Kingdom Righteousness and the Hebrew Bible
Relaxed or Fulfilled
The question at hand is whether God's righteous commands will be relaxed or fulfilled . These are the only two options. The person who denies that Jesus has perfectly accomplished God's commandments will relax them in an effort to suggest that somehow we can perform them. But we can't perform them as we ought (vs20). But if we confess that Jesus has perfectly accomplished God's commandments, then surely they have not been relaxed one bit. For they required the very Son of God to take on flesh in order to perform them! It is at this point that the "until" reality of 18d kicks in, opening up the possibility of God's rules in some way passing away through Jesus inaugurating a New Covenant. The difference is that such commandments were never relaxed by us. They were fulfilled and finished by Jesus (vs17-18), a point expounded upon most notably in Galatians, Romans and Hebrews. Still, God's love for righteousness is never finished. Thus, how we love God and love others, and teach others to do likewise—that is, how we live out the commandments on which all the other rules have always depended (Matt 20:44)—this will most certainly effect our honor in the eternal kingdom (vs19).
Main point summary
Jesus: I came to fulfill the Old Testament scriptures and therefore you need to know that God's righteous rules matter big time—and will affect your eternity. For the kingdom of God is a kingdom of righteousness, and only those with perfect righteousness will enter.
Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας•
"אַל תַּחְשְׁבוּ שֶׁבָּאתִי לְבַטֵּל אֶת הַתּוֹרָה אוֹ אֶת הַנְּבִיאִים;
p “Do not think that I have come to abolish q the Law or the Prophets;
οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι
לֹא בָּאתִי לְבַטֵּל
I have not come to abolish them
כִּי אִם לְקַיֵּם.
but r to fulfill them.
ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν•
כי אָמֵן. אוֹמֵר אֲנִי לָכֶם,
For truly, I say to you,
ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ,
עַד אֲשֶׁר יַעַבְרוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ
s until heaven and earth pass away,
ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου,
אַף יוֹד אַחַת אוֹ תָּג אֶחָד לֹא יַעַבְרוּ מִן הַתּוֹרָה
not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law
ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται.
בְּטֶרֶם יִתְקַיֵּם הַכֺּל.
until all is accomplished.
ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων
לָכֵן כָּל הַמֵּפֵר אַחַת מִן הַמִּצְווֹת הַקְּטַנּוֹת הָאֵלֶּה
t Therefore whoever relaxes u one of the least of these commandments
καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους,
וּמְלַמֵּד כָּךְ אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת,
and teaches others to do the same
ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν•
קָטוֹן יִקָּרֵא בְּמַלְכוּת הַשָּׁמַיִם.
will be called least v in the kingdom of heaven,
ὃς δʼ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ,
אֲבָל כָּל הָעוֹשֶׂה וּמְלַמֵּד,
but whoever does them and teaches them
οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.
הוּא גָּדוֹל יִקָּרֵא בְּמַלְכוּת הַשָּׁמַיִם.
will be called great v in the kingdom of heaven.
Λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν
כי אוֹמֵר אֲנִי לָכֶם,
For I tell you,
ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ περισσεύσῃ ὑμῶν ἡ δικαιοσύνη πλεῖον τῶν γραμματέων καὶ Φαρισαίων,
אִם לֹא תִּהְיֶה צִדְקַתְכֶם מְרֻבָּה מִצִּדְקַת הַסּוֹפְרִים וְהַפְּרוּשִׁים
unless your righteousness exceeds w that of the scribes and Pharisees,
οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.
