Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, He touches on many subjects centred on the Laws God had given the Jewish people to follow. Keep in mind that He was speaking to those Jews (and perhaps some curious Gentiles) who had become His disciples. Try to imagine what it was like for them to be drawn to this unassuming man from Galilee. Yes, he was clearly a Jew, for many called Him Rabbi (or teacher). He taught in the Temple, and He performed miracles that were so spectacular they were beginning to think He was the Messiah. It had been over 400 years since they had heard or seen anyone like this man. And He said the most unusual things.
Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. He was making it clear to His disciples that they were to continue to obey the Laws God created for them. He was pretty emphatic about this, going so far as to say that till heaven and earth pass away, "not one jot or one tittle" would by no means pass from the Law until all was fulfilled. FYI - a jot is the smallest Hebrew letter, and a tittle was used to denote the small stroke distinguishing one Hebrew letter from another. So the Law was to be obeyed, yet Jesus said He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. What did He mean by that?
The Rabbis or teachers of the Law in Jesus' day held the Torah (Law) in high regard. They revered it much like Christians revere the Bible today, but they lacked one thing. While professing the most scrupulous reverence to the Law, they violated its spirit. They took everything quite literally and never took the time to see why God gave the laws or why they should be obeyed in the first place.
For example, laws about sexual immorality that were disobeyed almost always ended up with someone getting stoned. The consequences were severe to make a point - God did not want His people involved in such things. They were called to be a HOLY people, an example to the world of how God expects His children to live. Therefore, anyone disobeying the Law knew they were taking a massive risk by violating it. So most people would not cross that line. In addition, the surrounding pagan nations often involved sexual acts in their idol worship. A clear boundary on what is acceptable worship of the one true God had to be in place. Otherwise, the Jewish people would be prone to adopt pagan practices.
But, as Jesus showed us when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Him by the scribes and Pharisees (John 8:2-12), everyone sins and needs forgiveness. The Pharisees were quick to judge and wanted to see her stoned. Their blood lust was, in fact, a sin. They were not seeking to obey the Law because they wanted to show God how obedient they were. They were seeking to show everyone else how righteous (or self-righteous in this case) they were, and Jesus knew it because He knew what was really in their hearts.
So the Law shows us how to live lives that honour God. It trains us how to be holy. And it clearly shows us when we have crossed the line and sinned against God.
By saying He came to fulfill the Laws, Jesus did not mean they were no longer valid. On the contrary, He made it very clear that the Law would stand firm until heaven and earth passed away. However, Jesus said in John 5:39: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me." In other words, Jesus fulfilled the Law. He fulfilled all the prophecies about a coming Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the required sacrifices to make atonement for humanity. He alone fulfilled the consequences of the Laws because He took our punishment upon Himself on the cross. He was the only one who could keep the Laws and not sin because He was pure of heart. A man without sin (2 Corinthians 5;21). God in the flesh (John 1:1; 14).
Jesus told those listening to Him, "That unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." In other words, the Law and its consequences are a guide for us and always will be, but it will not save us. That is why Jesus said He was the fulfillment of the Law. It is also why He said, "No one comes to the Father, except through Me" (John 14:6).
Jesus said anyone who teaches something contrary to the Law will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. The Law is there for a reason - to keep people from sinning against God. They are moral laws. The laws we live by in society - do not murder or steal, for example, come from the Torah. The consequences today are prison and, in some States - even death. Civil Laws are there to prevent anarchy in society. Rules of the road, for example, must be obeyed, or someone could die. We all have laws to follow that are in place for our good. God's Laws are there for our moral good so that we know what it means to be holy.
There are 613 commandments to be obeyed in the Torah. No one in the history of the world has been able to keep them without sinning except for Jesus. And that is the point. He fulfilled them all!
Does that mean they no longer exist? No. They are still there for our benefit, to teach us right from wrong so that we may live lives that honour God and glorify Him. We will learn more about them in the weeks ahead as we continue to look at The Sermon on the Mount.