Fulfill, Jesus, Jesus Manifesto, Law, Matthew, Matthew 5, Matthew 5:17-18, Prophets
Why this is important: Jesus has it all together. All the complexity we see. All we don’t understand. Jesus sees it simply. He understands it all. He is putting it all together. Jesus comes to fulfill.
If we want understanding, let us go to Jesus. Jesus is the author of our life in God and He is the one who is going to finish it all out. We have nothing to worry about. He has it all figured out. Our job is to trust Him.
God’s goal for us is to trust his son Jesus. God has given Jesus all power and authority. Jesus is in control.
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.
Some might see Jesus’ announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of heaven as though he is starting a new work that will bring him into conflict with the Old Testament Scriptures.
- But Jesus categorically declares, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.”
- The expression “do not think” suggests that Jesus is countering a suspicion that he is attempting to set aside God’s former revelation with his announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God.
- Such an attempt would be the ultimate mark of a heretic.
- So Jesus makes clear at the beginning of his teaching ministry that the arrival of the kingdom does not do away with God’s prior revelation through the Law and the Prophets.
The “Law” or “Torah” refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, called the Books of Moses or the Pentateuch. The “Prophets” includes the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament. The expression “the Law and the Prophets” is a way of referring to the entire Hebrew Scriptures. This is similar to the expressions “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44) or simply “the Law” (Matt. 5:18; 1 Cor. 14:21). Instead of doing away with what God had revealed about his will for his people in the Hebrew Scripture, Jesus’ purpose for his earthly ministry is wrapped up in this formula: “I have come to fulfill them.”
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In Matthew’s narrative, the term “fulfill” (pleroo) has already become an important indicator of Jesus’ significance in God’s historical program, because Jesus’ life and ministry fulfill Old Testament prophecies and expectations.
- Throughout the New Testament, various other writers also point to the way that Jesus fulfills, for example, the Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king.
- But here Jesus points in an additional direction when he declares that he has come to fulfill all of Old Testament Scripture.
The idea of “fulfillment” is more than his obedience, although that is included. The context, especially as worked out in the “antitheses” to follow, indicates that Jesus not only fulfills certain anticipated roles, but also that his interpretation of the Scriptures completes and clarifies God’s intent and meaning through it. Everything that the Old Testament intended to communicate about God’s will and hopes and future for humanity finds its fullest meaning in Jesus. Jesus has come to actualize the Scripture and take his disciples to a deeper understanding of its intended meaning—and this in distinction from many Jewish leaders, who have misunderstood and misapplied the Scripture’s intent.
What did this mean to his followers at that time? What was Jesus trying to communicate? Here is some great insight from Barney Kasdan. Rabbi Barney Kasdan Rabbi Barney Kasdan has been a believer in Yeshua since 1971 and is the founding Rabbi of Kehilat Ariel Messianic Synagogue since 1981. He holds degrees from Biola University (BA History), Talbot School of Theology (M.Div.) and completed one year of graduate studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.:
These verses give us a vital clarification of Yeshua’s interpretations of Torah. Undoubtedly, the strong message of Yeshua’s early ministry would cause some to question his ultimate objective. He already perceived that some, especially in the rabbinic community, were seeing his message as a theological threat to Judaism or even to the Scriptures themselves. As the Messiah reveals his interpretation of the Torah, he feels the need to clarify his position in regard to the earlier revelations given to Israel.
By his own words, Yeshua is not bringing a new teaching or new Torah to his people; he is coming to complete the covenants that were previously given. The word “complete” (Greek plerao) is not used here in the sense of destroying something or making an end. It is better understood as completing or reaching a goal. Rabbi Sha’ul uses the same word to exhort the believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:18). The idea is to fill up like a sail on a boat.
It has been an unfortunate tendency in some Christian theologies to deprecate or devalue the Torah. Although the Torah must be used in a proper way, the Messianic Jewish view is that Torah becomes all the more beautiful when we find the completion of the picture in Yeshua. For this reason, many Messianic Jews appreciate our God-given heritage even more than we did before we understood the place of Yeshua in our Jewish faith.
As if to emphasize the importance of this teaching, Yeshua elaborates even further. Yes indeed! (Hebrew ameyn) not even a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished. The yud is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The stroke (Hebrew tag) is the smallest extension of a letter. In Hebrew, the difference of a tag can change the whole meaning of a word, as in the case of a dalet or a resh (cf. Echad/one or Acher/another) in Deuteronomy 6:4. Not only does Yeshua respect the message of Torah, but he is not advocating altering one of the smallest letters or even the part of a letter. He could not have emphasized his regard for Torah in stronger terms. Although there is considerable debate today about the inspiration of Scripture, the teaching of Yeshua makes it abundantly clear where he stood on the issue. All Scripture (indeed every letter!) is directly from God. Messiah’s followers today (both Jew and non-Jew) would do well to hold such a high regard for the entire Word today.
He goes on to uphold the relevance of Torah by warning that whoever disobeys its message will be called the least in the Kingdom. The concept of heavier and lighter commandments is a common theme in the rabbinic understanding of Torah. For example, a lighter commandment would be freeing a mother bird in nature, whereas a heavier commandment would be to honor one’s parents (cf. Tractate Kiddushin 61b).
Yeshua teaches here that just as there are heavier and lighter commandments, there are also heavier and lighter people in the Kingdom of God. This parallels the situation with the pagan king Belshazzar, who was weighed by God and found to be light (cf. Daniel 7:25). Lest Yeshua’s disciples begin to think they can enter the kingdom through their own power of obedience to Torah, he states a rather shocking truth. Unless their righteousness is far greater than that of the top rabbis and observant Pharisees, they themselves have no hope of entering Messiah’s kingdom. This seems to be the general principle (klal) of Yeshua’s perspective on Torah. If we must have more righteousness than even the most religious and observant Jews, we indeed are in great trouble.
Here we are reminded of one of the clear purposes of the Sermon on the Mount. While we can glean much about life from Yeshua’s teaching, the bottom-line truth is that we all will fall short of fulfilling these exalted values. Perhaps it is ironic that the Sermon on the Mount is given not so that we can earn our place in Messiah’s kingdom, but that we will realize our desperate need for all that the Mashiach offers. As Rabbi Sha’ul would say, “He delivered us … not on the ground of any righteous deeds we had done, but on the ground of his own mercy” (cf. Titus 3:5). Messianic Judaism can appreciate the special place of Torah as a guide, while leaning on the work of Yeshua for our spiritual salvation. Ultimately, he is the only hope for Jew and Gentile alike. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:17–18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 Wilkins, M. J. (2004). Matthew (pp. 227–229). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
 Kasdan, B. (2011). Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary (pp. 51–53). Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers.
Frank Hubeny said:
Good reminder that Jesus is “the only hope for Jew and Gentile alike”.
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Thanks for the good article, Michael! Some misguidedly believe Jesus had/has little or no connection to the Old Testament Law, but He was/is the perfect fulfillment of the Law. Only He with His perfect obedience to the Law as the sinless sacrifice could redeem us.
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Grateful Jesus fulfilled the Law. Also good discussions about the Law with the weightier and less weighty laws
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