“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 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. 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.”
– Matthew 5:17-19 (Jesus speaking)
So far in the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve seen Jesus identify the values that are important in His kingdom (The Beatitudes) and explain the role played in the world by His disciples who live by those values.
In today’s section, Jesus declares His unequivocal commitment to the Old Testament (what was known in those days as “the Law and the Prophets”). Jesus is, in fact, warning His disciples that some people will think His teaching contradicts the Old Testament. On the contrary, He says, He and His teaching fulfill the Old Testament. That is, He’s saying that the Old Testament points to, and foreshadows, Him – Messiah. (Recall that the Hebrew word “Messiah” means “the Anointed One,” is translated into Greek as “Christ,” and refers to “the king of God’s choosing.”) The primary purpose of the Old Testament was to create and sustain the hope of Messiah.
Jesus’ point here is quite amazing because many people over the years have struggled to reconcile Jesus’ teaching (the New Testament) with the Old Testament. They think of the Old Testament as commandments and the New Testament as nothing but forgiveness. But forgiveness without commandments just turns into lawlessness and licentiousness. For this reason, Jesus reinforces His point by saying that an adherence to commandments is what will distinguish those who are great from those who are least in the kingdom of God.
Jesus will demonstrate what He means by this as the Sermon the Mount proceeds.
(Remember that prayer is more about listening than talking. Use the words below to start yourself, but then allow time to reflect more on the Scripture above before you say the “Amen.” During that time of quiet reflection, let God shape your thoughts and wait for a sense of peace to come. That’s your signal to say “Amen” and go forth to the day.)
Lord, thank You for the Bible and thank You for passages like this that help us understand how its pieces fit together. Thank You also for instructing us to approach these matters “as children” and not “as experts.” We will act on the parts of the Bible we understand and not worry about the parts we do not yet understand…(this is where you remain quiet to let Him work in your thoughts)… Amen.
(All scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the NASB.)