Beginning in Matthew 5:17, Jesus begins teaching against the religious leaders who were guilty of perverting Old Testament teaching. They were accusing Jesus of speaking evil of the Law of Moses, and that He came to destroy the law, but Jesus did not come to minimize or ridicule the law because He knew that the law was holy, just, and good (Ps. 119:105). These Jews had a misconception concerning the law, which led to their false accusations. Therefore, Jesus in Matthew 5:17-20 gives deeper insight into His relationship to the Old Testament.
Because Jesus’ teaching was so different from the Scribes and Pharisees, they believed that He contradicted the Law of Moses. To be fair, He did contradict the Judaistic religion of His day, but he did not contradict the Mosaic teaching. His work was a logical sequence to the Old Testament religion. Therefore, to clarify this truth, Jesus affirms His relationship to the Old Law: “…I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17-18). Jesus fulfilled all that the Law and the Prophets revealed about the coming Messiah (Deut. 18:15-19), the coming kingdom of heaven (Daniel 2:44), and the coming of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:32-34; Heb. 8:6-13). The Old Law was never meant to be permanent, but it did fulfill its purpose (Gal. 3:19-25), and every precise point, no matter how small, was fulfilled at the cross (Col. 2:14).
In contrast to Jesus’ emphasis on remaining obedient to every command, the Jewish leaders were disobedient and taught others to do so (Matt. 5:19). Therefore, our Lord declared that those who do such things are “least in the kingdom of heaven.” But those who obey, and teach others to obey, are “called great in the kingdom of heaven!” Today, too many in the Lord’s church are not concerned about being right in all points, but Jesus said we are to be concerned about even the smallest points in God’s law (Matt. 5:18).
In fact, our Lord continued by saying, “…Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” This means we are to obey God in every point (Heb. 5:8-9), we are to teach others to obey the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27; James 3:1), and we are not to be hypocrites (Matt. 23:1-3; Rom. 2:21-24). Just as our Lord Jesus Christ taught and practiced the will of God, even so, we must live up to the Christian name by doing the same!