Law and Prophets

Fulfillment is a prominent theme in the Gospel of Matthew. With the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, the time of fulfillment has commenced. But with his advent, what were the implications for the Law? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides us with clear answers. He did not come to adjudicate the interpretive disputes between competing Jewish sects over the details of the Law, or to validate which oral traditions were correct, but to fulfill the “Law and the Prophets.”

In his Sermon, the focus is not on how to keep the Law perfectly to achieve righteousness, or whether it must be restored to some pristine state free of later traditions. Instead, he sums up his mission as ONE OF FULFILLMENT.

Overflowing Water - Photo by Jonatan Lewczuk on Unsplash
[Photo by Jonatan Lewczuk on Unsplash]

And, if anything, his authoritative declarations on the requirements of the Law go far beyond the regulations and expectations of what is found in the written codes of the 

Indeed, Jesus taught HIS followers how to achieve the kind of “righteousness” that exceeds the purity of the most scrupulous interpreters of the Mosaic Law. After all, he is the Lawgiver and Prophet greater than even Moses.

  • (Matthew 5:17-20) - “Do not think that I came to pull down the law or the prophets, I came not to pull down, but to fulfill. For verily I say to you until the heaven and the earth shall pass away, not one least letter or one point will pass away from the law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore, shall relax one of these commandments, even the least one, and teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens, but whosoever shall do and teach, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, in nowise may you enter the kingdom of the heavens.”

The Pharisees kept the Law meticulously, having hedged it about with a myriad of oral traditions. As for the Sadducees, they rejected the “oral law” so valued by the Pharisees but insisted on adhering to what is written in the Torah without any later additions. However, Jesus represented something unique and far beyond and above the debates between those two sects.


In Matthew, his most consistent opponents are the Pharisees, not because he kept the Law more scrupulously than they did, but because of his looseness to some of its requirements as interpreted by the “traditions of the elder.” Moreover, if he came simply to reaffirm the Torah as it was originally written, why did the Sadducees find it necessary to plot his betrayal and demise?

Certainly, Jesus did not come to “dismantle the LAW OR THE PROPHETS.” And when he stated this, he was referring to the entire body of the writings that constituted the Hebrew Bible, not just its first five books or the Torah.

In the New Testament, the “Law and Prophets” is a summary statement for all that God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures - (Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, Acts 13:15, Romans 3:21).

Jesus demonstrated that he was no rigorist when it came to the minutiae of the legal code, especially in his attitude toward the Sabbath and dietary restrictions. The “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” a perspective that the strict legalist could not abide.

His claim that neither “one jot nor one tittle” of the Law would pass away was a colorful way of describing the unchangeable nature of the expressed will of God since the written word represented both His will and nature.

However, that did not mean God’s past revelations revealed everything about Him, or that they constituted His final word on every matter. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews stresses the supreme “word” of the Son that came after the “prophets,” upon the “last of these days,” a revelation that surpasses all previous ones. In the past, God spoke “in many ways” and in “many parts,” but His decisive “word” has been given “in His Son,” the only one who “achieved the purification of sins” - (Hebrews 1:1-4).

The fact that the system of priests and sacrifices detailed in Leviticus proved incapable of dealing permanently with sin or cleansing anyone’s “conscience from dead works to serve the living God” proved that the old legislation was provisional, incomplete, and insufficient.

The change in covenants, sacrifices, and priesthood was anticipated by the prophets themselves when they predicted the coming “New Covenant,” one of a different order than the Mosaic legislation – (Jeremiah 31:31, Hebrews 8:6-13).


In the passage in Matthew, the English term “fulfill” translates the Greek verb with the sense “fill to the full, to make full, to fill up completely” (pléroō), and this is precisely what Jesus does – he FULFILLS the Law AND the Prophets.

Moreover, Matthew presents him as nothing less than the fulfillment of what was promised in the Hebrew Bible, and this understanding is borne out by the several antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount in Chapter 5.

In each case, Jesus introduces a legal principle and then reinterprets it ON HIS OWN AUTHORITY. Each time, he begins with the emphatic Greek pronoun egō or “I, myself…” - (Matthew 5:21, 5:27, 5:31, 5:33, 5:38, 5:43).

In doing this, he goes to the heart of each issue. For example, it is not enough simply NOT to killHIS disciple must abstain from all hatred and anger, even against an enemy. The six antitheses provide real-life examples of what it means to have “righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.”

This is demonstrated especially in his explanation of how HIS disciple “loves his neighbor as himself.” With their rigorist mindset, the “Scribes and Pharisees” interpreted the commandment to mean they owed love only to their “neighbor” but not to their enemy. Jesus expounded the correct understanding by pointing to the nature of God Himself.

If Yahweh sends rain upon the just and the unjust, who are we to withhold love and mercy from our “enemies”? By doing acts of kindness to our sworn “enemy” we emulate the Heavenly Father and become “perfect as He is.” Doing good to one’s “enemy” is the highest expression of the love commandment.


It is not rigorous obedience to the requirements of the Torah that determine who enters the Kingdom of God, but whether one obeys the words of Jesus, including his interpretations of the Law, words that he invested with ultimate authority:

  • Not every person that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven… whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. And every person that hears these sayings of mine and does them not shall be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:22-27).

Even if the disciple avoids committing acts of murder and adultery, if he harbors hatred or lust, he fails to keep the words of Jesus. Thus, the standard of righteousness demanded by him exceeds anything written in the Torah or added by the later “traditions of the elders.”

The Gospel of Matthew uses citation formulas to introduce scriptural passages that are fulfilled by Jesus, usually employing the Greek verb for “fulfill” (pléroō). This understanding originated with Jesus:

  • (Matthew 3:15 - “It is fitting for us TO FULFILL all righteousness.” Compare Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 4:14, 8:17, 12:16-21. Also, Luke 24:44 - “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the psalms must BE FUFILLED”).

Jesus came to “fulfill.” What was germinal in the old covenant comes to fruition in the new one - “All the promises of God are Yea, wherefore also through him, Amen.”

He is “the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes,” and the fulfillment of every “jot and tittle” found in the “Law and Prophets.” To take up the cross, emulate his actions, and follow his teachings is the only way for HIS disciple to achieve “righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.”



The Suffering Servant

The Living Word