Pastor David B. Curtis

HOME | STUDY INDEX

The Law is Fulfilled

Matthew 5:17-18

Delivered 09/15/2002

A preacher by the name of Wilbur Reese once preached a message in which he presented a listener's guide to sermons. Reese stated that sermons ought to be rated in much the same way that movies were rated.

"G" sermons are messages that are generally acceptable to everyone, they contain phrases such as "Go ye into all the world and smile" or "What the world needs is peace, motherhood, and fewer taxes." Sermons such as these are often greeted with the response "Oh wasn't that marvelous?", or "That was simply wonderful." Every one loves a good "G" message, and they will never offend anyone. There are some people who would refuse to listen to a message that wasn't rated "G"

"PG" sermons are for more mature congregations, and they have mild suggestions for change, but they're subtle enough to allow the preacher to back peddle and change his meaning if he finds that he has inadvertently offended someone. An example of a brilliant "PG" statement would be, "The either/or of the existential situation provides a plethora of alternatives, both specific and non-specific. When one grasps the eschatological aspect of incarnationial Christology." You know that someone has preached a message like this when people walk away in wonderment shaking their heads and saying things like, "That was deep, most thought provoking." Of course if you've done a "PG" sermon really well, nobody actually knows what you said, but nobody is willing to admit it.

Then there are the "R" rated sermons; this is when the Preacher tells it like it is. These usually indicate that the pastor has an outside source of income and a fairly healthy self image. Sermons like these are usually followed by comments such as, "Disturbing or controversial." These sermons definitely aren't intended for everyone, only for those who wish to be challenged in their spiritual walk.

And then there are the "X-rated" sermons. These are the explosive ideas of the kind that got the prophet Amos run out of town, and Jeremiah thrown into the well; that is Jeremiah the prophet not Jeremiah the Bullfrog. When you preach an "X-rated" sermon", you preach them with your suitcase packed and the moving van ready. Comments range from, "Shocking and disgraceful" to "Being in poor taste".

The message that I am going to preach today would be classified by many Christians as "shocking". But it's not my message that is shocking, it is the words of Jesus that are really shocking. D. A. Carson, in his commentary on The Sermon On The Mount says, "Matthew 5:17-20 are among the most difficult verses in all the Bible." Please look carefully at what Jesus said:

Matthew 5:17-18 (NKJV) "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.

What is Christ saying here? Look at it carefully. He said that he did not come to destroy but to fulfill the law. Some questions that we need to ask are, "What is the Law? What is destroy verses fulfill. What is heaven and earth? What does "pass away" mean? What is a jot and tittle?

Let's start by attempting to answer the question, "What does Jesus mean by 'the law'?" Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but fulfill" - The use of the terms "the law" and "the prophets" indicates that what the Lord is speaking of in these verses is the whole of the Old Testament. If you trace these terms through your Bible, you will find that wherever this expression is used it includes the entire Old Testament:

Matthew 7:12 (NKJV) "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 11:13 (NKJV) "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
Matthew 22:40 (NKJV) "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

The "law" and "the prophets" speak of the entirety of the Old Testament.

One Commentator writes, "Exactly what did Christ here signify by 'the law'? We answer, unhesitatingly, The whole Jewish Law, which was threefold: ceremonial, judicial, and moral. The ceremonial described rules and ordinances to be observed in the worship of God; the judicial described ordinances for the government of the Jewish commonwealth, and the punishment of offenders: the former was for the Jews only; the latter primarily for them, yet concerned all people in all times so far as it tended to establish the moral Law. The moral Law is contained in the Ten Commandments."

He goes on to say, "The ceremonial law has not been destroyed by Christ, but the substance now fills the place of its shadows. Nor has the judicial law been destroyed: though it has been abrogated unto us so far as it was peculiar to the Jews, yet, as it agrees with the requirements of civic justice and mercy, and as it serves to establish the precepts of the moral law, it is perpetual--herein we may see the blasphemous impiety of the popes of Rome, who in the canons have dared to dispense with some of the laws of consanguinity in Leviticus 18. While the moral law remains for ever as a rule of obedience to every child of God, as we have shown so often in these pages."

Did you notice that he divided the law into three categories: moral, judicial (civil), and ceremonial. This started with Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) back in the 13th century, and most Christians seem to have adopted this division. The problem with this is that there is nothing in Scripture to support the idea that the Law should be divided into three parts, such as the ceremonial Law, the civil Law and the moral Law. Most teach that God has done away with the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law but not with the moral aspect of the Law. Such a distinction is not drawn anywhere in the Scriptures. The Law is viewed as a unit or as a whole. James said that anyone who breaks one point of the Law, breaks the whole Law.

