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Did Jesus Really Abolish the Law? Part 2

“17 Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20) 


The previous part of Did Jesus Really Abolish The Law, Part 1 ( ended with a summary of Jesus’s words from Matthew 5:17-18. “Never imagine for a moment,” Jesus says, “that I intend to (do away with) the Law by misinterpreting it. My intent is not to weaken or negate the Law, but by properly interpreting God’s written Word I aim to establish it, that is, make it even more lasting. I would never invalidate the Law by effectively removing something from it through misinterpretation. Heaven and earth would sooner disappear than something from the Law” (Roy Blizzard Jr., Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus).


In this part, we will take another challenging dive into what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:29-20 to complete the whole picture. By the end of this part, you’ll see that Jesus not only affirmed the validity and longevity of the Torah (the Law) but its place in every disciple’s life as it relates to obedience (Matthew 5:19) and salvation (Matthew 5:20).


By the time we arrive at verse 19, we should know the answer to our primary question. Jesus didn’t do away with the Law. Instead, He affirmed the Law (the Torah) and began to teach His disciples what each instruction, guideline, and command means and how to apply it to their lives to help them live just like Him. But Jesus was perfect. Yes, but even though born-again people are not perfect, we’re being perfected, and perfection will happen after we die or Jesus returns. In the meantime, however, we have the entirety of God’s word, specifically His Torah, to “shoot us toward the mark” of His character and will and teach us how to be just like our Elder Brother.


What does that mean for us, Jesus’ siblings? We’re expected to follow the family rules. So, let’s jump in.


How does the Torah apply to us?


“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).


I see three things in this verse that should smack us in our theological faces.


The first is Jesus expects His disciples to follow His commands. Unless I’m reading it wrong (and I don’t think I am), there is absolutely no indication that Jesus excuses His disciples from doing what He is doing – obeying the Torah. Instead, it seems clear that Torah observance (read Torah obedience) is expected of every disciple. Even teaching and encouraging others to obey is included.


The second thing is whether you break a command and teach others to do so does not affect whether you get into God’s kingdom or not. Both the keepers and the breakers are in His kingdom.


Thirdly, Jesus tells us that keeping or breaking His commandments and teaching others to do the same will somehow affect our standing in His kingdom. Please note that this could mean our standing in His kingdom now or in the fullness of His kingdom at the restoration of all things. I’ll let you know when we get there.


On the surface, this is enough to tell us that learning and living our King’s Torah/Law, His instructions, guidelines, and commands, is very important to Jesus. He set the template, and because He’s our rabbi, we’re expected to follow His example in word and deed, aligning ourselves with Him.


But wait! There’s more! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)


Of course, there’s more. Verse 19 is loaded with Jewish idioms that add depth to the verse’s meaning when unpacked. Take a breath. Here we go.


Whoever breaks vs. whoever practices.


Verses 17-18 have to do primarily with correctly interpreting the Torah so it may be acted upon rightly. Verse 19 is the logical continuation. Some translations use “does away with/relaxes/loosens/annuls” for break and “obeys/does/keeps” for practice. Do you see how breaks and practices align idiomatically with Jesus’ intent to interpret, explain, and apply the Law accurately?


After correctly interpreting the Torah, we’re supposed to do the Torah properly. That means obey. This parallels what James tells us. “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom (and by that, James means the Torah) and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25, italics author).


Did you catch what James wrote? When you study and practice God’s “perfect law of freedom,” you will be blessed in what you do. Why? Because God’s word is our owner’s manual. He created us and knows exactly what we need to know and how to live to make us His image as we were designed.


Following God’s divine instructions will make our lives pleasing to Him, fruitful for us, and a blessing to others. All Adam and Eve had to do was live God’s way, and they would have lived blessed lives with a bazillion descendants, all working together, making the world heaven on earth. When Adam and Eve rebelled and refused to follow God’s directions, everything went to Sheol, including them.


Why is doing God’s commands so important? Again, God’s commands reflect His will, things to do and not do. Therefore, breaking a command is rejecting and disobeying God’s will, and keeping a command affirms and obeys His will.


