Read again Matthew 5:17-20. How interesting that Jesus would greatly emphasize the law here, while at the same time making the statement that He did about the scribes and Pharisees, who so greatly emphasized the law, as well. What important lesson does this passage teach about true obedience to the law?
Jesus begins this section with the assurance that He has not come to abolish
the Law or the Prophets (Matt. 5:17, NKJV). Although there is no reference to it, many see this as a formulaic expression for the entire Old Testament (see also Matt. 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, Acts 13:15, 24:14, Rom. 3:21). In spite of what His opponents claimed, Jesus did not attack the very book that revealed the will of His Father. Instead, His purpose was to
fulfill the law and the prophets, not to do away with them.
The word used for
fulfill (plero) literally means to
fill up, or
complete. It carries the sense of
filling to the brim. There are two ways to understand fulfill. One is to place the emphasis on Jesus as being the fulfillment of Scripture (for example, Luke 24:25-27, John 5:39). However, the key to understanding this text lies in the immediate context, which shows that Jesus did not come to destroy Scripture but to reveal its inner essence.
Having established His overall intent, Jesus switched emphasis from the Old Testament in general to the law in particular. Almost as if He knew that people would one day accuse Him of abolishing the law, He cautions that as long as heaven and earth remain, the law will exist until everything
is accomplished (Matt. 5:18, NIV). With this statement, Jesus confirms the perpetuity of the law.
In fact, the law is so important that all those who violate its precepts will be called
the least in the kingdom. This is just a way of saying that they are wrong in what they are doing. Jesus is quick to point out that He is not promoting the empty righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees but instead a righteousness springing from a heart that loves God and seeks to do His will.