James 2:10 (NKJV) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

No distinction is made between different types of the Law. The Old Testament Jews who violated a ceremonial aspect of the Law were morally guilty of sin before God. Therefore, the moral and ceremonial aspects went together.

Even if this division was legitimate, it's not clear what "moral" means. Who determines what is moral and what is civil or ceremonial?

Alright, so when Jesus uses the term "law", he is most likely referring to the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures. What does Jesus say here about the Old Testament?

Matthew 5:18 (NKJV) "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.

The NKJV "Assuredly, I say to you" is the updated rendering of the KJV, "Verily, I say unto you." This phrase carried great significance, since it prepared the listener that something of great importance was about to be communicated on the authority of the teacher.

What is a "jot or title"? The word "jot" in form was like an apostrophe, not even a letter, not much bigger than a dot. The "tittle" is the little projecting part at the foot of a letter, the little line at each side of the foot of , for example, the letter "t". The message is clear. Not even the smallest part of the law will be abolished until heaven and earth passes away.

The phrase "till heaven and earth pass away" refers to the duration of the whole Old Testament's authority. So, Jesus is saying that not a single item of the Law - the Old Testament - will ever be changed until heaven and earth pass away. Is that what Jesus said? Please notice that the word "till" occurs twice. And it is the first "till" that most people ignore.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his commentary on The Sermon On The Mount, writes, "The first proposition is that God's law is absolute; it can never be changed, not even modified to the slightest extent. It is absolute and eternal. Its demands are permanent, and can never be abrogated or reduced 'till heaven and earth pass'. That last expression means the end of the age." He also says, "What is meant by 'the law' and 'the prophets'? The answer is, the whole of the Old Testament."

So, what Lloyd-Jones is saying is that the whole Old Testament is binding on all Christians. Do any of you have a problem with that?

Lloyd-Jones is not the only one who teaches that. Gregg Bahnsen, in his book, Theonomy and Christian Ethics, says on page 73-74, "It is the point of slightness that Jesus is bringing forcefully before us. Not even the very least extensive number of the very least significant aspect of the Old Testamental law will become endowed until heaven and earth pass away. It is hard to imagine how Jesus could have more intently affirmed that EVERY BIT of the old law remains binding in the gospel age."

Is that what Jesus was saying? Look at it again:

Matthew 5:18 (NKJV) "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.

Let's look at some Old Testament passages and see if we agree that they are binding on us today. Let me ask you a question, "Is it a sin for a Christian to get a tattoo?

Leviticus 19:28 (NKJV) 'You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.

Is this binding on us? Bahnsen says, "...EVERY BIT of the old law remains binding in the gospel age." This is part of the Law, and it is either binding on us or Heaven and earth have passed away. I see no other alternatives.

How many of you like shell fish? How many of you eat shell fish?

Leviticus 11:9-12 (NKJV) 'These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers; that you may eat. 10 'But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. 11 'They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination. 12 'Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales; that shall be an abomination to you.

Now, according to Jesus, it is a sin for us to eat shell fish unless heaven and earth have passed away.

Leviticus 20:7-8 (NKJV) 'Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. 8 'And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

In order to be holy, we are to keep these commands:

Leviticus 20:13-18 (NKJV) 'If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 14 'If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. 15 'If a man mates with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 'If a woman approaches any animal and mates with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood is upon them. 17 'If a man takes his sister, his father's daughter or his mother's daughter, and sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a wicked thing. And they shall be cut off in the sight of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness. He shall bear his guilt. 18 'If a man lies with a woman during her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has exposed her flow, and she has uncovered the flow of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from their people.

If "every bit" of the Old Testament is to be observed by Christians today, then not only are we to kill people for these various sins, but please notice that along with homosexuality and bestiality is the sin of having sex with a woman who is having her period. Now it is either a sin to have sex with your wife while she is having her period, or heaven and earth have passed away.

Exodus 23:14-17 (NKJV) "Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: 15 "You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); 16 "and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field. 17 "Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

Let me ask you, "How many of you have ever observed these feasts?" To not keep these feasts is to sin. This is either binding on us or what? Heaven and earth have passed away.

In the Church today, many teach that believers are commanded to tithe - that is they are to give ten percent of their income to the church. I heard a radio preacher say, "I have doubts that a person who does not tithe is a Christian." He also said, "One who does not tithe is under the condemnation of God." If we are still under the "law," he is somewhat right. I say somewhat because the Old Testament actually teaches three tithes:

1. THE LEVITE'S TITHE.

We are told in Numbers that the tithe was collected and given to the Levites:

Numbers 18:21 (NKJV) "Behold, I have given the CHILDREN OF LEVI ALL THE TITHES IN ISRAEL as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.

