Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Law: Lessons We Can Learn

Jesus’ attitude toward the law and the prophets is important for us to understand as it is critical to His role as the messiah. He makes his attitude concerning what we know as the Old Testament Scriptures clear. In the sermon on the mount we find Jesus’ statement, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17 CSB). We must not overlook the importance of this claim. Only the Son of God can fulfill the law and the prophets. 

Take some time to Read Matthew 5:17-20

What is the Law and the Prophets? 

Jesus' attitude toward the law

It is important we take some time to dissect Jesus’ statement. This way we can better understand His attitude toward the law and the prophets. First, we need to understand what Jesus is referring to when He says, “the law and the prophets.” This was a way of referring to the entirety of scripture in Jesus’ day,[1] specifically what we know as the Old Testament. So, Jesus is really speaking about his attitude toward the Old Testament scriptures. He makes it clear He’s not interested in abolishing the Old Testament. The word abolish means to nullify, invalidate, or destroy,[2] but this is not what Jesus sets out to do. His mission is to fulfill the law.

The word fulfill means to “bring to completion.”[3] Jesus’ mission was not to do away with the law but to do away with the need for the law and the prophets. Jesus completed the law by coming to earth as the son of God. The law and prophets pointed to Jesus and He accomplished its purpose through His life, sacrificial death, and His resurrection. He fulfilled every prophecy and never broke a single law of the Old Testament. 

Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Law and the Prophets: Scripture is Important and Powerful

Jesus’ Attitude toward the law and the prophets teaches us that scripture is important and powerful. He makes the power of scripture obvious by comparing it to heaven and earth, which represent the totality of creation.[4] Jesus is basically saying it would be easier for the world to be destroyed than it would be for God’s Word to fade away, “until all things are accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). He wants His listeners to know untilHe fulfills the law and the prophets that they are still authoritative and should be followed. 

Jesus took not only His mission to fulfill or accomplish the law and the prophets serious, but He also saw scripture as being very important. He certainly valued it as a guide for life and wanted it to be respected by His followers. Matthew 5:18 makes this clear since Jesus points to the importance of even the smallest letters or pen strokes of the Old Testament. Jesus says that it all must stay. 

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.

(Matthew 5:18 ESV). 

An iota is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet which corresponds to the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet (yod). A dot actually refers to a mark in the Hebrew alphabet that distinguishes one mark from another mark.[5] The point to what Jesus is saying is that all scripture is important. All scripture must be fulfilled by Him. Jesus’ attitude toward the law and the prophets makes it clear that they are powerful and important.

More than Knowledge: It Takes Action

Jesus had an attitude toward the law and the prophets that demanded action and not knowledge alone. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:19-20 that the law needed to be kept and taught correctly. 

19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19-20 CSB

The pharisees and the scribes certainly knew the law in great detail, they studied it rigorously, however knowledge of the law is not sufficient. It takes obedient action. Our actions are important because they help teach others how to live as well. Jesus has issue with others teaching the law incorrectly whether through word or through example. 

What does Jesus attitude toward the law and prophets mean for us? 

It’s important to remember we are not the original audience of these words spoken by Jesus. Nor are we the original readers of the book of Matthew. This means we need to step back and ask, “what principles can we pull from this passage of scripture and apply to our lives today?” This is an important question because there are valuable lessons we can learn and apply to our life. 

  1. God’s word is powerful and important. While Jesus was speaking about the Old Testament it is true of all scripture. Scripture is powerful and we need to recognize how important it is to our life. 
  2. We need to be obedient to God’s Word. In Matthew 5:19-20 Jesus is telling His listeners that they need to continue to teach and obey the law and the prophets, in other words the Old Testament. However, Jesus has now fulfilled the Old Testament and brought about it’s completion. It still has valuable lessons for us to learn but we don’t need to strive to keep every Old Testament law. However, we do need to apply this same principle to the New Testament.

Obeying Scripture

God wants us to know scripture, but He also wants us to apply it to our lives. He wants us to live a holy life where we are separated from the world because we live different from the world. This happens when we live out the Word of God in an obedient lifestyle.

When we examine Jesus’ attitude toward the law and the prophets, we see it was important to Him and that He expected His followers to obey and teach it correctly. We can recognize this as a principle that we can apply to our lives today. We must value the power of scripture and we must seek to apply it to our lives by living obediently and teaching others the truth. 

Think and Discuss:

  1. How would you describe Jesus’ attitude toward the Law and the Prophets?
  2. Why is it important to think about Jesus’ attitude toward the law?
  3. Think about these additional scriptures and how they relate to Matthew 5:17-20 and Jesus fulfilling the law: Romans 10:4; Ephesians 2:15; Romans 7:4-6; Galatians 3:24-26.

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew;

[2] Sellers S. Crain, Jr. Truth for Today Commentary: Matthew 1-13

[3]Crain, Truth for Today

[4] Morris, Matthew

[5] Crain, Truth for Today

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