Matthew 5:17 is a passage that you might read over and over and over and maybe not grasp the depth of what Jesus is trying to communicate. I’m going to suggest to you that there is something there more significant than you might imagine. But to get to it we’re going to do some Bible study.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
This is one of those times when we’re going to make connections and draw lines between different pages of the Bible. The meaning of the text doesn’t change. What does change is the weight of the language and the richness of what is being communicated.
This study will take you a half hour or so. In the left column is a list of verses from Exodus. In the right column as a collection of related passages from the New Testament. Your assignment is quite simple: Look up the related passages and make a basic statement about what they share in common. Just a quick note. It might be only a few words and that’s ok. That’s all there is to it. It’s simple to do though you’ll probably take about 30 minutes to get through the list.
|7.||30:34-35||II Corinthians 2:16|
I Timothy 2:5
|12.||35:35||I Peter 3:3-4|
|14.||39:1||I Peter 5:5
Now to those words “Law” and “fulfill.” “Law” here, when it is coupled with “Prophets” is a reference to the Torah. But it is not a reference to Torah as a list or a collection of lists and rules to be followed. What Jesus is talking about here is the sum of those five books of Moses as a whole. The books, in the Jewish mind, came as a package deal.
What you saw in the New Testament packages was fulfillment. What you did not see was a list of points of obedience to the Mosaic Law. You saw the fruit of Christ’s work in fulfilling the Law. Jesus fulfillment of the law was not the simple rote obedience to the Mosaic law — a list of things to do and to not do. Regulations and prohibitions. That’s not what Jesus is getting at here. Of course He kept the details of the Law. But the things that the law intended in terms of character and commitment — Jesus met those, too. That’s also what the Pharisees missed.
To repeat the point, Jesus fulfilled the sum and substance of the Torah. Now, when you read “Law” in the New Testament you can load it with “the sum and substance of the Torah” to give it the meaning it deserves. And when you see fulfill you know that it is much more than following rules but bringing about the ends that the Law desired. The ends that the Law desired was the changed heart — far more than lists.
In the future when you read, teach, or preach this passage don’t forget that the term is loaded with meaning. It’s a pair of simple words — “fulfill” and “Law” — that are filled full of meaning.