“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. (Matthew 5:17 ESV)
The Jewish religious leaders of the day had made a strict set of rules and traditions beyond the Law of God given to them by Moses. They kind of put a fence around the Law saying you can do this, this, and this, but not this, this, and this. The problem with this was that it had taken all the heart work out of their religion. While all the Laws were strict and hard to follow, it made it easy to follow God in a sense because it boiled down the whole thing to a list of do’s and don’ts. It completely ignored the greatest commandment of “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” It just became, “Do all these things right, and you’re fine.” Isaiah prophesies of this saying:
And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” (Isaiah 29:13-14 ESV)
Isaiah prophesied of time when the fear and awe and love of God were replaced by heartless obedience to commandments of men.
Because Jesus did not hold to the strict traditions of these religious leaders, and because he just upset a lot of leaders due to their jealousy, he was accused of throwing out or causing people to disobey the Law. Jesus makes a point here to expressly say, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”
It is helpful to recognize that Christ fulfilled the Law in 2 different ways.
Christ perfectly upheld the Law. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 ESV) He perfectly completed the Law living without sin. The only person in history to do so. By no means did he come to do away with it, for he himself is the only one to perfectly complete it.
Christ himself was the very fulfillment of all the Law pointed to. Much more than that, he himself was the fulfillment of the Law, that is all that Law pointed to. Remember? The sacrificial system that was set up, where, when you sinned, sacrifice must be made to atone for your sin reminding you that God is just and that sin must be punished? Christ fulfilled the Law in that he himself completed once and for all what the Law was pointing to.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:11-18 ESV)
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. (Matthew 5:18 ESV)
To emphasize how permanent the Law and word of God is, he explicitly indicates that they will remain until the end of time as we know it. An iota referred the smallest letter of Hebrew alphabet that resembled an apostrophe. The dot refers to small marks in the written Hebrew language that helped distinguish some letters from others. Jesus is saying that not even a single letter, nor even a single stroke of a letter shall pass away from the Word of God, much less the its propositions and content.
Jesus, later equating the duration of his own words with the duration of the Law says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35 ESV)
So if there is one thing you may be certain of, it is that the word of the Lord endures forever. What does this mean for us?
It means that the word of God is trustworthy and true. In the New Testament, time and time again, Jesus and the authors point out instances where something happened in order “that the scriptures might be fulfilled.” They are indicating here that the scriptures are totally true and therefore must be fulfilled. That is exactly what Jesus is saying here. “The Law and Prophets will not pass away until all is accomplished.” The assumption here is that scripture is without error; therefore, we may be certain that all it says will be and must be accomplished. The fulfillment of all that is written then verifies the completeness of truth of the scriptures.
This, in turn, means that scripture MUST be the ultimate authority in our lives. Everyone has an ultimate authority. What’s yours? For many people it’s self. “I am my own ultimate authority. I am the only one I am responsible for, and I decide what’s best.” For other people it’s the culture. “Society defines what is right and wrong, so I’ll do whatever society and the culture says is ok.” For some people it’s science and reason. “I only believe what I can learn scientifically.” But there are a few problems with these: 1. You are a single individual with limited knowledge and understanding, and with a tiny view of the world limited by your experience which gives you little authority to determine for yourself what’s right and wrong. 2. Society is ever changing thus is no solid base on which to form a worldview. Does what’s right and wrong change? It shouldn’t. 3. Science is not a broad enough in scope to rests one’s life on. Science tells us nothing of right and wrong or love or purpose or emotion. It is a tool, but not a foundation.
And if scripture is the one true ultimate authority, we must submit our lives to it. Many people choose not to give Christianity serious consideration, because deep down they are scared of what they shall find. They know that if they dig and find that it is true, there is no option but to surrender one’s whole self to Christ. The worse sin that we often find, is those who claim to believe, but have not totally surrendered, still playing with the world. You have not dug deep enough either. YOU CANNOT TRULY BELIEVE THIS AND LIVE AN UNCHANGED LIFE. When you come near the person of Christ you will find that there is no middle ground. It’s all either all in or nothing. We are to have child-like faith, but this is not a faith for children.
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. (Matthew 5:19 ESV)
Jesus makes another practical conclusion as well from the fact that God’s word shall never pass away. This is the responsibility not just to obey but also teach others to obey his word. This is not a hard principle right? If God’s word is true and the ultimate authority for our lives and shall never pass away, if they are the measure by which our reward shall be doled out, if they are the works which reveal the fruit of God’s work in our lives, and the means by which we can honor him, then we must definitely be careful to be obedient to it and to be careful in teaching others to do the same. It only makes sense right? If God takes it so seriously as to say it shall never pass away, we should take his commands just as seriously right? For his name sake and for his glory.
Whoever loves him less and thus obeys him less shall be lesser in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever loves him more and thus obeys him more shall be greater in the kingdom of heaven. Note here Jesus is talking about believers, for both attain to the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus says some shall be called greater than others. It is a matter of reward, not a matter of salvation.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)
God or no God, heaven or hell, is determined by the saving work of the Holy Spirit and genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but there will be varying levels of reward in heaven. The Apostle John, also the author the Revelation text we just read, said “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 1:8 ESV) But be careful of your heart here. Our obedience must not be fueled by this desire to be great in heaven, for that is pride, but for those who humble themselves and seek to honor him, Jesus says, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 ESV)
Jesus stresses the importance of the Law and the word of God, the importance of keeping and teaching the word of God to others, then he drops the doozy! Unless your goodness is better than the most religious, rule-keeping person you know, then you won’t get into the kingdom of heaven. At one point, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” One of the commands is to tithe. To give a tenth of all that you receive from the Lord. So you know what these guys did? They tithed, they gave a tenth of the herbs they received to cook with. They did everything right! How in the world can my righteous be better than that of the most strict religious person I know???
Because, through faith in Christ, God gives us a righteousness that is not our own. Our righteousness must not just be a little better than the scribes and the Pharisees, our righteousness must be that of Jesus Christ! The Pharisees tried it, and it didn’t work. They worked and worked and worked trying to be perfect on the outside when Jesus told them they were dead on the inside. YOU CAN’T DO IT! You cannot work your way to heaven. If you could do that you wouldn’t need Jesus! Remember…King David? Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.