Jesus continues His manifesto (found in Matthew 5-7). There is a lot to learn here. Jesus is being clear, as He always is. This is not what I was thinking He would say.
Jesus begins this section by telling the disciples not for one moment to imagine that he had come to abolish the law and the prophets, i.e. the whole Old Testament or any part of it. The way in which Jesus phrases this negative statement suggests that some had indeed been thinking the very thought which he now contradicts.
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. 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.
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the religious elites (scribes and Pharisees), you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The word ‘therefore’ introduces the deduction which Jesus now draws for his disciples from the enduring validity of the law and his own attitude with respect to it. It reveals a vital connection between the law of God and the kingdom of God. Because he has come not to abolish but to fulfil, and because not an iota or dot will pass from the law until all has been fulfilled, therefore greatness in the kingdom of God will be measured by conformity to it.
Nor is personal obedience enough; the disciples of the Messiah must also teach to others the permanently binding nature of the law’s commandments. True, not all the commandments are equally ‘weighty’. Yet even one of the least of these commandments, precisely because it is a commandment of Jesus the King, is important.
To relax it — i.e. to loosen its hold on our conscience and its authority in our life — is an offence to God whose law it is. To disregard a ‘least’ commandment in the law (in either obedience or instruction) is to demote oneself into a ‘least’ subject in the kingdom; greatness in the kingdom belongs to those who are faithful in doing and teaching the whole moral law. ‘The peerage of the Messiah’s kingdom’, wrote Spurgeon, ‘is ordered according to obedience.’
Jesus now goes further still. Not only is greatness in the kingdom assessed by a righteousness which conforms to the law, but entry into the kingdom is impossible without a conformity better (much better: the Greek expression is very emphatic) than that of the scribes and Pharisees, for God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness.
But surely, someone will protest, the religious elites and theologians (scribes and Pharisees) were famous for their righteousness? Was not obedience to God’s law the master-passion of their lives? Did they not calculate that the law contains 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and did they not aspire to keeping them all?
How then can the disciple’s righteousness actually exceed pharisaic righteousness, and how can this superior the disciple’s righteousness be made a condition of entering God’s kingdom? Does this not teach a doctrine of salvation by good works and so contradict the first beatitude which says the kingdom belongs to ‘the poor in spirit’ who have nothing, not even righteousness, to plead?
Our Master and King’s statement must certainly have astonished his first hearers as it astonishes us today. But the answer to these questions is not far to seek. the disciple’s righteousness far surpasses pharisaic righteousness in kind rather than in degree.
It is not so much that the disciple succeeds in keeping some 240 commandments when the best Pharisees may only have scored 230. No. the disciple’s righteousness is greater than pharisaic righteousness because it is deeper, being a righteousness of the heart.
How would he do it? He told Ezekiel: ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes’ (36:27). Thus God’s two promises to put his law within us and to put his Spirit within us coincide.
We must not imagine (as some do today) that when we have the Spirit we can dispense with the law, for what the Spirit does in our hearts is, precisely, to write God’s law there.
Yet Jesus was more radical still, for if the Essenes asked for ‘more and more obedience’, he asked for ‘deeper and deeper obedience’.
The rest of Matthew 5 contains examples of this greater, or rather deeper, righteousness. It consists of six parallel paragraphs which illustrate the principle Jesus has just propounded in verses 17 to 20 of the perpetuity of the moral law, of his coming to fulfil it and of his disciples’ responsibility to obey it more completely than the scribes and Pharisees were doing. Each paragraph contains a contrast or ‘antithesis’ introduced by the same formula (with minor variations): You have heard that it was said to the men of old … But I say to you … (21, 22).
What Jesus is contradicting is not the law itself, but certain perversions of the law of which the scribes and Pharisees were guilty. Far from contradicting the law, Jesus endorses it, insists on its authority and supplies its true interpretation.
So here was a contemporary addition to the law, which was intended to interpret it, but in fact distorted it. When we look more closely at the other five antitheses, it becomes plain that a similar distortion is implied. It is these distortions of the law which Jesus rejected, not the law itself. After all, the first two antitheses do not read ‘It was said “you shall not commit murder and adultery”, but I say you may’. Rather, ‘but I say you shall not even have angry or lustful thoughts’.
Jesus’ quarrel was not over the law, for both the Jewish leaders and he accepted its divine authority, but over its true interpretation.
