Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 5:17). Many people thought that Jesus came to abolish the Law. The verb, “abolish” (kataluo), means, “do away with, annul, make invalid” (Gingrich) They thought that Jesus came to annul the Law. But Jesus said, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law.” The Law and the Prophets here refer to the Old Testament. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Don’t think that I have come to do away with God’s will in the Scriptures.”
Then Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” The word, “fulfill” (pleroo), literally means, “fill, make full.” (Gingrich) We must grasp the verb, “fulfill,” in the context of Matthew. How did Matthew present Jesus’ ministry in relation to the Law? In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew shows Jesus as the messianic interpreter of the Law (Matt. 12:1-7; 15:1-20; 19:1-12). Jesus is the God-authorized Interpreter of God’s Word. Thus, Jesus has come to fulfill the Law. He has come to give the full meaning of the Law. He has come to interpret the true spirit of the Law. He has come to reveal the full meaning of God’s will in the Law. In so doing, Jesus has come to confirm its true meaning.
For example, let us look at vv. 27-28. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). The letter of the Law says, “Do not commit adultery.” To commit adultery is to lie down with another man’s wife. But the spirit of the Law says, “Do not look at a woman lustfully.” If you do, you commit adultery. That is the full meaning of the Law, the true spirit of the Law.
Jesus fulfilled the Law by giving the right interpretation of the Law. Jesus has not come to annul the Law, but to give its true meaning. Jesus is not saying that He will interpret the full letter of the Law. He is saying that He will interpret the full spirit of the Law.
Jesus mentions the “Law or Prophets” for the first time in Matthew. Then He connects, “I have come,” with the “Law or Prophets.” This is a very significant statement. It signifies the messianic mission of Jesus in relation to the Law. Jesus’ messianic mission is to fulfill God’s will in the Law. The coming of Jesus shall reveal the true spirit of the Law. Conversely, the Law will be rightly taught in the coming of Jesus. Jesus has come; the kingdom has come. Thus, Jesus must interpret the Law in this crucial moment in history.
God’s Word is important to Jesus’ life and mission. What is the role of God’s Word in your beliefs, values, and plans? Do you live your life by the teachings of God’s Word?