Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.—Matt 5:17-18
There are some very interesting statements Jesus makes, in these two verses alone, that have long been the source of much confusion for me. I began getting the gist of these verses a couple years ago, but there were still some blind spots. For the past couple of days, God has been prompting me to more deeply consider these verses in the overall context of the sentiment Jesus seemed to be expressing. Yet again, he has shown me a whole new layer of understanding in my personal journey.
Is Everything Fulfilled?
We may readily acknowledge that Jesus was speaking of the old laws given to Israel, but he was also speaking of the prophets—stating he didn’t come to destroy, but fulfill. Even further, heaven and earth would have to pass away first and all things would have to be accomplished before even a letter or pen stroke would pass away from the law! This seems to be quite a pointed expression.
In this sense, it would seem we only have one of two scenarios: Jesus has accomplished everything…..or he hasn’t.
If the first scenario is valid, we are completely free from the Old Testament law as an obligation, though there is still much we can learn from it. If the second scenario is valid—that is, if Jesus hasn’t fulfilled all the law AND the prophets—then we are still under the Old Testament law, and we look forward to a future event in which heaven and earth will pass away and Jesus will finish the unfulfilled portions of prophecy. It’s important to note that much of the prophecy of those such as Daniel and Malachi were the same prophecies reiterated in Revelation. In other words, either Jesus has fulfilled all the law and all the prophecies, or he hasn’t. We can do theological gymnastics to justify our positions, divide up the law and prophecies, or otherwise ignore these scriptures, but the more I study such passages, the more the message is clear—Jesus has already accomplished everything.
If he hasn’t, then everything Paul and the other N.T. authors taught about, such as no longer being under law, is invalid—we’re still responsible for every iota of every character of the law if we are claiming to follow God.
When did heaven and earth pass away?
In passages such as Isaiah 1:2, we see who God is referencing with this terminology. This is a Biblical way of speaking of Israel, God’s chosen people meant to be the salt and light of the world, that all nations would be blessed through them. How well did they keep their calling?
Here, we see some of the pieces of the overall puzzle starting to fit together: The old kingdom would have to completely pass away for the new Kingdom to fully come into being. This is where Jesus returns to fulfill the curses of the law to those whom the law was given to (Israel). Those who refused to turn to the New Covenant, instead, binding themselves to the Old, were in turn delivered those very curses (Deut 28:15-68). When this was completed, the old kingdom was delivered up to the Father (1 Cor 15:24). This was the end of the age (aion), not “the world” as is commonly thought. Compare a few verses from the link (emphasis mine):
NAS: in this age or
KJV: in this world, neither in
INT: this the age nor in
NAS: and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness
KJV: of this world, and
INT: care the age and the
NAS: is the end of the age; and the reapers
KJV: the end of the world; and
INT: [the] harvest [the] completion of the age is
Here, we see the often misrepresented concept between age (a period of time) and world (the earth as we know it). This one word has served to throw much of prophecy and the Bible off of its axis.
It short, Jesus seems to state that all the words of the law, as well as the prophets, would have to be fulfilled before the old law, every character and mark, would be fulfilled and pass away. We readily acknowledge, for the most part, that we live under a New Covenant. However, we often disregard the completeness of Jesus’ fulfillment. It would seem that the only way we can honestly view this passage is that Jesus has already fulfilled all the law and prophets. Otherwise, we are still bound to every single mandate of the Old Covenant.
This indeed goes much deeper and there are many other passages that correspond to these conclusions. For the sake of brevity I will stop here. I encourage any reading this to research these things individually as relevant to your personal walk with Jesus.