What did Jesus mean that He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it? What did He mean that 'not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished' (Matthew 5:18)?
In Luke 16:17 Jesus says, "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void." In Matthew 5:17-18, as part of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."
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With these words, Jesus honored the Law as God's Holy Word and declared the Law to be perfect, non-negotiable, and a true prediction of God's work in the future. The fulfillment of the Law is found in Christ Himself and His finished work of redemption.
We are saved by God's grace (Ephesians 2:8–9). Being under grace, believers are not bound by the Law (Romans 6:14), but we have the Holy Spirit actually living in our hearts. The Spirit gives us the ability to "love one another" (John 13:34), and we know that "the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). Christians do not work at fulfilling the Mosaic Law, which Christ fulfilled on our behalf (Matthew 5:17); rather, we fulfill the "law of Christ" by the Spirit's power (Galatians 6:2).
It is important to keep Jesus' statement in context. He had just said, "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John," in the previous verse (Luke 16:16, NIV). He quickly follows that statement with an affirmation of the Law's permanence, to curtail any thinking that John the Baptist's coming had somehow voided the Law. Even as the kingdom was being preached to the nation of Israel, the Law held its proper place as the revelation of God's holy standard. As John MacArthur puts it, "The great moral principles of the law, the eternal truths contained in the law's types and symbols, and the promises recorded by the prophets all remain in force and are not abrogated by the kingdom message" (Study Helps, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1997).
In both Matthew 5 and Luke 16, Jesus underscores the inspiration of Scripture. The Word of God is our authority. Later, Jesus introduces the New Covenant, ratified with His shed blood (Luke 22:20), but the New Covenant does not destroy the Law; it completes the Law. The sacrifices the Hebrew children had to offer every day were not somehow nullified by the death of Christ; they found their fulfillment in His death. We no longer bake bread, sprinkle it with frankincense, and arrange it on a table in a temple (Leviticus 24:5–7). Instead, we look to the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ (John 6:51). The table of showbread was but a picture of what was to come; it is no longer part of our worship today, but it remains part of the foundation upon which our faith is built (Ephesians 2:20).
The Law of the Lord is perfect (Psalm 19:7). Till heaven and earth pass away, God's Holy Word—all of it—will continue to accomplish all that it was sent to do (Isaiah 55:11).
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