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.” Matthew 5:17-20 NIV
So far Jesus has spoken of the character of Christians. He has also emphasized the influence we have in the world if we exhibit his character and if our character bears fruit in “good deeds.” In Matthew 5:17-20 he proceeds to further define this character and these good deeds in terms of righteousness. This passage is of great importance not only for its definition of Christian righteousness but also for the light it throws on the relation between the New Testament and the Old Testament, between the Gospel and the law.
1. In your opinion, what are some of the difficulties of reading the Old Testament?
2. Matthew 5:17-20 naturally divides into two parts, verses 17-18 and 19-20. What does each part emphasize?
3. Why might some people have thought that Jesus came to abolish the Law and the Prophets?
4. The Law and the Prophets (the OT) consist of doctrine, prophecy and ethical precepts. In what sense has Jesus fulfilled each of these?
5. How does Jesus emphasize his high view of OT Scripture in verses 17-18?
6. How will our response to the Law determine our status in the kingdom of heaven (v. 19)?
7. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were zealous about observing the Law. How can our righteousness possibly surpass theirs (v. 20)?
8. Jesus states that only those who have this surpassing righteousness will enter the kingdom of heaven (v. 20). How can this be harmonized with his statement about the poor in spirit (those who admit their spiritual bankruptcy) entering the kingdom (5:3)?
9. Some people claim that Jesus abolished the category of law for the Christian and that we are responsible for obeying the “law of love.” Respond to this in light of Jesus’ words in this passage.
10. How has this passage affected your understanding of righteousness