Jesus and the Law, Part 1

We have often stated, in our yearlong study of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, that the King is describing the citizens of His kingdom.

  • In the Beatitudes (vs. 1-12) Jesus described the character of  the citizen of the Kingdom of God (poor in spirit, meek, hungering for righteousness, merciful, peacemaking, pure in heart, etc)
  • In verses 13-16 Jesus presented the influence of the Kingdom citizen on the world (Salt & Light)
  • In the verses that follow  (vs. 17 – 7:12) Jesus comes to the heart of this great message concerning the Kingdom.  What is the unique quality of Kingdom righteousness?
  • The focus of Jesus’ preaching is presented in Matt. 4:17“repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  Those who would enter the promised kingdom needed a change of heart. They would need to be “born again”. (John 3) Thus Jesus presents the unique nature of the righteousness of His Kingdom,  as opposed to the righteousness of accepted religion of His day (Pharisaical Judaism). “You have heard that it is said, but I say unto you”.. In this Jesus was voicing His absolute authority in His Kingdom.
  • The righteousness of the Pharisees was based upon human traditions, not the words of God. Because of this Jesus consistently opposed them. True righteousness is based upon the revealed word of God. Those who desire to be in God’s kingdom cannot disregard or refuse to obey God’s law.  Without law there can be no kingdom.

Read  Matthew 5:17-19 – “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.

I.  Jesus and the Law: At the heart of these verses is Jesus’ attitude and action toward the Law of Moses. Notice that Jesus words from 5:17-7:12 are bracketed by a reference to the “law and prophets”.  Jesus presents the nature of the kingdom through an illumination of the true intent of God’s law. The Pharisees and religious teachers of Jesus day had drained the life and meaning from the law of Moses through their traditions and hypocrisy.  Jesus, in contrast, was the very fulfillment and living expression of God’s law.  He demonstrates the righteousness of His kingdom by giving examples of how seriously He did take God’s law. Take a closer look at Matthew 5:17:

A. Jesus’ use of the words, “do not think” seems to indicate that some of Jesus’ followers were laboring with a misapprehension about Jesus and the law. Did Jesus take the law seriously?  When Jesus refused to keep the traditions of the Pharisees and scribes, (washing hands, pots, Sabbath traditions, etc. – Mark 7:1-13), some concluded that He did not hold a high view of the law, and was seeking abolish it. The Pharisees were accusing him of that very attitude. Jesus had confronted the Pharisees at least 3 times prior to this sermon, and they were already plotting to kill Him.  Jesus begins by setting the record straight.

B. “I did not come to destroy… the word translated “destroy” (abolish, KJV) is the Greek word kataluo, which means to loose or throw down; utterly overthrow or annihilate.  It was used to describe the complete destruction of the temple in Matthew 24. It also is rendered to make useless, nullify, or deprive of success.  Jesus did not come to nullify or destroy the Law of Moses by “loosing” its demands, or lessening its authority.  The discussion of the law that was to follow would surely make that clear.

1.  The legalistic Pharisees destroyed the law by lessening its demands.  H. Roux, as quoted by John Stott in his book Christ, the Controversialist, (148) says.. It is characteristic of all those who would find their justification in the law, that they always end by modifying it or perverting it in order to escape from it and make void its authority.” But, contrary to the Pharisees charge, Jesus did not encourage disobedience to even the smallest detail of God’s law.

2.  What is clearly established here is Jesus’ respect for all of God’s law as it is contained in scripture. “The phrase  The law and the prophets” was a common way of referring to the whole Law of Moses, and all the revealed scripture of the O.T.

  • Luke 24:44-4644 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”  45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Notice that Jesus did not make a distinction between the 10 commandments, the Pentateuch, or the writings of the prophets. They were all inspired scripture, and as such to be honored and obeyed.

a.  A popular interpretation divides the law of Moses into 3 categories, the civil, the ceremonial, and the moral law, and then concludes that Jesus is only speaking about the moral law here. It goes on to conclude that the ceremonial law (sacrifices, rituals) and the civil law (concerning gov’t of Israel) were removed, but the moral law of the O.T. remains (10 Commandments). This is quite faulty reasoning.  No evidence of any such distinction of the O.T. law exists in scripture.  Was it not morally wrong for a Jew to refuse to offer a sacrifice or to disobey a civil ordinance?  Jesus did not come to destroy any of the Law of Moses, but He did come to fulfill all of the Law of Moses; moral, civil & ceremonial.

C.  “But to fulfill” – the word fulfill is set in contrast to destroy. Not destroy.. but fulfill.  What does this mean?

1. The word “fulfill” (pleroo; play-roo) can mean to accomplish, obey, or bring out the full meaning of, to complete. Religious teachers have suggested a couple of ways that Jesus fulfilled the Law and prophets:

a. Judicially: By meeting the demands of the Law perfectly: Jesus lived without sin, and thus accomplished its purpose in Himself. The character that the Law demanded Jesus provided completely.

b.  Doctrinally: By teaching the true meaning of O.T. scripture. The O.T. was a sketch or outline and Jesus filled in the details as He taught the true meaning of the Law. The words of the Sermon on the Mount that follow corrected a shallow interpretation and application of the Law of Moses, and illuminated the true meaning of the law. You have heard it said, but I say unto you. So much so that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:28)

c. Comprehensively: By personally being the reality to which it pointed. This is the best understanding of how Jesus fulfilled the law. The O.T. is complete; it is all that God intended it to be. It is the complete and wondrous picture of the coming Messiah. This is true because Christ filled in every detail.  He was the realization of the symbols; the antitype to every type. He was the substance that cast the shadow.

