In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus said, "Think not that I came to nullify the law or the prophets; I came not to nullify but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota or one pen stroke by no means will pass away from the law, until all things come to pass" (author’s own translation).The Lord spoke these words to a Jewish audience early in his ministry, at least two years before his new covenant was ratified. He assures his listeners that his purpose was not to nullify (destroy, overthrow, abrogate) the law or the prophets. Jesus himself was an Israelite who was amenable to the Jewish law (Galatians 4:4; cf. Matthew 8:4), and he kept it perfectly. Rather, his purpose was to fulfill [plēroō = to fill up or make full] all that the law and the prophets had said concerning the promised Messiah. In fact, one of the primary aims of Matthew’s Gospel is to establish the fact that Jesus and all that was accomplished in his ministry were in fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures (Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9, 35). Accordingly, these things were not to remain unfulfilled for millennia after the Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension. Once Jesus accomplished his mission on earth, the role that the law and the prophets had served for centuries was complete (see Galatians 3:16-25; Hebrews 8:6-13). In other words, when the intended purpose was fulfilled, that purpose then became obsolete.
Contrary to what many have inferred, the Lord did not say that the Mosaic law was to remain binding until the end of time. Twice in this passage Jesus uses the expression heōs an ("until"). From the standpoint of his contemporary Jewish audience, heaven and earth could pass away at any time. Yet the Lord affirms that until that happens (whenever that might be), nothing will fail from the law or the prophets until all things come to pass. It is a statement of assurance, i.e., the law will unquestionably be vindicated and will have served its purpose when Jesus has completed his personal mission on earth (cf. John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4; 19:30).
--Kevin L. Moore
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