Has the Ground Vanished From Beneath Your Feet?


An analysis of Yahshua’s teaching on the Law, particularly Matthew 5:17-20


“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. (Luke 16:16 & 17).

Look at the things Yahshua did; he made the lame walk (John 5:1-8), the blind see (Luke 18:35-43), he healed those with diseases (Matthew 8:1-4), drove out demons (Mark 5:1-17), walked on water (Matthew 14:25-33), fed 5000+ people with five loaves and two fish (John 6:1-13), he forgave people their sins (Luke 5:17-26), and he symbolically destroyed the temple system and re-built it in three days through his death and resurrection.

Yet despite all the miraculous things Yahshua did, he did not abolish any laws as many people claim he did through his death on the Cross.  If that was his intention I am sure he would have done it.  I take Luke 16:17 to mean that nothing will pass away from the law until heaven and earth no longer exist.  So for those who feel that certain commandments have passed away, and at the extreme end of that branch of thought those who believe the whole law has passed away; I wonder, given what the text in question says, if they believe that the earth has disappeared from beneath our feet and we are floating in outer-space?

In Matthew 5:17-20 Yahshua’s teaching is qualified, so that we can understand how to apply it to ourselves today. V17. If Yahshua did not come to abolish the law, then by simple logic that must mean that the law remains.  What then does the word fulfil mean in this context?  I have had some suggest that because apparently the Greek word in the original manuscript is an ‘aorist’ that fulfil can not mean something that is ongoing process.  This interpretation seems to ignore the context in which the word appears.

My understanding of the word fulfil, is that Yahshua fulfilled certain Old Covenant prophecies (e.g. Isaiah 9:6&7), and is in the process of fulfilling others (e.g. Isaiah 42:1-7).  If you read the prophets (Isaiah through to Malachi) you will notice how some prophecies have not yet been fulfilled (e.g. Isaiah 66:22-24). Some commentaries I have read suggest that the meaning of the word fulfil is to ‘fill up’, ‘bring full meaning to’, to ‘embody’ and ‘amplify’ the law, thus in Yahshua a true characterisation of one who keeps the law is seen.  I feel these interpretations of the word ‘fulfil’ sit well with a sound interpretation of this verse and the overall text.

Given the fact that the law remains in its entirety, some people might want to assert that we must do things like, stone people guilty of breaking commandments where stoning is stipulated as a punishment, and that we must adhere to the temple practices including sacrifices.  I think that Yahshua showed us a contrary way of life, let me take each case in turn and explain.

On judgement Yahshua says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1&2).

If we who are all sinners with our clouded judgements, take it upon ourselves to condemn people to death through stoning, the same could happen to us ‘with the measure you use, will be measured to you’.  So if we in our hypocrisy stone another, so may others in their hypocrisy stone us.  I don’t think this is the type of justice God was aiming for through the law.  The point is mankind had fallen so low from the ideals of God’s law that God choose to take the power to judge in this manner away from us and give it to Messiah.  To contextualize this I would suggest looking at the incident in John 8:1-11, where the woman caught in adultery is brought to Yahshua.  This proves to me the following scriptures in that it shows them in practice:

From that time on Yahshua began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17).

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16&17).

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32).

Indeed, these verses are at the very core of Gospel teaching, exhortations for us to turn away from our sins (repent) and embrace the forgiveness and grace of Messiah, and also to be baptised as a symbol of our spiritual rebirth and commitment to a new way of life (John Chapter 3 & Acts Chapter 2).  We have the option to repent of our sins, and this was not always available under the first covenant administered by the Levites when the earthly temple stood.  Under the new covenant we have a better system, for Yahshua, our sacrifice, priest, and king is without any fault, and in this context, without any partiality or lack of wisdom to determine who is guilty, for his judgement reaches into the heart of a man (note Proverbs 20:27 and John 2:24&25).

The fulfilment of this law of judgement is in Paul’s writing to believers, ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.’ (2 Corinthians 5:10).