לֹא תִּכָּנְסוּ לְמַלְכוּת הַשָּׁמַיִם."
you x will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
I came to fulfill the Tanach (17) that is The Tanach will not pass away until it is accomplished (18) therefore How much we pay attention to God's commands will effect our eternity (19) for Only with perfect righteousness will one enter God's kingdom (20)
Kingdom Righteousness and the Hebrew Bible
Introduction What an array of error is corrected and what a wealth of insight is gained from these few sentences of Messiah found in Matthew’s Gospel. Regarding error, it is notable that it was not just in Jesus’ day that some thought he meant to destroy the Hebrew Bible. And likewise, it was not only at that time that people supposed they could enter God’s kingdom with an average righteousness. Jesus corrects us in this passage. But he brings insight as well. These verses have incredible potential to shed significant light on the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as well as give direction to understanding Messiah’s expectations for Jews and Gentiles alike that desire to live in New Covenant obedience. This potential is evidenced by observing the big-picture subject matter of this passage (such as why Jesus came and the kingdom of God) in combination with its focus on purpose (notice the infinitives in verse 17) and groundings (expressed by “For” and “Therefore”). Jesus has a lot to teach us here. And yet there are many difficulties and disagreements in these verses and understanding them is not easy. Thus, an approach is needed to carefully weigh what Messiah is saying. The approach this author has chosen is to focus on how the verses of this passage fit together. Thus, while each phrase in the passage will be examined and evaluated individually, the primary aspiration is to understand the relationship of the four verses in conjunction with each other. Contrary to the claim of some, it is clear that these verses are tightly connected by the strong connecting words that are used. Therefore, to understand Messiah’s meaning in any one of them is dependent upon understanding His progression of thought and explanation. Thesis The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of righteousness; the relevance and significance of the Hebrew Bible flows out from here. Context in Matthew After being baptized by John and tempted in the wilderness, Jesus begins His ministry. He calls on a few disciples, and next Matthew records him as going “throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” It is at this time, when Jesus’ fame is spreading, that he begins his glorious “Sermon on the Mount.” We are given a small glimpse of the setting of the sermon from Matthew’s words before and after the discourse. We are told that, “Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” And then upon completion of his teaching we read, “the crowds were astonished...for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” The substance of the sermon is extremely extensive, covering a great array of subjects that all center around kingdom righteousness. Michael L. Brown describes the structure well, noting that 5:3-16 serves as a prologue, 5:17-7:12 as the main content, and 7:13-27 as final exhortation and warning. The prologue consists of two parts. First, the Beatitudes. Jesus poetically turns his hearers reality upside-down by speaking of the incredible blessedness found in a humble, God-hungry, merciful heart. Already Messiah has begun filling his address with the themes of righteousness and the kingdom of heaven. Second, Jesus gives the famous exhortations that his followers are salt and light in the world and therefore to so act that others “may see [their] good works and give glory to [their] Father who is in heaven.” Jesus then moves into his main content, beginning with the big-picture truths found in the focus passage of this paper. From there he speaks of a series of teachings regarding the Torah. In each of the six cases, Jesus begins with the words “You have heard that it was said” (or similar) and then quotes a commandment from the Torah in common expression of the time. His reply is then “But I say to you” (It is no wonder that the crowds were in awe of the authority with which he spoke!), radically raising the standard of the precept to the level of heart-obedience. In continuation of the meat of Jesus’ discourse, he speaks of how righteousness should also not be practiced for others to see. Messiah gives the examples of giving to the needy, praying, and fasting, noting that those who do perform these things to be seen by others will not receive reward from our Father. As for money, Jesus exhorts us to lay up treasures in heaven and not worry about the basics of life (food, drink, clothing), but rather “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” In the final portion of the heart of Messiah’s message he speaks of three more subjects. He first deals with the one who is always quick to see other’s faults and then the one who makes unwise use of his best efforts. Thirdly, Jesus brings us back to our Father’s smiling face once again and exhorts us