The Law, Jesus, and the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:17-20)

Translation & sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 24 Apr 2011



17. Don’t y’all start assuming that I came to undo the law or the prophets;
 I did not come to undo but rather to fulfill.

18. For really, I’m telling you that
      until whenever the heavens and the earth pass on,
                  neither one ‘i’ nor one serif shall ever pass on from the law
      until whenever everything shall have happened.

            19.  Therefore, whoever might loosen one of the least of these commandments
                  and teach the men thus, he will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens.
      But whoever might do
                  and teach thus, this man will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens,

20. for I’m telling you that unless your righteousness exceeds beyond the scribes and Pharisees,
 you will never enter into the kingdom of the heavens.


God’s thoughts are not our thoughts

v.17a Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας

“Do not think” – let’s stop right there for a moment.

·         Throughout His teaching ministry, Jesus encouraged people to think:

o       Matt. 17:25 “What do you think, Simon?”

o       Matt. 18:12 “What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep…”

o       Matt. 21:28  "But what do you think? A man had two sons…”

o       Matt. 22:42  "What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?"

o       Luke 10:36  "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor?”

·         The apostle Paul also encouraged Christians to think, often using the Greek word logizomai, which is a word which you can hear has the word “logic” as part of the verb:

o       Rom. 12:3 …think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith…

o       Rom. 3:28  For we logically reckon that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

o       Rom. 6:11  Even so logically reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus

o       Rom. 8:18  For I logically reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

o       Phil. 4:8  …whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think logically on these things.

·         Here in Matthew 5, when Jesus says “do not think,” He is not using the general Greek word for “think;” this is a specialized word that means to follow a custom or a traditional procedure, or to go according to public opinion.

o       In Isaiah 55:8, God warned us that His thoughts are not the same as the tendencies of human thought, so when we encounter the mind of God, we need to be ready for surprises. Surprises like:

o       Luke 3:23 The world “assumed” that Jesus was “the son of Joseph” but Jesus surprisingly wasn’t descended from Joseph; He was descended from God Himself!

o       And what did Jesus, who is universally-recognized as peaceful, teach? Surprise! Mat 10:34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

o       And what did Jesus, who is universally recognized as a supporter of good deeds teach? Surprise! He would not give less reward to people who had done fewer good works! (Mat 20:10)

o       And Jesus’ followers continued to surprise the conventional wisdom of the world as they spread across the globe: To the idol-worshipping Greek philosophers in Athens, Paul said (Acts 17:29) “don’t suppose that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man!”

o       And to the health and wealth religious crowd in Ephesus “don’t suppose that godliness is a means of getting rich!” (1 Tim. 6:5) and don’t suppose that you can earn God’s favor by giving money to some preacher either! (Acts 8:20) Surprise! The Bible doesn’t teach a lot of the popular ideas that people think it teaches!

o       And then just when you think you’ve killed Jesus or you’ve killed Paul - Surprise! They are up and walking around again! (Acts 14:19) Be prepared for surprises!

o       Just because everybody thinks something is true doesn’t mean it is true. Those of us who are followers of Christ must question the wisdom of the world around us and think logically as God has commanded us to!

·         [Image of Ron Paul fans with “Revolution” banner] Now, any great leader who paints a bright new future and calls for change attracts a revolutionary following of people who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and start over from scratch, and things were no different with Jesus.

o       Jesus was doing amazing miracles and teaching with an authority that was new to the Jews, and He was laying out the path to citizenship in His new order as He delivered the beatitudes.

o       Common, uneducated Jews were getting excited about the possibility that Jesus, this new teacher who could beat the Pharisees at their own mind games was going to sweep away their incredibly burdensome system of Jewish laws.

o       Poor, oppressed Jews were getting excited about the prospect of Jesus being the miracle-working Messiah who would overthrow the rule of Rome.

o       Meanwhile, the entrenched conservatives in power, including the scribes and Pharisees, were feeling threatened by the potential for change that Jesus represented, and they were launching smear campaigns against Jesus:

§         He is demon-possessed and insane! (John 10:20)

§         He teaches people to disregard the law!

§         He contradicts Moses and the Prophets!