  • Jesus often mentioned that He was the theme of the O.T. scriptures.  We read Jesus words earlier in Luke 24 where He states “that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”   In John 5:39 Jesus told the Jewish leaders… “ You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

III.  Jesus, the End of the Law: Heb 10:1For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. The writer of Hebrews says that the law was only a shadow of the good things that God would provide for His people.  A shadow is not the real thing, it is only a characterization of the real thing. But if carefully followed the shadow will lead to the reality.  The Law was designed to point the Jew toward the Messiah, Jesus, in at least two important ways:

A.  The law was added because of transgressions and was designed to expose the sinfulness of man. It confined all men under the guilt of sin. That is what law is all about. It condemns.  Paul said in Romans 7 that the commandment (law) brought death instead of life because it made known sin and that through the commandment sin became exceedingly sinful.(Rom. 7:13) The law was designed to condemn sin and bring the sinner to helplessness that drives him to God. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  25 I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Rom. 7:24-25 When the condemned sinner comes to Jesus in faith for forgiveness, law has served its purpose. It is fulfilled in Christ.

B.  The law was also designed to bring the Jew to Christ though the symbols and types contained in it. Jesus fulfilled these symbols as the superior reality. When He fulfilled them, they were taken out of the way, and lost all significance.

1. Sacrifice was the heart of all Old Testament worship, and as the perfect Sacrifice, Jesus brought all the other sacrifices to an end and fulfilled the sacrifices of the O.T.

  • While He was on the cross “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt 27:51). Christ Himself was the new and perfect way into the Holy of Holies, into which any man could come by faith. “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:19-22). The Levitical, priestly, sacrificial system ended. Though the Temple was not destroyed until A.D. 70, every offering made there after Jesus died was needless.  “When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12).

2.    Aaron was the first high priest of the Old Covenant, but he was only a shadow of our High Priest of the New Covenant. Jesus fulfilled the priesthood of the Law.

  • Aaron entered the earthly tabernacle, but Christ entered the heavenly.
  • Aaron entered once a year, Christ once for all time.
  • Aaron entered beyond the veil, Christ tore the veil in two.
  • Aaron offered many sacrifices, Christ only one.
  • Aaron sacrificed for his own sin, Christ only for the sins of others.
  • Aaron offered the blood of bulls, Christ His own blood.
  • Aaron was a temporary priest, Christ is an eternal one.
  • Aaron was fallible, Christ infallible.
  • Aaron was changeable, Christ unchangeable.
  • Aaron was continual, Christ is final.
  • Aaron’s sacrifice was imperfect, Christ’s was perfect.
  • Aaron’s priesthood was insufficient, Christ’s is all-sufficient.

3.  Nor could the Tabernacle and Temple compare with Christ.  They were only shadows of Christ and He fulfilled them both.

  • They each had a door, whereas Christ is the door.
  • They had a brazen altar, but He is the altar.
  • They had a laver, but He Himself cleanses from sin.
  • They had many lamps that continually needed filling; He is the light of the world that shines eternally.
  • They had bread that had to be replenished, but Christ is the eternal bread of life.
  • They had a veil, but His veil was His own body.
  • They had a mercy seat, but He is now the mercy seat.

4.  Nor could the offerings compare with Christ. They were designed to point to Him.

  • The burnt offering spoke of perfection, but Christ was perfection incarnate.
  • The meal offering spoke of dedication, but Jesus was Himself wholly dedicated to the Father.
  • The peace offering spoke of peace, but Jesus is Himself our peace.
  • The sin and trespass offerings spoke of substitution, but He is our Substitute.

5.  Nor could the Jewish feasts of the O.T. compare to Christ. He was the substance behind them.

  • The Passover spoke of deliverance from physical death, whereas Christ is our Passover who delivers from spiritual death.
  • The unleavened bread spoke of holiness, but Christ fulfilled all holiness
  • The first fruits spoke of harvest, but Jesus rose from the dead and became “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).
  • The feast of Tabernacles spoke of reunion, but only Christ is able one day to gather all of His people together in His heavenly house forever.

(from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary,

Copyright © Moody Press and John MacArthur, Jr., 1983-2007.)

Conclusion: From Genesis 1:1 through Malachi 4:6, the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. It was inspired by Christ, it points to Christ, and it is fulfilled by Christ.  Paul agonized over those of his own Jewish heritage who were lost. Rom 10:1-4 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. He was the end of the law because when he fulfilled the O.T. law it came to an end. But He is also the end of the law because He fulfilled it in every way, and through His sacrifice provides what the law could not and cannot. He provides righteousness for me.

Scroll to Top