Jesus and the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)

close up court courthouse hammer
Photo by Pixabay on


Can you think of a moment when someone or something greatly exceeded your expectations? Maybe it was a restaurant, job, company or product? Think of a time when you were blown away by how much better it turned out to be than you thought it would. Now try to imagine being in Israel during the 1st Century during the three and half years of Jesus’ ministry. Most people had no idea who He was. He didn’t meet the expectations of many. But, for those who knew Him as the Son of God, He greatly exceeded their expectations.

Jesus is not a Lawbreaker

Jesus was recognized to be a Rabbi (“teacher of the Law” – see John 3:2); yet He did things that most Rabbis would not. For example, it was a common teaching among Rabbis during Jesus’ time that “Holy men were not supposed to dine with sinners or talk much with women, but Jesus did both” (Daniel Doriani). It was difficult for many to understand Jesus at times because He did not conform to and openly disregarded many traditional Jewish interpretations of the Law. This was because these traditions had no basis in the Law or contradicted the spirit of the law (see Mark 7:11). He once said to the Jewish leaders: “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:13).

One of the best examples of this is Jesus’ teaching and actions on the Sabbath. Jesus taught that “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Jewish leaders had made the Sabbath a burden when God had actually intended it to be a blessing. It is for this reason that Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6, John 5:9, John 9:14). While Jesus did not abide by the prevailing Jewish interpretations of the Law, He was by no means a lawbreaker.

Jesus Did Not Abolish the Law or Prophets

Jesus addressed this issue in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish…” When Jesus spoke of the Law and the Prophets, He referred to all of what we have as the Old Testament. What did He mean by abolish? To abolish means to render useless and to cancel. Jesus did not teach that the Law and the Prophets have no validity and/or that they are cancelled or useless. In fact, in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discussed various commands in the Law and showed how they are to be properly followed. He also spoke about misconceptions from tradition about the Law. If He didn’t come to abolish the Law, what did He come to do with the Law? What is the relationship between the Law and Jesus?

Jesus is the Law Keeper

Jesus came to fulfill the Law and Prophets, not abolish them. More specifically, Jesus is the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament. This isn’t just my opinion; here is Jesus speaking to two of His disciples in Luke 24:27, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” He also said to the Jewish religious leaders, “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me” (John 5:39). The Apostle Paul taught this as well. He said: “Since the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him or the sayings of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, they have fulfilled their words by condemning him” (Acts 13:27).

How did Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? What did He fulfill? The Old Testament’s main theme is anticipation of the coming Messiah. Specifically, we know from the Old Testament that the Messiah would be:

  • Born of a woman (Gen 3:15 & Gal 4:4)
  • Son of Abraham (Gen 17:7 & Matt 1:1)
  • Son of David (2 Sam 7:12 & Matt 1:1)
  • Prophet like Moses ( Deut. 18 & Acts 3:22)
  • Son of God (Is. 7:14 & Matt 1:23)
  • Die to take away the man’s sin (Isaiah 53:11 & John 3:16)
  • Resurrected from death (Psalm 16:8-11 & Acts 2:24)

Jesus Fulfilled the Whole Law

What exactly did Christ mean when He said He came to fulfill the Law? While it is helpful to think of the Law in categories such as: 1) Ceremonial (rules, feasts, and sacrifices to be observed in Old Covenant Temple worship), 2) Judicial (laws regarding the Israelite government and punishment for crimes), and 3) Moral (code of ethics that reflect the character of God); we must remember that Jesus fulfilled all of the Law of Moses. All of the Law (moral, ceremonial, and judicial) points to Christ and brings the Law and the Prophets to their appointed end.

It is true that Jesus set aside aspects of the Law in His fulfillment of it. One main example is the ceremonial aspect of the Law. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ” (Col 2:16-17). This is what Paul wrote of in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Also, in Galatians 3:24, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.” The Law is a shadow that points to the greater reality of Christ.

Jesus is the Law Maker

Having fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and fulfilling the Old Covenant that God made with His people. Jesus “has obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been established on better promises” (Heb 8:6). The writer of Hebrews continues: “therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). Jesus fulfilled the Law, brings salvation, and calls us to the Law of Christ. How do we fulfill that Law? What follows in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ description of how Christians ought to live as citizen of the kingdom of God. We do the right thing for the right reason. We are loved by God and we love god and love others. The Law is fulfilled through love. Consider these verses:

  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10),
  • In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12),
  • An expert in the law asked a question to test Him: ‘Teacher, which commands in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.’” (Matt 22:39),
  • A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another” (John 13:34),
  • Be indebted to no one, except to one another in love, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law” (Romans 13:8),
  • The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Gal 5:14),
  • If you really keep the royal law stated in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well” (James 2:8).

Let us love the Lord and love one another. Remember Jesus Christ kept the whole law for you in order to save you.

Published by First Baptist Church of Scott City, MO

Bringing the love of Christ to a hurting world.

%d bloggers like this: