The Law and Prophets

Fulfillment is a key theme in the Gospel of Matthew. With the arrival of the Messiah, the time of fulfillment began. What were the implications for the Law of Moses? In his ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Jesus provides clear answers. He did not come to settle the interpretive disputes between competing Jewish sects over the details of the Law but to FULFILL the “Law and the Prophets.”

The focus of his Sermon is not on how to keep the Law perfectly or whether it must be restored to an earlier pristine condition free of later traditions and additions. Instead, Jesus sums up his mission as one of fulfillment. His authoritative declarations on the requirements of the Law go beyond the statutes and regulations written in the Torah and the later oral “Traditions of the Elder.”

Cascading river - Photo by Derek Sutton on Unsplash
[Photo by Derek Sutton on Unsplash]

He teaches us how to achieve “
righteousness” that exceeds the ritual purity of the most scrupulous interpreter of the Mosaic Law. After all, Jesus was the Lawgiver and Prophet greater than Moses -(Matthew 5:17-20).

The Pharisees kept the Law meticulously, having surrounded it with many interpretations. The Sadducees rejected the oral law so valued by the Pharisees. They insisted on adhering to what was written in the Torah without later additions. However, Jesus taught things far above the debates of those two sects.

The most consistent opponents of Jesus were 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.” If he came simply to reaffirm the Torah as originally written, why did the Sadducees find it necessary to eliminate 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 of the Hebrew Bible, not just the first five books of Moses. 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 demonstrated that he was no rigorist concerning the details of the written code. His attitude toward the Sabbath and dietary restrictions demonstrated this. The “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” a perspective that strict legalists could not tolerate.

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

BRIMMING OVER


The English term “fulfill” translates the Greek verb that has the sense of “filling to the full, to make full, to fill up completely, to fill to the brim” (pléroō). This is what Jesus did. He fully fulfilled the Scriptures though often in unexpected ways, and this understanding is borne out by the several antitheses or contrasts in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.

Jesus would introduce a legal principle and then reinterpret it on his 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 disciples must abstain from hatred and anger, even against an enemy. The six contrasts provide real-life examples of what it means to have “righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.”

This is demonstrated especially in his explanation of how disciples “love their neighbor as themselves.” With their rigorist mindset, the “Scribes and Pharisees” interpreted the commandment to love your neighbor to mean they owed love only to fellow Israelites but not Gentiles and enemies. In contrast, Jesus pointed to the nature of God Himself.

If God 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.

It is not strict obedience to every detail of the Mosaic Law that determines who enters the Kingdom of God, but whether one obeys the words of Jesus, including his interpretations of the Law:

  • 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).

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 his Kingdom. The standard of righteousness demanded by the Messiah of Israel exceeds 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.”

Embracing the Cross, emulating his self-sacrificial actions, and obeying his teachings in our daily lives is the only course we must follow if we hope to achieve “righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees” and qualify for entry into the Kingdom of God.



RELATED POSTS:

  • Superabounding Righteousness - (Mercy and love are defining characteristics of the disciples of Jesus, reflecting the true nature of his Father – Matthew 5:43-48)
  • "I Never Knew You!" - (At the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus claimed absolute authority for his words. Disciples who ignore them risk his rejection – Matthew 7:21-28)
  • The Greater Lawgiver - (In Matthew, Jesus is the Greater Moses who interprets the Law and the Prophets and brings them to fulfillment)

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