The Levites didn't have the privilege of a piece of property that they could work to make their living like the other tribesmen. They were to do the Lord's work in the tabernacle and temple, and so God provided for their needs. Old Covenant Israel was a Theocracy - a government by the rule of God, mediated through the priests. So, the tithe was collected to support the government, it was taxation, and it was mandatory!

2. THE FESTIVAL TITHE.

Deuteronomy 14:22-35 (NKJV) "You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 "And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.

This is a second tithe. It was taken to the central sanctuary for the Feast sacrifices. It was to promote unity. So, we have the Levites tithe and the Festival tithe; that comes to 20%. There was also one other:

3. POOR TITHE.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 (NKJV) "At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 "And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Once every three years there was a special additional income tax in order to take care of the poor in the land. This was the "poor tithe" or "welfare tithe." They were also to leave the corners of their fields unharvested for the poor. Their tithe worked out to about 25% per year. Now, how many of you are giving 25% of your income to the Lord? If you are not giving 25% of your income to the Lord, you're in sin unless heaven and earth have passed away.

Let me just say here that the New Testament teaches that Christians are to give to the Lord proportionately to what they have:

1 Corinthians 16:2 (NKJV) On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, STORING UP AS HE MAY PROSPER, that there be no collections when I come.

We are to give according to how we have prospered. It's not difficult to compute 10% of one's income; but how much is "as he may prosper?" It is neither a specific amount nor a particular percentage.

The New Testament also teaches that we are go give to support those who teach us the Word of God:

Galatians 6:6 (NKJV) Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.

Alright, the commercial for giving is over, let's get back to our message.

What about the Sabbath? Do you keep the Sabbath?

Exodus 20:9-10 (NKJV) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.

You do know that the Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, don't you?

Numbers 15:32-35 (NKJV) Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp."

How many of you did some work on Saturday? You're in sin and should be put to death or this doesn't apply to us because heaven and earth passed away.

What about the sacrificial system? Have any of you sacrificed lately? Have you sinned lately? If you have sinned, then you should have sacrificed an animal:

Numbers 15:22-25 (NKJV) 'If you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments which the LORD has spoken to Moses; 23 'all that the LORD has commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day the LORD gave commandment and onward throughout your generations; 24 'then it will be, if it is unintentionally committed, without the knowledge of the congregation, that the whole congregation shall offer one young bull as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one kid of the goats as a sin offering. 25 'So the priest shall make atonement for the whole congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them, for it was unintentional; they shall bring their offering, an offering made by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their unintended sin.

When is the last time you offered up a burnt offering? Let's say that you wanted to, and you had the animal for the sacrifice; where would you find a priest?

Numbers 3:5-7 (NKJV) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 6 "Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. 7 "And they shall attend to his needs and the needs of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of meeting, to do the work of the tabernacle.

The Levitical priests were a special class of qualified ministering priests chosen from among the tribe of Levi. If you can't find a Levitical priest, then you cannot keep the law:

Hebrews 7:11 (NKJV) Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?

The "if" is a second class condition meaning: "If and it's not." Perfection did not come through the Levitical priesthood. The parenthetical statement, "for under it the people received the law...." is a reminder of the close interdependence between the priestly and the legal systems. "Under it" - is literally: "on the basis of it." The law and the priesthood belonged together for the simple reason that, since the law, representing the divinely ordered standard of conduct and character was universally broken (Romans 3:9-23). There was a continuous necessity for the ministry of reconciliation, which the Levitical priesthood provided, even though imperfectly.

The writer is saying that the Mosaic Law was given in order to validate the Levitical priesthood. If the Levitical priesthood is taken out of the Mosaic Law, nothing of meaning is left. Why? Because the whole purpose of having a religious system is to bring people into a personal relationship with the living God. If there are no priests to represent the people, then there is no reason to have a religious system.

It is very important that we understand what the writer is communicating in this verse. The concept is that the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law are inseparable. If someone wanted to incorporate the Mosaic Law into their religious system today, they would also have to incorporate the Levitical priesthood, because it was the basis for the Mosaic Law. So, if there is no levitical priesthood today, then the Old Testament law cannot be obeyed, and we are all in sin unless heaven and earth passed away.

The Mosaic Law is a unit. It exists as a unit or not at all. This notion that the Mosaic Law can be sliced and diced into ceremonial, civil, and moral is not one that you will find anywhere in the Bible. All of the Mosaic Law is "moral" in all of its aspects, right down to the stipulations about fabrics, etc. There is no such animal as "the moral law".