I would also add as a final thought on this point that, perhaps judgement has several aspects to it; firstly pointing at sins with the necessary evidence, and secondly punishment for sin.  I don’t think that Yahshua teaches we should not point out and rebuke people in sin (note Leviticus 19:17, Luke 17:3, Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Corinthians 13:1, and Deuteronomy 19:15).  However, I think Yahshua’s teaching and other New Covenant teaching stresses we need to do this with respect (Galatians 6:1-4), and not hypocritically, i.e. the woman who lusts in her heart is in no position to rebuke the woman guilty of adultery, and the man who has hatred in his heart is in no position to rebuke a murderer.

Concerning the temple, Yahshua made this claim:

[19] […] “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

[20] The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” [21] But the temple he had spoken of was his body. [22] After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Yahshua had spoken.  (John 2:19-22).

Because the temple system as administered by the Levites was still in operation until Yahshua death, Yahshua recognised the authority of the priests, this can be seen if you read Mark 1:43&44. The text quoted above specifically states that Yahshua will raise the temple in three days.  Please note that the only object that is implied can be destroyed is the temple and not the law.  Now, one may wonder why this was Yahshua’s intention.  I believe it is because of much the same reasons why God took judgement out of men’s hands and ordained Messiah to oversee.  If you read all of John chapter 2, you will see how there were things going on in the temple which were inappropriate.  Again, mankind had sunk so far below God’s ideals that man loses his privilege to administer God’s commandments and God appoints Yahshua to take control of the system they were abusing.

In fact even the temple that the Levites were administering the covenant from was probably not ordained by God as a place of worship, because it was build by Herod (note Hebrews 8:5).  Note that temples were to be built by the people God commanded and according to his instructions and plans (2 Chronicles 3-7, & Ezra 1).  The book of Hebrews describes much about the Levites and the temple system and compares that system with the new system, established through Messiah’s sacrifice and priesthood.  If you need more information on this subject, Hebrews chapters 4, verse 14 to 10 makes good reading.

Circumcision is also another point of contention.  I think it is best to view it like any other command (see below), in that many break the commandments and few keep all, yet as long as we do not break and teach others there is hope.  Moreover, God himself says that a person can be circumcised in the flesh but not in the heart, the implication is that it is better to be circumcised in the heart (note Jeremiah 9:25&26, 1 Corinthians 7:19, Romans 2:25-27).

Moving on in analysing Matthew 5:17-20.  V18.  ‘I tell you the truth’ Yahshua word is so much more authoritative than the words of mere men.  This is why people said he taught in a manner unlike the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, for he taught as one with authority (Matthew 7:28&29).  The authority that Yahshua claimed was not without warrant either, he was given a divine commission to speak and act as he did, the prophets foretold it (Isaiah 9:6&7), John the Baptist introduced the time of his coming (Matthew 3), and God confirmed these things in at the ‘transfiguration’ (Matt 17:1-12).

The next phrase talks of the stability and sacrosanct nature of the law, and what I wrote concerning Luke 16:16&17 need not be repeated.  The phrase ‘will by any means disappear’ seems to indicate that there can be nothing that will effect any such changes until the criteria set actually occur.  This to me refutes the idea that Yahshua abolished the law through his death on the cross.  However, let us consider the further implications of what people who assert that the law passed away through Yahshua’s death on the cross must also think.  The phrase ‘heaven and earth’ is not only used in Luke 16:16 and Matthew 5:18, but also Mark 13:31, where Yahshua proclaims:

[31] Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31).

Now if “the law”, that the phrase ‘heaven and earth’ refers to in the Luke 16:16 and Matthew 5:18, is according to some abolished.  This makes Yahshua’s words out to be an untruth.  Mark 13:31 focuses on Yahshua’s teaching.  Yahshua is saying similar things about the law as he does about his teaching, in fact his teaching will never pass away.  So if the people who want assert that parts of, or all of the law passed away through Yahshua death on the cross are really willing to claim this, they are actually nullifying what Yahshua said in Mark 13:31 as they believe some of his words have already been cancelled. When we begin to claim that the words of Yahshua are void in any instance, I am sure that this yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough.

Also the phrase ‘until everything is accomplished’ is added.  I take this to mean the accomplishment or fulfilment of all the Old Covenant & New Covenant prophecies.  This will become reality at the judgement where all who have ever lived will be separated between those who go to heaven, and those who go to hell.  The latter chapters of Revelation (17 onward) detail these events.

