The next statement Jesus makes, in this magnificent sermon to His closest disciples, sounds so strange that some have claimed that it was added by later translators because the book was written to the Jews, and this would please them. However, that is not true, and when we see the real import of the statement, we will understand that it was very essential to what Jesus was telling the men who would carry His message to the world. Jesus says that He did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it, and that not the smallest jot would pass out of the Law until it was fulfilled.
The Jews used the word Law to refer to four things: 1. The Ten Commandments, 2. The Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament, 3. The entire Old Testament including the prophets, and 4. The Oral or Scribal Law which was all of the minute interpretations of the Law covering many books, and which the Pharisees and Scribes had written to define exactly how every part of the law was to be obeyed. It was this law that Jesus broke regularly in His lifetime. He did not wash His hands ceremonially before eating, He healed on the Sabbath and did many other things which the Pharisees persecuted Him for, calling Him a lawbreaker, and which eventually put Him on the Cross. This was not what Jesus meant when He said not one jot or tittle would He destroy from the Law.
As the Sermon progresses, Jesus is to point out the real purpose and meaning of every part of God’s Law. The Ten Commandments were not a set of rules and regulations for man to follow. They were a set of disciplines which should have led men to realize the real Spiritual principles that God wanted them to follow. Each of the Commandments was the result of a state of mind and heart which would not allow one to act in an unacceptable manner. It is the legal interpretation that Jesus is about to change. Unfortunately, there are still many Bible preachers and teachers who never got His point and continue to interpret the Bible as a legal document to which our absolute obedience is necessary. The things the early disciples did out of expediency, in order to fulfill the purposes of the church, and God’s will, have been made patterns and commands for us to follow, often at the expense of getting done the job that God wants. The fight against Pharisaical legalism did not stop with the Cross.
It was this legalistic interpretation that Jesus opposed, but He did not want anyone to assume that He opposed the Law of God. I have heard people say, “The Old Law was nailed to the Cross because is was not perfect”. Not so! God gave the Old Law, and therefore it was perfect ! Man could not keep it, and so he needed a Savior. It was man’s failure, not God’s, that the Law could not save him. Paul says that the Old Law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. In other words, it taught man that he could not be good enough to dwell in Heaven and therefore needed a Savior, who was Jesus Christ.
As we continue our studies of Jesus’ wonderful Sermon on the Mount, we will learn that the Law was given to discipline man so he would develop the spiritual qualities God wanted him to have. This is why Jesus said not one bit of the Law would pass away. It was essential to the eternal purposes of God. In our next essays we will see Jesus spell out the principles that God would have His creature, man, to develop.