One writer says this, "In other words, the whole Old Testament is authoritative until the age to come. In verse 18b, the words "one jot or one tittle" refer to the extent of the Old Testament's authority. By that Matthew means the whole Old Testament is authoritative between the two advents of Christ down to its minute details. According to Matthew 5:17, 18, the Law and the Prophets (the whole Old Testament) have their place under the administration of Christ under the New Covenant."

My question to him would be, "How is the New Covenant different form the Old?" And how do you keep the law without the priesthood, and how do you have a priesthood when there are no genealogical records to determine who is a Levite?

Jesus said:

Matthew 5:17 (NKJV) "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

The word "destroy" comes from the Greek word kataluo, which has the idea of: "destroy or dissolve." Matthew uses this word four times in his gospel; as we look at the other three we can clearly see its meaning:

Matthew 24:2 (NKJV) And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down [kataluo]."
Matthew 26:61 (NKJV) and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy [kataluo] the temple of God and to build it in three days.'"
Matthew 27:40 (NKJV) and saying, "You who destroy [kataluo] the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."

The Jewish temple was completely destroyed in AD 70.

Jesus said that he didn't come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. What does it mean to fulfill the law? The word "fulfill" is from the Greek word pleroo, which has a wide range of meanings:"satisfy, execute (an office), finish (a period or task), verify (or coincide with a prediction (be) complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfill, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply."

There are several ways in which Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament. Christ fulfilled the Law by obeying it perfectly, by carrying out every one of the righteous demands of the Law. On one occasion He asked, "Which one of you convicts Me of sin?" (John 8:46), to which no one responded affirmatively. He was the sinless Lamb of God and was without spot or blemish. Therefore, He fulfilled the Law by perfectly meeting its righteous demands.

Christ also fulfilled the Law by fulfilling all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. All of the illustrations in the Old Testament sacrificial system focus on and find their fulfillment in Him. All of the prophecies given regarding the coming Messiah, His kingdom, and His salvation find their fulfillment in Him.

The ultimate way that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, the one which gets the greatest emphasis in the New Testament, is that He met the righteous demands of the Law in providing salvation through His death on the cross. Thus He has fulfilled the Law and brought it to completion by paying the penalty for our sins.

Again, if we look at Matthew's use of this word "fulfill" it will help us understand exactly what he means:

Matthew 1:21-23 (NKJV) "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled [pleroo] which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
Matthew 2:15 (NKJV) and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled [pleroo] which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."
Matthew 2:17 (NKJV) Then was fulfilled [pleroo] what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
Matthew 2:23 (NKJV) And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled [pleroo] which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Matthew 26:56 (NKJV) "But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled [pleroo]." Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.

Seventeen times Matthew uses the word pleroo and in fifteen of them it clearly refers to prophecy being fulfilled or coming to pass. The law, which we read in the Old Testament and everything that has been said by the prophets, was going to be fulfilled by Jesus down to the minutest detail. And until it was all fulfilled, it was binding on the people of God.

The law has been fulfilled:

Hebrews 7:18 (NKJV) For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness,

This is truly an amazing statement. God is promising to set aside the Mosaic Law and the Levitical system. The word "annulling" is from the Greek verb athetesis. It is a legal term that points to the complete cancellation of the commandment in question - the Mosaic law. The same verb is used in 9:26 translated: "putting away".

Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away [athetesis] sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

The disappearance of the Mosaic law is as absolute as the putting away of sin.

The purpose of the Law is stated in Galatians 3 where it is indicated that the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and to serve as a tutor or schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Paul says in Galatians 3 that now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the schoolmaster. Now that Christ has come and the Law has been brought to its completion, the Law has been fulfilled in Christ:

Galatians 3:24-26 (NKJV) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Has the Law, the Old Covenant, been fulfilled in Christ? I don't know of any Christians who would say that every single Old Testament ceremonial law is still currently in force. Yet Jesus said that heaven and earth absolutely had to pass away before the slightest letter of the Law could be fulfilled. Thus, if the Law has been fulfilled, the heaven and earth Jesus spoke of must be already taken out of the way.

We can tell that Jesus obviously was NOT speaking of the literal earth He was standing on and the literal heavens He was standing under. If we understand heaven and earth in that passage to be physical, then the Law is still in effect, and we are all in big trouble. If we understand heaven and earth as figurative, then it is possible that they have passed along with the Law. We'll look at this next week.

Believer, I want you to understand that the law was a whole, and it was all in effect until it all passed away. Does this mean that we are free to do whatever we want? No, as believers we are not under the Old Covenant Law, but we are under the Law of Christ:

1 Corinthians 9:21 (NKJV) to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;
Galatians 6:2 (NKJV) Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

The Old Covenant is over, and we are living in the New Covenant age. Jesus Christ is our Lord, and we are to live in a way that honors Him. We are to be salt and light.

Media #254b

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322