MATTHEW 5:17-20  


Matthew 5:17-20, Orientation to Divine Policy

Verse 17

1. Do not think that I am come to abolish the Law or the prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.

This refers to the fulfillment of the PURPOSE of the law. All that the law is intended to do will be accomplished – and this fulfillment will be accomplished in and through Jesus Christ.

This statement by Jesus mentions two areas of the Old Testament. However, the phrase, “law and the prophets” was frequently used to refer to the entire Old Testament.

His statement at Luke 24:44 covers ALL of the Old Testament.

“All things that are written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
A. The law: Christ fulfilled two aspects of the law.
He fulfilled the moral code of the law by living a perfect life.
He fulfilled the righteousness of the law.
It began at Mat.
3:15 at the baptism of Jesus which fulfilled all righteousness.

Jesus fulfilled perfectly all the righteous requirements of the law. Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1John 2:1; 3:5; 2Cor. 5:21; John 8:46; Acts 3:14; 22:14; 1 Peter 2:22.

This is a thing that it was/is impossible for man to do. 1Kings 8:46; Rom. 3:23

Thus He is able to bestow on those who believe, the very righteousness of God the Father so that those will then be totally acceptable to the Father BECAUSE of and IN Christ. Romans 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21

Accordingly, we have been set free from the law. But this does not mean that we are “free” to violate the righteous moral standards of the law. It means that we have been set free from the CONDEMNATION of the law. The law exposes all of us as sinners and places us under the just condemnation of God’s justice (Rom. 3:19-20; Gal. 3:22). That is the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10-13). And since Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, we are not under that condemnation. That means that we have total and complete forgiveness of all sins in regard to the eternal penalty for sin, which is separation from God (Rom. 6:23; Acts 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Col. 1:14; Eph. 1:7).

It does not mean that we are not under the moral standards of the law, for those are absolute.

We are not free to sin – to violate God’s standards of righteousness. But we live according to those standards as an expression of our love and devotion to God (Romans 13:8-14).

When we are told that we have been set free from the law, it is referring to the indictment of divine justice that pronounces all as sinners and under the eternal penalty of sin. This is because it is impossible for anyone to keep the righteous standards of the law completely.

We are still under the moral standards of the law which are taught by Paul and James under the subject of LOVE as the royal law. All the moral commandments of the law are re-affirmed by the apostles. In fact, it is the character of love and humility that fulfills the law and reflects the true intent of God’s standards for human interaction. Mat. 7:12; Romans 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14.

The Sabbath commandment, however, was not re-affirmed. In fact, it was quite clearly NOT brought forward from the nation of Israel to the church, because the Sabbath commandment had been given to the nation of Israel only (Ex. 31:12-17).

But the reason we are not under the Sabbath is NOT because of the statement that “we are not under the law,” but because the Sabbath was given to the nation of Israel only and therefore has no jurisdiction over the church (Col.2:16-17).

See Topic: SABBATH

Jesus fulfilled the rituals of the law because those rituals pointed forward to His character and to His work. Col. 2:16-17, “food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day –  things which are a shadow of what is to come; but the substance is of Christ.”

Jesus is the NEW High priest to replace the Levitical priesthood. For “Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20).

Hebrews 7:11, “Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?”

Hebrews 7:12, “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.”

That is, God will institute a NEW POLICY for His people.
Thus, at Hebrews 8:13, “When He said, ‘a new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”

Hebrews 9:1, “Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary.”

Hebrews 9:8-9, “The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. According to which both gifts and sacrifices were offered which cannot make the worshiper complete according to conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of a new order.”

Hebrews 10:5-9, And The Word (John 1:1, 14) said at the moment of the incarnation, “when He comes into the world,” “‘Behold I have come to do Your will.’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second.”

The context shows us that what is taken away is not just the sacrifices and offerings, but the “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body.” Hebrews 9:8-10.

B. The prophets: This refers to the Messianic predictions that point forward to both His first and His second advents. It covers details about His birth and His life; His death and His sacrifice for sins; and His second coming in judgment.

C. The Psalms: This refers to the Messianic predictions in the book of the Psalms, and as above refers to His birth, His life, His death, and His second coming.

Matthew 5:18, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the law, until all is accomplished.”

There are TWO occurrences of “until” (heos) in this verse.
The first one is general and the second one is specific.

Thus the law AS A WHOLE will remain in place until(#1) the renovation of the physical universe.
Nothing of the law; not the smallest letter or the smallest stroke of the stylus – will be REMOVED.
This is the word, parerchomai. It means to come to an end, be abolished, or pass off the scene.

