17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them,he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Do not think (v.17) — emphatic
the Law or the Prophets (v.17) — The Old Testament Scriptures
What is the meaning of “to fulfill”? It means to give the fullness, to make full, to fill out the law and the prophets. The wrong interpretation comes generally from having only the ten Commandments in view, but there is more than that and more than the Lord’s full obedience to the law and fulfilling Himself all that which the law and the prophets had spoken concerning Him. In the true sense of the word, the meaning is, that He came to make good the whole scope of the law and prophets. He is come to reveal the completeness of that which the law and the prophets had but pointed out. All that which the law and the prophets teach and predict, the fullness, is of Him and will be fulfilled in Him who came and who will come again. — Gaebelein, page 122.
In Matthew 5:17 our Lord clearly stated His objective in preaching the Sermon on the Mount: Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
It is true that our Lord fulfilled the Law for us law-breakers in a two-fold way: He perfectly obeyed the Law in His life and He died as a law-breaker, paying the penalty of the broken Law for us in His death. However, we do not believe that our Lord had this in mind when He said that He had not come to destroy, but to fulfill the Law and the prophets.
1. It is not until much later, in Matthew 16:21, that we read: “From that time forth, began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer … and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” Thus, in our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount He could hardly have been speaking of His coming death for sin. Nor should we read Paul’s God-given doctrine of imputed righteousness into the Sermon on the Mount, for we are clearly told that when Jesus began to tell His disciples about His coming death and resurrection, Peter rebuked Him for thinking He would be killed (Matthew 16:22), and none of the twelve understood what He was even talking about (Luke 18:34).
2. Here in Matthew 5:17 our Lord states that He had come to fulfill the Law and the prophets. This corresponds to the message which He and His apostles had been preaching: “The gospel of the Kingdom.” This kingdom, so long prophesied and so graphically described in the Old Testament Scriptures, will be based upon the principles and precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, which in turn was based upon the Mosaic Law.
Thus, when our Lord reigns as King, and His subjects follow the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, the Law and the prophets will be fulfilled. Not only will God have “Put the law within their hearts,” so that they will spontaneously obey it, but the glorious descriptions of Messiah’s reign, called by Peter, “The times of refreshing,” will also be fulfilled.
We repeat, this will take place only when Messiah reigns and the Holy Spirit takes control of His people and causes them to do His will, as we have seen from Ezekiel 36:27. How very erroneous, then, to make the theme of our Lord’s Sermon the theme of our message to mankind today! What folly to suppose that this will be a better world if we just tell people what they ought to do and how they ought to live! — Stam, pages 31-33.
assuredly (v.18) = verily, truly, certainly — “I solemnly declare” — Jesus was proclaiming His authority
one jot or one tittle (v.18) — A jot is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, called yodh. It functions as a “Y” in English and looks similar to an apostrophe. A tittle is a small projection on the edge of certain Hebrew letters to distinguish them from one another. For example, the Hebrew “D” differs from the “R” only by the use of the tittle. — King James Bible Commentary, pages 1176-1177.
After Christ died, rose again and ascended into heaven; after Peter’s message of repentance at Pentecost was rejected; and not until Paul was given the revelation of the mystery do we find out the purpose of the law.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:24-25).
The law was given to show us that we are sinners unable to accomplish righteousness on our own and that we can only be right with God through Jesus Christ.
We can use the revelation of the mystery to help us understand how to apply the Sermon to ourselves because we now have the whole of Scripture. But we can’t use the mystery to explain what the Sermon meant to those who were there.
Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus preached about the kingdom. The Old Testament law and prophets were all pointing to this kingdom, and the Lord was saying that they were, in fact, pointing to Him and that He had come to fulfill everything they said.
A major characteristic of the kingdom will be righteousness, and anyone who wanted to enter the kingdom had to be righteous. But this wasn’t the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, as the Lord proceeded to demonstrate. Entrance into the kingdom demanded a much higher righteousness — the righteousness of God.
We know now that this righteousness is available to us in Christ through faith in His death and resurrection on our behalf. BUT THOSE WHO HEARD THIS SERMON DIDN’T KNOW THIS and it’s wrong to interpret this as if they did.
So if righteousness was demanded by the Lord but won’t be attainable until the kingdom, how were His hearers to be saved?
By faith, as is the case throughout history since Adam and Eve. By faith in what? By faith in whatever portion of God’s unfolding revelation was available at that time. For Adam and Eve, it was to not eat from the tree. For Abraham, it was to leave his homeland and family and trust in God’s promises about his descendants. For Israel under the law, it was to obey the law and trust that the ceremonial law would cover their transgressions under the moral law. For Israel when Christ was on earth, it was still the law, but with the additional revelation that Christ Himself was the Messiah who had come to fulfill everything promised in the prophetic revelation given until that time. While perfect adherence to the law would save, perfect adherence to the law was impossible. They couldn’t be saved by keeping the law, but they could be saved by keeping the law as best they could and trusting Him to save them. We know that this came by way of His death and resurrection, but they didn’t know this.