Jesus and the Law

Jesus and the Law

Text Matthew 5:17-18


This week, we are interacting with a topic of fundamental importance: the relationship of not only Jesus Christ but also the Christian to the Law.


“It is frequently argued that if Jesus did not “abolish” the law, then it must still be binding. Accordingly, such components as the Sabbath-day requirement must be operative still, along with perhaps numerous other elements of the Mosaic Law. This assumption is grounded in a misunderstanding of the words and intent of this passage. Christ did not suggest here that the binding nature of the law of Moses would remain forever in effect. Such a view would contradict everything we learn from the balance of the New Testament (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15).” — Got Questions Ministries


We need to start by understanding a few important ideas. Often times, we refer to the section of the Bible called the Torah as the Law; it is not. Torah, literally, means teaching. The mitzvot are the commandments/law and these are found in the Torah. Looking at this passage, we need to ask 2 questions, 1. Is the Law still in force for Christians? 2. What is the point/goal of the Law?


As Christians we see what is called a tripartite (3-parts) division of the Law: Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil. The Civil Laws are enjoined upon national Israel and are technically still in force today since Israel is a nation. There is not, currently, a Temple in Israel, so the Civil Law is not abolished but it is certainly on hold. That brings us to the Moral Laws in the Old Testament. Is it still in force for the Christian? Yes, and I would like to develop that idea a little this morning.


First, we need to understand the goal of the Law. “The Greek word, τέλος (telos), can be interpreted in the following ways: “end”, “purpose”, “goal”, “to set out for a definite point”… This word τέλος was used by Greek thinkers such as Aristotle and was also used in the New Testament by Paul, the author of the book of Romans. Paul states in Romans 10:4 that the Messiah is the τέλος of the Torah. The Messiah is the goal, the purpose, the end, and the definite point which the Torah was moving towards.”–One for Israel

“The author of Hebrews argues the Law was never a goal in and of itself, but rather it prescribed a system of worship that was divinely intended to point people to the Messiah. He writes about the tabernacle,

“By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation” (Heb 9:8–10; see also 10:1).”–One for Israel

Jesus clearly states that He came to fulfil the Law but what does this mean? Understanding this phrase is central to a proper understanding of the relationship of the Law to a Christian. Let’s look at 1st Century Judaism for a moment.

It is correct to state that the focus of all the rabbis teaching was the Law. For the rabbis, the “Law” consisted not only of the Written Law, but of the Oral Law as well. The Written Law was the Torah, or the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), that God gave to Israel at Sinai. In addition to this written revelation, Moses also received, according to the rabbis, additional commandments or instructions that were communicated orally. These additional commandments were designated by the rabbis as the Oral Law. You might have noticed that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus frequently says, “You have heard it said…” and this is what is called the Oral Law.


“Fulfill the Law” as a Rabbinic Idiom 

“It will help us greatly to know that the phrase “fulfill the Torah” is a rabbinic idiom that is still in use even today. The word we read as “law” is torah in Hebrew, and its main sense is teaching, guidance and instruction, rather than legal regulation. It is God’s instructions for living, and because of God’s great authority, it demands obedience and therefore takes on the sense of “law.” The Torah is often understood to mean the first five books of the Bible, but also refers to the Scriptures in general. In Jesus’ time, and among Jews today, this is a very positive thing – that the God who made us would give us instructions for how to live. The rabbis made it their goal to understand these instructions fully and teach people how to live by it.

The translation of “to fulfill” is lekayem in Hebrew (le-KAI-yem), which means to uphold or establish, as well as to fulfill, complete or accomplish. David Bivin has pointed out that the phrase “fulfill the Law” is often used as an idiom to mean to properly interpret the Torah so that people can obey it as God really intends. The word “abolish” was likely either levatel, to nullify, or la’akor, to uproot, which meant to undermine the Torah by misinterpreting it. For example, the law against adultery could be interpreted as specifically against cheating on one’s spouse, but not about pornography. When Jesus declared that lust also was a violation of the commandment, he was clarifying the true intent of that law, so in rabbinic parlance he was “fulfilling the Law.” In contrast, if a pastor told his congregation that watching x-rated videos was fine, he would be “abolishing the Law” – causing them to not live as God wants them to live. “–

There is so much in this concept that it is hard to know where to begin. Obviously, Jesus is going to give us the correct interpretation of the Law; the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount is entirely about a proper understanding of the Law. In another sense, to fulfill the Law can mean to obey it and Jesus fulfills the Law by perfect obedience to it.