“To do or not to do.” That really is the question, and the therefore that starts the verse is there for a reason. Because Jesus came to teach the Torah properly and the Torah remains operational, we had better pay attention because how a person works with the Torah has consequences.


How we interpret a command affects how we obey a command. A lousy interpretation or application of a Torah command relaxes it in a way God doesn’t allow. Therefore, a flawed interpretation leads to a wrong application that will violate God’s command, something Jesus doesn’t want us to do.


Dr. Brad Young puts it this way. “When one misunderstands the proper meaning of Torah, one may not obey the Lord’s will and therefore will cancel the law. Hence, a person may abolish Torah by misunderstanding the divine revelation. On the other hand, when one understands the proper meaning, one is able to obey God’s will and therefore fulfill Torah.” Furthermore, “Proper interpretation breaths life and power into the divinely spoken words. If properly understood and obeyed, the divine revelation provides a guide for successful living. Thus, the law is fulfilled. Wrong interpretation, on the other hand, cancels the words communicated through divine revelation” (Young).


In verse 17, Jesus says we abolish/do away with/destroy a Torah command by misinterpreting it. In verse 19, Jesus says we weaken or nullify a Torah command if we misapply it. A misapplication happens in two ways: 1) deciding we don’t have to obey it when we do, or 2) obeying it in a way God never intended.


We’re not allowed to ignore God’s clear commands or add to or subtract things from them that violate God’s intent. That’s breaking God’s command. Keeping a command is when we correctly interpret and apply it in a way God intends. In context, breaking and keeping is not about willfully sinning or not. It’s about accurately understanding and performing the Lord’s commands.


And teaches others.


What we believe will influence others because people hear our words and watch our behavior. This is especially true for spiritual leaders and teachers. Therefore, we should strive to understand and apply God’s Word correctly. It’s one thing for me to break God’s command because I’ve misunderstood it. It’s more severe if I teach my faulty understanding to others, leading them to break God’s command as well. If I correctly understand and obey God’s command as intended, He commends me. How much more commendation will I receive if I teach God’s command well to others and encourage them toward correct obedience? This is what Jesus tells us in 5:19.


So, how far does this break vs. practice thing go? The idiomatic use of “least” and “greatest” tells us.


The least vs. greatest: commands.


As Jesus affirms the entire Torah, essential questions pop up.


Question #1 – Are all the commands equally important, or are some more important than others?


Question #2 – If some commands are seemingly insignificant, can they be regarded as optional?


Question #3 – Do all the commands pertain to every disciple? Let’s start with the “least versus greatest” idiom.


In rabbinic parlance, a “great” or “greater” command is “heavier,” more significant, and has a greater overall impact than others. A “least” or “lesser” command is “lighter,” less significant, and has a lesser overall impact than others.


For example, according to rabbinic teaching, a greater command would be “Do not murder.” A lesser command, called the “least of the commandments,” is Deuteronomy 22:6-7 where God’s people are commanded to chase away a mother bird before they take her eggs. The difference between how we deal with birds and human beings is enormous. The loss of a human being is far more significant than a chicken losing an egg. Murder is the illegitimate, illegal taking of human life. Shooing a mother bird away is a legitimate, legal way to take an egg. However, the rabbis believe it affects the mother bird just as any mother would be grieved when separated from her offspring. Therefore, it’s morally right and kind to shoo the mother away so she doesn’t see her egg taken from her.


If it’s right and kind to do this with an insignificant bird, how much more is it right and kind to not murder a human being? That’s the idiomatic use of lesser/greater we encounter in the Bible.


Here’s another place Jesus used this greater/lesser idiom. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier (greater, more important) matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These (the greater commands) you ought to have done, without leaving the others (the lesser commands) undone” (Matthew 23:23).


While tithing was commanded, some Pharisees were taking great pains to tithe what wasn’t required to tithe – seeds. This example describes obeying a command in a way God never intended. Furthermore, the seeds Jesus referred to are very tiny and insignificant. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes because they focused on the trivial, unnecessary things that God did not require of them. At the same time, they glossed over the much more significant things like justice, mercy, and faith that God required.


In verse 19, we get the answer to our first two questions. There are differences between the Torah’s commands regarding their least/great, light/heavy, insignificant/significant nature. However, all of God’s commands are mandatory per the letter of the Law as correctly understood and applied according to God’s intent.


