“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you,till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
This passage of scripture is one notable for debate. Over the centuries many have argued its meaning. I will add my opinion and knowledge to theirs and ask you to search it out for your own interpretation.
Let’s lay a foundation with this, “For I am the Lord, I do not change.” Malachi 3:6 This, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 And this: “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” Psalm 33:11.
Okay, from these verses we can say, Jesus never changes and neither does His word.
Next, let’s see when He started speaking.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light.” and there was light. Genesis 1:1-3
We don’t have anything further back than the beginning to know what God spoke. But we can see in these verses that Jesus was the Word. The Word was God and He created everything in the universe through the spoken Word.
Thus, the words of the Law and the Prophets were words spoken by Jesus. In the days when Matthew wrote, the term ‘Law and the Prophets,’ referred to what we call the Old Testament. It was the only written record of God’s history with Israel.
There are ministers and lay people today in great numbers who believe the Old Testament is no longer valid because of this Matthew 5:17 scripture.
Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, but He did come to destroy the laws written by the scribes and Pharisees who were teachers of the Law. Over time, these men added law upon law to God’s Law.
“Jesus does not teach anyone to ignore the instruction of the Old Testament, but He makes it clear that even if they keep all the commandments (as the Pharisees claimed to do), they still will not gain entrance into the kingdom of God. Salvation is not by works. The righteousness that God desires cannot be achieved by keeping rules and regulations. It can result only from an inward change that starts with faith and repentance and is developed through genuine love and submission to Jesus.” (Bridgeway Bible Commentary)
Here are a couple of examples of added laws that are still in practice among the Orthodox Jews.
There were added provisions about the observance of the Sabbath. For example, is the so-called “sabbath day’s journey” of 2,000 cubits. This is a measured walking distance of somewhat less than 2/3 mi. Synagogues fill Jerusalem and other Jewish cities. The number of synagogues enable their congregants to live close enough to keep the law. They walk to Shabbat services. They do not drive on Shabatt. Yet, when I was in Jerusalem, I saw people use Arab taxis to travel greater distances.
It is also counted as Sabbath-breaking to light a candle, light your stove, or turn on a light switch. But, it allows a Gentile neighbor to turn on a light switch, light a candle, or light a fire for you.
Both ‘laws’ were meant to honor the ‘no work on the Sabbath day,’ commandment.
Jesus addressed the Pharisees directly in Matthew 15:1-3, 6-9 about them adding their own criteria to God’s commands.
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? … you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.
Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
And in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
The Pharisees demanded others obey their edicts. But the scribes and Pharisees were not walking in obedience. They participated in all the rituals, ceremonies, liturgies, and formalities. They appeared holy, but it was an outward appearance only. Their ‘laws’ replaced accountability to God by accountability to men. It was a false standard of righteousness and difficult for the people. The people were slaves to their laws and constantly under judgment.
One of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to lift the burden of these Pharisaical laws from His people. He came to teach and demonstrate how to obey the commandments of God in liberty. And He fully lived out the commandments because of His love for God—not out of the threat of punishment.
Later He told His disciples,“If you love Me, keep My commandments…He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” John 14:15, 21
In the time of Jesus, to ‘destroy’ the law, meant to misinterpret it. But instead of misinterpreting it, He came to properly interpret it, remove the added requirements and lift the keeping of God’s law to a higher standard.
Jesus did not say, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to end it by fulfilling it.” Instead, the commentary notes in my New Spirit Filled Life Bible says, “He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets in the bringing to pass its messianic predictions and in giving a true interpretation of its moral precepts .” (pg. 1297, 2002 edition)
He avoided the Ceremonial, and Judicial laws, and focused on teaching Moral law – how to be in right relationship with God and with others. And love was the overall foundation and theme.
- Ceremonial law (the laws and practices of offerings and sacrifices in the Temple)
- Judicial law (ordinances of the government with punishment for offenders).
Now, the jots and tittles are something to smile about. The letter yod meets the criteria for a jot. It is very small and looks like a flying comma.
A tittle is the small stoke on the edge of some of the Hebrew letters that helps distinguish them from other similar letters. For example, Dallet and Resh. Here is Dallet on the left.
And here is Resh on the right. Do you see the difference? Compare the tiny extension of the top of Dallet-both up and out, to the rounded top of Resh.
So, Jesus was saying, “Not even the tiniest stroke will pass away until all is fulfilled (completed, established as a way of life).”
So, let’s look at the plain English rendition of the Hebrew text.
“Do not suppose that I have any intention of undermining Scripture by (destroying) misinterpreting it. My purpose is to (fulfill) establish and maintain the knowledge and observance of God’s Word, not undermine it.” Matthew 5:17
I apologize for the length of this post. There is still so much that could be said, but I hope you are beginning to see the true meaning in these verses. Please do some digging on your own and ask Holy Spirit to continue to unveil the truth to you.
God’s word is eternal and the more we live His word in love for Him and love for others, the greater our peace and freedom to be all God created us to be.
Have a blessed week. I am headed back into the Word for more treasures. Shalom ♥