I have come to fulfill the Law
I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.
When I was writing Not Under Bondage, I thought a lot about what this means. One thing that came to mind is that the true, pure Law of the Old Testament laid down through Moses (not the Pharisaic additions and circumventions of the Law ) was like a deciduous tree in winter: no leaves, just dry branches and twigs. The shape of the tree is present, but the color, the fullness, the robust, intricate, exquisite life found in foliage is absent.
When Jesus came he not only explained but demonstrably lived the fullness of what the Law means: love, justice, mercy, tender personalised attention to wounded and sick souls….
The tree put forth its foliage; the leaves were abundant and flourishing. The tree’s final magnificent shape became gloriously visible for all to see. The branches and sticks hadn’t changed, they were all still there, but their purpose and reason had been fulfilled: they were there to structure and support the foliage.
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 say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)
Here is an extract from the ESV notes on this passage:
Jesus “fulfills” all of the OT in that it all points to him, not only in its specific predictions of a Messiah but also in its sacrificial system, which looked forward to his great sacrifice of himself, in many events in the history of Israel which foreshadowed his life as God’s true Son, in the laws which only he perfectly obeyed, and in the Wisdom Literature, which sets forth a behavioral pattern that his life exemplified. Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom does not replace the OT but rather fulfills it as Jesus’ life and ministry, coupled with his interpretation, complete and clarify God’s intent and meaning in the entire OT.
Jesus demands a commitment to both the least and the greatest commandments yet condemns those who confuse the two.
The entire OT is the expression of God’s will but is now to be taught according to Jesus’ interpretation of its intent and meaning. Jesus calls his disciples to a different kind and quality of righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees. They took pride in outward conformity to many extrabiblical regulations but still had impure hearts.
Just like the scribes and Pharisees took pride in outward conformity to extrabiblical regulations, many Christians today take pride in outward conformity to rules that come from over-emphasizing one Scriptural precept and under-emphazing another. Take the rule against gossip:
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish … that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. (2 Cor. 12:20)
Refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. (1 Tim. 5:11-13)
How often is the precept about gossip expounded (indeed, hammered), compared to the Scriptural precept about exposing evil and wrongdoing?
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (1 Cor. 5:11)
As for those [elders and leaders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1 Tim. 5:20)
Christians today don’t invent new rules in quite the same way the Pharisees did, but they create unBiblical rules by stressing some things while underplaying other things. The result is not much different from the Pharisaic system: believers are trapped and guilted into a false belief/conformity system, where everyone wears masks, the unregenerate pass themselves off as sheep and shepherds, the evil prey on the weak and the ignorant, and everyone pretends that it’s fine because ‘we are following the Bible’.
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.