Christ and the Law | Matthew 5:17-20


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 scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one an-other: just as I have love you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)


If Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is essentially a citizen’s handbook to the kingdom of heaven, then we have already broadly addressed the citizen’s character and purpose. The Beatitudes first display the expected character of Christ’s disciples. Showing meekness or mercy goes against the world’s ideals, but Christ’s kingdom turns our expectations upside-down. Jesus then defined Christians’ purpose by calling us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They are astounding metaphors! Like salt preserves meat, so do His follows preserve the world from completely decaying into sin. Like light dispels darkness, so must we shine as the light in a world lost in darkness.

Jesus now moves the discussion to the Law, the Old Testament. He opens by claiming that He has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. This would have been a genuine fear for many who saw Him. The Law forbade the touching of anyone infected with leprosy, but Jesus touched and healed them. Work was forbidden on the Sabbath, yet Jesus healed many people during Sabbath. But Jesus probably said this primarily as a disclaimer to the remainder of chapter 5. Having positioned Himself upon a mountain (like Moses), Jesus spends verses 21-48 citing the Old Testament commandments only to replace them with His own.

Most Jews would have seen Jesus’ declarations as being blasphemous against God’s Law given to Moses. But Jesus defends Himself in our present text. His replacing of the Old Testament commandments is not their abolishment but rather their fulfillment. Jesus goes so far as to claim that not one pen stroke of the Old Testament will pass away until all is accomplished. Jesus loves the Law because being God, He wrote it. Thus, we must be vigilant to learn that the Old Testament is as valuable and beneficial as the New Testament for us because Christ has brought the promises of the Law to completion on our behalf.

Read verse 17 and discuss the following.

  1. Why would the Israelites of Jesus’ day have thought that Jesus came to abolish the Law and Prophets?
  2. In what ways did Jesus fulfill (or complete) the Old Testament Scriptures?

Read verses 18-19 and discuss the following.

  1. What are some examples of the “least of these commandments”?
  2. How do we obey the least of the Old Testament commandments in Christ today?

Read verse 20 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Jesus use the scribes and Pharisees as examples of righteousness?
  2. How can our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees?


  • Obey. Consider your intentions behind obeying the commandments in the Bible. Do you obey because of the consequences of disobedience? Or do you obey because you love God and love others?
  • Pray. Consider how you read the Old Testament commandments. Do you read them as a system of rules to obey in order to please God? Or do you see them as outdated laws from a bygone era? Pray to read the Old Testament laws instead knowing that Christ has perfectly fulfilled each of them for us and that His New Covenant completes them.

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