In the context of Matthew 5:17, “abolish” is set in opposition to “fulfill.” Christ came “…not to abolish, but to fulfill.” Jesus did not come to this earth for the purpose of acting as an opponent of the law. His goal was not to prevent its fulfillment. Rather, He revered it, loved it, obeyed it, and brought it to fruition. He fulfilled the law’s prophetic utterances regarding Himself (Luke 24:44). Christ fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic law, which called for perfect obedience under threat of a “curse” (see Galatians 3:10, 13). In this sense, the law’s divine design will ever have an abiding effect. It will always accomplish the purpose for which it was given.


There is a school of thought that suggests that “abolish” means to teach someone to misinterpret the Law. I can see that point and tend toward agreement with it. Clearly, from His own words, we can see that Jesus is not abrogating the whole law. (Matthew 5:18)

Without reading too far ahead, I want to share a quote from Jesus and a very similar quote from Hillel the Elder, a contemporary of Jesus that I think will set the tone for the remainder of our lesson.

According to Jewish tradition, a student asked Hillel the Elder to teach him the whole Torah and Hillel replied, “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah; The rest is commentary. Go forth and study.”


Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”


Paul talks about the Law of Christ and I want to spend a few minutes on that because the Law of Christ is the correct interpretation of the entire Torah.

From Got Questions:

Question: “What is the law of Christ?”

Answer: Galatians 6:2 states, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (emphasis added). What exactly is the law of Christ, and how is it fulfilled by carrying each other’s burdens? While the law of Christ is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:21, the Bible nowhere specifically defines what precisely is the law of Christ. However, most Bible teachers understand the law of Christ to be what Christ stated were the greatest commandments in Mark 12:28–31, “‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’”

The law of Christ, then, is to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In Mark 12:32–33, the scribe who asked Jesus the question responds with, “To love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” In this, Jesus and the scribe agreed that those two commands are the core of the entire Old Testament Law. All of the Old Testament Law can be placed in the categories of “loving God” or “loving your neighbor.”

Various New Testament scriptures state that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law, bringing it to completion and conclusion (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23–25; Ephesians 2:15). In place of the Old Testament Law, Christians are to obey the law of Christ. Rather than trying to remember the over 600 individual commandments in the Old Testament Law, Christians are simply to focus on loving God and loving others. If Christians would truly and wholeheartedly obey those two commands, we would be fulfilling everything that God requires of us.

Christ freed us from the bondage of the hundreds of commands in the Old Testament Law and instead calls on us to love. First John 4:7–8 declares, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” First John 5:3 continues, “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.”

Some use the fact that we are not under the Old Testament Law as an excuse to sin. (This insidious and heretical doctrine is known as antinomianism.) The apostle Paul addresses this very issue in Romans. “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15). For the follower of Christ, the avoidance of sin is to be accomplished out of love for God and love for others. Love is to be our motivation. When we recognize the value of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, our response is to be love, gratitude, and obedience. When we understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us and others, our response is to be to follow His example in expressing love to others. Our motivation for overcoming sin should be love, not a desire to legalistically obey a series of commandments. We are to obey the law of Christ because we love Him, not so that we can check off a list of commands that we successfully obeyed.

So what is the relationship of Christ to the Law?  Once again, I turn to notes from one of my favorite Baptists, John Piper.


The law was kept perfectly by Christ. And all its penalties against God’s sinful people were poured out on Christ. Therefore, the law is now manifestly not the path to righteousness; Christ is. The ultimate goal of the law is that we would look to Christ, not law-keeping, for our righteousness. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) When we note that Christ is the end of the Law, He is, as I said earlier, the telos or point of the Law. Paul refers to the Law as our school master (Galatians 3:24). The mitzvot/law is glorious because it shows the holiness of the Lord and points us toward Christ.



