What Jesus meant when He said, “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it”

Friday, June 10, 2011, Part 3

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18).

IDEA: Jesus abolished the Law by fulfilling it.

PURPOSE: To help listeners understand how Jesus abolished the Law by fulfilling it.

There is one sentence in the Sermon on the Mount that has proved to be one of the most difficult in the entire sermon. Jesus declared in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

I. What do you think Jesus meant by “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets?

“Fulfill” is used at least twelve times by Matthew, and the word points to something coming into being to which the Scripture pointed forward.

The Torah, then, isn’t God’s last word to His people, but it is in a sense provisional, looking forward to a time of complete fulfillment through the Messiah.

To paraphrase what Jesus is saying, “Far from wanting to set aside the Law and the Prophets, it is my role to bring into being that to which they pointed forward, to carry them into a new era of fulfillment.  The Law and the Prophets are still the authoritative Word of God, but their role will no longer be the same now that what they pointed forward to has come.”

II. How did Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets?

Jesus fulfilled many of the Old Testament prophecies:

Micah 5:3 said that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem and Jesus was.

Isaiah 53 sounded as if it was written after Jesus lived because it speaks of what the Messiah would do in dying, which Jesus did. It was actually written seven centuries before He lived.

Jesus “filled full” the Law and the Prophets. They were like a pencil sketch, but Jesus filled the sketches full as the portrait to which the sketches pointed.

Jesus’ life reflected the broad outlines of Israel’s history in the Old Testament.

His parents fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. When they returned, Matthew explained that it fulfilled Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”

Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River reflecting Israel’s journey through the Red Sea (Exodus 14).

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, as Israel had spent forty years in the wilderness. Moses told the people that God tested them to show “that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).  In Jesus’ forty days in the desert, Satan tempted Him, and Jesus quoted Moses’ words (Matthew 4:4) in response to Satan’s temptation to feed His hunger by turning a stone into bread.

Jesus’ death filled full what the Old Testament pointed to:

How did the Law deal with sin? The sacrifices taught the people that “sin brings punishment” and only blood and death can deliver someone from that punishment.

Whether we study the furnishings of the tabernacle or the temple, probe the passages about the Messiah in the Psalms, or delve into the details of Isaiah 53, we see Christ.

Just as the fetus is “filled full” in the adult human, so the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ’s words and works.