Probably Jesus corrected more wrong thinking and teaching in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 than any other part of Scripture. He had explained the blessedness available to all people and complimented them by telling these ordinary folk that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Then Jesus started his transition to dealing with several specific misunderstanding the religious leaders had taught the people with regard to the law. But in the transition he wanted to explain to them his relationship with the law and the prophets. It is in verses 17-20.
“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 tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Huge question, are we still bound by the Old Testament Law? Perhaps even more important, were those of us who aren’t Israelites ever bound by that law? The law was given to the children of Israel who were the physical descendants of Abraham and most of us don’t fit that description. But was the law intended to be permanent even for those who were under it at that time? Many turn to this text to say that Jesus never intended to do away with the Old Law as bound on us. Is that what Jesus was saying?
Notice he declared he didn’t come to abolish or destroy the law but to fulfill it. If he had simply set aside the law and its requirements it would have been to reject the very law that God had given the people. He came as one born under the law to completely fulfill the law and prophets requirements. If you read through the whole gospel account of Matthew it is amazing how many times it will be said that Jesus fulfilled something that the law required of him. The problem then as now was that so much of what he law said, people had not understood correctly. In Luke 24:44 Jesus said to the disciples before his ascension, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Remember when Jesus was dying on the cross that one of his seven statements was, “It is finished.” His point was that he had completed the mission God had given him. He had lived out the requirements of the law and demonstrated what being obedient to God’s will really looked like. Over and over he declared, “I didn’t come to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”
If Jesus had abolished the law he would simply have set it aside and made no effort to fulfill the teaching and promises of the law or the prophets. Instead he came to fulfill everything that the law and prophets said he would do. He fulfilled the mission of the Old Testament by showing us what God is like and being God among us on earth. In John 1:18 it says he came to show or give us an exegesis of the Father. He told Philip in John 14 that he who has seen me has seen the Father. So our best way of learning about God isn’t by looking at all the descriptions of God in the Old Testament but by looking at Jesus and seeing how he lived, thought, taught and acted in the world as one of us.
Nothing in the Law would pass away until it was fulfilled. Jesus said, he had come to fulfill the law. So, the question that we need to answer is, did Jesus do what he came to do? If the law passed when it was fulfilled and Jesus came to fulfill it, if he did what he came to do then the law has now passed as the law bound on people. That doesn’t mean it stopped being the word of God or stopped being important to learn and study. Since much of the New Testament is either a quotation from the Old or a reference to something said or done in the Old Testament we can’t really understand the New Testament without knowing something of the Old.
But there is a reason Paul would say in Romans 7:4-7 that we are now dead to the law by the body of Christ so that we might be married to another, even to him who has been raised from the dead. Some would say, “Yes, but he is just talking about the ceremonial parts of the law, not the Ten Commandments.” The problem with that is that he goes ahead to refer to how he had learned of sin from the law and wouldn’t have known it if the law hadn’t said, “You shall not covet.” So the very part of the law that he quoted to say we are dead to it was one of the Ten Commandments. Also in 2 Corinthians 3 when he compared the Old Testament to the New he called the law written and engraved on stones a ministry of death and said he had been made a minister of the New Covenant that is written on the heart. Notice that in Hebrews 8 he quoted Jeremiah 31 that promised God would make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Jacob that wouldn’t be like the old one written on stone but one written on the tablets of the heart and that we now have that new covenant.
The law Paul said in Galatians 3:24-25 was a tutor to bring us to Christ but after Christ has come we are no longer under the tutor. Instead he said we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Jesus concluded his statement about the law by saying, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” He certainly wasn’t telling us we had to be stricter in our thinking than they were. He builds on that point in the remainder of the chapter by telling them what they have heard from such teachers and comparing it with what he said for us to do. Thank God we live under a new covenant of grace where we are saved by faith and all people stand on equal footing with God.