Matthew 5:17-18: Fulfillment vs. Destruction
by Nathan Battey
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. “
These words of Jesus are misunderstood by most in the religious world and this misunderstanding has caused great confusion. What did Christ mean when he spoke of destruction and fulfillment? Was he teaching that the Old Testament Law would last forever?
Jesus makes an important clarification in Matthew 5:17 when he states, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” By mentioning both the Law and the Prophets, Jesus was speaking of the entire Old Testament that consisted of both laws and their interpreters (the prophets). Jesus was not teaching that the Old Testament’s authority would last forever, but rather how it would come to an end; the Law would be removed through the process of fulfillment- not destruction. Jesus would not dare destroy the Law and the Prophets for they pointed pointed to him (Luke 4:21). He must, however, fulfill the Old Law. If Christ did not fulfill the Old Law, what purpose did it serve?
The Old Testament had and accomplished three goals:
- The Old Testament prepared people for Jesus' coming.
- The Old Testament revealed the Messiah's identity through its predictions.
- The Old Testament furnished a vocabulary and thought system through which Jesus could reveal his salvation. (Smith, 128)
In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus was teaching both how and when he was going to complete the Old Law. The Old Testament would not pass away little by little; it would pass away in a single instance. When Jesus died on the cross, the entire Old Testament was completed for Christ had fulfilled its purpose. Since it no longer served a purpose, it was taken out of the way (Colossians 2:14) and replaced with a new covenant (Hebrews 9:16-22).
Today we are freed from the Old Law (Colossians 2:14) and bound by the New Law (James 1:25). While Jesus was on the earth he submitted himself to the Old Law so that it might be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18), while at the same time teaching his new law (the Gospel of the Kingdom – Matthew 4:23) so that it could take effect when he died on the cross (Hebrews 9:16-22). Truly Christ is the center of the covenants.
Smith, James E. Night of Mt. Vigil. Lulu. 2013, p 128.