“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).
A very popular idea today is that times have changed and the Bible does not fit the age we live in. The truth, of course, is the opposite. The Bible is for every age because the Bible is God’s perfect, eternal, and infallible Word. It is the world that does not fit the Bible, and not because the world has changed but because the Bible has not changed.
Outwardly the world has changed a great deal since biblical days, but in its basic nature and orientation it has always been opposed to God and has never conformed to His Word. God’s revealed Word, Jesus says, not only is truth, but it is truth conveyed with absolute authority. It is in that authority that He came to teach and to minister, and it is to that authority that He commands His kingdom citizens to bow and obey.
Because The Bible Has Not Changed
‘The Law and the Prophets’ represent what is known as the Old Testament, the only Scripture at the time Jesus preached (Matthew 7:12; 11:13; Luke 16:16; John 1:45). It is therefore the Old Testament that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew 5:17-20. Everything He taught directly during His ministry, as well as everything He taught the apostles, is based on the Old Testament. It is impossible to fully understand or accept the New Testament apart from the Old.
Jesus’ warning, ‘do not think,’ indicates that most, if not all, of His hearers had a wrong theology or understanding about His teaching. The word ‘abolish’ means to utterly overthrow or destroy, and is the same word used of the destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:2; 26) and of the death of the physical body (2 Corinthians 5:1). We are not to think that Jesus’ teaching was meant to alter or replace the moral content of the Old Testament law. Jesus teaching was neither giving a new law, nor was He modifying the old, but rather explaining the true significance of the moral content of Moses’ law and the rest of the Old Testament.
Jesus made it very clear to His Jewish audience what Law He was referring to by announcing ‘the Law,’ obviously He was talking about the Law of God, the Ten Commandments which were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:1). The phrase ‘the Law and the Prophets’ refers to the entirety of the Old Testament Scriptures, not the rabbinical interpretations.
God’s law was affirmed by the Prophets.
The prophets reinforced the law. All of their warnings, admonitions, and predictions were either directly or indirectly based on the Mosaic- law. God’s revelation to the prophets was an extension of His law (Hebrews 1:1). Clearly, the work of the prophet was to preach the law of God. “So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God” (Exodus 4:16).
God’s law was accomplished by Christ.
The reason, however, for the law’s pre-eminence was its fulfilment by Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. “I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” In His incarnation, in the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, and in His coming again, Jesus would fulfill all of the law – morally, judicially, and ceremonially.
The Old Testament is perfect and complete and gives a picture of the Coming King and His kingdom, and Jesus the King has come and will come again to fulfill it in every detail. The word ‘fulfill,’ means to fill up. It does not to mean to add to but to complete what is already present. Christ was indicating that He is the fulfillment of the law in all of its aspects. He fulfilled the moral law by keeping it perfectly. He fulfilled the ceremonial law by being the embodiment of everything the laws types, pictures and symbols pointed to. And He fulfilled the judicial law by personifying God’s perfect justice.
Jesus did not add any basic new teaching but rather clarified God’s original meaning. In His life He perfectly kept every part of the law. He was perfectly righteous and did not in any way violate the smallest part of God’s law. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament by being its fulfilment. He did not simply teach it fully and exemplify it fully – He was it fully.
The Beatitudes – Christ and the Law
Written by John Denman
Photo by Clifton Franks