“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17
I’ve been studying this verse for a while, trying to better understand exactly what it means. In studying the Newer Testament, I’ve come to appreciate the phrase “it’s all Greek to me“! Understanding the writings of the apostles and Paul depends on an understanding of the older testament and the customs and traditions of their time.
I have often heard it taught that this verse means Jesus kept the commands perfectly so we wouldn’t have to. I will admit there was a time in my life I thought that to be true, but a closer look at scripture left me questioning that interpretation.
Which of Yahweh’s teachings would I not need to obey to help me live righteously?
If the first four commandments teach me how to love Yahweh, surely it wouldn’t be one of those, as Jesus taught that loving Yahweh is the first and greatest of the commandments. On the other hand, if commandments five through ten teach me how to love my neighbor, I can’t rule out any of those as Jesus said, loving our neighbor was like loving Yahweh.
Could there be another, more logical understanding of what fulfill means?
The word fulfill is from the Greek word plēróō, meaning to fill up completely. This root (plē-) expresses totally and implies full quantity (“up to the max”). We see a variation of this word used in Matthew 14:20.
“So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.”
This verse is from the story where Jesus feeds 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. The word “full” means the baskets were filled “up to the max.” Pretty self-explanatory, right?
So what did Jesus mean when he said He came to fulfill the Law (Torah)?
I think He answered that Himself a few verses later.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
So, if the original law was “You shall not commit adultery”, then Jesus explained that even thinking about it is just as bad as actually following through with it. He gives us the full meaning of the original command.
It’s a heart issue.
If we desire to disobey, we’ve as good as done it.
Jesus said not to think he came to abolish the law or the prophets. Merriam-Webster defines abolish as: “to end the observance or effect of something, such as a law.”
By Messiah’s clarification, we understand that He could not possibly mean that He came to end the observance of the law (Torah).
There are two verses that have helped me better understand the meaning of “fulfill” in context.
“You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” Acts 2:28
“Full of” Is the same Greek plēróō we find in Matthew 5:17.
But my favorite verse to help understand the word “plēróō” in context is found in Romans 15.
“in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Romans 15:19
This was when the big picture came into focus for me! Jesus came to preach His Father’s commands fully and then perfectly walked them out to teach us how. So 1 John 2:6 tells us, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which He (Jesus) walked.”
Jesus is our ultimate example. He fully preached and perfectly lived Yahweh’s commands to teach us how a life wholly committed to Yahweh should look. May we be faithful to follow His example and encourage others to do the same!