So, yes. Some commands are of greater significance than others, but all of them are the same as a reflection of God’s will. Even the least of God’s commands are important enough to affect our eternal life. As James points out, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Least or great, every command matters to God.


This brings us to the third question, “Do all the commands pertain to every disciple?” What if there’s no possible way to fulfill a command? For example, it’s obvious that moral commands like “Don’t steal” or keeping sexual activity within God’s boundaries pertain to every disciple (not to mention every human being on earth). But what about ritual commands such as those addressing Temple sacrifices (Leviticus 1-7, et al.) and skin diseases (Leviticus 13-14)? The Temple is gone, and the priesthood isn’t around for skin examinations. And what about the civic commands meant to govern the nation of Israel? If we don’t live in Israel and the country we live in doesn’t align with Israel’s biblical civic laws, what do we disciples do?


I agree with the rabbis. You’re exempt if it’s impossible to obey a command or it doesn’t apply to you. However, many rabbis also teach that just because we can’t fulfill a command doesn’t mean we can’t derive principles from it that help us obey the Lord the best we can out of love and honor.


“But, Pastor Jay, we’re not priests.” Oh, really? Aren’t Jesus’ followers referred to as a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9)? Then maybe we should study what’s expected of God’s priests – their commitment to purity, responsibility before God, and proper worship, prayer, and service to the community – and put what we learn into practice. After studying and teaching the Torah for years, I’ll bet you anything that the Holy Spirit can apply any command to us if we learn it and listen to Him.


But there’s more to verse 19 than just greater and lesser commands. Jesus refers to greater and lesser disciples in God’s kingdom depending on how they obey and teach others to do the same.


The least vs. greatest: disciples.


Why does Jesus teach that we shouldn’t violate a “less significant” command? Because “If one violates a minor commandment, such as the prohibition against anger, it will lead to the transgression of a major commandment, such as the prohibition against murder” (Young, citing Flusser). Jesus wants His disciples to strive for the best, most accurate obedience possible. That only comes if a command is accurately interpreted and applied according to God’s intent with no additions or subtractions.


Following Jesus’ use of the greatest/least idiom, He cautions that if His disciple is too loose with even a “light” or “less significant” commandment, that disciple will be considered “light” or less significant in God’s Kingdom.


Let me be absolutely clear. This greater/lesser in God’s kingdom is not about whether a disciple is saved. “In the kingdom” plainly means saved, born-again, and regenerated. In other words, if you’re born-again, no worries, you’re in. Jesus’ statement refers to our standing in God’s kingdom based on whether or not we followed His will and taught others to do the same. That depends entirely on whether we understand and follow God’s commands correctly or not, and that will also influence others around us for which we’ll be held accountable.


Jesus uses a classic rabbinic teaching: “If the least commandment is neglected, the lowest position is attained.” Therefore, how we regard and embrace God’s commands determines how we’re viewed in God’s kingdom now and in the coming age.


But what does greatest/least mean regarding a disciple? That’s hard to say. However, don’t we esteem a person today as having “greater” or “lesser” significance (impact or esteem), depending on their exemplary or immoral lives? It seems our Heavenly Father uses the same standard regarding obeying His will. Are we exemplary in learning, understanding, and obeying His word? Do we teach and encourage others to strive for the same high standard? Or do we shave the commands down to our level of looseness to make allowances for borderline holiness? According to Jesus, that affects how we’re regarded in God’s kingdom.


All that said (and it’s a lot, I know), does this mean getting into God’s kingdom depends on obedience to God’s instructions, guidelines, and commands?


Jesus affirmed the Torah and its validity today. He also affirmed how important it was for us to live it as He did. In vs. 20, Jesus addresses the right motive for obedience: “Why are you obeying God?” Jesus warns us against falling into the same trap as those who took the Torah seriously.


“For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).


Spoiler alert! We don’t obey God’s commands to gain salvation. We obey because we’re saved.


Verse 19 makes it clear. Those who obey carry weight in the Kingdom, and those who disobey don’t. Either way, the disciple is still in God’s kingdom because being right with God has never been through our efforts but solely by trusting Him and the way He provides.


