For the last several weeks we have been looking at Matthew 5:17-20 which are very controversial verses. D. A. Carson, in his commentary on The Sermon On The Mount,
says, "Matthew 5:17-20 are among the most difficult verses in all the Bible." I think that much of the difficulty disappears when we have a biblical understanding of the term "heaven and earth" used in these verses. The term "heaven and earth" does not refer to the universe or the literal planet, it is a term used quite frequently in the Old Testament to speak of Israel. The passing away of heaven and earth is not the end of the world, but the end of the Jewish age, the end of the Old Covenant.
Before we move on, I want to deal a little more with the subject of the "Law". This is very practical, and I want to make sure that we understand it. Last week in the question and answer period the question was raised, "Because you say that the Old Covenant is not binding on Christians, are you antinomian?" My response to that is a resounding NO! Listen carefully, believers, what I am saying is that the Old Covenant has passed away. We now live under the New Covenant, the Law of Christ.
Look at some verses with me that teach us that the Old Covenant has passed away:
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NKJV) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Paul is here contrasting the New Covenant with the Old. Notice what he says: "The New Covenant gives life, the Old kills".
2 Corinthians 3:7-9 (NKJV) But if the ministry of death, (O.C.) written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit (N.C.) not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation (O.C.) had glory, the ministry of righteousness (N.C.)exceeds much more in glory.
He is comparing the Old to the New. Now notice carefully what he says in:
2 Corinthians 3:11 (NKJV) For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
Paul says that the Old Covenant was passing away (in the first century), and that the New Covenant was going to remain (forever). When was this "Law" to pass away? The writer of Hebrews tells us:
Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Notice that the text says, "....is becoming obsolete .. ready to vanish away." Is that speaking to us? NO!!!!!!!!!! This is written to the first century Hebrew believers. As of 65 AD, the Old Covenant had not yet become obsolete, but it was "ready to". The words "ready to" are a translation of the Greek word eggus, it means: "near, imminent, approaching, impending, right around the corner, close, nigh." According to the writer of Hebrews In AD 65 the Old Covenant had not yet passed away, but it was "ready to". Not many years later, it did, in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Speaking of the Old Covenant, the writer of Hebrews said:
Hebrews 9:10 (NKJV) concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
People who are still trying to bring the Old Covenant into practice today have not taken into consideration the end of verse 10. The Old Covenant was not to be put into practice forever. It was only to be used "until" God brought a "time of reformation."When the new order, or covenant, was completed and fully in place, the old temple would be destroyed and its worship would cease. This occurred in A.D. 70, only five years after this book was written. That approaching day of judgement and destruction became a world-wide age changing event.
Hebrews 10:9 (NKJV) then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God." He takes away the first that He may establish the second.
The "first" refers to the Old Covenant and its sacrificial system. The words "takes away" are from the Greek word anaireo. This word is used 25 times in the New Testament and 23 are used in the sense of taking away by killing, that is, murdering, and this shows that it is a strong word. It points to the total abolition of the Old Testament. Our text goes on to say, "That He may establish the second." - this is referring to the New Covenant.
Hebrews 12:27 (NKJV) Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
The things that cannot be shaken are the New Covenant.
Hebrews 12:28 (NKJV) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
The word "receiving" is from the Greek word paralambano, and it is in the present tense showing progression. The kingdom was being brought into its fullness during the first century by progression. This "kingdom that cannot be shaken" is the church of Jesus Christ, it is the New Covenant; it is Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. That the heavenly Jerusalem is the New Covenant is seen clearly in Galatians 4:21-31.
So, what I am saying is that the Old Covenant has passed away, it is GONE. We now live under the New Covenant, the Law of Christ. Believers, we don't have to be confused as to what is permissible behavior and what is not; we simply need to become familiar with the New Testament, the Law of Christ, and we'll know how to live.
I said that the Old Testament is repealed unless repeated in the New. Some have taken issues with me on this saying, "Without the Old Testament, we have a very incomplete and partial Revelation". They say that there are laws in the Old Testament that are not repeated in the New, but that are still binding on us.
Todd Dennis, the manager of the Preterist Archive (www.preteristarchive.com) has my message, "The Law is Fulfilled" posted on his site with a section at the bottom of the message for comments. One of the comments expresses the view that without the Old Testament, we have and incomplete Revelation. The man writes, "If we are not now under law, then I CAN have sex with any beast I can grab? Nowhere in the NT am I told that I can't commit bestiality, so it must be ok because the Law, which did tell me it was wrong, is now fulfilled, gone, annulled. If you say we must fulfill the law of Christ and honor him, that's fine, but I need a book, chapter, and verse in the NT that tells me I can't commit bestiality. THERE IS NOT ONE."
