Christ Came To Fulfill The Law And Not To Destroy It

It is written:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Does Christ here teach that the Old Testament Law would continue until the end of the world?

Some so claim.

Let’s study.

First, Christ claims that He did not come to “destroy” the Law.

What does this mean?

The word “destroy” used here is a very interesting Greek word.

“3. The word translated “destroy” means, “to dissolve, disunite, destroy, demolish, overthrow, render vain, deprive of success, bring to nought, overthrow, deprive of force, annul, abrogate, discard.” (Thayer, p. 427). This is the same word translated “thrown down,” in Mt. 24.2, where Jesus said, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” There He spoke of the temple’s destruction in Jerusalem. The Jews thought that Jesus sought to do to the law what He finally did do to the temple, i.e., completely cast it down, overthrow it, and start an entirely new religion independent of the Old Covenant. Jesus told them that He didn’t come to overthrow the Old Covenant and He didn’t. He didn’t destroy the ten commandments, or the Old Covenant in its entirety, and He didn’t destroy the prophets. If He had done to the law and the prophets what He did to the temple, we couldn’t look at them or teach out of them any more than we can go look at the temple He completely threw down. To illustrate further, the state of Texas used to be under its own republican constitution. It is no longer under that constitution, but no one destroyed it. You can read it, handle it, and study it. No one destroyed it, but it has been taken out of the way and Texans now live under a new law. This is exactly what Jesus did with the entirety of the Old Covenant. He didn’t destroy it (Mt. 5.17), but He took it out of the way (Heb. 10.9-10).” (Samuel G. Dawson, Denominational Doctrines: Explained, Examined, Exposed, 5360-5372 (Kindle Edition); Bowie, TX; SGD Press)

The Jews often accused Christ and His Apostles of breaking the Old Testament Law.

Matthew 12:2-And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”

Mark 3:2-5-So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3  And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” 4  Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5  And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.

John 5:16-For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.

Why would the Jewish people believe that Christ was some kind of lawbreaker?

“As we read the four Gospels we see clearly that there was much confusion with regard to our Lord’s teaching. He was undoubtedly a great problem to His contemporaries. poraries. There were so many unusual things about Him. He Himself, for instance, was unusual. He was not a Pharisee and He had not been trained as a Pharisee. He had not been to the customary schools, so they looked at Him and said, `Who is this fellow, this man who teaches and makes these dogmatic pronouncements? nouncements? What is this?’ He did not come into His position as a teacher along the usual lines or through the customary channels, and that at once created a problem. The leaders and the people were rather perplexed about it. But not only that. As I have been reminding you, He deliberately criticized the Pharisees and the scribes, and their teaching. Now they were the acknowledged leaders and religious teachers, and everyone was prepared to do what they said. They were quite outstanding in the nation. But, suddenly, here was a Man who did not belong to their schools, who not only taught, but also denounced their authoritative teaching. Then, over and above that, He did not spend all His time in expounding the law. He preached an extraordinary doctrine of grace and of the love of God which introduced such things as the parable of the Prodigal Son. But, even worse, He mixed with publicans and sinners, sitting down and eating with them. Not only did he not seem to observe all the rules and regulations; He actually seemed to be deliberately ately breaking them. In His words He criticized their official teaching, and in practice He did the same. So questions began to arise at once because of His theory and because of His practice. `Does this new Teacher not believe the Holy Writings? The Pharisees and the scribes claim to be the exponents and the expounders of the Holy Scripture; does this Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, not believe it? Has He come to do away with it? Is His teaching absolutely new? Is it denouncing the law and the prophets? Is He teaching that there is some new way to God, some new way of pleasing God? Is He turning His back resolutely upon the whole of the past?’ Now those were the questions which our Lord well knew were bound to arise because of His personal character and because of what He taught. So, here, at the very introduction to the detailed teaching, He met the criticism beforehand. In particular He warned His disciples lest they should be confounded and influenced by the talk and criticism which they were so likely to hear.” (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 2684-2699 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Christ wants to emphasize that He did not come to transgress or make light of the Law of Moses.