to ask, seek, and knock. Finally, he gives us his summary of the whole of the discourse: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” And with these words we are connected back to big-picture declaration of the passage at hand. Jesus’ sermon is not quite over, however; he has a few words of warning which we will find to be very crucial in understanding 5:17-20. First, Jesus urges his hearers to “Enter by the narrow gate.” He then explains that just as a bad tree will be shown for what it is by its fruit, so too will false prophets be exposed. Third, Messiah clarifies that simply claiming (or even thinking!) one belongs to Jesus is not enough. Rather, he says, there will be many “workers of lawlessness” on that day whom the Lord “never knew.” Finally, Jesus alerts his hearers that when storms of life come, only houses (i.e. lives) built on the rock of Messiah’s teaching will survive. The pertinence of different aspects of this context will be considered throughout the discussion that follows. Verse 17: Jesus Came to Fulfill “Do not think...” Jesus begins his discourse with words that alert us to the fact that what follows could be a misunderstanding we would gather from his teaching. Certainly the necessity of these words come with the incredible authority that Messiah assumes in this sermon. Would he use this authority to wipe out Judaism and start from scratch with a new religion? We will see as we move along that this is in no way Jesus’ mission. This same phrase is found one other place in the New Testament with striking grammatical parallels. In this case Jesus tells his hearers “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” As with our passage, we see Jesus first set forth the false rumor with regards to why he came. He then explicitly denies the rumor and alters it to the truth. This parallel passage is perhaps of most significance as we consider that what Jesus is denying is not something that is never true in any sense. As Carson explains, “[the] comparison with 10:34 shows that the antithesis may not be absolute. Few would want to argue that there is no sense in which Jesus came to bring peace (cf. on 5:9). Why then argue that there is no sense in which Jesus abolishes the law?” “...I came...” The next words immediately alert us that we are dealing with a grand purpose of Messiah. Why did he come? A reminder of other “I came...” assertions of Jesus would be helpful to mention at this time. We read elsewhere the Lord telling us that he came 1) “not to call the righteous, but sinners,” 2) to cause deep divisions, 3) to “preach” the gospel of God, 4) to do the Father’s will, 5) to make the blind see and the seeing blind, 6) that we “may have life and have it abundantly,” 7) to die on the cross, 8) to bring believers out of darkness, and 9) to “bear witness to the truth.” “...the Law or the Prophets...” Though this is the only time in the New Testament where this precise phrase is used, there are nine occurrences of similar phrases that include mention of “the Law” and “the Prophets.” As a whole, the meaning of these references is the Hebrew Bible, which is traditionally (and quite possibly was at the time of Messiah as well) broken up by the Jewish community into three parts: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Katuvim (Writings)—together making up the Tanakh (i.e. Hebrew Bible). It seems that a common way to refer to the whole of Scripture in Jesus’ day was to mention the first two in combination. Nonetheless, it should be noted that at times, while still having the entire Hebrew Bible in view, the speaker is emphasizing a particular aspect of the Scriptures. Matthew 11:13 is an example of this where clearly the prophetic aspect is of concern. Similarly in our passage, while Jesus wants us to know he is dealing with the entire Hebrew Bible, it is the realities of law and righteousness he is most focussed upon. This is evident by 1) the repeating of the “Law” alone in verse 18, 2) the discussion of “commandments” and the performance of them in verse 19, and 3) the insistence upon righteousness in verse 20. There is one other occurrence of “the Law” and “the Prophets” that is of note. It appears at the end of the sermon presently being discussed as noted in the discussion of context above. This is important as it gives strong evidence to the claim that the central content of the Sermon on the Mount is 5:17-7:12, an important observation in understanding how our verses fit together. In this verse as well, law and righteousness are in view. “...to destroy...” We have now arrived to Jesus’ words concerning the purpose for why he came. He first declares to his hearers what he emphatically is not in the business of doing. He has not come to destroy the Hebrew Bible. The Greek word behind destroy is καταλύω, used in aorist active infinitive form here. This word is found seventeen times in the New Testament, nine of them in reference to destroying a building (usually the temple). It also is used to speak figuratively of destroying an action, plan, or work, and finally twice it carries the meaning of lodging with someone as a guest. Very clearly