In other words, the ENTIRE LAW will remain as a complete entity with a specific ULTIMATE goal. And it will not pass off the scene of God’s plan for humanity UNTIL (#2) all is accomplished. This is the word, ginomai. It means to come to pass, come about or be fulfilled.

EVERY ASPECT of the law will have to be fulfilled (fulfill its divinely designed purpose) before the entire entity passes off the scene of human history.

However, PRIOR to that END (the renovation of the universe) certain parts of the law will be ACCOMPLISHED (come to pass) according to the purpose and time table of God.

It is obvious from the teachings of the book of Hebrews that there are some parts of the law that are no longer applicable to the human race since the resurrection of Jesus; that is, that are no longer to be observed by the human race during the time period known as the church age. However, the significance and power of those parts are still relevant; they are still part of the ENTIRE entity called THE LAW.

Jesus is not teaching that every aspect of the law continues to be in force over the lives of God’s people, but that ALL has its place and will be accomplished according to God’s purpose and time table until the goal is reached at the renovation of the physical universe.
In fact, some of the standards of the law that have been set aside during the church age, will be re-instituted in the Messiah’s earthly kingdom since Israel will be the center of both moral and spiritual life during that time.
Jer. 33:18-22; Ezek. 40-48
(But no ark of the covenant will be in place, because Christ Himself will be present.)

However, once the old universe is destroyed and the new heavens and new earth are created, there will be no need for any part of the law to be in place. All the believers of the human race will be in resurrection body, and all the unbelievers will be in the lake of fire. Thus, at that time the ENTIRE ENTITY called the law will be abolished.

Verse 19, The application of the Law to the life of the believer

1. Whoever then annuls: First of all, this is talking about a BELIEVER. It refers to removing something out of its proper place within the scope of God’s plan and policy for humanity.
2. One of the least of these commandments: All of them have a place in the plan of God.
This is not talking about literally OBEYING or DOING each and every commandment.
We know that the commandments for divine worship are NOT to be obeyed at the present time according to what we have already seen in Hebrews. Hebrews 6:20; 7:11-12; 8:13; 9:1, 8-9; 10:5-9

That paves the way for us to understand what Paul taught about the food and dress code of the law, as well as the Sabbath ritual.
For someone to recognize that these commands are not “in place” at the present time is NOT annulling them.
3. and teaches others: The emphasis on teaching places this erring, negligent believer into the category of FALSE TEACHER.

4. Least in the kingdom of heaven: This refers to God’s opinion of this believer while he is living on the earth. Notice, he is STILL in the kingdom of God/Heaven (These two terms are interchangeable and mean exactly the same thing. Cf. Matthew, heaven, and Mark, God). He has failed to recognize the PLACE that God’s law has in their life according to the policy of God. To REJECT any detail within the Law and the Prophets is to reject some facet of the Divine program for the human race.

4. But whoever keeps and teaches: This is the functional believer who understands the proper place for the various details of God’s law and the Prophets during the time of his stay on the earth. He recognizes and accepts God’s policy for HOW things are to be done and why.

5. he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven/God: During his life on earth, he will be recognized by God as an efficient ambassador, and faithful servant.

Verse 20, Comparison with the Pharisees
The Pharisees rejected various parts of the law in order to promote their own legalistic religious system. Jesus exposed them at Matthew 15:3-9, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Matthew 16:6, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Matthew 23, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees.”

Therefore, Jesus warns, “For, truly I say to you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This statement teaches the fact that man’s righteousness through good works can never establish a relationship with God. The greatest example of human righteousness up to the time of Christ, was that of the Jewish religious system. However, to have relationship with God, one must have a righteousness that is greater than that. The only way to get that is through the imputation of God’s righteousness to the individual who trusts in Christ as Savior.


The reason Jesus mentions this at this point is because of the failure of the Jewish religious system to properly orient to Divine policy. Thus, changing the commandments of God; eliminating them; and adding human traditions. The result was stated by Jesus at Mat. 23:13, “You shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering (i.e., seeking to enter) to go in.”

The believer has to separate from religion, whether it is the Judaistic system of Christ’s time or the various equivalents that have appeared throughout subsequent history, the greatest of which is the Roman Catholic Church.

In order to have relationship with God one must possess the righteousness of God, as mentioned above. However, the functional expression of that righteousness is possible as the believer melds the overt moral commandments of God with the right mental attitude of humility and benevolent love.


This is now the focus that Jesus presents as He continues to teach the disciples on the mountain.

He gives six examples of how humility and love must be the underlying motivation for overt behavior in order for it to be pleasing to God (Mat. 5:21-48).


Questions and comments are always welcome

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