He points out that He even teaches those who lived under the First Covenant to obey the precepts of the Law of Moses!

Matthew 5:19-Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

By saying that He had not come to “destroy” the Law, Christ was simply pointing out that He had not come to “transgress, throw down” or “break” the Law.

Second, the Lord teaches that He came to “fulfill” the Law.

What does this mean?

The word used here is very interesting throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

“In Matthew’s gospel the verb plēroō, “fulfill,” plays a prominent role, most notably in its ten occurrences in the formula-quotations (see on 1: 22 and above pp. 11–14) where it denotes the coming into being of that to which Scripture pointed forward (whether by direct prediction or understood typologically). The same sense appears in 26: 54, 56 where Jesus’ suffering is seen as “fulfilling the Scriptures,” and in 13: 14 where a compound form of the same verb (anaplēroō) again speaks of an OT prophecy coming true in contemporary experience. In 3: 15 to “fulfill all righteousness” appears to denote the action which will bring about God’s redemptive purpose through Jesus (see discussion there). Apart from a single non-metaphorical use (of “filling up” a net, 13: 48), its only other use in Matthew is in 23: 32 of the hostile actions of the scribes and Pharisees “filling up the measure” of their ancestors, where again the sense of reaching a destined conclusion seems to be dominant. In the light of Matthew’s use of this verb elsewhere, and the evident importance it has for his understanding of the relation between the authoritative words of the OT and their contemporary outworking, the sense here is not likely to be concerned either with Jesus’ actions in relation to the law or even his teaching about it, but rather the way in which he “fulfills” the pattern laid down in the law and the prophets. It is important to note that this verse does not speak of Jesus “fulfilling the law,” but rather of his “fulfilling the law and the prophets.” His fulfilling of the prophets is amply illustrated in the formula-quotations: his life and ministry has brought that to which they pointed forward. Is it possible to understand his fulfilling of the law in the same light? There is an intriguing little saying of Jesus recorded in 11: 13 which throws light on this issue. In speaking of the pivotal role of John the Baptist as the point at which the time of fulfillment has dawned, Jesus is recorded as commenting that “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” The law is thus linked with the prophets as looking forward to a time of fulfillment which has now arrived. 15 The Torah, then, is not God’s last word to his people, but is in a sense provisional, looking forward to a time of fulfillment through the Messiah.” (R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 182-183 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

So by His statement that He would “fulfill” the Law, Jesus was saying that He would bring it to its’ prophesied goal. In Him (and through Him), the Law and the Prophets would find their ultimate aim which had been foretold long before Jesus came into the world.

Third, what does Jesus mean by His reference to Heaven and Earth passing away?

Is He claiming that the Law of Moses would last until the very end of time?

Not at all.

Instead, Christ is here teaching that nothing would stop Him from fulfilling the Law-not even the destruction of Heaven and Earth itself!

“It does not say that every jot and tittle of the law will stand till heaven and earth pass away; but it does say that it will not pass away until it is all fulfilled. This teaches that it would all be fulfilled and pass away sometime. The idea is that sooner would heaven and earth pass away than one letter of the law would fail of being fulfilled. Luke’s words make this matter very clear. “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail,” Luke 16: 17. Here we cannot mistake the meaning; the idea is not the length of time the law is to last, but the certainty that it will not fail to be fulfilled. “Fulfilled” is defined thus by Webster: “To fill up, to make full or complete; to accomplish.” The Greek word is Plarosai and is defined by Greenfield, among other things, “To fulfill, to complete; to bring to a close, end, finish, complete.” So Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to finish it. The translation of Campbell, Macknight and Doddridge renders it: “Heaven and earth shall sooner perish than one iota or one tittle of the law shall perish without attaining its end.” That is the idea exactly. Sawyer’s translation says: “I am not come to destroy, but to complete.” At the beginning of his ministry Jesus said he came to fulfill the law. After his resurrection he said: “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me. Luke 24: 44. And then Paul says: “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree.” Acts 13: 29. So it was all fulfilled at the cross. Hence Paul says it was nailed to the cross. Col. 2: 14-16. “Christ is the end of the law.” Rom. 10: 4. “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” Gal. 3: 24, 25. What could be plainer than that the law ended at the cross?” (D.M. Canright, Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced, 285 (Kindle Edition))