it is the figurative destruction that is in view here, hence many English translations render it “abolish.” And so one question has already been decisively answered. Jesus is not beginning a new religion. Yes, he is establishing the New Covenant. Yes, he is radically changing the way we are able to relate to God. Yes, he himself is the center of history. But, no, he is not destroying or going against or discarding the Scriptures or the Jewish faith. Rather, he himself is what they are about, what they have been anticipating—and now he has come! This is also helpful as we evaluate the interpretations of the rest of our passage. Any interpretation that concludes that Jesus has destroyed the Hebrew Bible (specifically as it concerns law and righteousness) has gone astray. But this is not as simple as it sounds at first, for we must ask the question: “What is meant by ‘destroy’?” This will be discussed extensively below as we examine Jesus’ clarifying word of contrast (“fulfill”), but first let us see what insight can be gained from the context. In looking at the paragraphs that follow our passage, Floyd V. Filson suggests that Jesus “freely alters the literal meaning of commandments in order to give a full expression of the divine intent present in the ancient Law.” Filson continues, “[Jesus] often disregarded ceremony when human need was at stake; he cannot have said that men must always live exactly as they did in the early Mosaic period.” While there are bits of truth to what he is saying, Filson certainly goes too far with the words “freely alters the literal meaning,” and seems to miss the point. Jesus is not so much dealing with what to do about regulations in the Mosaic Law in 5:21-48, as he is responding to the convenient emphasis of the scribes and Pharisees on instructions from the Hebrew Bible that make for good legalistic righteousness, while they ignore passages that penetrate to the center of our (and God’s) hearts. This is surely what Jesus is getting at when he later tells the Pharisees, “if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Or when he woes the scribes and Pharisees with the words, “These [i.e. tithing mint, dill, and cumin] you ought to have done, without neglecting the others [i.e. justice, mercy, and faithfulness].” Thus, Filson is right that Jesus is “giv[ing] a full expression of the divine intent” of those commandments he references, but wrong to say he is altering their meaning; rather, he is expounding their meaning by explaining the heart of God in them. Or to put it another way, Messiah is not disregarding these commandments with his authority (which effectively would be destroying them), but instead bringing their proper illumination by his authority. In wider biblical context, we observe that certain commandments become impossible or inappropriate for followers of Messiah to uphold. Examples include the many commands regarding the Temple and sacrifices (some which cannot be performed at present due to the absence of the Temple and/or would be inappropriate since the once-for-all sacrifice for sin has been offered). Additionally, we see several passages that dismiss certain dietary and Sabbath laws. Finally, a word about Paul’s declaration that Jesus united Jew and Gentile “by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances.” “Abolishing” in this context is from a different Greek word (καταργέω), and yet holds similar meaning to καταλύω. Thus, Carson’s insight mentioned above must hold true. There is a sense and a nuance to these things. For, while Jesus did abolish the “law of commandments and ordinances,” he also in no way destroyed the Hebrew Bible (specifically as it concerns law and righteousness). “...but to fulfill.” Various claims have been made as to the best translation choice for πληρόω in this context. The primary positions are: 1) to establish, realize, actualize [in his life and teaching], 2) to confirm, uphold [by his life and teaching], 3) to accomplish, obey, fulfill by doing, 4) to bring out the full, intended meaning, to expound its true sense, to fulfill its spirit, 5) to fill up, add to [in order to complete], 6) to complete, bring to its destined end, 7) to fulfill [by his teaching], 8) to fulfill [prophetically]. Let us evaluate them each in turn. Definition #1 and #2 work well with the following context of verses 21-48 where Jesus clearly goes into focussed teaching, yet nonetheless have major problems. #1 seems to suggested the Hebrew Bible was not established already. Perhaps Hill has a particular sense of establish in mind, but none is set forth to support his claim nor is his suggestion accurate that this is in line with Matthew’s use of πληρόω elsewhere in the Gospel. Definition #2 is likewise simply not a valid use of πληρόω. Sure it is a nice idea and fits parts of the context, but it is still invalid as it completely alters the word being translated. Definition #3 certainly has potential and is part of this author’s understanding as will be seen below. Objections to this sense have come from two fronts. First, Hagner claims that πληρόω “is never used in Matthew to describe obedience to