  1. The blood sacrifices ceased because Christ fulfilled all that they were pointing toward. He was the final, unrepeatable sacrifice for sins.Hebrews 9:12, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”



  1. The priesthood that stood between worshiper and God has ceased. Hebrews 7:23–24, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”


“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5-9).

Old Testament priests were chosen by God, not self-appointed; and they were chosen for a purpose: to serve God with their lives by offering up sacrifices. The priesthood served as a picture or “type” of the coming ministry of Jesus Christ–a picture that was then no longer needed once His sacrifice on the cross was completed. When the thick temple veil that covered the doorway to the Holy of Holies was torn in two by God at the time of Christ’s death (Matthew 27:51), God was indicating that the Old Testament priesthood was no longer necessary. Now people could come directly to God through the great High Priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). There are now no earthly mediators between God and man as existed in the Old Testament priesthood (1 Timothy 2:5).



  1. The physical temple has ceased to be the geographic center of worship. Now, Christ himself is the center of worship. He is the “place,” the “tent,” and the “temple” where we meet God. Therefore, Christianity has no geographic center, no Mecca, no Jerusalem.John 4:2123, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’” John 2:1921, “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ . . . He [Jesus] was speaking about the temple of his body.” Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my [Jesus’s] name, there am I among them.”


Since the Holy Spirit now indwells all believers, a temple is no longer necessary.


  1. The food laws that set Israel apart from the nations have been fulfilled and ended in Christ.Mark 7:18–19, “[Jesus] said to them, . . . ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him?’ . . . (Thus he declared all foods clean.)”


  1. The establishment of civil law on the basis of an ethnically rooted people, who are ruled directly by God, has ceased. The people of God are no longer a unified political body or an ethnic group or a nation-state, but are exiles and sojourners among all ethnic groups and all states. Therefore, God’s will for states is not taken directly from the Old Testament theocratic order, but should now be re-established from place to place and from time to time by means that correspond to God’s sovereign rule over all peoples, and that correspond to the fact that genuine obedience, rooted as it is in faith in Christ, cannot be coerced by law. The state is therefore grounded in God, but not expressive of God’s immediate rule.Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” John 18:36, “My [Jesus’s] kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.”

Ultimately, Christ completes the Law and, as we will see in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, He gives the proper understanding of the Law.

Let’s turn our attention to verse 20 in our final minutes together.

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

How is that supposed to happen? The Pharisees were fastidious about keeping the Law. Look at what the Apostle Paul said about his time as a Pharisee, “as touching the Law, a Pharisee…As touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6). The Pharisees considered themselves to be perfect and, in fact, they were as close to perfect as you could get BUT there was still that pesky pride that got them.

Think back a couple weeks to our lesson on the Beatitudes. Does this sound familiar, “God blesses those who are poor and recognize their dependence upon Him.?” This is what Jesus is talking about. If it were possible for a person to keep all 613 of the commands in the Old Testament, you would still be guaranteed a spot in Hell if you thought that obedience was going to do anything for your standing with God. For our righteousness to exceed that of the Pharisees means that we come to God with nothing but an outstretched hand begging mercy.

The idea of being a beggar is offensive to most of us in our society. We hear about “self made millionaires,” doctors, lawyers, civic activists etc. But the truth of the matter is, no one is truly self made. The Sovereign of the Universe has orchestrated events in their favor. All throughout our time together, we are going to see Jesus butting heads with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law and we will notice that it is very hard to come to the Lord when you are “perfect in every way.”

The better righteousness that Jesus is talking about is Imputed Righteousness. Now this is a legal term, as well it should be for we are judged before the Law. Even having come to Christ, the Law testifies against us that we are sinners. However, when we have knelt before the Lordship of Christ and repented of our sins, God the Father imputes or rather assigns the righteousness of Christ unto us. Having been judged in our stead, at Calvary, Christ’s righteousness grants us access to the Father. This is what Jesus meant when He talked about our righteousness being better than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. When you stand before God, He will either account Christ’s righteousness to you and welcome you home to Heaven or He will look at your own righteousness and will justly damn you for all eternity. You need to make sure that you have made the right choice and bowed the knee to the Lordship of Christ and repented of your sin.

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