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Was Jesus a rebel? What was His attitude toward the O.T. law? To hear many speak today would lead one to conclude that Jesus was a lawless revolutionary who encouraged people to disdain the authority of their day. Even though Jesus did clearly denounced hypocritical service and emphasized the spirit of the Law, He never encouraged anyone to disobey even the least commandment. Matt 23:23 – 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, 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. In Jesus’ theology every commandment is important. In our continuing study of Matthew 5 we are focusing this month on verses 17-19.
- Matthew 5:17-19 – 17 “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. Last week we investigated vs. 17. Jesus’ mission was not to destroy (or break) the Law of Moses. Rather He came to fulfill it in every way. This He did by keeping all its requirements, and being personally the One to whom the law pointed. He fulfilled it judicially, doctrinally, prophetically and comprehensively. Today we will look at vs. 18.
I. The Comprehensive Authority of the Law: I am convinced that Jesus’ words in vs. 18-19 stand as an unequivocal affirmation of the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the O.T. scripture. I am also convinced that Jesus is affirming the comprehensive authority of O.T. scripture. In fact, these two facts rely upon one another. We will see why this is so as we look closer at the text.
A. How do Jesus’ words here stating that no part of the law will pass away reconcile with what the N.T. epistles teach concerning the New covenant and law of Christ. Was the Law of Moses abrogated or not? Other N.T. passages are very clear on this question.
1. The Law of Moses has no jurisdiction today. It is no longer in force. Period. There is no question that the Law of Moses was both temporary and restricted in its jurisdiction.
a. God states clearly that the Law of Moses was given only to the Israelites. No Gentile was ever under the Mosaical covenant or law. Deut 5:2-3 –The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. Psalm 147:19-20 – He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. 20 He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the Lord!
b. The law of Moses was never designed to be the avenue of man’s justification from sin, and thus was destined to be taken out of the way. Gal 3:19 – 9 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; … vs. 21-22 – 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
- Paul says in Colossians 2:14 that God “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us (the law), which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
c. Christians are under a “better covenant”.
- Hebrews 8:6-7 – 6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. … vs 13 – In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
2. “till heaven and earth pass away” – But Jesus speaks of the permanence of law by comparing it to the endurance of the heaven and earth. The writer of Ecclesiastes says One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. (Eccl 1:4). So Jesus’ use of this phrase seems to say “never”. The heaven and earth represent that which appears unchanged by time and enduring.
a. What does this mean? “jot and tittle” represent the minutest details of the law.
- Jot (iota) – the “jot” was the Greek equivalent of the yodh, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, which looked something like an apostrophe. It has been calculated that there were 66,420 yodhs in the O.T. Would just one be missed?
- Tittle (stroke) referred to the small grammatical marks that distinguished letters in the Hebrew words. It looked similar to a serif in modern typefaces. So in essence Jesus says that not the smallest letter or even the smallest pen stroke in the law will be erased until it has all has been fulfilled. ISBE says… From this code, so written, not the smallest letter nor part of a letter-not an ‘i’ nor the crossing of a ‘t’-shall be erased until all things come to pass.” (from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
- The Jewish scribes so meticulously copied the O.T. scriptures that if one letter was transcribed incorrectly the whole scroll was destroyed. The Rabbis taught that if one letter of the law was altered the world would be destroyed.
- Notice, as we mentioned earlier, that Jesus’ statements here are a clear contention that the scripture is inerrant and inspired. God’s law cannot be altered or destroyed because it is given by God Himself. Jesus’ consistently affirmed the authority of the law for this very reason. No part (even the smallest part) of the law can become irrelevant or unauthoritative as long as the law is in force.
3. “till all is fulfilled” – This last phrase of vs. 18 is key to reconciling Jesus’ words with other N.T. teaching concerning the law of Moses. Jesus taught that the Law of Moses would end. As long as it was in effect it was not to be altered or disobeyed. It was authoritative in its entirety.
a. The key word “till” points to a time when the law would no longer be in force (pass away =come to an end or lose force) . When the law was fulfilled it was taken out of the way. We noticed last week some of the various ways that Jesus can be seen as fulfilling the law of Moses: (sacrifice; priesthood, altar, Sabbath; feast days, etc.) The implicit fact in Jesus’ words is that the Law would be completely fulfilled (all), and this corresponds to the abrogation of the law. As we noticed in Gal. 3:19, the law was added.. till the Seed should come to Whom the promise was made. If the Seed has come, the law of Moses cannot be in force.
b. The word “fulfilled” here is “ginomai” which means to be accomplished, or take place. This connects the passing of the law with the accomplishment of certain events, as though the law was a part of a plan. When it was all accomplished the law would pass away, not as a failed experiment or faulty episode, but as the previous shadow that is lost in the reality of what comes.
- “If we consider the law as a vessel that had some water in it before, he did not come to pour out the water, but to fill the vessel up to the brim;” – (from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database Copyright © 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All Rights reserved.)
4. The authority of the Law and the coming of the Kingdom: But the positive statement of Jesus here is that no part of the Law of Moses could be discounted until it was all fulfilled. The Pharisees tended to pick and choose which commandments they wanted to obey. The Law of God does not lose its validity or authority because men refuse to obey it. God’s word is fulfilled.
a. Consider a similar passage in Luke 16:16-17 – 16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. 17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. Matthew 11 says that from the days of John the violent take the kingdom by force. Jesus says change is coming soon. Beginning with John (the Baptist) the imminent coming of the kingdom has been preached and everyone is seeking to enter. The sinners and Samaritans were responding to the teaching. Some, such as the Pharisees, sought to usurp the Kingdom for themselves as a physical kingdom and tried to get Jesus to conform to their preconceptions. Some of Jesus’ followers even tried to make Jesus King by force.
b. But despite these imminent changes, and the efforts of some to force God’s hand, the law would not fail, it would all be fulfilled. Notice in the connection of these verses that the fulfillment of the Law of Moses coincides with the coming of the Kingdom (church).
Conclusion: It seems evident that Jesus affirmed the absolute authority of God’s law and at the heart of His words here was the inspired nature of all scripture. God’s word will always exist and we will always be responsible to it.
- Hebrews 4:12-13 – 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
- 1 Peter 1:22-25 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.