§         He wants to bring a wrecking crew to destroy our temple! (Mk 14:58 || Mt 26:61, Acts 6:14)

§         Don’t listen to Jesus, He’s a dangerous heretic!

§         They are troublemakers who are trying to turn the world upside down! (Acts 17:6)

·         So Jesus answers both the unexpressed hopes of the ignorant revolutionaries and the fears
of the nervous conservatives by denying that He is part of a revolution. He did NOT come to destroy/abolish/undo the divine system of truth, life, ethics, and security revealed in the OT.

o       The word Jesus used for “destroy/abolish” is kata-lusai, literally, kata=down, and lusai=to loosen, so it creates the picture of loosening so that the object falls.

o       In the Pentateuch this word is used exclusively to mean “untie and open a sack” (such as the sacks of Egyptian wheat that Joseph gave his brothers) or to “untie packs and set up camp” (It’s also used this way in Luke 9:12, 19:7)

o       Later O.T. books also use it to mean taking off clothes,

o       and it also came to mean undoing the structure of a building so that it fell down (Ez 5:12, Mark 13:2 || Mt 24:2, Lk 21:6 – in reference to the temple, and 2 Cor 5:1 - in reference to our body, which is poetically called our “earthly tent”)

o       But it is also used in the N.T. as a figure of speech for overthrowing an idea, a coup d’etat, as it were, in a revolutionary regime.

-       Acts 5:38-39  Gamaliel used the word in this sense when he wisely advised the Jewish leaders concerning Jesus’ followers: "…leave them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown*; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow* them…" (cf. Romans 14:20  Do not tear down* the work of God for the sake of food..., also Galatians 2:18)

-       And it is in this sense that Jesus uses the word. He says literally, I’m not going to loosen up on the law that God gave us so as to cause the whole system to come crashing down.

·         This raises a very important theological point: If Jesus had come to undo the law (as the revolutionaries hoped He would, and as the scribes accused Him of intending to do), we would have a huge problem. We would have a God who is unjust and unpredictable.

o       We would have a good-ol’-boy God who winks at the sins of the people He is fond of and comes down too hard on others.

o       We would have a maddenly fickle God who thinks certain things are right and wrong in one century, then changes the rules in the next.

o       Jesus affirms in one pithy sentence that God is not that way. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He will not go back on the words He delivered to us in the Bible – both Old and New Testament!

o       However, if what Jesus said here is true that He did not come to undo all those laws in the Old Testament, and if He is just and consistent in judgment after all, then this raises another disastrous problem. It means that those laws are still in effect and that God will punish us for disobeying them. It means we are dead meat because we cannot hope to obey all those rules – they’re too hard for any of us. It means that we are on a one-way street headed inexorably toward being eternally punished by a God who is mad at us because He made rules we didn’t follow.

o       Does that bother you? That should make every one of us shudder with fear!


PROBLEM: We can’t enter the kingdom of heaven because we can’t fulfill the law

To bring these thoughts together, I’m going to jump forward to v.20 – I’ll have to go back and cover vs. 18-19 in the next sermon.

20. for I’m telling you that unless your righteousness exceeds beyond the scribes and Pharisees,
 you will never enter into the kingdom of the heavens.

 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ἡ δικαιοσύνη ὑμῶν πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

·         What this verse is telling us is that the scribes and Pharisees were not good enough to enter into the kingdom of heaven (or heavens – it’s actually plural), and that to enter this kingdom you’d have to be a darn lot more righteous than them.

·         So what is the kingdom of heaven, and what does this mean for us?

·         The phrase “the kingdom of heaven” does not occur in the OT.

o       The NT Jews avoided saying the OT personal name of God (Yahweh or Jehovah) so they substituted the word “Lord” or the word “heaven.”

o       Thus I think that the NT “kingdom of heaven” meant the same thing to the Jews that the OT phrase “the kingdom of the Lord” meant.

·         The phrase “the kingdom of the Lord” occurs twice in the OT, both times referring to the divinely-promised kingdom promised forever to David and his seed (that is Christ):

·         This kingdom is a spiritual kingdom not owned by any political country, and its citizens are all who believe that Jesus is the descendant of David promised by God to save us from God’s judgment against our treasonous disregard for God and who bow their will to obey Jesus for the rest of their lives.