the law.” This, however, is only partially true. This verb is never used this way with “law” as the explicit object, but it is used two chapters earlier by Jesus with an object of “all righteousness.” This would then be the same meaning—a perfect living out of the Hebrew Bible (as pertains specifically to law and righteousness). Furthermore, it should be noted that the definition Hagner does land on is itself never used by Matthew (or any other New Testament author) the way he takes it! In a second objection, Carson notes, “The focus of Matthew 5 is the relation between the OT and Jesus’ teaching, not his actions. So any interpretation that says Jesus fulfills the law by doing it misses the point.” Certainly, if πληρόω is defined here solely in this way, it would seem strangely out of context. This does not, however, mean fulfilling the Hebrew Bible by perfectly living it out cannot be a partial sense of Jesus’ meaning. Definition #4 and #5 seem to play off the reality that πληρόω can also be used to mean “fill.” Carson gives a good response to these views, arguing that with this understanding “the reference to prophets (v.17) becomes obscure, and the entire structure is shaky in view of the fact that mere extension of law will not abolish any of it stringencies—yet in both Matthew and other NT documents some abolition is everywhere assumed.” He concludes, “But in addition to weaknesses of detail, it is hard to see how all this can be derived from vv.17-20.” Definition #6 can quickly be discarded as it makes absolutely no sense of verse 18. As we will see below, this meaning certainly would be a “pass[ing] away” of the Hebrew Bible. Definitions #7 and #8 are similar and both have a major point in their favor. This is by far Matthew’s most consistent meaning of πληρόω. At the same time, they both have points of question related to them. For definition #7, while it relates more to the context (as Jesus goes on to teach in verses 21-48 and beyond), it is a bit difficult to under just what Carson means when he says, “just as Jesus fulfilled OT prophecies by his person and actions, so he fulfilled OT law by his teaching.” The weakness of definition #8 is that of context. It can certainly work with verse 18, but becomes harder to understand in the light of the context beyond that point. In this author’s extensive word study of πληρόω, strong evidence was found to support a rendering of “fulfill” in a combination of two senses: “1) to fulfill the prophecies of the Law and the Prophets and 2) to perfectly live out righteousness as described in the Law and the Prophets” (similar to definitions #3 and #8 above). The main points supporting this understanding are 1) the fact that Jesus is speaking of both the Law and the Prophets (i.e. both legal and prophetic aspects of the Hebrew Bible are emphasized), 2) it parallels well with “until all is accomplished” in the following verse, 3) it connects with Jesus’ words two chapters earlier in 3:15, and 4) this includes Matthew’s clearly dominant usage of πληρόω. An important question heavily related to understanding this verb asks what is the thrust of Jesus’ contrast (not destroy, but fulfill). Is it, “I am not going to abolish, but rather the exact opposite: I am going to fulfill?” Or is his thought more, “Do not think what I am doing is abolishing; it may look like that, but really it is fulfilling.” To put it another way, is Jesus shedding light on “fulfill” by contrasting with the most extreme opposite OR is Jesus distinguishing between two actions that could be difficult for some to see the difference between in practice? Certainly the other instance of Jesus’ phrase “Do not think that” is that of complete opposite objects (“peace” vs. “a sword”). And yet, Jesus has in so many ways come to bring peace! And so perhaps we can say that while “destroy” and “fulfill” are certainly stark opposites, they nonetheless have potential to be misunderstood by Jesus’ followers. Verse 18: The Endurance of the Law “For...” “The four verses of this pericope, although related in theme, are not interrelated or interdependent in such a way that they form a single entity. Instead, they are readily separable without any loss of meaning and thus could have come initially from different contexts.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Truly the flow of these verses is extremely difficult to understand, and yet a response such as this shows complete disregard for the Word of God. It baffles this author that Hagner can go on after making this assertion to make zero comments regarding the three strong connecting words joining these four verses. The word behind the “For” in this verse is γάρ. It is one of the strongest conjunctions in Greek and indicates that a ground clause will follow. “...truly I say to you...” “Truly” in this verse comes from the Greek ἀμήν which, like in English (amen), is a transliteration from the Hebrew. Jesus is indicating that he is about to say something of great importance, something to be relied upon. France suggests it acts like the “Thus says the Lord” of the prophets. “I say to you” is a phrase that will permeate the