Peter A. Muth
“I think I might have had a bit of an “illumination” in the middle of the night regarding Matthew 5:17-20, esp. v.18 & 20”
SETTING THE CONTEXT OF MATTHEW 5:17-20
- Jesus, the King of the Kingdom of God who just said, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” in 4:17, is introducing the *eschatological Kingdom* to His disciples on the Mount…
- The KEY to understanding 5:17-20 is the fact that Jesus is speaking about the ESCHATOLOGICAL KINGDOM, which undoubtedly the Scribes & Pharisees had taught the people would come when God creates the “new heavens and a new earth,” replacing the PRESENT “heaven and earth.”
In other words, it was thought & taught that the Eschatological Kingdom of God/Heaven would not come UNTIL the PRESENT heaven and earth passed away! [Reference Isaiah 65:17 –> “For behold, I create *new heavens and a new earth;* and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.”]
It is, I believe, against this backdrop that Jesus says the following in Matthew 5:17-20 to His disciples with the eschatological kingdom in mind — He has to correct their misunderstanding, misconceptions & of it because it is literally “at hand” and “in their midst” (In Him!):
17 Do not think that I came to abolish *the Law or the Prophets* [i.e. The Torah & Prophets–the entire Old Testament concerning the eschatological kingdom of heaven]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. ☆18 For truly I say to you, *until heaven and earth pass away,* not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the *Law* [i.e. shorthand for the entire Old Testament, per v.17] until *all* is accomplished.
NOW ASK: Until “all” of WHAT is accomplished? –> He is saying that everything written in the Law (and the Prophets > the entire Old Testament) about the *eschatological kingdom* which He has begun introducing & is commissioning its announcement through His disciples in vv.1-16 (i.e. Beatitudes/Salt & Light), this *eschatological kingdom* will be fulfilled BEFORE “heaven and earth” pass away.
☆IN OTHER WORDS: The PRESENT “heaven and earth” will remain UNTIL all that is written about the eschatological kingdom is fulfilled! The eschatological kingdom is going to be here BEFORE the “new heavens and a new earth” are created…in fact, IT IS HERE NOW and ‘I, the King of the Kingdom of God, am introducing it to you!!!’
19 “Whoever then annuls [undermines, usurps, changes or perverts the true meaning & purpose of] one of the least of these commandments [the will of God regarding His eschatological kingdom — ref. Hebrews 10:5-7], and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least *in the (eschatological) kingdom of heaven* (which is here NOW and I will begin populating); but whoever keeps and teaches them [i.e. the commandments/will of God pertaining to the eschatological kingdom –> the will of God that must be fulfilled by Jesus (v.17) BEFORE this PRESENT heaven and earth passes away], he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
▪NOTE: Jesus’ audience had no idea that there would be a *now and not yet* coming of the kingdom of heaven — just as they had no idea of the 2 comings of their Messiah. But Jesus says this in Mt. 12:28 “…if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (cf. Lk. 17:21 “…the kingdom of God is in your midst” – present within Jesus!
NOW THIS FOLLOWING VERSE MAKES SENSE:
- 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not *enter* the kingdom of heaven (that is here NOW).”
▪NOTE: We know that Christ is our ONLY righteousness for entering the kingdom of heaven – it does not come via the Law of Moses, which we know does not produce righteousness – we must be “born of the Spirit” (John 3) — there is no other way, no other righteousness except that which comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone!
KEY: The Scribes & Pharisees did not understand the nature of the eschatological kingdom of heaven –> nor did they know *how* or *on what basis* one enters it!
▪THINK IT THROUGH: Read through this proposition again, and slowly think through the immediate & extended context of Jesus’ mission of ushering in the Kingdom of God/Heaven, but needing to straighten out the teaching of the eschatological kingdom because it is literally “at hand” and “in their midst” – in Him – and He has begun teaching about it…and will now, from this point on, continue to teach about it on a *heart level* via faith in Himself >>> eg. His very Person & Finished Work as Messiah of Israel, the promised coming King of the Kingdom of God!
 PERSONAL DISCLAIMER:
▪I am open to loving critique of what I have proposed herein…
▪I do not think this section has anything to do with the “commandments” of the Mosaic Law – except where they pertain to Messianic fulfillment [i.e. types, foreshadows & legal fulfillment in order to make it “obsolete,” per Heb. 8:13]…
▪It makes much more contextual sense to me that Jesus is speaking of those Old Testament commands that He came to obey & fulfill [i.e. His “Father’s will” — per Hebrews 10:7 > “all that is written about Me in the volume of the scroll – I have come to do Your will, God.”] as Messiah/King for the purpose of ushering in & establishing the Messianic Kingdom of Heaven here and now…though it still has a future consummation — a mystery that was completely hidden from the Jews, as much as the “Suffering Servant” Messiah of Isaiah 53 was the mysterious will of God!