Matthew 5:17-20 (AD 28)
Jesus, in condemning the persecution and murder of prophets from centuries past, condemning the Pharisees, talking about God blessing the Gentiles and causing a ruckus at the temple in Jerusalem, was accruing quite a reputation. It’s why three readings ago in Mark chapter three, we saw his mother and brothers trying to “take charge of him” (Mark 3:21) – they thought he was being crazy. And the Beatitudes – although precisely reflecting the nature of God seen in the Old Testament – sounded anti-heroic, even weak.
So, some people, and especially the religious rulers, suspected he was an anti-Jewish Jew, bent on upending not God’s laws along with the traders’ tables at the temple. They came to believe – unfairly – that he was abandoning his religious heritage, even though he had kept to every single part of the civil, ceremonial and moral law for his entire life.
Jesus would have been justified in merely rolling his eyes at them, and we would have understood it if he’d shot back with a cutting rebuttal. But he stated – more for the benefit of the concerned doubters than the Pharisees – that not only was he faithful to the law but the law wasn’t going anywhere.
When Jesus fulfilled all the Mosaic laws throughout his perfect life, and in his sacrificial death and sin-conquering resurrection, it didn’t mark a deletion of the old laws so much as the end of their life-cycle. His keeping of them was crucial to his sacrifice, and is as crucial now as it was then.
In Jesus’ ministry he talked about the abrogation of in particular the ritual laws of Moses. BUT. At this point Jesus had not yet been made the sacrifice for sins. The key prophecies had not yet been fulfilled. “everything” (looking at verse eighteen) had not yet been “accomplished”.
The ritual law that pointed to an ultimate sacrifice was over, because the ultimate sacrifice had happened. The civil law including the penal code, applied only to the theocratic Jewish nation state that had not been in place for many hundreds of years and could be exercised only with the permission of the occupying forces. That, too, was over.
What was as unchanged in Jesus’ day as in Moses’ day; and remains unchanged now, is the moral law. All those commands that are about us becoming more like God – the calls for kindness and generosity, the prohibitions of sexual sin and jealousy – they can’t change or be removed any more than God’s character can change or God himself can be removed.
Until one day, that too will have reached the end of its lifecycle. It will eternally reflect God’s character, but when we are with God, when we have been made perfect, it’s significance will be only historic. Then we will perfectly enjoy all of our relationships, most particularly and joyfully our relationship with God.