ensuing context. This is Jesus’ consistent expression to follow his references to commonly held understandings of the Hebrew Bible. In each instance, he authoritatively counters with “But I say to you” and then a description of the given command taken to the heart level and in line with God’s heart as attested to by the full breath of the Hebrew Bible. And so coming back to the verse at hand, we find Jesus declaring a truth for the first time in this authoritative manner. “...the smallest letter or stroke...” Little debate is made over the meaning of the Greek behind this phrase. The first word, ἰῶτα (translated “smallest letter”), is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet and here representing the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The second, κεραία (translated “[smallest] stroke”), likely refers to the smallest distinguishing mark in the Hebrew alphabet. Thus, the point is clear: nothing will pass away from the Law until the temporal conditions come to pass. “...the Law...” νόμος with the definite article, like its Hebrew equivalent, can take on three different meanings: 1) the legal code or Mosaic law, 2) the books of Moses, namely the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and 3) the entire Hebrew Bible. Since it is following “the Law or the Prophets” in parallel fashion, it is clearly taking on the meaning of the entire Hebrew Bible in this case. At the same time, however, it does help create the specific emphasis of law and righteousness as discussed above. “...pass away...” A very important passage for understanding this verb (παρέρχομαι) is Matthew 26:36-46, specifically verses 39 and 42. In verse 39, Jesus, contemplating the cross, prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass [παρέρχομαι] from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Then, three verses later, he prays again, “My Father, if this cannot pass [παρέρχομαι] unless I drink it, your will be done.” The point of interest is the reality that there are two potential ways for “this cup” to pass (though one ends up only being hypothetical). The first request (verse 39) is that the cup would pass from Jesus, without him drinking it. In the second (verse 42), Jesus faces the reality that the cup must pass by his drinking of it. Thus, in both cases παρέρχομαι takes on its consistent meaning of ceasing to have influence upon or pertinence toward and yet this can happen in two ways: 1) by passing by so that it is never experienced or in effect and 2) by passing through so that it is fulfilled or completed. This discussion is not of great importance with regard to the first use of παρέρχομαι in verse 18. It is, however, of significance regarding the second use (speaking of the Law passing away). We are keyed to Jesus’ intent being that of the second sense by the until clause that follows. And so the Law will pass away by it being accomplished. “...until...” Two until clauses are put into use by Jesus to qualify the assertion that “not the smallest letter or stroke will by any means pass away from the Law.” In understanding this verse, then, it is important to understand how these until clauses relate to the assertion and each other. There seem to be three major possibilities: 1) it is a form of repetition and they are saying the same thing, 2) they are saying distinct things and represent two points/progressions of time, and 3) one or both are hypothetical. This author is convinced that they represent two points/progressions of time and thus the Hebrew Bible passes away in one sense at one progression of time and in another sense at a different point in time. “...heaven and earth pass away...” The Gospel of Matthew uses the term “heaven” a lot (82 times), in this case meaning the expanse of the sky and all things visible. We know clearly that he is not speaking hypothetically in this until clause by cross-referencing 24:35 where Jesus emphatically declares, “Heaven and earth will pass away.” 2 Peter is also of help to understand more, namely that Jesus is referring to the eschatological “day of the Lord.” Thus, there is a sense in which the Hebrew Bible will pass away at the end of the age. How exactly this will look it is hard to say, especially in pondering texts where we are told “Forever O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” “...all is accomplished.” While it is certainly difficult to understand Jesus’ meaning in speaking of heaven and earth passing away, the second until clause is much more highly debated. It is taken to mean: 1) “until all these things have taken place as prophesied,” 2) “Until all its requirements are met,” and 3) until the end of the age (i.e. being synonymous with the first until clause). Perhaps the most important passage in determining Jesus’ meaning here is the only passage that parallels Matthew 5:17-20 in any significant respect: Luke 16:16-17. We read there Jesus saying, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” When viewing this in parallel with our passage, it would seem reasonable to assume the implication of the last sentence to be that not one dot of the Law will pass away until