Welcome to the second part of Red Bricks 2nd Course.
Read Matthew 5:17-20
In this text we see Yeshua make the first declaration of His credibility and of His purpose. Today, many teach that the Law, or Torah, to which He is referring was done away with at the Cross. This is a lie, borne mainly from ignorance than intentional deception.
The Law to which Yeshua refers is also known as the Law of Moses, or Torah (torah in Hebrew simply means law). Yeshua is being perfectly clear with those who are listening to Him, who would have all been Hebrews and understood (and lived by) Torah. His statement, which comes immediately before a series of instructions for interpreting the Law, is to qualify not only the law itself but, also part of His purpose of coming to the Hebrews.
Until that moment in time, for the previous 1400 years, the Hebrews had lived by Torah. This law had been given by God to His servant Moses, who had, in turn, given it to the Hebrews. Over the course of time, the priests and teachers of Torah had developed extra rules in addition to those that God had given Moses. This is known as the Oral Torah. It wasn’t written down like the Law given to Moses, but, instead, it had been left to men to declare what they believed Torah meant in practice. The result had been that the people had been burdened with rules and regulations that were impossible to keep. They had made what God intended as a guide for living together in peace, into burdens that the everyday people could never achieve. In other words, they had made a man-made religion and used their positions as priests and teachers to keep people trapped in empty rituals and practices that had never pleased God. They had tried to force the people to live by the letter of the Law, whilst failing to see that the heart of who God really is, was in the spirit of the Law all the time.
But, rather than announcing that He was coming to do away with or abolish the Law, Yeshua said He had come to fulfil it. It is this word, fulfil, that lays a foundation of ignorance which has led to teaching that says we need not concern ourselves with the Law. Let’s see why.
Most translations of the gospel of Matthew render what was written in the original Greek text as fulfil. To some extent this is right. However, it is our English understanding of what fulfil means that leads to ignorance. In the original Greek text the word that the translators render as fulfil is pleroo. This word, pleroo, can indeed mean to fulfil – to make complete or whole. But it also means to verify or to accomplish, which is more in line with what we already know of the purposes of God in sending His Son Yeshua to earth. If the intended meaning of fulfil was to do away with or complete, then the Greek manuscripts would have had the word teleo, which means to end or complete, rather than pleroo.
Let us paraphrase verse 17 to explain the meaning. Yeshua is speaking.
“Do not start thinking that I am here to do away with the Law, or to get rid of the Prophets; I have not come for that purpose. Instead, I have come to verify what the Prophets said about Me, and to show you that the Law can be accomplished as God intended it.”
Note that this paraphrase makes His statement clearer. It is important to get that foundation right because of what Yeshua is about to teach from here on in is an explanation of what the priests and teachers have made of the Law, and what God really intended all along.
Yeshua continues with His qualification of His purpose in verse 18 when He declares that not one stroke of the pen will disappear from the Law whilst heaven and earth still exist. Now, we know that heaven and earth will pass away, but not until after the final Judgement Day of God. Read about this in Revelation 21. So, what He is saying is that the Law will be needed and used right up until the coming of the new heaven and new earth. You may ask why.
The reason is really quite simple. We benefit from understanding who God is from the gospel or revelation of Yeshua the Christ. And we will be judged upon how we have responded to that message. Prior to the coming of the Christ, however, the Hebrews gained their understanding of who God is through the Law of Moses. And they will be judged on that basis. The Law has to remain in place because it is what will be used to judge the Hebrews who lived before the coming of Yeshua in the flesh.
Yeshua says (in verse 18) that none of the Law will disappear until everything has been accomplished. Some will teach that when He said upon the Cross “It is finished” (John 19:30), He was referring to the accomplishment of the Law. This is not true. The Law will continue while heaven and earth continue.
Now, the notion of the Law still being operational leaves a problem for many Christians, so it is now an appropriate time to give a little overview of the commandments of God which we call the Law or Torah. God gave to Moses a total of 613 commandments. Some were positive (Do’s), and some were negative (Do Not’s). We will (hopefully) all know of the Ten Commandments. If you don’t, it will be as well if you were to familiarize yourself with them. You can find them in Exodus 20.
