I truly find it interesting how so many people bring up the scripture reference in Matt 5:17 as some type of support for the Ten Commandments or Law still being valid today.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets. I did not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matt 5:17
So Jesus came to fulfill the law, or in another way of saying it, He came to complete the law. If something is completed, do you still keep working on it? Do you keep grinding away to try and complete that which has already been completed. Let’s look at a simple example as an analogy to this topic.
Take something simple like a puzzle. Equate the law to a puzzle. This puzzle has over a billion pieces and its final picture, once having been completely assembled is simply a picture of perfection. Now you and I have been tasked with completing this puzzle. We have nothing to look at with regards to what the final picture looks like but we have to complete this puzzle. Overwhelmed yet? (I know I’ve worked on 100 piece puzzles and those can be difficult at times.) So we have humanity having been working on this puzzle for a couple thousand years by people slaving away but nowhere close to completion. Entirely too big for the human mind to comprehend and the people sorely worn out from this monumental, unattainable task. Then someone comes along and finishes the entire thing in just 3 days. Done. Over. Completed. Fulfilled. A billion pieces all put in exact order with the finished product as perfection. This of course represents Jesus Christ conquering death, the grave and sin in the 3 days from the cross to His resurrection. Would you then go to that completed puzzle and keep trying to put more pieces in? Of course not. That would be absurd not to mention all the pieces are already in. So you would be trying to add something foreign to that which was already completed. Not only would you be wasting your time but what you would be trying to add wouldn’t be cohesive to the already finished perfect puzzle.
Many read Matt 5:17 like this ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. No I have not come to abolish them but to ENFORCE them.’ Is that what Jesus said though? No. He came to FULFILL them. Enforce and fulfill/complete are two very different words with very different meanings. In the book of Hebrews, it states ‘the law was only a shadow of the good things to come and not the realities themselves’ (meaning the law was not the end-game but rather a means by which the end-game was accomplished-namely that of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrificial lamb for the entire world) and was enforced for a twofold reason. First to establish a way for man to receive forbearance (or a putting off of, temporarily setting aside to pay on a later date) for their sins, in order for man to approach God-albeit imperfect. The 2nd reason was in order to magnify the sinfulness of sin. Humanity needed to know how bad their sin was. The law was added to increase sin in man and to increase how man saw their sin. That it was just plain awful and that man was completely and utterly hopeless and lost if left to themselves-terribly separated and hopelessly distant to ever approaching a holy God.
Jesus went on to say in this same passage of scripture in Matt 5, that the law will not be set aside until ‘everything that must happen has happened’. We must remember that Jesus, in His Earthly ministry, is bridging the gap between the Old Covenant system and the New Covenant system that IS to come, but hadn’t yet because Christ had not yet been sacrificed on the cross, nor rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. Jesus is taking that which had been, foretelling that which is to be, and bridging the gap between the two. People at that time were still under the Old Covenant system-being the law. Too, too many people read Jesus’ words as if He had already been sacrificed for the sins of the world and in doing so, grossly misinterpret the scriptures. They do this primarily because they are reading them in retrospect-from this side of the cross, not before it.
Lastly, when Jesus said He had come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, His statement was predicated on Him not being just another insurrectionist-introducing something new for the sake of starting something new. Insurrectionists were common during this time period among the Roman provinces and even amidst the Jewish people-as those trying to throw off Roman rule. Interesting enough, we see when Jesus was standing before Pontius Pilate, who did the people ask to be released when offered by Pilate to set one of the prisoners free? They released Barabbas, an insurrectionist. The very thing Jesus made clear that He was not. Jesus didn’t come as many false prophets typically do, offering some new teaching claiming new promises and great things if you just follow them. No, He came expounding on that which was already in place-that being the law of Moses. Thus we see Him, introducing concepts in the sermon on the mount that were somewhat new but based on the Mosaic laws. Jesus was introducing the concept of the kingdom within, that was to come later on when he was resurrected and had sent back the Holy Spirit to Earth, to now reside in the hearts of men.
Jesus wasn’t abolishing or throwing out the Law but fulfilling it.
So we see that Jesus didn’t do away with the Law but rather was introducing what the next phase of covenant was to be and how that transitioned from the letter of the law, building upon it.
This new covenant in Christ was to be founded on Love. Love from God toward man, in order that man would now be able to love God and love his fellow man. The entire New Covenant in Christ is built on the law of love. Romans 13 says ‘the entire law is summed up in a single command, to love one another. He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law…therefor love is the fulfillment of the law.’ Jesus Himself stated the same thing and it is recorded in each of the three synoptic Gospels.
‘This is the first and greatest command…to love the Lord your God with all your heart, you soul, your mind and your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law is summed up in these two commands. There is no commandment greater than these.’ (Matt 22:37/Luke 10:27/Mark 12:30) (paraphrased between all 3 scripture references).
Our commands now involve loving God and loving people. Not just trying to keep specific laws.
What about the law? The law definitely had its purpose. In fact it still most definitely has purpose today. 1 Timothy 1:9 tells us the law was made for the sinner and the unrighteous. Romans 3:20 & 7:7 tells us the Law reveals to us what our sin is and holds people accountable. Romans 5:20 shows us the law magnifies sin in humanity. The law stands as monumental standard, primarily to the unbeliever. The law can bring conviction to the heart of the sinner. Ultimately bringing them to their knees and to the feet of the savior. The law has its purpose but not for the believer. In Christ we are fully righteous before the Lord (2 Cor 5:21). The Holy Spirit is now our guide convicting us of way more than just the law and doing so always as we seek to glorify and draw near to Christ in our lives.
So we see that the law of God was not to be enforced under Christ but rather it was fulfilled by Christ. He completed it! We have a new order. The puzzle wasn’t thrown away or tossed to the side. It still stands for all to see but we have a new task and mission from the Lord. To love God and love people and, through the expert puzzle builder’s accomplishment, we are now free to do so without the burden of that arduous puzzle building. We don’t try to go back and add to the law which was completed. When doing so, it’s our own empty works we are trying to force upon that which is already perfection. We now serve in the new way of the new covenant, through love. Loving God and loving people.
This is the essence of the Gospel message. This is the Good news. Will you share it with someone today?