Is that true? Does the New Covenant not speak out against bestiality? I think it does:
1 Corinthians 6:13 (NKJV) Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality (porneia) but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
The New Testament speaks against porneia. Porneia is a broad term used to cover any form of sexual sin. Any sex other than with a spouse is sin! This would include sex with animals.
1 Corinthians 6:15 (NKJV) Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!
The Greek word used for harlot is porne, which is a form of the word porneia, which is fornication; sexual immorality. We certainly shouldn't take Christ's members and join them in sexual immorality.
1 Corinthians 6:16 (NKJV) Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh."
Paul's point is clear, when two persons engage in a sex act, it is more than simply a physical union:
Matthew 19:5 (NKJV) "and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?
Does God really have to tell us not to have sex with animals? If to have sex with a harlot is wrong because of our union with Christ, then surely having sex with an animal is wrong.
What about incest? Does the New Testament condemn incest?
Leviticus 18:6 (NKJV) 'None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the LORD.
"To uncover nakedness" is speaking of incestuous relationships. Without this Old Testament law, how do we know that this is wrong? This one is a little more difficult, but think through this with me. We know that incest is wrong because it is wrong to have sex with anyone other than your spouse. And it is wrong to marry a relative:
Romans 13:1 (NKJV) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
In the United States of America it is illegal to marry kin. All states prohibit a person from marrying his or her sibling, half-sibling, parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, child, grandchild, great-grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, and nephew. Some states have additional prohibitions. So, in fact, the New Testament does speak against incest.
Believers, The Law, being the substance of Old Covenant, has been entirely replaced by the New Covenant, and has no binding authority in the life of the believer (Rom 2:21; 6:14; 7:1-6; 8:1-4; Gal 2:15-5:25). It certainly contains principles of a godly life that may serve as an example to us today, but ultimately, we abstain from such things as murder, adultery, covetousness, false witness, etc. not because they are listed in the Old Covenant, but rather because they are part of the "Law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). By this I mean that the righteousness that is produced by God in those who are in Christ fulfills the original purpose of the Law, yet does so apart from the Law. The Old Covenant Law having faded away, we are now led internally by the New Covenant, written "with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3).
Now that that is clear, let's move on and look at verses 19-20 of Matthew 5. Before we look at those verses, look with me at:
Matthew 11:11-13 (NKJV) "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
We observe here that from John the Baptist on, the kingdom of Heaven advances. Similarly, in the next two verses of Matthew 5, Jesus moves on from talking about the Law to talking about the kingdom:
Matthew 5:19 (NKJV) "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.
I guess the first thing that we have to determine is what "commandments" is Jesus talking about? Does the term "these commandments" refer to the Law, the Old Covenant? Or does it refer to the commands of Christ, the commands of the kingdom of heaven? The "kingdom of heaven" is mentioned three times in these two verses and I believe that the "commands" referred to are those already given, and the commands still to come, in the Sermon on the Mount. I believe that "these commandments" are the law of Christ. Notice what Jesus said:
John 14:15 (NKJV) "If you love Me, keep My commandments.
I don't think that Christ is calling for obedience to the Old Covenant. Jesus says, "... whoever does and teaches these commands will be great in the kingdom of heaven." Would he be referring to the Old Covenant commands that he said would pass away with heaven and earth in verse 18? As we have already seen, the Old Covenant law was to be replaced by the New, why then would Jesus tell them to do and teach what would soon pass away?
The commandments that Jesus is referring to are those of the Kingdom of Heaven. Do you remember what we said about the kingdom of heaven in our introductory messages on the Sermon on the Mount? The idea of "kingdom" in both the Old and New Testaments is primarily dynamic rather than spatial. It is not so much a kingdom with geographical borders as it is a "kingdominion," or reign. The kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven is, quite simply, the rule and reign of God. Christianity is the kingdom of God. All those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior are in the kingdom of heaven.
Notice that those who break a commandment are in the kingdom of heaven - they are Christians. Jesus doesn't say those who break one of the least of these commandments is not saved and on their way to Hell. What he said was they would be called "least" in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus teaches that even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John:
Matthew 11:11 (NKJV) "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John who was the greatest of those born of women. I think that the "born of women" is in contrast to "born of the spirit."
