“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.” – Matthew 5:17
We have heard it said that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. However, it can be hard to get our heads around what this actually means, especially given his apparent disregard for it at times. Let’s quickly look at three ways Jesus fulfills (or accomplishes; or brings to completion) the Law.
Jesus points out that the Old Testament is really about him. The Pharisees and Scribes searched it thinking that adherence to its specifications would bring them eternal life. Instead, the Law is really about the Messiah and the atoning work he would do on the cross. Jesus fulfills the Law prophetically by accomplishing all that was specified about him.
The Scribes and Pharisees had their own legislative text (the Mishnah) to help interpret the Old Testament Torah. We discover that they misinterpreted the real purpose of the Law. Jesus, as God’s Son, has authority to clarify how the Torah should be interpreted, exposing its true intention. The Law commands that it be taught clearly and truthfully, and Jesus accomplishes this by clarifying its meaning to the people of Israel, while at the same time, breaking the false interpretations of the Pharisees and Scribes.
The Law required perfect obedience under threat of a curse. Jesus understood the Law perfectly, and was able to live a perfect life. He fulfills the Law, by living out its proper intention. He is the sinless lamb of God who is then able to be the once-off sacrifice for the sins of the world.
There is much more that could be said! But for now, the next time you’re asked, “What does it mean when Jesus says ‘I came to fulfill the law’?” you’ll have at least three things to say!