Summary: What does it mean when Christ said that He came to "fulfill" the Law?
“Christianity and the Law of God”
We continue this morning in our study of the Sermon on the Mount.
Last week, we saw how Jesus proclaimed the truth that His followers are the Salt and Light of the world - agents of change, meant to be ambassadors of Christ in the world.
Today, we are going to see Jesus begin to set the stage for the next portion of the Sermon on the Mount, wherein He will give a detailed analysis of the Law of God and how it had been misunderstood by the teachers of His day.
Today’s passage is likely to inspire many questions in our hearts, not the least of which is this: How does the Old Testament Law apply to Christians today?
READ: Matthew 5:17-20
I want to begin this morning by saying that this passage is a very complex part of the Sermon on the Mount.
It can be somewhat perplexing in what it says, especially when compared to other parts of Scripture.
The difficulty is that it seems to be saying that the Old Testament Law - in its entirety - applies to the followers of Jesus Christ forever.
Yet, there are things which the Old Testament teaches which we no longer apply within the New Testament church (including the priesthood, sacrifices, the sabbath, circumcision, dietary restrictions, slavery laws, etc.)
QUESTION: How are we NOT being disobedient (or worse, hypocritical) in regard to these parts of the Old Testament when Jesus here teaches that none of the Law is to be “abolished”?
Furthermore, this passage also seems to say that strict adherence to the Law is a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
Yet, Scripture in other places says clearly that adherence to the Law is not what makes a person fit for heaven.
Galatians 2:16 “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
- So, is the Bible in contradiction with itself (as some claim)?
- Is the Apostle Paul at odds with Jesus and teaching a different Gospel?
- Is the church a place of rank heresy for abandoning the responsibilities of the old covenant including sacrifices, the priesthood and laws regarding the sabbath?
The answer to these questions is, “No”.
But why is it no?
Because to simply read the words of Jesus in this passage as only a command of strict and perpetual fidelity to the Law is to miss the point and the context of what He is saying.
To understand what Jesus is saying, we must understand the proper meaning of the word “FULFILLED”.
When we understand how the word fulfilled is being used, and the proper application of it, then we see that Jesus is not at odds with Paul or the church at all, but instead is demonstrating His own unique relationship with the Law and its purpose for the church.
So let’s begin by simply examine the words of verse 17, and then we will see how the rest of the passage fits with it contextually.
v.17 “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.
Now, let’s ask a simple question: Why would Jesus even make this statement?
He is about to begin a major section of teaching about the Law of God, and how it had been misunderstood and perverted throughout the course of time.
He is going to say, “You have heard it said..., but I tell you...”
And to many, this would seem like He was intending to abolish the Old Law and replacing it with a Law of His own.
So, to preempt this accusation, Jesus makes clear that his intent is in NO WAY to destroy the law or the prophets.
NOTE: Its important to note that He uses the term “Law or the Prophets” because it demonstrates that He is not limiting His scope.
Had He said that He did not come to destroy the “Law” then some might conclude that He was only concerned with the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah or “The Law”.
But by including the Prophets, He is including the entirety of the Old Testament within His view.
Which, in turn, becomes all the more important when He says that He “fulfills” them, because Christ does not just fulfill the Law, He fulfills the prophets as well.
So, what does it mean when he says “fulfill”?
He states emphatically that He did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.