Not Abolished, But Satisfied: Matthew 5:13-37

Focus Passage: Matthew 5:13-37 (NIV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 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.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Read Matthew 5:13-37 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

One thing that has both intrigued me and bothered me is where this post’s passage fits within Christianity today. It is found neatly within Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount”, but it seems to be mostly forgotten – or at least discounted by many.

In this passage Jesus directly tells everyone present (and those who read about this later): “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.” (v. 17-18)

There are two ideas present in these verses that some might confuse the meaning of. The first idea is “abolish”, which would be another way of saying “eliminate”, “get rid of”, or simply “erase.” The second idea is “fulfill”, which would be another way of saying “complete”, “accomplish”, or simply “satisfy”.

Now if Jesus “fulfilled” or “completed” the law, wouldn’t that be the same as “abolishing” or “eliminating” it?

This is what many people seem to think Jesus said, except that He is says the opposite: “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (v. 17)

This must mean that Jesus satisfied the Law’s requirements, while not really removing them – except that Jesus does suggest a time when the law will have elements of it that disappear. “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.” (v. 18)

In this passage, we get a picture of the time frame for the Law: it lasts for the length of heaven and earth and until everything is accomplished. Jesus accomplished a righteous sacrifice that paved the way for us to be saved while He was here on earth, but don’t confuse that with everything. In God’s perfect heaven and earth, there will be no sin, pain, death, or evil and since we have these things in our world today, everything cannot be accomplished according to God’s plan. When Jesus returns, we will get a better picture of His plan, and we can witness God recreating heaven and earth into the original, perfect world that He intended the first one to be.

But does this passage condemn those who break the Law? Not directly.

“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.” (v. 19)

This says that there will be those who set aside commands who will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. They are not outside of it, but in it – because they understand the biggest issue: Accepting Jesus’ righteousness and sacrifice as payment for their sins.

Legalism excludes people based on their actions/disobedience, and following a legalistic path does not lead into heaven. The most legalistic people in Jesus’ day still did not have the righteousness necessary to gain entrance into heaven.

Instead, Jesus made a way available through His perfection, and He made it available to everyone as a gift. We can choose to try and fail on our own, or lean into Jesus and be accepted.

The Law has not been abolished, but it has been satisfied through Jesus’ life and death.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

Subscribe to this blog and never miss an insight.