One of the most misunderstood passages in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount is His introduction for the interpretation of the Law in chapter five of Matthew. I’ve heard many interpretations- most of which don’t come close to grasping the true meaning.
““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:17-20 ESV
To understand this passage you must first think of yourself as the one Jesus is correcting. At first glimps, one would assume that Jesus was putting and end to the law. He came not respecting the Sabbath in the way the traditional leaders did. He came with forgiveness after people had broken laws. He treated all people as the same value, refusing to shun sinners. This led to an idea of annulment of the law, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Jesus actually came to and did fulfill and compete the moral law, something no man had done before or has done since. Why would He complete something He abolished? To help with this it is good to draw a graph of the two extremes: to annul or abolish would mean to completely destroy- bring to 0%. To complete would would be to hold 100%. Jesus did not destroy the law, it will never be destroyed, but He came to complete it, because what is truely required is 100%. And 100% is not something that could be done even by the best religious leaders of the day. The point is total perfection. This point is emphasized at the end of this section in 5:48 where Jesus states we are to be as perfect as God.
So how does this work? The key is in understanding the Gospel. Jesus lived a perfect life and fulfilled the law completely. And those who put their trust in Him are endowed with that same spiritual perfection, although they did not earn it personally. This is a profound act of grace.
But the gift of grace over us does not nullify the law. It fulfills the law spiritually by way of Jesus. We still proclaim a moral law- a total heart perfection. Jesus spends the rest of chapter five explaining what heart perfection looks like. This moral law is still what we teach and what we do even though we are forgiven. Not because we can achieve it but because we have already been given it spiritually and are called to strive for it in love not obligation. #gospel