“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” – Matthew 5:17 NASB
To say that this powerful verse has been misunderstood and misapplied in the last 25 years in Christendom is an understatement!
Thousands of people read Matthew 5:17 and believe that we’re completely free from observing those restrictive, legalistic, and impossible to attain Scriptures of the Old Testament. We have, therefore, relegated it to the margins of our Christian study, personal walks and teaching. This is rather grievous because without understanding and applying the Hebrew Bible, we cannot address the broader challenges in our society, let alone live a holistic Christian life. What I mean by holistic is not a privatized faith but an incarnational integration of truth into every arena of life.
One of the most important truths from Matthew 5:17 is that Christ came to “interpret” and to “demonstrate” how He obeyed the will of Elohim. By His actions He illuminated what it looked like to achieve God’s commands and promises. We know that by His triumph over death we have access to His Spirit by which we can now live our lives after the will of God and not the dictates of our flesh. We can obey God’s will and follow the ways of Yahweh as revealed in the Old Testament, which is also called the Scriptures with a capital “S.”
He was fulfilling prophecies not cancelling divine principles.
Jesus was neither giving a new law nor modifying the old, but rather explaining the true significance of the moral content of Moses’ law and the rest of the Old Testament. The law and the prophets speak of the entirety of the OT Scripture, not the rabbinical interpretations of them. As Christ followers we are exhorted to practice the behaviors that we are instructed to obey in the New Testament as well (see 1 John 5:3).
Christ was indicating that He is the fulfillment of the law in all its fulness. He fulfilled the moral law by keeping it perfectly. He fulfilled the ceremonial law by being the embodiment of everything the law’s types and symbols pointed to. And He fulfilled the judicial law by personifying God’s perfect justice.
Just because Christ obeyed the law perfectly does not mean that we ought not to attempt to keep His moral and judicial instructions, since we have the Holy Spirit who offers us His strength and power (see Act 1:8; 2 Corinthians 3:18) as well as our model we ought to emulate (John 14:12, 1 Corinthians 11:1).