Matthew 5:19 (NKJV) "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.
We see from this verse that some in the kingdom of heaven are least and some are great. When Christians break the commands of Christ and teach others to do so they are called "least" in the kingdom of heaven. You do realize that Christians sin, don't you? At times we break Christ's commandments. But when a Christian lives by Jesus' word and teaches others to do so, they are "great" in the kingdom of heaven. Believers, we are to do and teach Christ's commands. And we teach by our actions, our life, as well as by our words.
Matthew 5:20 (NKJV) "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.
The Greek word used here for "exceeds" is perisseuo, which means: "to superabound, be in excess". This word was used of the overflowing of river banks by water. Jesus is saying that our righteousness must greatly surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees if we are going to enter the kingdom of heaven. I think that we understand what Jesus is saying, but to really get His intent, we must know something of the scribes and Pharisees.
The teachers of the law, also known as scribes, were the professional theologians of the time, yet they often disagreed with Jesus. The Pharisees were religious separatists who considered themselves holier than everybody else. They were punctilious in their observance of the law, at least in their own minds, and after looking into the Old Testament, they came up with 613 commandments which they codified and elaborated upon. They imposed their own ideas and oral traditions on the Holy Scriptures so much that their traditions became, in their minds, superior to and more authoritative than the Holy Scripture itself.
The Scribal Law became a vast system of rules and regulations that were intended to define and apply the true law of God to every situation in life. It first began as an oral law, handed down by the Scribes over many generations. This was its state in Jesus day. Around the middle of the third century A.D. a summary of it was written, which is known as the Mishnah. This book contains sixty-three tractates on the law, and in English runs about eight hundred pages. Jewish scholarship went on to make commentaries to explain the Mishnah. These were known as the Talmuds. The Jerusalem Talmud consists of twelve volumes. The Babylonian Talmud consists of sixty volumes. This Scribal Law sought to extrapolate from the principles of God's law found in Scripture, the practical application of them for every situation in life. Take the Sabbath day as an example. God said that the Sabbath was to be a day of rest. Physical Israel was not to work on that day. But the Scribes were not satisfied with that. After all, what is work?
One thing which was classified as work was to carry a burden. But what is a burden? The Scribal Law says that a burden is:
. . . food equal in weight to a dried fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member, water enough to moisten an eye-salve, paper enough to write a customs house notice upon, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, reed enough to make a pen
On and on these regulations droned. Hours were spent arguing whether someone could move a lamp from one place to another or if someone could lift his or her child.
Their rules became very elaborate. Writing was forbidden as work on the Sabbath. But what is writing?
He who writes two letters of the alphabet with his right or with his left hand, whether of one kind or two kinds, if they are written with different inks or in different languages, is guilty. Even if he should write two letters from forgetfulness, he is guilty, whether he has written them with ink or with paint, red chalk, vitriol, or anything which makes a permanent mark. Also he that writes on two walls that form an angle, or on two tablets of his account book so that they can be read together is guilty . . . But, if anyone writes with dark fluid with fruit juice, or in the dust of the road, or in sand, or in anything which does not make a permanent mark, he is not guilty . .
Ironically, people considered the scribes and Pharisees paradigms of virtue. Most thought that if any people were likely to make it into the kingdom of heaven, the scribes and Pharisees certainly would be the ones. But in this section of Scripture, Jesus Christ shocked his listeners by declaring that these seemingly righteous people were excluded from the kingdom of heaven.
These were astonishing statements for Jesus to make. But do you remember what he said when Nicodemus, who was a doctor of the Law and a member of the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus by night? Jesus shocked him also when he said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Here Jesus was saying, "You, Nicodemus, are outside the kingdom of God. With all your 'righteousness,' you just don't make it. Why? That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. You must be born from above, born of the Spirit, to enter into the kingdom of heaven." I am sure Nicodemus was genuinely shocked by what Jesus told him. And I am sure that all the scribes and Pharisees, these paragons of virtue, were equally shocked when Jesus said that they were excluded from the kingdom of heaven and from eternal life.
What was the nature of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees - this righteousness that we, as kingdom citizens, must exceed, surpass, and go beyond? It was external and superficial:
Matthew 23:25 (NKJV) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.
Matthew 23:27 (NKJV) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
In Luke 18, Jesus described a Pharisee who gloried in saying that he fasted twice a week. Now God only required his people to fast one time a year, but here was a Pharisee who fasted 104 times a year. And he also tithed, giving a tenth of his herbs.
