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Dissecting Matthew 5:17-20

Updated: Jun 20

Verse 17 "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"

The first question we must ask ourselves to better understand this verse is, what was the purpose of the Mosaic Law?

  • The purpose was to give a standard of righteousness between God and man. It was to set apart Israel from the nations. It was to show the Israelites (& humanity) how helpless they are in front of a just and superior God and reveal their sinful nature. It was to reveal the character of God. It was to provide forgiveness through sacrifice and offerings. It was to provide worship for the community through the festivals.

The second question we must ask ourselves is, what did the Mosaic Law involve and require of the Israelites?

  • The Mosaic Law encompassed a wide range of commandments and regulations given to the ancient Israelites.

  • It included The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:4-21)

  • Ritual and Religious Commandments

  • Sacrifices, tabernacle, annual feasts, dietary laws & restrictions

  • Social and Moral Commandments

  • Murder, theft, adultery, false testimony.

  • Sexual morality

  • Laws Regarding Justice and Civil Matters

  • Guidelines for judges

  • Principles for harm

  • Regulations for property/boundaries

Verse 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”

Did heaven and earth pass away?


What is an iota?

“Iota” is used metaphorically in Greek to refer to something extremely small or insignificant.

Synonyms for “nothing will pass from”:

  1. Nothing will be altered, changed, modified, taken away, removed, omitted, revised, amended, affected, or shifted.

What is God trying to accomplish through the Mosaic Law?

  1. Establishing a covenantal relationship between God and the Israelites (his people).

  2. Revealing God’s Character and Holiness: the law provided a framework for the Israelites to understand the character and holiness of God. Which revealed moral standards, his desire for justice, and his expectations or how his people should live.

  3. Setting Israel Apart as a holy nation, providing guidelines for worship, rituals, practices. Highlighting their unique relationship with God among the nations.

  4. Teaching Moral and Ethical Conduct: giving commandments that governed various aspects of life including relationships, justice, honesty, and social responsibility.

  5. Identifying sin and need for atonement. The atonement rituals demonstrated the seriousness of sin and pointed toward the need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

  6. Foreshadowing the Coming Messiah: through the various prophetic elements and coming of Jesus Christ. The sacrificial system, priesthood, and prophetic writing all pointed to the redemption and salvation fulfilled in Christ.

  7. Providing a Temporary Framework: until the coming of Jesus Christ. It was intended to guide and govern Israelites until the time of fulfillment when the promised messiah would establish a new covenant.

Old Testament Prophecy of the New Covenant: Jeremiah 31:31-34

  • This prophecy finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the establishment of the new covenant through his sacrifice and resurrection.

Verse 19 “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

What does it mean to relax a commandment?

Relaxing a commandment involves accommodating it instead of adhering to it strictly.

Reminder/ Food for Thought: So often we see religious or ethical traditions that relax the commandments of the Lord based off of their own circumstances or beliefs, but if we love the Lord we must keep his commands (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3). Jesus is addressing the GREAT importance of obeying God’s commands.

What does “Least in the Kingdom of Heaven vs. Great in the Kingdom of Heaven reveal?”

  • This reveals that there are higher and lower ranks in God’s Kingdom.

  • Faithful obedience and commitment to teaching others God’s ways gives you higher status.

*How does this shift your perspective on the importance of living out God’s teachings?


Christian Faith should not primarily be about personal status or rewards, but rather on a genuine relationship with God and living a life that honors Him. The “greatest” in the Bible revolve around principles of humility, service, faithfulness, and obedience. In both the Old and New Testament God desires all to have relationship with him, to have faith and obedience, to be servant leaders, and to be good stewards of the Gifts he gives. Ultimately, it is God who judges and evaluates the hearts and actions of individuals. His standards of ranking are based on His perfect wisdom, righteousness, and knowledge of the intentions and motivations of the heart.

Verse 20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes of Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

What made the scribes of Pharisees righteous?

The scribes of pharisees were a religious sect among the Jewish people during Jesus’ time. They were well-versed in the Mosaic Law and were responsible for transcribing and interpreting religious texts. They persevered and taught the religious traditions and laws of the Jewish people. They were committed to studying, preserving and living their lives according to the scriptures.

*There were scribes and Pharisees who genuinely sought to follow God’s commands and those who distorted the true essence of righteousness. Some rebuked Jesus, but that does not imply that every member of the group lacked righteousness. Most truly sought to live according to God’s commands and demonstrate righteousness in their lives.

The point we must take away here is, there will NEVER be a chance for us to enter the kingdom of heaven without taking upon a righteous life.

Philippians 3:9 "And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."

Remember: True righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness that pleases God and ranks us greatly in his Kingdom is not attained through personal effort or adherence to the law but is received as a gift from God through faith.

Our FAITH in Christ clothes us in HIS righteousness, and enables God to see us as righteous and acceptable in his sight.

FINALLY, let’s compare the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament to what Jesus has fulfilled through in the New Testament.

1. Old Testament: (Jeremiah 31:31-34) God promised to make a new covenant with His people.


1. New Testament: Jesus promises to forgive the sins of His people and remember them no more through the sacrifice of Jesus. (Hebrews 8:12, 1 John 1:9).

2. Old Testament: Deuteronomy 5:33 Called to walk in obedience. (Rituals, festivals, sacrifice, etc.)


2. New Testament: (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36: 26-27) Jesus promises an internal transformation of the heart. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, believers empowered to live in obedience to God’s commands and have his laws written on their hearts.

3. Old Testament: Tabernacle/Temple/ High Priest/ Sacrifices/ Offerings, were the only way people could access God.


3. New Testament: Believers have been granted direct access to God through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 4:16, Ephesians 3:12), we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence and have a personal relationship with him.

4. Old Testament: Mosaic Law was intended for Israel (God’s chosen people)


4. New Testament: (Galatians 3:28, Romans 10:12-13) Jesus died to bring forth salvation to all who believe. It is not limited to a particular ethnic group or nation, but extended to all regardless of background or heritage.

SO what does Jesus STILL desire to accomplish through us?

  • Righteousness


  • Righteousness still sets us apart and allows us to TESTIFY that living our lives in accordance to his word is GREATER

God NEEDS us to live in ACCORDANCE to him in order for the Greatest Commission to be fulfilled. Which I personally believe is what Jesus meant when he said, “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”.

Why must we understand this?

  • It’s the purpose of our life


All it took for the son in Luke 15:11-32 to experience the love, forgiveness, and joy of his Father was for him to come home and humbly seek forgiveness for his disobedience. No matter how many times we turn away from God and feel like we DESERVE punishment, God always prioritizes us being SOAKED in his love above all else.

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