Title: The Sermon on the Mount part 4
Scriptures to Read: Read Matthew 5:17-20
In the beatitudes we saw Jesus describing the characteristics of true righteousness and then contrasting them with the characteristics of false righteousness. Then He showed how true righteousness relates to the world. Now He addresses the question of the code of true righteousness. What is the standard to be followed by those who have true righteousness? First He will clarify what that code of life is, next He will discuss the correct interpretation of that code, then He will go on to discuss the correct practice of that code.
Jesus came to fulfil the Law, not to destroy it
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). The Greek word translated abolish here is the word katalyo, and it means to divide, demolish, or throw down. The ASV aptly translates it as destroy. In these few verses Jesus spelled out His own relationship to the Law. He pointed out that He came for the purpose of fulfilling the Law; He did not come to destroy it. Indeed, He proved to be the only Jew who ever kept the Mosaic Law perfectly. By keeping the Law perfectly, He could then, by means of substitution, take upon Himself the penalty of the Law for those who failed to keep it. Once He did this and shed His blood for it, He then rendered the Law inoperative so that with His death and resurrection the Law was no longer in effect.
The Law rendered inactive: Ephesians 2:15-16
“by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” Notice in verse 16 that the reconciliation between Jew and Gentile into one body was achieved, Paul says, “through the cross, by killing the hostility”. The hostility (enmity) was put to death by the cross. And what is the enmity? In verse 15 he tells us the enmity is the law. So we see that the Law was abolished or put to death by the cross. The word translated abolish is a different Greek word from the one used in Matthew’s gospel. It is katargeo which means to render inactive, idle, useless, ineffective, do away with, put an end to. Whereas the word Jesus used in Matthew’s gospel conveys the idea of destroying as we might demolish a building, in Ephesians Paul uses a word that means to render inactive, cause to cease, do away with or put an end to.
Matthew and Paul regarding the Law
Now, back in Matthew’s gospel we read that Jesus said that He didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. And notice in passing that Jesus fulfilled both the righteousness required by the Law and the penalty required by the Law for those who do not have that righteousness. He came to fulfil the Law and then, as we read in Ephesians, to bring it to an end so that it is no longer active. And Jesus’ statement makes a direct contrast with Pharisaism because Pharisaism was destroying the Law by its many additions, reinterpretations and changes.
Jesus came to fulfill the law down to smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18). He will be the one who will fulfil every jot and tittle. What does that refer to? The word jot actually refers to the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the letter yod. Yod is the smallest letter of the alphabet. It is about a quarter of the size of the other letters. The point of saying is that He will fulfil the Law down to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Jesus came to fulfill the law down to smallest part of a single Hebrew letter
Now what is the tittle? Some Hebrew letters look very much the same, like the letter beth and the letter kaf. The only difference is a small thing protruding at one corner. That is the tittle. Tittle is the smallest part of a single Hebrew letter. And the point is: not only will he fulfil the Law down to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, he will also fulfil the Law down to the smallest part of a single Hebrew letter. By using the letters in this way He points out that the Law He intends to fulfil is the written Law, the one Moses gave. He does not intend to fulfil the Mishnaic Law. And He will fulfil the Law of Moses perfectly down to every yod and tittle.
All 613 Commandments were in force until Jesus died
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). Notice that He also points out that all 613 commandments must be kept. People use this verse and focus only on the Ten Commandments, but he didn’t give only ten, He gave 613. What Jesus will deal with is not limited to the ten. He also deals with some of the other commandments. The Law of Moses is one unit. Either it is all in or it is all out. The point of verse 19 is that at this stage it is all in and they have to keep even the least commandment – the least commandment of the Mosaic Law. Again the Law is in force until he dies.
Accepting Jesus as the Messiah leads to true righteousness
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Having stated His own purpose for keeping the Law He went on to repudiate the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law because Pharisaism was destroying the Law by means of its many added traditions. Often these traditions got around the keeping of the Law. With His statement in verse 20 He repudiated Pharisaism on two counts: First as the proper interpretation of the kind of righteousness demanded by the Law; and secondly, as the kind of righteousness required for entering the Messianic Kingdom. The kind of righteousness they were offering is too wide a righteousness. His righteousness is a narrow type of righteousness. The kind of righteousness that will qualify you for God’s kingdom is the kind of righteousness that you will be given only if you accept Him as Messiah.