That sounds like they were really seeking to live righteously, but Jesus said:
Matthew 23:23 (NKJV) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Notice what Jesus said:
Luke 16:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
He was speaking about the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. They were working very hard, but it wasn't enough. Because what God demands is perfect righteousness:
Matthew 5:48 (NKJV) "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
As I'm sure you're aware, men are not perfect; in fact, our best efforts are viewed by God as filthy rags:
Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV) But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
Paul said the same thing in Philippians 3. Beginning with verse 4, he reminisced about his life as a Pharisee: "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more," and then he lists seven things that he gloried in. First, there were four things that he had inherited: He was circumcised on the eighth day; his father and mother were of the people of Israel, making him a full-blooded Jew; he belonged to Benjamin, the only tribe that remained loyal to Judah; and he was considered a Hebrew of Hebrews. Then he spoke about three earned ones: First, he was a Pharisee by choice, belonging to the strictest sect, as we read in Acts 26:5. Second, he was an activist who was so zealous for God's law that he persecuted the church. Third, he said, "Concerning the righteousness of the law, faultless," or perfect. But who was saying he was perfect? Paul, not God.
Then, as a Christian Paul looked at his list. And what did he call all these righteous acts in the light of his salvation in Christ? Filthy rags. Dung. Garbage. In verse 8, Paul says that all that he gloried in he considers dung, refuse, rubbish -something to be gotten rid of, in other words. Why? He realized that self-righteousness is worthless and damnable. All of our self-righteousness is abominable before God. Many people today have their lists: "Don't smoke. Don't drink. Don't see movies. Don't dance. Don't play. Don't use lipstick. Don't wear jewelry. Don't get a tattoo." They have these lists and if they conform to it, they are very proud. And they always looked down upon anyone who did not conform to their little list.
But Jesus says, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." How, then, can we have this surpassing righteousness? Paul goes on in Philippians 3 to answer that question:
Philippians 3:9 (NKJV) and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Paul said that he wants to "be found in Him" - then he explains what it means to be found "in Him." It means: "not having my own righteousness, but Christ's righteousness, which comes by faith." Paul had spent his whole adult life trying to gain a righteousness of his own by the law. But the only thing that he is now trusting in for salvation is Christ, and Christ alone. Is this true of you? Anyone who is counting on anything for salvation other than Christ alone, is lost and will spend eternity separated from God:
Galatians 2:16 (NKJV) "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Justification comes from faith in Christ. You must have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the most righteous people you know. You must have the very righteousness of Christ Himself.
You cannot get this righteousness by attending church or by being baptized. You cannot get this righteousness by anything you can do. You must have a perfect righteousness that can only come from God by believing in His Son, Jesus Christ. That is why He came to earth and died. That is the message we have to proclaim. There is salvation in no other:
Acts 4:12 (NKJV) "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
You can be fully assured that if you will trust in Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death for you, God will cleanse you from your sins and bring you into a relationship with Himself.
Because we are all born sinners, there is none righteous, as we read in Romans 3. We are all rotten even as we come from our mothers' wombs. We are born perverse, crooked, self-centered, rebellious, and stubborn - enemies of God's law and incapable of submitting to it. But if we trust in Christ, we are justified by grace through faith and given Christ's righteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The source of true righteousness is God. When you trust in Christ, God gives you righteousness. This is called "justification by faith"; God's reckoning His righteousness as our righteousness, if we will trust in his Son. God is saying, "Trust me. Trust my Son. Cast yourself on us as your only hope. And, for the sake of my Son, I will put your sins away and give you my righteousness."
The majority of church goers do not understand that our salvation is not based upon what we do, but upon what Christ did for us. They think that their relationship with God is based upon their performance. They think that as long as they live "right" that God will not condemn them. This is a "works" system. And Jesus says that if your righteousness is a self-righteousness like the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of God
In commenting on this verse, one commentator said, "Jesus was saying, 'If you do not exceed and surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, by no means will you enter into the kingdom of heaven.' In other words, no one is permitted to break even the least commandment of God if one wants to enter God's kingdom."
Is that what Jesus is saying? No! That is exactly the opposite of what Jesus is saying. We can't get into the kingdom by our works. If what this man was saying is true, no one would ever enter the kingdom of God.
Paul sums it all up in one verse:
Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
People, the only way our righteousness will exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees is when it comes by faith. God justifies us, that is makes us righteous, when we trust that our salvation can only come as a gift of His grace. It's not works, but by faith.