Christ would fulfill even the smallest requirements-the jot and the tittle-of the Law of Moses. Indeed, He promised that Heaven and Earth would not pass away before He fulfilled the Law of Moses.

Did Jesus fulfill the Old Testament Law?

John 4:34-Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.

John 17:4-I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.

John 19:30-So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

Romans 10:4-For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

While there are prophecies yet to be fulfilled (referencing the Second Coming throughout the Old Testament specifically), they all have their fulfillment in Christ.

Fourth, what happened to the Old Testament Law when Christ fulfilled it? The Bible teaches that it was removed from being the Law under which people today are accountable.

Romans 7:4-Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.

Ephesians 2:15-having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,

Colossians 2:14-having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Many object at these facts, insisting that Christ only did away with the “ceremonial” Law of Moses. However, the Bible teaches that when reference is being made to the Law that was removed when Christ died on the Cross, reference is being made especially to the Ten Commandments!

For example, Romans 7:4 says that we are “dead” to the Law.

What Law is Paul talking about?

He gives us an example:

Romans 7:7-What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”

The Law that stated “you shall not covet” was one of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21).

Again, Paul writes:

2 Corinthians 3:7-8-But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8  how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?

Paul wants us to understand that the Law of the Old Testament was glorious. Which Law was he talking about? The Law which had been “written and engraved on stones,” i.e., the Ten Commandments.

What happened to this Old Testament Law?

2 Corinthians 3:11-For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

Again, when Paul wrote of the Old Testament, he said:

Hebrews 8:13-In that He says, “A NEW COVENANT,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

What was an example of the Old Testament Law that he claimed was ready to vanish away?

Hebrews 9:4-which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;

All of these facts remind us that throughout the Old Testament, ti was prophesied that there would be a New Covenant that God would establish with His people:

Jeremiah 31:31-34-Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—32  not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Ezekiel 16:60-“Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.

Ezekiel 16:62-And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD,

Ezekiel 34:25-I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.

Ezekiel 37:26-Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore.

The Old Testament was never designed to be an eternal covenant. It was designed to last until Christ Jesus came.

Galatians 3:24-25-Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25  But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Galatians 4:21-31-Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22  For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23  But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24  which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—. 25  for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—. 26  but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27  For it is written: “REJOICE, O BARREN, YOU WHO DO NOT BEAR! BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR! FOR THE DESOLATE HAS MANY MORE CHILDREN THAN SHE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.” 28  Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29  But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30  Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREEWOMAN.” 31  So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

Since Jesus was a Priest after the order of Melchizedek (and not after the Old Testament priesthood of Levi), there had to be a new Law given.

Hebrews 7:12-For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.

Jesus died to establish the New Covenant.

Hebrews 10:9-then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second.

It is a better covenant!

Hebrews 8:6-But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

Yes, we need to study and learn from the Old Testament (Romans 15:4). Yet let us also remember how blessed we are to live under the New Testament which is established on the shed blood of Jesus (Matthew 26:28)!

Let us also beware of those who would attempt to bind the Old Testament Law on believers today (cf. Galatians 5:4).

Christ did not come to break and transgress the Law of Moses, but to bring it to its’ prophesied fulfillment. When He fulfilled the requirements of the Law prophesied about, that Old Testament (which was never designed to be eternal) was removed and replaced with the New Covenant, under which we live.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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