All, without exception, were given by God for the good of the whole nation of Isra’el. None were to be mean for the sake of being mean. They were there to help people live with each other. Many were practical for help whilst living in the desert for years. And a great deal relate to the Temple or Tabernacle and the priesthood, none of which exist today. What the Law was not intended to be was a list of commandments that, if you followed them, would get you into heaven. However, over time, that is exactly what man made them into. As is so often the case with men, they promoted the idea that righteousness could be achieved by strictly observing the Law. Righteousness comes from God alone. We are given righteousness by God as a gift for trusting in Him and His words. More specifically, trusting in the person of Yeshua.
On a practical basis, it is worth noting that all of the Law that relates to the Temple, Tabernacle, and the priesthood cannot be observed without a temple or tabernacle. Nor can those commandments that relate to living in the desert be observed, because that was for then and not for now. If you read Torah (the first five books of the Bible) carefully, it reads as if God gave Moses a large set of rules when they first crossed the Red Sea. Then, after forty years of wandering around in the desert, God told Moses to give the Hebrews another, smaller version of the Law. You can find this in the book of Deuteronomy. The word Deuteronomy means the Second Law. What you are currently studying is effectively Yeshua giving a third law, or rather a reminder of what God really meant when He gave the Second Law, before the teachers of the Law corrupted it.
Let us be clear on this. No one is suggesting that any Christian should start going through the Law to see what still applies. Nor is anyone suggesting that a legalistic observance of the Law is what we should be doing. The Law is all part of the Old Covenant given to the Hebrews. Yeshua came not to do away with it but to bring about the start of the New Covenant. Until the coming of the new heaven and earth as described in Revelation 21, we are, in fact, between the two covenants.
In explaining this to early Jewish believers, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, points out that we have not yet reached the New Covenant, as described in Jeremiah chapter 31, but what we see now, in terms of the old Covenant, is fading away and will be replaced in the fullness of time. Read chapter 8 in particular. The chapter finishes with the following verse:
“By calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear.” [Hebrews 8:13]
This only serves to strengthen the concept that Yeshua spoke of in the text from Matthew – The old remains until all things have been accomplished.
And to empathize this point further, Yeshua continues to say of that Law that if you break even the least of all the commandments and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Note that whoever does this will still get into the kingdom, but only just. The word that is rendered as break, by the way, is lyo, which means to loosen or to melt. In other words, what Yeshua was saying that if you try to water down the Law and you teach others to do the same, then when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness you won’t be able to expect much responsibility.
But, the exact opposite is true of anyone who practices the Law as it is meant to be practiced and especially so if they encourage others to do the same. We must be careful not to exclude anything from the Law without first seeking what God’s real intention was when He first gave the Law to Moses. The place which Yeshua was pointing all of us to, is His example. He neither followed the traditions of men, nor lived without the Law. Instead, by loving God with all of His heart, He showed us that God’s Law will be in us.
Yeshua then uses a very visible example of the Pharisees, who were a religious sect of Judaism, and those teachers of the Law, who often wrote their own rules. He said that unless our righteousness surpasses theirs, we will not even get into the Kingdom of Heaven, let alone be considered great once there.
Note that these religious leaders who Yeshua was attacking believed and taught others that righteousness was attained by following the rules they had made. As we shall see clearly, Yeshua and God, Himself, measure righteousness not based upon what man does outwardly, but instead on what is in the hearts of people. God had never intended righteousness to be achieved through ritual or rules. From the very beginning, He had always intended that we should achieve righteousness solely through trusting faithfully in God. Nothing else.
Read the account of Abraham in Genesis chapter 15. It tells us that because Abraham believed what God had said, God considered him to be righteous.
Before we move onto the next set of Yeshua’s teaching, please note that what He said in verses 17-20 of Matthew chapter 5 lay the foundation. The Law isn’t obsolete or finished. We shouldn’t ignore it but we should believe, faithfully, everything that comes from the mouth of God.