Since heaven and earth are still here, does that mean that we have to keep the Laws of the Old Covenant? Did Jesus really say that He destroyed the law? And If I don’t observe the Laws of Moses, will I really be least in the kingdom of Heaven? Let’s find out!
In today’s blog, we will explore a specific portion of scripture that has been misused by false teachers; specifically, Judaizers who maintain that the Laws of Moses must still be kept today in addition to one’s faith in Jesus Christ in order to inherit eternal life. Some people teach this out of ignorance because they have been wrongfully taught, while others are intentionally deceptive. Nevertheless, people all over the world are currently being deceived by the twisting of verses in the Bible. While I was watching a video on YouTube, the person teaching attempted to say that the Laws of Moses are to be kept today, and that Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5:17-20 serve as proof of that fact… here is a disheartening comment that I read underneath their video as an example of the devastating effects that can happen as a result of the text being misinterpreted, it reads, “I needed to hear this, right at this minute. An hour ago I wrote a letter saying goodbye to my church saying, I think I have to follow what I read in the Bible. I feel alone and scared and needed to hear this.”
Notice that the commenter stated that they were leaving their church as a result of them being convinced that their church wasn’t teaching what was written in the bible. Now, I will not claim to know all of the details of the story as this person did not elaborate on any false doctrine that their church was teaching, but what I can say is that this person now believes a lie. I also wanted you to see that the commenter was in the weakened state of being alone and scared… and it was in this weak moment that satan took an opportunity to use this false doctrine to convince them that Jesus isn’t sufficient. This is what can happen if we as Christians fail to prepare and equip the church with the word of God. Many people join cults and false religions as a result of not having a full grasp on what they actually believe about God. Therefore, it is my hope that this small lesson will serve as a way to help equip the body of Christ and to dispel the lies taught concerning this text. Let’s get started!
In Matthew 5:17-20 it reads, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 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 till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Many false teachers have used this text in an attempt to enforce the Old Covenant laws as binding on people today. They use this verse to say that Jesus’ statements prove that the law is still intact, and that all that He was doing was clarifying its necessity to be kept. They also use verse 18 to say that not even one little portion of the law has been done away with. They arrive at that conclusion by misinterpreting Jesus’ statement that the law and the prophets will not pass away until heaven and earth is gone, to which they then conclude that since all prophecies in the Bible have yet to be fulfilled, then that somehow means that the Law should also still be enforced. They will then use verses 19-20 to say that if anyone says that the law is no longer binding on people today that they will be called least in the kingdom of heaven and will not inherit eternal life.
I hope that you can see that if you do not understand the text appropriately, then their argument and interpretation can sound convincing. Which is exactly what the apostle Paul warns us about in Ephesians 4:14 when he states, “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.” This is why we as teachers and leaders need to take the time to explain the bible accurately so as to ensure that people understand it and avoid deception. Let us examine the text more closely.
In verse 17 an important distinction is made by Jesus that you probably never noticed, and it’s okay. I didn’t notice it either when I was first taught this text in my old congregation prior to me becoming a Christian. In verse 17 Jesus makes the statement that he didn’t come to do away with the LAW or the PROPHETS. Notice that the law and the prophets are distinguished from one another. They are not one and the same! The Law here is speaking of every law and ordinance given to the children of Israel, while the mention of prophets here is speaking of the portions of scripture that follow the journey of numerous men who spoke for God in the Old Testament. In which many of them also prophesied of a future king and messiah. Though this may not seem like that much of an important distinction; I assure you that it is, as you will soon see. In verse 18 Jesus continues by stating, “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 till all is fulfilled.” Here is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Did you notice something that was missing from Jesus’ statement that we saw in verse 17? Notice that Jesus states that heaven and earth will not pass away until every LAW is fulfilled. It is important to notice this distinction because the passing away of heaven and earth in Jesus’ statement is tied to the law, not the prophets. It is of the utmost importance that you realize that Jesus did NOT say that heaven and earth will not pass away until the LAW AND PROPHETS are fulfilled; but rather, that they will not pass away until the LAW is fulfilled. Simply put, the earth and heavens will still be standing until the Law is fulfilled.
During the crucifixion of Jesus Christ He utters three very important words, “…it is finished…” The question we should ask is, What is finished? Well, we know that many prophecies concerning the return of Jesus Christ have yet to take place; so we know that He isn’t speaking of all the prophecies. When Jesus utters the words it is finished, the ‘it’ He is speaking about is the fulfillment of the Law’s requirements. In other words, while speaking to the children Israel He tells them that the earth and heavens will not pass away until He fulfills the Law’s requirements, which He did do before He died, and the heavens and the earth had not passed away.
Most false teachers will try to say that Christians teach that Jesus destroyed the law, or simply threw it away, but that isn’t what Christians teach. Jesus didn’t destroy the law, He fulfilled it. Fulfilling and destroying are two totally different concepts. For example, if I pay someone’s mortgage. I didn’t throw the contract away, I fulfilled its requirements. Since I fulfilled its requirements it would be foolish for someone to then say, that they have to still keep making payments. This is what many false teachers are asking their congregants to do to “ensure” their salvation. In other words, Christ is not sufficient in their worldview. Also, in verse 18 their misinterpretation places them in an indefensible position, notice that it states, “one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
If the false teachers are to maintain that Jesus is teaching that we today are still under the Old Law then that also means that they are still to keep every law in the Old Covenant, because Jesus did say every jot and tittle, which basically means every stroke of the pen, and last time I checked there are many jots and tittles in the Old Testament that they are guilty of breaking. Thereby, their own argument is self refuting, leaving the verse to only make contextual sense from the Christian worldview.
Let’s move on to verse 19. It states, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
The twisting of this scripture has caught many people off guard, and understandably so. I mean look at it. It plainly says that if we break even the smallest command we are guilty, but if we both keep and teach it, we are great. Again, what the false teachers do not want you to recognize is that there was a context to this verse. I want you to consider this; Jesus is speaking to those still under the Old Covenant Law! He had not yet died for their sins. Therefore, the Old Covenant Law was still binding to the children Israel at that time, and it would be contrary of Him to say that they were no longer under it when He Himself was still under the law.
Also, when you have moment, please take the time to read Matthew chapters 5-7, also known as the Sermon on the Mount; there you will notice that Jesus is doing something different from what the Pharisees and Sadducees have been doing. The Pharisees and Sadducees were always teaching that the law must be kept in order to be righteous in God’s sight, but Jesus elevates that teaching and states that in order for them to be righteous they would have to be as Holy as God. Thus, Jesus is taking the standard of the law far and above anyone’s grasp. Which is what He does in verse 20 of Matthew chapter 5 when He states, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In other words, if the children of Israel are to attain righteousness by their own effort then they would need to be more righteous than even the strictest Pharisee, who were for all intents and purposes just as guilty as anyone else. This leaves them with only one way to be saved—Jesus Christ!
In summary, if I were to make this as simple as possible I would say that Jesus fulfilled all of the law’s requirements that were placed on the children of Israel before heaven and earth passed away; every jot and tittle. Thereby keeping his promise, but the Old Covenant laws are not binding on people today, because if we really believe on the completed work of Christ we are already made righteous through Him, but if you try to attain that righteousness through the keeping of the law then you will be judged guilty by your inability to meet God’s standard. Honestly, I’d rather not take the chance, instead, I would rather place my faith on the one who kept the law perfectly. Jesus Christ.
Author: Jourdan Ortiz, Founder of Servant of Christ Ministries