heaven and earth do first. If this is the case, then Luke 16:16-17 would seem to be indicating that the Hebrew Bible does indeed pass away twice, in two different senses. This is evidenced by the words “until” (the Hebrew Bible was until John) and “But” (showing the two sentences to be in contrast with one another and declaring two truths to be held in tension). Thus, the suggestion that this second until clause in verse 18 is synonymous with the first is unlikely. Two options are then left for this until clause. As with my understanding of a slight double-meaning in the word “fulfill,” it seems both these meanings are in view. Verse 19: Kingdom Stature “Therefore...” Again, we come to a new verse and a strong conjunction connects it to the former. The Greek word οὖν means the opposite of γάρ and indicates the ground has come in the proceeding sentence and what follows is then inferred. “...breaks...” While France questions this translation, the common rendering of λύω (most often used to mean “untie” in the New Testament) in this verse is “breaks.” The clear evidence for this is found in two considerations. One, there are other examples of λύω, when used in reference to a commandment or the Hebrew Bible as a whole, that clearly mean break. Notice, for instance, John 5:18. The Jewish leaders were seeking to kill him in part because he was “breaking” (λύω) the Sabbath. We know the issue for the leaders was not his teaching about the Sabbath, but rather his actions on the Sabbath from verse 16 (“because he was doing these things”). The second evidence for translating λύω as “breaks” in this context is the fact it is later contrasted with the one who “does” these commandments. “...the least...” Jesus presents here the “typical Jewish view of a hierarchy of ranking of God’s priorities in the Torah.” He does this elsewhere as well. The second use of ἐλάχιστος in this verse then refers to what those that break one of these commandments (and teach likewise) will be called. The necessary discussion regarding what exactly that means or will look like follows below. “...these commandments...” While some appeal has been made to suggest “these” is looking forward to verses 21-48 (and potentially beyond), two things insist otherwise. The conjunction οὖν (discussed above) is the first witness that “these” is looking back to “the Law” and thus referring to the commandments found in the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, Carson points out that “in Matthew houtos (‘this,’ pl. ‘these’) never points forward.” “...and teaches...” It seems that Jesus’ concern in this verse is primarily that of personal performance (represented by “breaks” and “does”) since that is what he continues to speak of in the following verse. Nonetheless, he is conscious to relate this warning to teaching as well. One reason is likely that teachers will be “judged with greater strictness.” Perhaps another reason, though, is due to the fact that teaching (specifically Jesus’ authoritative teaching) is of great emphasis in this context. And so Jesus wanted an emphasis to be put on the fact that teaching is not a light thing and if you aspire to it, the content which you teach will effect your eternity. “...called...” An important aspect of this sentence that is not brought forth in the English relates to this verb. The meaning of the verb itself is not the point of note (its range of meaning is very similar to “call”), but rather how its object is functioning. The second instance of ἐλάχιστος in this verse is in the nominative voice, when the accusative would normally be expected. The reason for the change is that the verb is acting equatively. Thus, we should not understand this verse to be suggesting name-calling as much as declaring that those who break the least commandments (and so teach) will actually be least in the kingdom of heaven. “...the kingdom of heaven.” There is some discussion over whether this is indicating varying levels of rank in the present age or in the age to come. Certainly, “kingdom of heaven” does at times refer to that which has already come with Messiah, but meaning here should be dictated by usage in the next verse where it is clear that Jesus speaks of the age to come. Carson supports this idea with Matthew 20:20-28 and Luke 12:47-48, while Blomberg sees counter evidence in Matthew 20:1-16. “...great...” Again, what those that do and teach the least commandments will not only be called, but will actually be great in the kingdom of heaven. Verse 20: Required Righteousness “For...” The conjunction is the same as that of verse 18 (γάρ) and indicates a ground clause will follow. “...I say to you...” Once again Jesus alerts his hearers to pay attention, emphasizing the authority with which he speaks and importance of what he is about to say. The two instances of this phrase seem to indicate verses 18 and 20 as the most central and important in this short paragraph. “...your righteousness...” The question surrounding this word pertains not so much to its meaning, but rather to its degree and source. Two vastly different understandings of this word in this sentence are held: 