by Mike Ratliff
12 Πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἐὰν θέλητε ἵνα ποιῶσιν ὑμῖν οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ποιεῖτε αὐτοῖς· οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται. (Matthew 7:12 NA27)
12 Therefore, everything that you wish men would for you, thus also you do for them for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
At least a couple of times a month, sometimes a couple of times a week, I am contacted either through comments or via email from persons who at the heart are some form of “Antinomian.” No matter what flavor, they all want to say that the Christian is in no way accountable to obey the Law of God or that the Old Testament is of no value to us. Let’s see what our Lord says about that.
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter or one stroke may pass from the law until everything is fulfilled. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and thus teaches men, he will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, this one will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, you may never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
Jesus did not come to give a new Law nor did he come to modify the old Law. Instead, just as John told us in John 1:18 that the Lord “ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο”, “that one explained him,” referring to him explaining or revealing the Father, here we see that through that process he also explained the true significance of the moral content of Moses’ law and the rest of the Old Testament. When our Lord referred to the “The Law and the Prophets,” he was speaking of the entirety of the Old Testament Scriptures, not the rabbinical interpretations of them.
When Jesus told us that he came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets, he was speaking of the fulfillment of prophecy. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law in all its aspects. He fulfilled the moral law by keeping it perfectly. He fulfilled the ceremonial law by being the embodiment of everything the law’s types and symbols pointed to. He fulfilled the judicial law by personifying God’s perfect justice (Matthew 12:18, 20).
In v18 our Lord was affirming the utter inerrancy and absolute authority of the Old Testament as the Word of God even down to one stroke or letter. From this we must understand that the New Testament should not be seen as supplanting and abrogating the Old Testament, but as fulfilling and explicating it. For instance, all the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic Law were fulfilled in Christ and are no longer to be observed by Christians (Colossians 2:16,17). However, not the smallest letter or stroke is erased or passes away through this. The underlying truths of those Scriptures remain—and in fact the mysteries behind them are now revealed in the brighter light of the gospel.
Who is Jesus talking about in v19? These are people in the Kingdom of heaven so these are believers not unbelievers. Those who break the commandments of the Law and teach men to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, those who practice the obedience to the Law and teach others to do the same will be called great in the Kingdom. It is clear that believers are to uphold every part of God’s Law both in their living and their teaching, to not do so results in loss of eternal reward, but to be obedient in doing this results in eternal reward.
Before God had mercy on me in 1986 and I was saved, I remember reading Matthew 5:20 one day in the mid-1970’s and becoming terrified. I actually thought that Jesus was saying that to be saved I had to have a level of visible righteousness that was greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. That is not what he is saying here. Our Lord is calling his disciples to a deeper, more radical holiness than that of the Pharisees. Pharisaism had a tendency to soften the law’s demands by focusing only on external obedience. As we shall see in the posts following this one, our Lord unpacks the full moral significance of the law, and shows that the righteousness the law calls for actually involves an internal conformity to the spirit of the law, rather than mere external compliance to the letter of it. On the other hand, this sets up an impossible barrier to works-salvation. I cannot keep the law. No one can. Scripture teaches repeatedly that sinners are capable of nothing but a flawed and imperfect righteousness. Therefore the only righteousness by which sinners my be justified is the perfect righteousness of God that is imputed to those who believe (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:5).
Soli Deo Gloria!