Understanding Matthew 5:17–20 When Jesus Came To Fulfill The Law

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Published by Kimberly Wall

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Co-Founder, Disciple Group Leader, Author

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Jesus’ arrival on earth marked a turning point for humanity, and his teachings shaped the Christian faith. In Matthew 5:17–20, Jesus states that he did not come to abolish the law code of the Old Testament[1] scriptures but to fulfill it.

The Mosaic Law, which is the Old Testament law code, was fulfilled by Jesus through his teachings and actions. This fulfillment means that believers are no longer bound by its legalistic requirements. This does not mean Christians should disregard the Old Testament entirely; instead, they should view it as part of Christian ethics and seek guidance from its teachings.

How Jesus Came To Fulfill The Law: Biblical Reference

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

— Matthew 5:18 (ESV)

Matthew’s gospel emphasizes Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures, including the law code. Throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated how to follow God’s will while fulfilling all aspects of Jewish law. His teachings provided a new interpretation of scripture, emphasizing love and compassion over strict adherence to rules.

One example of this new interpretation can be found in Matthew 22:37–40, when Jesus summarizes the commandments into two: “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Love God with all your heart.” By emphasizing these two commandments above all others, Jesus highlights an essential aspect of fulfilling Jewish law: loving one another.

In addition to these teachings, Jesus’ actions also demonstrated his fulfillment of Jewish law. For example, he healed on the Sabbath despite strict prohibitions against work on that day (Matthew 12:9–14). In doing so, he showed that acts of mercy take precedence over rigid adherence to rules.

Significance Of Jesus Fulfilling The Law For Christians

Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

— Matthew 5:19 (NIV)

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. This statement is found in Matthew 5:17, where Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Demonstration Of Being The Promised Messiah

One of the significances of Jesus fulfilling the law is that it demonstrated that he was indeed the promised Messiah. The Old Testament prophesied about a coming Messiah who would save his people from their sins (Isaiah 53:5–6). By fulfilling all that was written about him in Scripture, including prophecies concerning his birthplace and lineage (Micah 5:2), his suffering and death (Isaiah 53), and his resurrection (Psalm 16:10), Jesus proved himself as the long-awaited Savior.

Freedom From Legalism

Another significance of Jesus fulfilling the law is that Christians are no longer bound by legalism. The Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to Jewish laws and traditions. They believed that keeping these laws made one righteous before God.

However, Jesus’ teachings emphasized love and obedience rather than legalistic adherence to rules. As believers in Christ, we are called to follow his example by living lives characterized by love for God and others instead of being bound by religious rules.

Forgiveness And Salvation

Through Jesus’ fulfillment of the law, believers receive forgiveness and salvation. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and that sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). However, through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we can receive forgiveness for our sins and eternal life (John 3:16). This is only possible because Jesus fulfilled the law by living a sinless life and dying as a sacrifice for our sins.

A Manifestation Of God’s Faithfulness

The fulfillment of the law by Jesus demonstrates God’s faithfulness to his promises and plan for redemption. From the beginning, God had a plan to redeem humanity from sin. He promised Abraham that through him, all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3), and this promise was fulfilled in Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus accomplished what no one else could do—reconcile us to God.

Four Ways Jesus Fulfilled The Law

Fulfilling the law and the prophets was one of Jesus Christ’s main missions on earth. He came to bring salvation to humanity and fulfill God’s plan for his people. But how exactly did Jesus fulfill the law and the prophets?

Fulfilling The Prophecies About A Messiah

The Old Testament contains numerous prophecies about a coming Messiah who would save God’s people from sin and death. The prophet Isaiah foretold that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14), which was fulfilled when Mary gave birth to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Micah predicted that “out of you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2), which was fulfilled when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Living A Sinless Life To Be The Perfect Sacrifice

Jesus also fulfilled the law by living a sinless life and becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The law required animal sacrifices to atone for sin, but these sacrifices were only temporary and had to be repeated over time.

However, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was once and for all sufficient to pay for all our sins. As Hebrews 10:12 says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”

Replacing The Old Covenant

Jesus also fulfilled the law by bringing a new covenant that replaced the old covenant. The old covenant between God and his people was based on the law of Moses, which included the Ten Commandments and numerous other laws. However, this covenant was imperfect and could not save people from sin.

Jesus’ new covenant, on the other hand, is based on grace and faith in him as Lord and Savior. As Hebrews 8:13 says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Giving Us The New Commandment To Love One Another

Finally, Jesus fulfilled the law by giving us a new commandment to love one another as he loved us. This commandment goes beyond the letter of the law and requires us to love others sacrificially, just as Jesus loved us by dying on the cross for our sins. As John 13:34 (ESV) says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

crucifix with person standing underneath framed in doorway with sunlight peeking

Jesus’ Fulfillment Of The Law Through His Death And Resurrection

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are two pivotal events in Christian history. They mark the fulfillment of God’s word and the covenant with his people, as well as the completion of the biblical story of redemption. They paved the way for believers to live by the Spirit rather than the flesh.

The Old Testament is full of references to God’s covenant with his people. This covenant was established through Abraham and later renewed through Moses. It was a promise that God would be their God and that they would be his people. However, this covenant was broken time and again by Israel’s disobedience. Thus, it needed to be fulfilled or completed in some way.

This is where Jesus comes in. He lived a sinless life and then willingly died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. In doing so, he fulfilled all aspects of the law that pointed towards him (Matthew 5:17). This includes prophecies such as Isaiah 53:5–6, which says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds, we are healed.”

Through his death on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). By doing so, he fulfilled God’s covenant with his people by providing a way for them to be reconciled to him.

The resurrection is another crucial aspect of Jesus’ fulfillment of the law. It proves that he conquered death and sin once and for all, fulfilling the biblical story of redemption. In Romans 4:25, we read that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

The resurrection is also significant because it demonstrates Jesus’ power over death. This is important because death is the ultimate consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). By overcoming death, Jesus proved that he had conquered sin as well.

Finally, through his fulfillment of related laws, Jesus paved the way for believers to live by the Spirit rather than the flesh. In Galatians 5:16–17, we read, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.”

Jesus’ fulfillment of related laws means that believers are no longer bound by them in a legalistic sense. Instead, they can live by faith in Christ and be led by his Spirit. This means that they can experience true freedom from sin and live a life that honors God.

The New Covenant: Following Jesus

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

— Matthew 5:20 (NIV)

The Pharisees were experts in the Torah and believed that strict obedience to the commandments, as the law demands, was essential for righteousness. However, when Jesus came, he challenged their understanding of the law.

As we have read in Matthew 5:17–20, Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. This statement confused many people, including the Pharisees. They questioned how someone could fulfill a commandment without keeping it perfectly.

The concept of fulfillment is central to understanding Jesus’ life and teachings. There are three ways in which Jesus fulfilled scripture: through his actions (fulfilling the prophecies), through his teachings (interpreting the scriptures), and through his identity (being the Messiah).

As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus, as he has fulfilled the moral law and established a new covenant. The apostle Paul explains this idea in Romans 8:1–4, where he writes that those who follow Christ are no longer under condemnation but have been set free from sin by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In Galatians 3:23–29, Paul also explains that we are no longer under the law but have become children of God through faith in Christ.

As it is written in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV): “And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

illustration of people gathered together with a cross in background

Conclusion

Jesus’ fulfillment of the law is crucial to Christian faith and salvation. It demonstrates his divinity, shows the connection between his fulfillment of the law and his death and resurrection, and guides Christians to follow him as he fulfills the law. Throughout history, countless believers have found comfort in knowing that Jesus was sent to fulfill the law.

The significance of Jesus fulfilling the law for Christians cannot be overstated. It is through this act that we can receive salvation and eternal life. By fulfilling the requirements of the law, Jesus demonstrated his perfect obedience to God’s will and paved the way for us to be reconciled with our Creator.

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