The Law

Reading Assignment:

Matthew 5:17-20

Did you understand what you read?

  1. What did Jesus not come to do?
  2. When would the law end?
  3. Did Jesus end the law? See Romans 10:4 and Ephesians 2:15.
  4. When did the law end? See Colossians 2:14.
  5. In the meantime, could the Jews ignore the law? Why or why not?


The Sermon on the Mount was taught to Jews living under the Old Law. The New Law did not come into effect until after Jesus' death upon the cross (Colossians 2:14, Ephesians 2:15). God has always required that the establishment of a law be done with the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:15-18). The Old Law was established with the shedding of oxen blood (Exodus 24:7-8). The New Law was established with the shedding of the Son of God's blood.

Such a change in the laws was predicted many years prior to Jesus' death (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Did this mean that God changed his mind about the kind of law He wanted His people to follow? We learn in I Peter 1:18-20 that Jesus' death was planned to bring salvation before God created the world. The method of our salvation is according to God's purpose and was done before there was even time (Ephesians 1:9-10). Salvation could not be brought in under the Old Law. A new law had to be established.

Jeremiah stated that the New Law would not be like the Old Law. So what changed between the laws? The book of Hebrews explains many of the changes. For instance, the priesthood changed. Jesus, the Christ, is now our high priest instead of a descendant of Aaron (Hebrews 5:1-10). The order of Aaron was not permanent because it could never be perfect (Hebrews 7:11). High priests under the Old Law were men and men make mistakes. Since Jesus is not a descendant of Aaron, the change in priesthood implied a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12-17). Another change was in the sacrifices (Hebrews 9:16-28, Hebrews 10:1-8). The Old Law required a yearly sacrifice on behalf of the people. Since this sacrifice had to be offered every year, it implied that the blood of animals could not truly forgive sins. The New Law changed this by having only one perfect sacrifice - the death of Jesus, the Son of God, upon the cross.

More fundamentally, there was a change in the covenant between God and man. People could not keep the Old Law. Everyone broke the law in some manner. It is not that the old law had something wrong with it. Jesus proved that it is possible to keep the law perfectly, but Jesus was the first and the last to do so. The "problem" with the Old Law is that it defined sin, but brought no relief from the sin. It could only offer future hope of salvation (Romans 7:7-13). Where the Old Law bound sin to men, the New Law frees us from sin. Salvation comes through the sacrifice of Jesus (Galatians 4:21-5:4).

Until the law changed, the Jews were expected to live in obedience to the Old Law. If they could not live by the Old Law, then they could not expect to enter into the church. Jesus said that not even the smallest portion of the Law would disappear until it was fulfilled. Jesus' purpose was to fulfill the Law.

Introduction to Six Teachings

Jesus presents six teachings in Matthew 5:21-48. They cover topics of anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and love. Many people believe that Jesus used these topics to show the differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, this position presents some difficulties. Did God change his mind about what constituted sin? Worst, was the Old Testament wrong in what it taught on these topics? If the Old Testament was wrong and it was inspired by God, then we are lead to the conclusion that God was wrong. This is an unacceptable conclusion, so we need to re-examine the basis that led us to this conclusion.

Each of the six teachings is presented in the same style. Jesus begins with a quotation and then explains why the quotation is incorrect. Because of the consistency of the presentation, we can assume that all of the quotations came from the same source. We can also assume that the authoritative source used by Jesus' to disprove the quotations are the same in each rebuttal. Here are some possible sources for the quotes and the rebuttals.

  1. Jesus could be quoting from the Old Law and contrasting the Old Law with the New Law. Those who hold this point argue that Jesus is preparing the people for the changes in their lives when the New Law comes into effect. If Jesus is quoting from the Old Law, then we can expect to find each of the quotations in the Old Testament. Since Jesus is showing why the quotation is wrong, we should be able to uphold the ideas behind the quotation with passages from the New Testament. At the same time, we will be unable to show that the Old Testament teaches differently from Jesus' statements.
  2. Jesus could be quoting from current Jewish traditions, which were loosely based on the Old Law, and contrasting them with what the Old Law really taught on the subject. If this is true, then we can expect the quotations to be contrary to the teachings of the Old Testament. We will also be able to prove Jesus's points with passages from the Old Testament.
  3. Jesus could be quoting from current Jewish traditions and contrasting them with the New Law. If this is true, then we can expect the quotation to be contrary to the teachings in the New Testament. We will also be able to prove Jesus's points with passages from the New Testament.

Notice that it is possible for both the second and third point to be true at the same time. While the Old and New Testament are different, they do not differ on every point. Many things that are true under the Old Law are also true under the New Law. For example, the Old Law requires the believer to love God (Exodus 20:6). The New Law contains the same requirement (I John 4:7-11). This similarity is not surprising; the Old and New Law have the same author - God (I Timothy 3:16).


  1. List three things, not mentioned in the lesson, that changed between the Old Law and the New Law.
  2. List four things that remained the same between the Old Law and the New Law. Why didn't these things change?
Print Friendly, PDF & Email