1) it refers to your practical living out of the righteous standards of God declared in the Hebrew Bible and reaffirmed in Messiah’s explanations of them in the chapters that follow, and 2) it refers to the imputed righteousness of Jesus for those who put their faith in him. Convinced of the first, France writes, “What is required is a greater righteousness (see on 3:15; 5:6, 10), a relationship of love and obedience to God which is more than a literal observance of regulations.” Keener, however, insists that verse 20 “indicates that the very best of human piety is inadequate for salvation. While the second option is obviously not explicit anywhere in this passage or its immediate context, significant problems arise with the first understanding. First, it seems to disregard the verse that proceeded where people that break commandments are in the kingdom of heaven (though they be least). Second, it rubs hard against a remark that Jesus makes in the middle of his sermon, saying, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He does not explicitly say at this point why one must be perfect, but verse 20 would seem to be the answer to that question—in order to get into the kingdom of heaven. And while it is foolish (and blatantly unbiblical) for a person to claim to be perfect, it is ridiculous for him/her to profess to be so like God is! “...scribes and Pharisees...” In seeking a reference point that would be both familiar and emphasizing an extreme sense of righteous living to his hearers, there was no better example than the scribes and Pharisees. It seems Messiah’s essence here is “Think of the most righteous person you can—you must be better.” “...abound beyond...” There is no question in Jesus’ meaning here. He did not think any scribe or Pharisee was good enough. Rather, he points out that they were without understanding, evil, condemning, etc. And yet that is not his focus here. He is looking instead to their external appearance of righteousness. As Hill puts it, “Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees, according to Matthew [he should include ‘in this passage’], is not that they were not good, but that they were not good enough!” “...not enter...” Of all the difficult phrases that have come so far in our passage, none brings more trembling than this. For while verse 17 is glorious with a grand purpose of Messiah and verse 18 is a huge promise of God’s consistency and verse 19 motivates us to not flippantly disregard biblical commandments, this verse threatens Hell. It would be a severe understatement to just say Jesus has turned it up a notch. Far be it from any of us to come lightly to this verse! “...the kingdom of heaven.” A clear reference in this context to heaven and the God’s kingdom to come. Connecting the Passage And so we have arrived to the most important, and yet most difficult, portion of this analysis. How do these verses fit together? It is my understanding that the key focus of these verses is just as the context, kingdom righteousness . Jesus begins (verse 17) by declaring to his hearers that he has come not to destroy, but to fulfill the Hebrew Bible. Righteousness will not be muted or forgotten; it will be fulfilled. The basis Messiah gives for this is the reality that the Hebrew Bible is not going anywhere until it is accomplished (verse 18). The prophesies will be accomplished and the necessary holiness will also be performed. In fact the entire Hebrew Bible will be realized in the One to whom it all points. Still, the focus here is righteousness—not disregarded, but performed. Jesus then moves us into implication of this reality: the righteous-quotient of your life will effect your eternity (verse 19). We are so prone to treat lightly, perform merely externally, or even disregard altogether the commandments of God. But Jesus is calling us to a different life; he wants our heart-obedience (as he will go on to explain and give examples of in the rest of his sermon) and has set heavenly honor on the line. But honor (or lack thereof) in heaven is not the only stake; Jesus continues to the climax of our passage as he grounds us even deeper in the truth that the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of righteousness—not an average-Joe-righteousness, not even a Pharisee-righteousness; Jesus declares we must have perfect God-righteousness to enter God’s kingdom (verse 20). Certainly it is true that Jesus is shedding light on a more pure righteousness in this sermon as he expounds its centrality in the kingdom, but this is not foremost in his purpose. Rather, it seems Jesus’ highest aim in his discourse is our hopelessness—painful, potent, gospel-desperate hopelessness that we might at last despair of ourselves and flee to the one who has fulfilled it all on our behalf. Conclusion God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness; a reality that remains firm in the New Covenant. Therefore, we must know: 1) Perfect righteousness is required for kingdom entry. 2) It has been purchased by the One that came “to fulfill.” 3) Practical righteousness in this life, performed in heart-obedience, is the honor of heaven.