There is the Messiah’s known attitude to the Old Testament. In the previous chapter Matthew has given an account of his temptations during forty grueling days in the Judean desert. Each subtle enticement of the devil was countered by an appropriate quotation from Old Testament Scripture.
What, then, were the religious elites (scribes and Pharisees) doing? In general, they were trying to reduce the challenge of the law, to ‘relax’ the commandments of God, and so make his moral demands more manageable and less exacting.
What Jesus did was to reverse both tendencies. He insisted instead that the full implications of God’s commandments must be accepted without imposing any artificial limits, whereas the limits which God had set to his permissions must also be accepted and not arbitrarily increased. It may be helpful to see the application of these principles to the antitheses in summary before considering them in detail.
King Jesus, however, reaffirmed the original restrictions. He called divorce on other grounds ‘adultery’ and insisted in personal relationships on the renunciation of all revenge. This preliminary look at the antitheses has shown us that Jesus did not contradict the law of Moses. On the contrary, this is in effect what the Pharisees were doing.
To him Moses’ law was God’s law, whose validity was permanent and whose authority must be accepted. In the Jesus Manifesto, as Calvin correctly expressed it, we see Jesus not ‘as a new legislator, but as the faithful expounder of a law which had been already given’. The religious elites and theologians had ‘obscured’ the law; Jesus ‘restored it to its integrity’.
Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law; he never disagreed with their acceptance of its authority. The reverse is true. In the strongest possible terms, he asserted its authority as God’s Word written, and called his disciples to accept its true and deeply exacting interpretation.
Frank Hubeny said:
With the Spirit in us we can dispense with the law because we are already following it. Good point: “We must not imagine (as some do today) that when we have the Spirit we can dispense with the law, for what the Spirit does in our hearts is, precisely, to write God’s law there.”
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The article correctly states that the law is permanent. Yeshua (Jesus) was a Jew and followed the Torah. He partook in the feasts & festivals. “Religious-minded” people should want to emulate him by following his example.
The Torah is a series of laws & covenants. Yet, people are often taught to ignore the most important and basic aspects of it. For those who say that the law is written on your heart; please quote the whole law including the covenants without referencing scripture.
The Book of Hebrews teaches that upon spiritual rebirth, we are given a new heart and a new spirit. The law of God as “written in scripture” is no longer seen as an offense and the “new” person is willing to submit to it. –But the law must first be read or heard by an individual in order that he/she may learn it and thereby follow it–
Equity and mediation: Deuteronomy 6:18 demands fairness and goodness in both attitude and action. Adonai requires people to go beyond the requirements of the law and treat their neighbor and/or sojourner with equity and mediation. Despite the outcome of the courts the Torah brings ethics and morality into the mix.
The Torah requires that we exercise the law spiritually and ethically. The following article explains these aspects in detail and concludes with Psalms 15.
Jewish Law – Articles – The Impact of Jewish Values on Marketing and Business Practices (jlaw.com)
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Wow love the nuances here where Jesus isn’t an antinomian with regards to sin but He’s the faithful expounder of the Law
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Sandra L. Butler said:
Jesus the carnal man does not fulfil the carnal law, but obedience to what Jesus taught, does. To receive the spiritual law or instruction that we are to be obedient to, thereby fulfilling the carnal law, which is a figure of the spiritual, we must understand the language in which God’s Word is spoken, which is symbolic. Jesus spoke in parables, using the carnal things to reveal the spiritual things.
Jesus speaks to the hypocrite (those of religion and the one within): “Clean the inside of the cup and the platter, and the outside of them will become clean.” The cup is what we drink from, “drink” meaning “think” (in the mind). The platter is what we eat from, “eat” meaning “to accept” (in the heart). If we purify the thoughts of our mind and the emotions of our heart, our actions will be clean. A spiritual state under which no carnal law is needed, having been fulfilled through these spiritual/internal works.
The carnal law does not pass until heaven and earth pass. But is Jesus referring to the passing of the carnal heaven and earth? Jesus instructs us to “believe the works,” the word “believe” meaning “to obey, put action to,” referring to the spiritual works, not the carnal works of the law. There are six (metaphorical) days of (spiritual) works in the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth,” symbolizing “a new mind and a new heart©,” our “first heaven and earth” (formed in a darkness we mistook for light) passing away (Revelation 21:1).
kingdom of heaven = realm of the mind
kingdom of God = realm of the Heart
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