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 tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
In clear, terse, and potent language, Jesus clarifies his posture toward the Torah and reveals how we are to live in the age of fulfillment. Our discipleship is rooted in a singular claim: Jesus is the messianic completion of the entire history of God’s ways with Israel (the Law and the Prophets). Discipleship is about living under the teachings of the Messiah.
Jesus makes an astounding claim here. His use of aorist tenses in verse 17 captures the major actions in four simple photos: “think,” “came to destroy” (twice), “fulfill.” These verbal forms are summary aorists (aorists that capture action as a whole), which together make one profound point: Jesus brings to completion everything the Torah said (and tried to say) and everything the Prophets said and predicted. (See Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14.)
Jesus’ claim is rooted in Scripture. What verse 18 teaches is not that the Torah is permanent and unchangeable as originally given, but the Torah (and the Prophets) are permanent as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That is, those who truly follow Jesus do all that the Torah and the Prophets want for God’s people. This posture of Jesus does not undermine Torah observance but expands obedience to its fullest proportions. We can reconfigure the logic in this way: not a dot or a dash will pass from the Torah (no Prophets this time) as long as heaven and earth exist. The next clause encapsulates the first one: heaven and earth’s passing away is the same as “until everything is accomplished.”
Jesus’ claim shapes discipleship. Our passage moves logically from a powerful gospel claim ( Jesus fulfills the whole lot!) to potent implications for how to follow Jesus as gospel-ized people. The simple inferential οὖν clarifies how we are to live out Jesus’ moral vision. Jesus outlines two categories of people. (1) Some loosen and teach (aorist subjunctives here emphasize contingency and simple action conceived as a whole) anything other than the fullness of God’s way; they will be called “least.” If we examine the term “least” in Matthew’s Gospel, we will conclude that “least” is a nice way of saying “condemned” (e.g., 13:47–50; 22:1–14). (2) Others do and teach (also aorist subjunctives to emphasize conditionality); they will be called “great” (eternally approved by God).
Discipleship means separation. Since final judgment is connected to one’s observance of the Torah as fulfilled in Jesus, one’s “righteousness” (i.e., observance of God’s will as taught by Jesus) must transcend (“greatly exceed”) that of the Pharisees and scribes, whose “righ teous ness” is Moses-alone, not the Jesus form of the Torah. Jesus is calling his followers to follow his teachings, not those of the scribes and Pharisees.
It’s all about Jesus. He fulfills the whole story, and that means his followers walk on a path walked by the Messiah.
—Scot McKnight, adapted from his contribution to Devotions on the Greek New Testament (J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn D. Verbrugge, Editors).
How to Use This Book
Devotions on the Greek New Testament offers you 52 reflections from top-notch New Testament scholars. These devotions will equip you for deep biblical study and instruction. Also, don’t miss the new companion book, Devotions on the Hebrew Bible.