far beyond the debates of those two sects.

In Matthew, his most consistent opponents are the Pharisees, not because he kept the Law more scrupulously than they did, but because of his looseness to some of its requirements as interpreted by the “traditions of the elders.” Moreover, if he came simply to reaffirm the Torah as it was originally written, why did the Sadducees find it necessary to get rid of him?

Jesus did not come to “dismantle the law or the prophets.” When he stated this, he was referring to the entire body of the writings that constituted the Hebrew Bible, not just its first five books or Torah. The term “Law and Prophets” was a summary statement for all that God revealed in the written Scriptures - (Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, Acts 13:15, Romans 3:21).

Jesus proved he was no rigorist when it came to the minutiae of the written code, especially in his attitude toward the Sabbath and dietary restrictions. The “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” a perspective that the strict legalist could not tolerate.

His claim that neither “one jot nor one tittle” of the Law would pass away was a colorful way of describing the unchangeable nature of the expressed will of God since the written word represented both His will and nature, but that did not mean God’s past revelations revealed everything about Him, or that they were His final word on every matter.

BRIMMING OVER


In the passage, the English term “fulfill” translates the Greek verb with the sense of “filling to the full, to make full, to fill up completely, to fill to the brim” (pléroō), and that is precisely what Jesus did – He fully fulfilled the Scriptures though often in unexpected and paradoxical ways, and this understanding is borne out by the several antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount.

In each case, Jesus introduced a legal principle and then reinterpreted it on his own authority. Each time, he began with the emphatic Greek pronoun egō or “I, myself…” - (Matthew 5:21, 5:27, 5:31, 5:33, 5:38, 5:43).

He went to the heart of each issue. For example, it was no longer enough simply NOT to kill. HIS disciple must abstain from all hatred and anger, even against an enemy. The six antitheses provide real-life examples of what it meant to have “righteousness that exceeded that of the Scribes and Pharisees.”

This was demonstrated especially in his explanation of how HIS disciple “loves his neighbor as himself.” With their rigorist mindset, the “Scribes and Pharisees” interpreted the commandment to love one’s neighbor to mean they owed love only to fellow Israelites but not to Gentiles and enemies. In contrast, Jesus pointed to the nature of God Himself.

If Yahweh sends rain upon the just and the unjust, who are we to withhold love and mercy even from our “enemies”? By doing acts of kindness to our sworn “enemy” we emulate the Heavenly Father and become “perfect as He is.” Doing good to one’s “enemy” is the highest expression of the love commandment and manifestation of the nature of God.

It is not rigorous obedience to the requirements of the Torah that determine who enters the Kingdom of God, but whether one obeys the words of Jesus, including his interpretations of the Law, words he invested with his absolute authority:

  • Every person that hears these sayings of mine and does them not shall be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:22-27).

Dam - Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
[Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash]

Even if the disciple does not commit adultery, if he harbors lust for anyone other than his spouse, he fails to keep the words of Jesus and risks expulsion from the Kingdom. Thus, the standard of righteousness demanded by him exceeded anything written in the
Torah or added by the later “traditions of the elders.”

Jesus came to “fulfill.” What was germinal in the old covenant came to fruition in him and his New Covenant. He was “the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes,” and the fulfillment of every “jot and tittle” of the “Law and Prophets.” To take up the Cross, emulate his actions, and follow his teachings is the only way for HIS disciple to achieve “righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees” and qualify to enter the Kingdom of God.



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