Matt 5:17-20 Righteousness and the Law CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
Jesus turns the attention of his disciples to the subject of the law and righteousness. In Jesus’ ministry he dealt with several things concerning the law. He dealt with:
The fulfillment of the law – v.17
Some folks got the idea that Jesus was against the law, that he had come to destroy it. They tempted him with the law [Matt 12:10; 19:3; 22:17-18]. They worked him over about the Sabbath. And they worked over his apostle, Paul, as well [Acts 21:28].
Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. He fulfilled it with his righteousness, Rom 10:3-4. Ultimately, righteousness was the objective of the law, Deut 6:24-25. Now that Christ has fulfilled the law, the righteousness of God is by faith of Jesus Christ, Rom 3:21-22.
Notice that the law and the prophets testified of Jesus, Lk 24:25-27.
The permanence of the law – v.18
Though Christ fulfilled the righteousness of the law, having kept it perfectly, having died to appease God’s wrath, and having risen again to justify us, he did not fulfill all that was prophesied in the Old Testament. Thus, not even the smallest characters in the Hebrew law (the jot and the tittle) will pass from the law until everything is fulfilled. And that won’t happen until heaven and earth pass [2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev. 20:11; 21:1].
So, the law is still in place. People in the Tribulation and the millennial reign of Jesus will have to follow the law [Rev 12:17; 14:12; 22:14; Heb 8:10; Eze 40-48].
The measure [standard] of the law – v.19
A man’s level in the kingdom of heaven was based upon what he did with and taught about the commandments. To break one of the least commandments (like the Sabbath) and to teach men so made a man least in the kingdom of heaven. Conversely, to do the commandments and to teach them made a man great in the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath [Jn 9:16], whereas Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath [Mk 2:28], merely did good on the Sabbath [Mk 3:1-6; Jn 7:23-24]. He taught the commandments and he kept them. He’ll be the king in the kingdom of heaven
The Pharisees, on the other hand, broke the law. They were murderers [Acts 2:36]; thieves [Matt 21:13]; adulterers [Matt 12:38-39]; covetous [Lk 16:14]; false witnesses [Matt 26:59-60]; and they broke the Sabbath [Matt 21:12, this was done on the Sabbath, Neh 13:15-22]. They are despised in the kingdom of heaven.
The righteousness of the law – v.20
When Jesus spoke of exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, he was talking to his disciples who were still under the law. We are not under the law, since we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ [Gal 3:22-26]. Therefore, we have no righteousness from the law. Our righteousness comes from Christ, and therefore exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees [1 Cor 1:30].
The righteousness of the Pharisees was all outward, it was the appearance of righteousness; it was all for show [Mk 7:6-7; Matt 23:5; Matt 23:27-28]. Their hearts were detestable [Mk 7:20-23]. Thus, they could not enter the kingdom of heaven [Matt 23:33].
A man, under the law, whose righteousness would have exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees is a man who would have loved God with all his heart [Deut 6:4-6; Matt 22:36-38; Ps 18:1-3; Ps 69:35-36]. After all, “the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart,” [1 Tim 1:5]. That man would enter the kingdom of heaven.