Online Bible Commentary
Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?
Matthew 5:17 “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. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (NIV)
This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, spoken by Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount occupies the book of Matthew, chapters five through seven. Jesus spoke this passage early in his sermon, as part of His introduction to tie in the body of the sermon. Thus He is stressing the importance of this passage in setting up what He is about to say.
Jesus says that He came, not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (v. 18). The “Law” is generally considered to be the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The “Prophets” were those Old Testament writings of the Prophets. This passage has nothing to do with the New Testament. Remember we did not have the New Testament at the time Jesus spoke these words.
When Jesus says that He came to “fulfill” the Law and Prophets He means that He is bringing forward that to which the Old Testament looked. His teaching will transcend the Old Testament revelation, but far from abolishing it, it is itself its intended culmination.
He is also saying that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus is saying that He is the “coming Messiah” of the Old Testament, who has now come. He is saying that the Old Testament teachings were His teachings.
The Old Testament reveals the history of Israel and points to the coming Messiah. The New Testament is a continuation, revealing the coming of the Messiah and the church age that followed. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 timothy 3:16). “All scripture” includes the Old Testament.
Jesus says that “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen” should disappear from the Old Testament (v. 18). In other words, it is all the Word of God and should be obeyed. He says that anyone who does not obey Old Testament scriptures and teaches others not to will be considered the “least” by Him, whereas “whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great” by Him (v. 19).
Jesus then completes this passage with a warning to those who believe the Old Testament does not need to be obeyed. He says that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes (v. 20a). These people were content with “religious” ceremonies that gave them an outward ritual cleansing, but that never changed their hearts. In other words, they looked good to the world, and maybe even felt good about themselves, but Jesus said that’s not enough to enter My Kingdom. Jesus says that it is the changing of our hearts that allows us to “enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20b).
It is through a changing of our hearts that we are able to obey God, through His strength and not our own. The Old Testament Law tells us what to obey, how to be righteous. Those who would throw it out as being all cultural, or not relevant to today, no longer have the full standard for living a Godly life that God intended.
The Old Testament points out sin, among other things. It should not be ignored. Our ignorance of sin does not excuse us from the earthly, and Heavenly, consequences of sin. The Old Testament is still relevant today, and always will be.