In the O.T., entering the kingdom of God was pictured as becoming a citizen of the kingdom of Israel – and even more as entering into the house of God to worship Him. This was done with a sacrifice to appease God’s wrath against our sin, since He decreed that death is the penalty for sin:


In the New Testament:


Obedience is part and parcel of living in the kingdom of heaven, but obedience alone is not enough. The scribes and Pharisees thought it could be enough, and in doing so, they sealed the doom of their hapless followers who could never be good enough to make God feel so indebted to them that He would abandon justice and ignore their violations of even the lesser commandments He had given them.

Matthew 23:2-5  "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses, therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men... 13  But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.


The passage we read today must be taken in context along with all that Jesus taught. This passage teaches us that we are doomed to hell because God has given us a law that we and our forefathers have transgressed, and no magic wand has been waved to make that law and the offense of our transgressions just go away. Jesus wanted to make sure that we would understand that apart from His death on the cross and His resurrection we would be in a terrible plight.


But there is good news. Jesus did not stop there; after correcting the mistaken impression that He came to loosen the restrictions of all those draconian OT laws to kinda make them go away – after telling us what he did NOT come to do in the first half of v.17, He tells us what He DID come to do in the end of v. 17, so I want to go back to that:


Jesus on why He came

v.17b  … οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι, ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι.I did not come to undo, but rather to fulfill.”


So, considering all the statements Jesus made about why He came, we can see that they are all inter-related and pointed towards glorifying God by saving sinners, but this hasn’t explained to us what exactly He meant by fulfilling the law and the prophets.


1. Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets by fulfilling prophecies:

o       Luke 18:31”…we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.

o       Then, as Jesus was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said Matt. 26:56  "all this  has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets."

o       Then after His death and resurrection Luke 24:25-27 He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures… 44 Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."


2. Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets by obeying every rule they recorded

·         So far in the first 16 verses of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He has mentioned “thirsting for righteousness” and letting people see the practice of “good deeds;”

·         In the rest of chapter 5, Jesus systematically outlines the second table of the 10 commandments, so the implication is that He is speaking of fleshing out God’s righteousness and fulfilling the 10 commandments by fully obeying them.

·         The Jewish scribes of the day figured there were 613 laws enumerated in the Torah. That’s a lot of commands, more than any one of us could perfectly obey.

·         Jesus testified that he had kept all of God’s laws: John 15:10 “… I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.”

·         Pilate, the local governor also testified multiple times after putting Jesus on a civil trial that he “found no fault” in Jesus. (Luke 23:4&14; John 18:38; 19:4-6)

·         Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends also testified that Jesus  “…committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.” (1 Pet. 2:22)

·         So Jesus did what no one else had ever done or ever will do, and that was to obey every command God had given to govern the attitudes and behavior of mankind. Jesus alone could do it – and no other man – because He was and is God Himself.

·         In one way of looking at things, Jesus remained in God’s love because He perfectly obeyed God.


Jesus’ fulfillment of the law and the prophets shows us the way out of that one-way street to the judgment of God.

·         Jesus’ righteousness did exceed beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, because He succeeded where they failed to perfectly obey all 613 laws without any hypocrisy. Jesus alone was righteous enough to enter the kingdom of heaven.

·         But Jesus also offered His body on the cross to die and pay the just penalty for the sins of His people – even though He had not done anything wrong – and God accepted His payment, proving His acceptance by raising Him up from the dead – that glorious truth which we remember on this day in the church calendar.

·         Thus Jesus is the way for us to enter the kingdom of heaven ourselves, to be accepted into the presence of God.

·         Hebrews 10:19-25 “…we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through… His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

·         Let us therefore use caution in embracing popular opinions and rather let the Bible shape our thinking and be prepared to be surprised at what God says to us.

·         Let us trust Jesus to successfully bring us into the kingdom of heaven by His righteousness obedience to the law and prophets and His payment of death for our sins.

·         Let us worship Jesus as our God-given savior promised from ages past who fulfilled all the prophecies and promises to come again for us.

·         And let us seek to grow in righteousness as we daily repent of sin and resolve to obey God in all that He has commanded us.