What Does Jesus Mean By I Came Not To Destroy The Law, But To Fulfill It?
When Jesus was giving the Sermon on the Mount, some Jews thought Jesus had come to overthrow the Law of Moses. This serves as the reason why Jesus gave these preliminary remarks to reassure the Jews that He did not come to overthrow it, but to fulfill it.
Matthew 5:17 states: "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."
The word "destroy" (kataluo) means to "destroy, demolish, overthrow, throw down." The word "fulfill" (pleroo) means to "to fill, fill up, complete."
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! Notice the contrasts: destroy versus fulfill, not destroy versus perpetuate.
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.
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 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.
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 - destroying it.
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.
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).
If we understand what Jesus means by "destroy", then it would mean that He would prevent the Law of Moses from fulfilling its purpose (goal), but He fulfills the purpose of the Law of Moses (Romans 10:4). If we wrongly define what Jesus means by "destroy", then we would have Jesus preventing what the prophets had predicted from the past. On the contrary, Jesus completes the prophecies concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).
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).
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