There are some prophecies which can only be fulfilled in heaven, such as Isaiah 66:22-24, so in some ways even when heaven and earth pass away the law will still stand, and certain prophecies can only be fulfilled then also.  However, this is only my interpretation and my understanding is not infinite.

V19.  Here Yahshua begins to bring to life the words in a way that we can practically appreciate.  The first half of v19, ‘Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven’, is quite clear in its meaning.  Even if it is the least important of the commands and you break and teach it to others, this will merit you a low place in heaven.  Many stumble on this text and do not link the word ‘break’ with word ‘teach’ – clearly the word AND is used.  In this way they distort the teaching, for Yahshua knows that we will sin, and in the Lord’s Prayer Yahshua tells us to ask for forgiveness for our sins (note Luke 11:4, Hebrews 4:15, 1 John 2:1&2).

However, the warning is not aimed primarily, if at all at those who break the law _without_ teaching others to do so, but rather at those who break the law _and_ teach others to do so.  The former shows weakness, perhaps in some cases ignorance or wilfulness, the latter shows ignorance, wilfulness or the desire to subvert the truth in others. I don’t think there are many of us, if any, who do not break the commandments.  It seems to me that it is those who break the commandments and teach others to do the same that this warning is specifically aimed at.  I also do not feel that it would be stretching things too far to say that this warning would also apply to those who nullify the whole law by saying that it has been abolished.

The second half of verse 18 is an exhortation, or encouragement, ‘but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven’.  In the same manner if we only practice the commandments and do not teach, perhaps the guarantee of being great in the kingdom of heaven will not apply. If we act in this manner we hide our light under a bowl (note Matthew 5:14-16).  The guarantee of greatness in the kingdom of God is secured by practising and preaching the commandments.

Moreover there is a pitfall to be avoided here, and that is of preaching and not practising what we preach.  This makes us like the Pharisees, for as Yahshua said, ‘they do not practice what they preach’ (note Matthew 23:1-4).  Arguably, preaching what we do not practice means we do not understand, appreciate or care what we are preaching about.

At this point you may say, this person is preaching that the whole law is still in effect, but he doesn’t keep the whole law.  Well you are very right in this respect.  My point is that my aim is merely to establish the meaning of Yahshua’s teaching rather than to assert that I keep the whole law.  So if I have a correct reading of the text, that probably puts me and the reader of this text in a similar position, as we both have to make efforts to see that our actions fall within the safe guidelines of Messiah’s words.

V20.  This is a qualification of the second half of verse 19.  I have already revealed that Yahshua said the Pharisees do not practice what they preach.  If you read Matthew Chapter 23 you will see a number of condemnations that Yahshua launches at them.  Therefore if we look at how the Pharisees lived their lives and set this as the base or low mark.  Then we must aim higher then they did/do in being obedient to God through following the example of Yahshua, noting that this is done through the spirit of Messiah as Romans chapters 6-8 detail, and not our own effort, for Paul in the New Covenant teachings does not promote “justification by works”.  I believe that if our faith in Messiah leads us to be obedient to his law, that we are assured of our place heaven (Mathew 7:13&14).

Another commentary I read mentioned a point well worthy of note, which made me at one time consider my motives for desiring to be obedient to the law.  That is that it is not the amount of the law we keep, but the sincerity with which we keep the law.  It is possible, for example, to not commit adultery, yet inwardly to have lust, and in the same way it is possible not to commit murder, yet inwardly to hate.  If you read on past Matt 5:20, Yahshua goes into depth about the real meaning of the law which he is the true symbol of.  His teaching is not only aiming at the outward actions of men, but at the source from which those outward actions spring.  In conclusion, I would say that this is shown to be applicable in both negative and positive senses, meaning, we must keep the positive commands (e.g. giving, Matthew 6:1-4) for the right reasons, as well as not breaking the negative ones (e.g. murder, Matt 5:21-26) with the right frame of mind and heart.  Given these important points I have brought to light, I would hope that any readers would find 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (The man of lawlessness) even more enlightening reading, let us not be deceived by those who promote lawlessness by their wrong beliefs and the teaching which springs from them.

THOUGHT:  “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD” – (Psalm 119:1).