“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20, KJV).
For average person listening to Jesus at that time, the Law of Moses was everything! The Law, the shorthand term for the first five books of the Hebrew Old Testament, was undeniably present in every situation people encountered. That law, with the multiplied traditions surrounding it, governed almost any action a person might need to take each day. Already Jesus’ challenging of traditions (human traditions, the Pharisees’ many traditions!) was being seen as an attack on the underlying law of Moses. Here Jesus formally disarmed those who would accuse him of trying to destroy or replace what God had already given his people.
Jesus warned anyone speaking on his behalf to take care not to ignore the least commandment or influence others to do so, because they would not have standing in God’s Kingdom. God’s laws were still to be taught as the ultimate standard of behaviour. “Whosoever shall do and teach [God’s laws]…” Then Jesus shifted the focus slightly to include the idea of righteousness. Jesus was not exactly complimenting the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees as paragons of righteousness; he was pointing out that genuine obedience to God would require greater and substantially different righteousness than these current leaders could muster. As guardians of the law, these leaders claimed to be obedient to it, yet Jesus pointed out on numerous occasions that these guardians invalidated the law by their contrived interpretations.
At the heart of this statement is Jesus claim to fulfil the law and the prophets. Jesus was “not come to destroy [the law or the prophets], but to fulfil it.” He was deliberately pointing to himself as the living standard of God’s laws. He also warned the scribes and Pharisees that their brand of righteousness would not gain them access to heaven. Think about this: The Pharisees were proud of their reputation. Yet the Old Testament prophet Isaiah declared that “all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). In other words, we can’t save ourselves by our good works – only by God’s mercy and grace, only by faith (see Romans 1:17). Only in Jesus. Only Jesus.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.