A Study Guide On Matthew 5:17-20

                                                        By Shane Fisher

  1. When Jesus was giving His sermon, best known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, it seems that some of the Jews thought Jesus had come to overthrow the Law of Moses. This may be why Jesus gave His preliminary remarks: to reassure the Jews that He did not come to overthrow the Law, but fulfill it.
  2. Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
  3. To what does the “Law and the Prophets” refer?
  4. The Law refers to the first five books of the Bible written by Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They are often referred to as the Pentateuch.
  5. In the context of Matthew 5, “the Prophets” refers to the remainder of the Law of Moses (that is, the 34 books in the Hebrew canon). Sometimes the Jews would use “Law, Prophets, and Psalms” to refer to the entire Old Testament (Luke 24:44); at other times, they used the phrase: “the Law and the Prophets” (compare Matthew 7:12; 22:40). So, putting these two together, the Law and the Prophets refers to the Old Testament in its entirety.
  6. “Destroy” (kataluo) means to “destroy, demolish, overthrow, throw down.”
  7. “Fulfill” (pleroo) means to “to fill, fill up, complete.”
  8. Notice carefully what Jesus did not state. He did not say He came to perpetuate the Law of Moses. He did not say it would stand as long as heaven and earth stood. Many people misunderstand Jesus here because they have the misconception that if Jesus did not come to destroy the Law of Moses, then He must have come to perpetuate it. Absolutely not!
  9. Notice the contrasts: destroy versus fulfill, not destroy versus perpetuate.
  10. If Jesus had perpetuated the Law of Moses, then He would have destroyed it. Why would that be the case? Because the Law of Moses was full of promises (called prophecies). If one perpetuates a promise (prophecy), he destroys them.
  11. Example: Suppose that I had made a deal on Monday with a man named Tom who deals in gold and silver. He tells me that there is a man named Jack who wants to sell his 1,000 pieces of silver for $14.00 an ounce at spot price ($14.00 x 1,000 silver pieces = $14,000) and that the spot price was going to rise in a couple of days to $17.00 ($17.00x 1,000 silver pieces = $17,000) and that if I buy Jack's silver, then I can sell it back to Tom, making a profit of $3,000 ($17,000 - $14,000). Suppose Tom tells me that he promises he will wire the money and it will be transferred to my bank checking account on Friday. Suppose it does not come Friday. It does not come for even two weeks. In fact, it just keeps on lingering.
  12. When a man (in this case, Tom) makes a promise he must eventually fulfill the promise. If he keeps prolonging the promise, but never fulfills what he said he would do, he as broken his promise – he destroys it.
  13. When Jesus fulfills promises, prophecies, and types that are found in the Law of Moses, He passes from the stage of the unfulfilled to the fulfilled.
  14. For example, Jeremiah promised a new covenant that would be established in Jeremiah 31:31-34. If Jesus had not come to establish a new covenant, then He would have destroyed that promise. But He did fulfill that promise (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:15-17).
  15. Another example is Daniel 2:44. The kingdom of God would be given over to the reign of the Messiah. If Jesus had not come to reign as King of kings in the first century A.D. (Zechariah 6:12,13), then He would have destroyed that promise.
  16. If Jesus destroyed the Law of Moses, then He would have prevented the Law from fulfilling its purpose (goal). Instead, Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, completing its purpose (Romans 10:4).
  17. If Jesus destroyed the Law of Moses, then He would have prevented what the prophets had predicted from the past. Instead, Jesus completes the prophecies.
  18. Instead of destroying the purpose of the law and the predictions made by the prophets, Jesus came to fulfill them. The Law was “taken out of the way,” not by destruction, but rather by fulfillment (Colossians 2:14-17).
  19. Matthew 5:18: “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.”
  20. The “jot” here refers to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
  21. The “tittle” refers to the smallest stroke of the Hebrew script.
  22. In today's language, we would use the phrase: “the dotting of an i and the crossing of a t.”
  23. Not the smallest letter or smallest part of the letter of the Law of Moses will pass away by destruction, but it will rather be fulfilled.
  24. Jesus is stating that as long as any of the Law of Moses remains in force, then all of it does (cf. Galatians 5:3). This would include such things as: (1) animal sacrifices, (2) the Sabbaths, (3) the Jewish festivals, (4) physical circumcision, and (5) the Levitical priesthood.
  25. Does this mean that every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses remains in full force as long as heaven and earth stand? No. Luke, the inspired writer, helps us to understand what Jesus meant in Luke 16:16,17: “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.”
  26. Jesus is using a proverb. He is speaking of the certainty of fulfillment, not the duration of the Law of Moses. It is so certain that the Law of Moses will be fulfilled that it would be easier for heaven and earth to pass than one tittle of the Law of Moses to be destroyed.
  27. Jesus gives the duration of the Law of Moses in the second half of verse 18: “till all be fulfilled.”
  28. What did Jesus mean by “all” in the latter half of verse 18? At first it would appear that “all” would include every single prophecy in the Law of Moses. If so, then the entire Law of Moses remains in full force till the end of time. Why?
  29. Because there are still unfulfilled prophecies in the Old Testament that have not occurred yet, such as the physical, bodily resurrection of the dead at the end of time (Isaiah 25:8; Daniel 12:1,2).
  30. Luke helps us to understand the meaning of “all” in Matthew 5:18. Luke 24:44 states: “Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’”
  31. Acts 13:29 states: “Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.”
  32. The Law of Moses would last until all things concerning the Messiah had been fulfilled. Jesus taught every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses would remain in force until all things concerning His earthly ministry were accomplished (John 19:29,30).
  33. The Law of Moses has now been completed. It has served its purpose (Romans 10:4). When it was fulfilled, it came to an end - not because it was destroyed, but because it was fulfilled.
  34. Matthew 5:19: “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.”
  35. Whoever broke (or loosed) the requirements of even the least commandment, while the Law of Moses was in force, was the real destroyer of the Law of Moses.
  36. Jesus never taught anyone to break the Law of Moses while it was in force.
  37. Jesus is teaching that if a man breaks what he considers the least commandment under the Law of Moses, he shows forth a poor character and will likely do the same under the new covenant.
  38. Jesus says that the one who is called great in the kingdom of heaven is the one who puts doing before teaching. Jews were to obey the Law of Moses before teaching it. When a Jew became a Christian, he was to apply the same principle under the law of Christ in that he was to obey a commandment before teaching others to follow it.
  39. Matthew 5:20: “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.”
  40. The scribes and Pharisees were considered by the common people as models of righteousness. When Jesus here told the multitude their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, it must have shocked them.
  41. Jesus just finished saying if you want to be great you must: (1) do, and (2) teach the commandments of God. The Pharisees taught the commandments, but they did not do them (Matthew 23:2,3).
  42. We must not only teach, but do the will of God. He begins to describe the righteousness necessary to be a faithful disciple in the kingdom that will be ruled by the Messiah!
  43. He gives some examples throughout his sermon on how to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees such as: (1) charitable deeds (Matthew 6:1-4), (2) praying (Matthew 6:5-15), (3) fasting (Matthew 6:16-18), (4) judging (Matthew 7:1-5).

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