Righteousness – God declaring that we’re right with Him – comes only by trusting Him and His way of salvation. “For we conclude that a person is justified (proven right with God) by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 1:17. Also Romans 5:1-2 ).


Tim Hegg of writes, “One passes the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees not by neglecting the outward performance of the commands, but by performing them as the fruit of a heart given over to true worship of God” (italics author). This statement assumes a genuine relationship with God, the object of our worship.


It’s tough to keep God’s commands if we try to obey them out of obligation. But if we receive them as God’s “…blessing and privilege, then keeping them is pure delight. However, only a heart borne out of faith in God is able to so receive the commandments as blessing (sic), and it is this kind of ‘keeping’ which (Jesus) teaches His disciples.” This keeping/obedience comes from a heart that’s right with God, showing whether or not we are in God’s kingdom.


The Pharisee’s righteousness often focused on the letter of the Torah through meticulous observance. Careful, detailed Torah observance (like tithing seeds) was sometimes used as a standard of how right with God one was. Jesus’ response to this? “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Torah-lessness)” (Matthew 23:28).


God’s covenant righteousness cannot be based on simply obeying the letter of the Torah/Law. Jesus taught that righteousness must be better and more profound than that, on a spiritual and heart level. True righteousness comes from trusting Jesus for salvation, which brings a spiritual transformation and a heart transplant by the Holy Spirit, causing us to want to live God’s way. Not only is our salvation from God but so is our motivation to obey Him. Verse 20 is about the right motive for doing and teaching, out of love, not obligation.




In Matthew 5:17, Jesus unequivocally affirmed the Torah and the Prophets. After all, He inspired them and the rest of the Hebrew scriptures up to that point. Counter to apparent accusations, Jesus affirmed that He alone could explain and apply His word accurately and with the proper intent. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus affirmed that the Torah and the Prophets were still operating until His Father restored the world to its initial design. In Matthew 5:19, Jesus affirmed that He expected His disciples to obey His commands, and to the extent they embraced them determined a disciple’s impact within His Father’s kingdom. Finally, Jesus set the standard for entering the kingdom and gaining righteousness by trusting God first and not through scrupulous Torah observance.


So, here’s our challenge. If Jesus had such a high view of the Torah and the Prophets, how can we diminish it? Who gave us, Jesus’ disciples, the right and authority to strike down and nullify our Rabbi’s teachings and commands? What right do the subjects have to ignore or strike down the King’s laws? If following God’s word reveals that we stand right with Him, are we nullifying a significant part of our testimony by saying Jesus did away with His Law and we don’t need to follow it?


On the other hand, shouldn’t we learn the foundation of our rabbi’s teachings, the Torah and the Prophets? We can’t obey what we don’t know and may inadvertently break them to our detriment.


Many of those who say the Torah/Law is not for Christians today are in for a rude awakening. A day approaches when God’s kingdom will extend worldwide, and God’s way of life will be the “law of the land.” Humanity will embrace it rather than try to avoid or nullify God’s instructions, guidelines, and statutes. Isaiah declares it,


Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the (Torah), and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).


So, let’s get started on it now.





Bean, William E., New Treasures, Revised Edition: A Perspective of New Testament Teachings Through Hebraic Eyes, Cornerstone Publishing, P.O. Box 26654, Minneapolis, MN, 55426. 1995, 1999 Revised Edition.

Bivin, David and Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights From a Hebraic Perspective, Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, Dayton, OH; Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA 17257. 1983, 1984, 1994 Revised Edition

Flusser, David, A Rabbinic Parallel to the Sermon on the Mount, in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 494-507.

Hegg, Tim, Matthew 5:17-20 – Yeshua’s View of the Torah, Some Preliminary Questions and Answers,, 1989

Hegg, Tim, Matthew 5:17-20: Yeshua’s View of the Law,

Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament and Commentary, 1989, 1993.

Young, Brad H., Jesus: The Jewish Theologian, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., P.O. Box 3473, Peabody, MA 01961-3473. 1996

Shining the Light of God’s Truth on the Road Ahead


Pastor Jay Christianson

The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts



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