Matthew 5:17–20: Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus urged his disciples to let their “light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” So far, however, Jesus has not defined precisely what he means by these “good works” that will lead to the glory of the heavenly Father. In this next section, Jesus begins to explain these “good works” in the light of the law. In no uncertain terms, Jesus declares that he has not come to abolish the law, but rather to bring the entailments of the law to their ultimate completion. Indeed, as he will state in the strongest possible terms, Jesus came to fulfill the law.
1. What does Jesus say about his own relationship to the law (v. 17)? What is in view when Jesus speaks about “the Law or the Prophets”? What would it mean to “abolish” the law? Why might some mistakenly think that Jesus had come to abolish the law? What does it mean that Jesus has come to “fulfill” the law? How does this shape our understanding of Jesus’ teaching? How does this shape our understanding of Jesus’ mission?
2. What does Jesus say about the nature of the law (v. 18)? What should we understand by Jesus saying “truly” to begin this statement in v. 18? What does the statement about the passing away of heaven and earth teach us about the ongoing authority of the law? What does Jesus’ references about the iota and the dot teach us about the breadth of the law’s authority? What does Jesus insistence that the law will not “pass away” teach us about the height of the law’s authority?
3. What would it mean to relax the law (v. 19)? Why should we recognize this as an attitude, rather than an action? Why does Jesus warn so strongly against relaxing the law? In what ways does Jesus here reject distinctions of relative weightiness within the law? In what ways does Jesus affirm distinctions of relative weightiness within the law (cf. Matt. 23:23)? Who ultimately has the authority to call us great or least in the kingdom of heaven?
4. If the scribes and the Pharisees are not righteous enough to enter the kingdom of heaven, then who can stand before God’s righteous standard? Do you despair over what Jesus teaches here about your inability to meet God’s standard? What are some ways that you have tried to wiggle out of the full weight of the law’s condemnation against you? What does God really want from you, in light of your own guiltiness and helplessness before him?