I left you on Monday in Matthew 5 with the understanding that Jesus was speaking to a majority Jewish audience. Therefore, when we dive into verse 17, He starts talking about the law. This would have been very important to the people in the crowd. This was the way that they related to God, and it was very important to them to abide by the Law.
Jesus starts talking about a paradigm shift. He is not going to abolish the law, but He is going to fulfill the Law. This is an important point that could I think have been very confusing, if not upsetting, for this Jewish audience. How could one possibly fulfill the Law? The connotation of that word according to my Strong’s concordance brings along the idea of filling up or completing something.
As a Jewish listeners in the crowd, it must not have felt very good to hear this teacher say that your Law is somehow incomplete or insufficient.
However, I’m not sure that’s what Jesus was saying. I don’t think He was saying that the Old Testament Law was somehow faulty. After all, it came from God, so it cannot be wrong or deficient.
I think that verse 20 is the key to understanding the remainder of this chapter.
As Christians, we recognize this is true. Our righteousness would need to be infinitely better than the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because even though the Pharisees were religious leaders, they were still fallen people like you and me. They had to undergo rituals in order to offer sacrifices specifically because their righteousness was not enough to perform this service for God.
This also sets the bar very high. After all, again, thinking as a Christian, we understand that sin separates us from God, and the only way to enter the kingdom of God is through belief in Jesus Christ, who died to pay the price for all of our sin.
Therefore, this statement is unsurprisingly 100% true. Unless you are perfectly righteous, way above the Pharisees, you are not going to see the kingdom of heaven on your own. You cannot earn a place in heaven because no one deserves that spot outside of the grace of God. God’s standard is perfection, and imperfection cannot be brought into that environment. Even by following the Law, it would not be enough in and of itself to provide salvation.
For a Jewish audience, here is where the problem is going to come. Naturally, if they have been observant and were trying to follow the law as best they could, they probably thought they were pretty comfortable and pretty ready to move into the kingdom of heaven someday.
Jesus is about to remind them that there is something else coming their way. The Law was important, but it pointed towards something more significant in the future, and that is what Jesus is about to bring home.